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From the UC Blogosphere...

Retired nutrition specialist continues to make an impact

Despite the fact that UC Berkeley nutrition specialist Joanne Ikeda retired last year, she continues to serve as a childhood nutrition expert and is frequently contacted for comment by the news media.

Yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle published a fun story by Stacy Finz about changes in laws governing school foods. Finz opened the piece with a personal anecdote about her own childhood snacking habits.

"When I was growing up, my after-school snack almost always started with a triple-decker peanut butter and sugar sandwich on Wonder bread," Finz wrote.

She sought Ikeda's comments on the Institute of Medicine's guidelines for children's foods, which call for a diet containing no more than 35 percent of calories each from fat and sugar and a maximum of 200 mg of sodium daily.

Ikeda said the IOM's standards should be used to help parents and children make good choices. It's more important, however, to follow the federal government's recommended daily values for fat, sodium, calories and the like. Those guidelines can be found at http://mypyramid.gov.

In selecting foods for their children, Ikeda recommends parents check a product's ingredient label first to see if sugar or unhealthful oils are high on the list. If not, then proceed to the nutrition fact box to investigate further, according to the Chron story.

Also during her "retirement," Ikeda is serving as a consultant to Cartoon Network, which is adopting a new health agenda, according to a recent press release. Cartoon Network has newly formalized food- and beverage-related guidelines that will regulate the use of its licensed characters and it will develop new programming that integrates positive messages regarding nutrition and activity, the release says.

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2007 at 9:57 AM

Fresno Bee food writer covers agriculture.

Fresno Bee food writer Joan Obra has taken a keen interest in local agriculture. One of her regular contacts is UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Richard Molinar. As the small farm advisor, he works with many interesting crops -- just the type of thing reporters can't resist.

Today, the Bee's food section features a prominent story and several photos about baby watermelons, a crop Molinar is investigating at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center. Molinar is holding a melon tasting for the public from 8 a.m. to 12 noon Sept. 6.

Obra's article says that between 2005 and 2006, statewide production of mini watermelons jumped 35 percent to reach 96.5 million pounds. Nationwide, minis made up about 8.5 percent of the U.S. watermelon market last year.

Molinar is growing 23 varieties of small watermelons. He is comparing an array of fruit characteristics, such as weight, skin color, rind thickness, flesh color, texture and sweetness.

Mini watermelons, sometimes called personal watermelons, have their benefits, primarily the fact that they fit in the refrigerator better. But some people feel they are expensive, as Obra's article points out. Production costs are the same for the small fruit as the large so they are often priced similarly.

Recently, a colleague sent photos of another innovative way to make it easier to keep watermelons on refrigerator shelves.

Japanese farmers are growing watermelons inside tempered glass cubes. The result, convenient square melons. However, the price must be over the top.

Posted on Wednesday, August 29, 2007 at 9:37 AM

Stockton Record profiles new advisor

The Stockton Record published a story in today's paper about newly hired UCCE San Joaquin County environmental horticulture advisor Ashley Basinger. Bashinger came to UCCE in July under an unusual agreement with the County of San Joaquin, according to the article by Reid Fujii.

San Joaquin County is underwriting Basinger's salary to have her help reduce green waste being buried in area landfills, Fujii's article said.

"It's the first time partnership (sic) where a county is supporting a university position to come up with some solutions to their problems or issues," the article quoted county director Mick Canevari.

Basinger has a doctorate degree at Texas Tech University. In her new position, she will work with county officials to develop a large-scale composting operation and find markets for the resulting compost, perhaps diverting it to area farms or vineyards.

Basinger will also address issues of pesticide usage and water consumption in residential and commercial landscaping.

"I'm looking for her to have a major impact on our environmental issues," Canevari is quoted in the Record.

Contact information for Basinger can be found here.

Posted on Monday, August 27, 2007 at 10:04 AM

Society for Environmental Journalists

The Society for Environmental Journalists is having its annual convention at Stanford this year (Sept. 5-7). According to its Web site, the SEJ mission is to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy and visibility of environmental reporting.

ANR News and Information Outreach will attend to meet reporters and share information about ANR programs. We plan to provide reporters synopses of a few very promising and interesting ANR research projects that have important environmental implications. We believe the reporters will be especially interested in water quality, forestry, preventing global warming, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.

If you have a story idea, please leave a comment on this blog. I'll provide more information about the convention as it approaches and blog from the convention when I am there.

Posted on Friday, August 24, 2007 at 12:04 PM

Another reason to eat broccoli

A number of science publications picked up a story by UC Berkeley public information representative Sara Yang about research that identified yet another reason to eat broccoli. The release is posted on the ANR news Web site. Among the publications that ran the piece are ScienceDaily and Environmental News Network.

In a nutshell, Yang's story says that research has shown a compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, known by its acronym DIM, can fight cancer and boost the immune system.

"Researchers found increased blood levels of cytokines, proteins which help regulate the cells of the immune system, in mice that had been fed solutions containing doses of DIM at a concentration of 30 milligrams per kilogram," according to the article.

So how much broccoli would a human need to eat for immune system benefits? This is quite a technical article, but it does say that a large plateful of broccoli can yield a 5-10 micromolar dose of DIM and that, in cell cultures, a 10 micromolar dose doubled the number of white blood cells, which help the body fight infections by killing or engulfing pathogens.

If you are planning to eat more vegetables due to these research results, you'll be pleased that the federal government is planning to spend $5.5 million over the next three years to study ways to prevent outbreaks of E. coli 0157:H7 in fresh produce. The principle investigator, Rob Mandrell of the USDA-ARS, and University of California researchers also received $1.2 million from the government in 2006 to do research in California's Salinas Valley, according to an Associated Press article that was published yesterday on Forbes.com and an October 2006 story on the ANR News Web site.

Posted on Thursday, August 23, 2007 at 9:31 AM

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