Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences
University of California
Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences

Posts Tagged: nutrition

Study finds 82 percent of avocado oil rancid or mixed with other oils

Avocados hang on a tree at UC South Coast Research & Extension Center. “Consumers seeking the health benefits of avocado oil deserve to get what they think they are buying,” says Selina Wang.

Consumer demand is rising for all things avocado, including oil made from the fruit. Avocado oil is a great source of vitamins, minerals and the type of fats associated with reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. But according to new research from food science experts at the University of California, Davis, the vast majority of avocado oil sold in the U.S. is of poor quality, mislabeled or adulterated with other oils.

In the country's first extensive study of commercial avocado oil quality and purity, UC Davis researchers report that at least 82% of test samples were either stale before expiration date or mixed with other oils. In three cases, bottles labeled as “pure” or “extra virgin” avocado oil contained near 100 percent soybean oil, an oil commonly used in processed foods that's much less expensive to produce.

“I was surprised some of the samples didn’t contain any avocado oil,” said Wang.
“I was surprised some of the samples didn't contain any avocado oil,” said Selina Wang, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, who led the study recently published in the journal Food Control.“Most people who buy avocado oil are interested in the health benefits, as well as the mild, fresh flavor, and are willing to pay more for the product. But because there are no standards to determine if an avocado oil is of the quality and purity advertised, no one is regulating false or misleading labels. These findings highlight the urgent need for standards to protect consumers and establish a level playing field to support the continuing growth of the avocado oil industry.”

Testing domestic and imported brands  

Wang and Hilary Green, a Ph.D. candidate in Wang's lab, analyzed various chemical parameters of 22 domestic and imported avocado oil samples, which included all the brands they could find in local stores and online. Wang and Green received a $25,000 grant from Dipasa USA, part of the Dipasa Group, a sesame-seed and avocado-oil processor and supplier based in Mexico.

“In addition to testing commercial brands, we also bought avocados and extracted our own oil in the lab, so we would know, chemically, what pure avocado oil looks like,” Wang said.

Test samples included oils of various prices, some labeled extra virgin or refined. Virgin oil is supposed to be extracted from fresh fruit using only mechanical means, and refined oil is processed with heat or chemicals to remove any flaws.

Fifteen of the samples were oxidized before the expiration date. Oil loses its flavor and health benefits when it oxidizes, which happens over time and when exposed to too much light, heat or air. Six samples were mixed with large amounts of other oils, including sunflower, safflower and soybean oil.

Only two brands produced samples that were pure and non-oxidized. Those were Chosen Foods and Marianne's Avocado Oil, both refined avocado oils made in Mexico. Among the virgin grades, CalPure produced in California was pure and fresher than the other samples in the same grade.

A push for standards

Ensuring quality is important for consumers, retailers, producers and people throughout the avocado oil industry. Retailers want to sell quality products, shoppers want to get their money's worth and honest producers want to keep fraudulent and low-quality oil out of the marketplace.

But since avocado oil is relatively new on the scene, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet adopted “standards of identity,” which are basic food standards designed to protect consumers from being cheated by inferior products or confused by misleading labels. Over the last 80 years, the FDA has issued standards of identity for hundreds of products, like whiskey, chocolate, juices and mayonnaise. Without standards, the FDA has no means to regulate avocado oil quality and authenticity.

Avocado oil isn't the only product without enforceable standards. Honey, spices and ground coffee are other common examples. Foods that fetch a higher price are especially ripe for manipulating, especially when adulterations can be too subtle to detect outside a lab.

Wang is working to develop faster, better and cheaper chemical methods to detect adulteration so bulk buyers can test avocado oil before selling it. She is also evaluating more samples, performing shelf-life studies to see how time and storage affects quality, and encouraging FDA officials to establish reasonable standards for avocado oil.

Wang has experience collaborating with industry and the FDA. Ten years ago, she analyzed the quality and purity of extra virgin olive oil and discovered that most of what was being sold in the U.S. was actually a much lower grade. Her research sparked a cascade of responses that led California to establish one of the world's most stringent standards for different grades of olive oil. The FDA is working with importers and domestic producers to develop standards of identity for olive oil.

“Consumers seeking the health benefits of avocado oil deserve to get what they think they are buying,” Wang said. “Working together with the industry, we can establish standards and make sure customers are getting high-quality, authentic avocado oil and the companies are competing on a level playing field.”

Tips for consumers

  • The flavor of virgin avocado oil can differ by varieties and region. In general, authentic, fresh, virgin avocado oil tastes grassy, buttery and a little bit like mushrooms.
  • Virgin avocado oil should be green in color, whereas refined avocado oil is light yellow and almost clear due to pigments removed during refining.
  • Even good oil becomes rancid with time. It's important to purchase a reasonable size that can be finished before the oil oxidizes. Store the oil away from light and heat. A cool, dark cabinet is a good choice, rather than next to the stove.  
  • How do you know if the oil is rancid? It starts to smell stale, sort of like play dough.
  • When possible, choose an oil that's closest to the harvest/production time to ensure maximum freshness. The “best before date” is not always a reliable indicator of quality.
Posted on Monday, June 15, 2020 at 5:38 PM
Tags: Avocado (2), food safety (42), nutrition (126), Selina Wang (1)
Focus Area Tags: Food

UC researcher is promoting healthy families in Tulare and Kings county communities

In a new series starting today, UC ANR features a sampling of our academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.

UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Deepa Srivastava arrived in the San Joaquin Valley in 2017 to conduct a research and education program that makes children and families healthier in Tulare and Kings counties.

Srivastava joined Cooperative Extension with diverse experience in obesity prevention research and program implementation and evaluation. Her job combines extension, research, university and public service to promote healthy living among families and children in low-income communities.

“I could hardly believe how well this job fit my interests, skills and education,” she said. “I have been involved in research and implementation and evaluation of nutrition education programs in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The UCCE position is ideal.”

UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Deepa Srivastava in front of one of the posters she presented at the California Childhood Obesity Conference.

Born in India, Srivastava immigrated to the United States after completing undergraduate and graduate degrees in her home state of Allahabad. She also earned a master's degree at North Dakota State University before moving to Nebraska, where she earned a Ph.D. in human sciences, with specialization in child, youth and family studies. After completing her doctorate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Srivastava also worked as a project lead for the Ecological Approach to (EAT) Family Style project.

“My educational background and diverse experience prepared me to be a professional in the field of childhood obesity prevention and nutrition education,” Srivastava said.

Srivastava manages two federally funded nutrition programs for low income residents of Tulare and Kings counties. The CalFresh Healthy Living program presents information on food safety, food resource management, gardening, physical activity and youth engagement. Educators reach out to elementary schools to help develop school wellness policies and make lunchroom changes that steer children toward making nutritious food choices.

The second program, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, presents a series of classes to low-income families at community centers, schools and other service centers. The classes help participants stretch their food dollars, select and prepare healthy foods and take part in physical activity.

To shape her research program in Tulare and Kings counties, Srivastava conducted a needs assessment study to understand nutrition practices in early childhood education settings. Tulare and Kings counties are among the counties in the state with high levels of obesity and food insecurity.

Following her needs assessment, Srivastava concluded a successful pilot focused on preschoolers in Kings County. She and her nutrition team in Kings County, in partnership with the Department of Hospitality Management at West Hills Community College-Lemoore and preschools located at the college campus, implemented a collaborative nutrition education program to help preschoolers learn about healthy eating.

Srivastava is conducting further research to assess program sustainability and community engagement efforts, including how nutrition education offered by UCCE in Tulare and Kings counties motivates children and families to improve their knowledge, attitude, skills and behavior. Her research aims to understand the influences on children's eating and physical activity practices.

Srivastava is actively involved in obesity prevention initiatives within UC ANR and at the local, statewide and national level. Working with local community partners, she and her team have already introduced a number of change initiatives in Tulare and Kings counties to promote healthy lifestyles across lifespan, such as establishing new school gardens, youth engagement projects, healthy youth farmer's market and physical activity such as walking clubs and dance exercise classes.

“Our team is supported by experts from the University of California who are on the cutting-edge of the latest research and curriculum design,” Srivastava said.

Srivastava and her team were recognized at the National Extension Association for Family & Consumer Sciences conference in Hershey, Penn., in October 2019, where they won two SNAP-Ed/EFNEP awards: third-place at the national level and first place for the Western region.

“I am proud of my team's passion and hard work,” she said. “Our nutrition education programs have meaningful private and public values that promote healthy people and communities.”

Posted on Monday, January 27, 2020 at 11:22 AM
Tags: Deepa Srivastava (1), nutrition (126), obesity (28)
Focus Area Tags: Food

Smarter snacks for schools

Photo by Peggy Greb
Our food environment (what we have access to around us to eat and drink) greatly influences what we consume. For many young people, the school food environment plays a huge role in what their overall eating pattern looks like since many youth consume one-third to half of their calories on school grounds.

The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) marked the first major update to school meal guidelines across America in 15 years. Prior to HHFKA, there were no restrictions on salt, fat content in milk, or trans fats. Fruits and vegetables were grouped together, and there were no guidelines about increasing variety. In addition, snacks (i.e., competitive foods, since they compete with the school meal program) were not regulated, which meant that students could purchase junk food like candy bars and soda through vending machines right next to the cafeteria.

At the same time, childhood obesity rates were continuing to increase, along with risk factors associated with chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. With the updated regulations for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, millions of students across the U.S. got access to healthier meals, more in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

But what about the other foods that are available to kids during the school day? If a cookie is being sold right next to the school lunch and at a lower price, why not just buy the cookie? Or if you know your class is getting brownies from the teacher later, why get lunch at all?

USDA Guide to Smart Snacks

The answer: New standards under the HHFKA set regulations on snacks that can be sold during the school day. Now called Smart Snacks, these food items must align with federal nutrition standards. Such standards include being at least:

  • 50% whole grain OR
  • having the first ingredient on the nutrition label be a fruit, vegetable, dairy product or protein food OR
  • being a combination food where at least ¼ cup of the snack is a fruit or vegetable.

Many granola bars, popcorn, crackers and even treats like brownies can be a Smart Snack. Whole fruit, vegetables and frozen fruit in water or 100% fruit juice are always Smart Snacks. These standards are also required for fundraisers and events that occur during the school day, basically anytime money is exchanged for food at school. Surprising to most, the school day (for the purpose of school food regulations) actually starts at midnight before and ends 30 minutes after the last class of the day.

Smart Snacks Stores

What makes a snack 'smart'?

Don't worry, it's not just kale chips and broccoli stalks (although kale chips and broccoli are awesome!). There are a variety of Smart Snacks that fit the taste preferences for every age range.

As parents, community partners, school boosters and school staff, we all have a role in ensuring our youth have access to healthier snacks at school. It's also the law if your school participates in the federal school meal program. To find out if the food you want to sell or give out to kids makes the smart snack grade, you can check out the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Smart Snack online calculator, where you can enter in the nutrition information from the food label. Also, large online retailers like Costco and Amazon have Smart Snacks stores where you can browse and purchase a variety of compliant Smart Snacks. These standards have been around for some time now, but many people are still unfamiliar with them or don't understand their importance.

While Smart Snacks rules only apply to food that is sold to students during the school day, other policies - like your district's Local School Wellness Policy – may govern what can be provided to students on campus through rewards and incentives or at school celebrations. So, while there are regulations about what can be sold at school during the school day, why stop there? Why not make your after school fundraiser or snack shack healthy? Why not use smart snacks instead of sugary treats? Or even better, use non-food incentives like a birthday book instead of the same sugary cupcakes that come around each time there is a birthday. Instead of selling soda for $1 with the hotdog meal at the school carnival, try sparkling water or a hydration station with fruit infused water and a prize if you bring your own reusable water bottle. Just like clothes and movies, healthy and sustainable foods are becoming more trendy and lucrative for your fundraiser!

Overall, Smart Snacks are an important complement to the national school meal program and can be a great way to help students maintain growth and success in the classroom while also helping to maintain healthy lifestyles throughout life. Let your PTA and school partners know with this new infographic.

Smart Snacks Infographic

Posted on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:15 AM
Tags: Lauren Thomas (1), nutrition (126), Shannon Klisch (2), Snacks (1)
Focus Area Tags: Food Health

Eating healthy on a limited budget is possible, but any cuts in SNAP or rise in food costs make it harder

With menu planning and access to stores selling items in bulk, Karen Jetter of the UC Agricultural Issues Center found the average daily cost for serving healthy meals to a family of four was $25 in 2010 dollars.

The affordability of healthy food is often cited as a barrier to low-income families eating nutritious meals. A new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that with menu planning and access to stores selling items in bulk, the average daily cost for serving healthy meals to a family of four was $25 in 2010 dollars. This cost was consistent with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) low-income cost of food meal plan, but higher than the cost of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan. The Thrifty Food Plan is the meal plan used by the USDA to determine food assistance benefits.

“This study determined the likelihood that families living in low-income households could create meals that meet the USDA dietary guidelines presented in MyPlate nutrition education materials,” said lead author Karen M. Jetter, Ph.D., of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. “In addition to food cost, the other factors considered were access to stores, time for meal preparation, and whether the menus included culturally appropriate foods.”

Jetter also cautioned that any reduction in SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for people with qualifying low incomes, or increase in food costs would make it hard for economically vulnerable families to eat healthy foods.

This research was part of a larger study to train community members in research methods using community-based participatory research principles.

This project was conducted in collaboration with Northern Valley Indian Health, Inc, and the Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria where 88 percent of the population surveyed lived in households with an income of less than or equal to $35,000 a year. The menus were created to feed a household with a father, mother, and children ages 7 and 10 with foods the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community liked to eat, met USDA guidelines for healthy eating, and had realistic portions. Menus did not rely on processed foods to reduce the amount of fat and salt in the family diet, were varied so the family would not become bored eating the same foods, did not always require hot meal preparation, and were affordable.

By working closely with the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community researchers, two-weeks of daily menus were developed using meal plans provided by the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community. Although these plans did not meet the nutritional guidelines every day, all categories achieved the recommended levels on average at the end of a two-week period.

“These menus showed that a healthy diet on a budget was achieved by balancing daily targets over two weeks, not every day. This focuses healthy eating on balance rather than being deprived,” said Jetter.

Once the menus were determined, the Mechoopda Indian Tribe community researchers visited 13 grocery stores in Chico to ascertain menu costs. The stores visited were within a 10-minute car ride of 76 percent of the Mechoopda Indian Tribe members and were classified as bulk supermarket, general supermarket, discount market, or specialty market such as a local co-op.

Both bulk and general supermarkets had the highest availability of the items needed for a two-week shopping list, whereas specialty and discount markets lacked as many as 52 of the items needed. Bulk and discount market baskets had the lowest average daily cost of $25, while the specialty market had the highest average cost of $39 per day.

One limitation of the study was the focus on the actual cost of food without considering transactional costs such as the time needed to plan menus, develop shopping lists, research store advertisements, and travel to the bulk supermarket that offered the lowest cost. All of these factors influence a family's ability to sustain a healthy eating plan.

“This research demonstrates that menus that meet USDA guidelines can be purchased by a family of four when shopping at a bulk supermarket, but any reduction in SNAP benefits or increase in food costs would make it difficult for these economically vulnerable families to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” stressed Jetter.

This project was part of a larger project funded by a National Institutes of Health grant.

 

Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2019 at 9:01 AM
Focus Area Tags: Family Food

How to support your breastfeeding employees when they are out in the field

New parents returning to work after the birth of a child face a lot of questions and uncertainties, particularly around breastfeeding. Should I continue to breastfeed? Will there be a space for me to pump milk in private? What will my boss and co-workers say? How many times should I pump when I am away from my baby?

Recognizing the importance of breastfeeding to the health of both parent and child, California recently passed AB 1976 to strengthen protections for working parents that want to continue to breastfeed and need to express milk (i.e., pump) at work. Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, employers must make reasonable efforts to provide a private area to pump that is not a bathroom or face fines and penalties. Prior to 2019, some employers would designate a bathroom as their lactation room, a practice that was technically “ok” so long as the toilet was behind a stall or other barrier. Now that practice is expressly prohibited and employers will need to find another space to accommodate lactating employees.

So, what happens when an employer cannot provide a permanent, private area due to operational or financial conditions? Many new parents might find themselves in just this position. Agricultural workers or field researchers may not work in a traditional office or they may find themselves at off-site locations for a large percentage of their work day. At UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, many employees travel across multiple counties delivering community health education lessons at various sites. AB 1976 includes provisions for setting up temporary lactation locations so long as the space is private, only used for that purpose while the employee is expressing milk, and otherwise meets the requirements of state law concerning lactation (again, it cannot be a bathroom).

Do not disturb sign for vehicle door

Lactation locations when out in the field

To be compliant with state law, avoid fines and penalties and support the health of their employees, employers may need to set-up a temporary lactation station for their workers. AB 1976 specifically states that agricultural employers are compliant if they provide a “private, enclosed, and shaded space, including, but not limited to, an air-conditioned cab of a truck or tractor.”

One solution is to assemble a mobile lactation unit that employees can check out or reserve based on their pumping schedule. Mobile lactation stations can take many forms, however, some basics that should be included in a lactation unit are listed and itemized below.

Truck interior with car shades set-up

Privacy screens and supplies

To be compliant, the space needs to be private and free from intrusion. When setting up the mobile station in a vehicle, you will need to have privacy screens that fit all vehicle windows front, back and sides. There are many options on the market ranging in price from $20 on up. When ordering window shades, you will need to know the make and model of the vehicle.

  • Privacy screens for front, back and side windows (4 total, $21 each) = $84
  • Signage and door locks to prevent intrusion or knocking

Food safety supplies

Remember, breast milk is food. Helping your employee keep their expressed breast milk safe for their baby will result in less illness and less time off work. Some basics:

  • Sanitizing surface wipes: These will be used to sanitize the space including the seat, dashboard or other surfaces that may come in contact with the lactation equipment. Large container of surface sanitizing wipes = $5
  • Hand sanitizing wipes: Unless there is always a sink in close proximity, your employee will want to wash their hands before and after pumping. If their hands are very dirty they will need to have a place where they can remove all dirt and debris before using the hand sanitizing wipes. Hand sanitizing wipes = $4
  • Cooler bag, ice pack and thermometer for the employee to store the expressed milk safely. The cooler size and number of ice packs needed will depend on the conditions where the milk will be stored. A small cooler with one ice pack will heat up quickly on a hot day. The thermometer will give the employee peace of mind that the milk stayed below 40 degrees and is safe for the child. Leaving/storing a cooler with expressed milk in the trunk or interior of car will increase the temperature in the cooler more quickly. Instead, find a shaded location when possible. 1 cooler bag (approx. $15) + ice packs (approx. $8) + cooler thermometer (approx. $2) = $25
  • Backpack or bag: To store these items when the lactation space is being used for other purposes (e.g., driving), you will need a backpack or bag. Costs can vary, however, the bag should be large enough to fully contain all of the items and ensure that they are not contaminated by other materials that may be placed around or near the supplies. You will want it to have a zipper and an easy-to-clean material on the outside and inside (e.g., vinyl or plastic-coated fabric). Cost is variable $5 to $150 depending on your style and budget needs.
  • Closed trash receptacle for all used cleaning wipes. Approx. $5

Additional item

Sample adapter available for cars/trucks
Adapter for vehicle: Assuming employees have their own pump and equipment, a nice touch is to include an adapter in the kit. An inverter that adapts a car plug to a regular outlet will ensure that the kit is compatible for many different brands of electric pumps.  (Approx. $20-$30)

Support for breastfeeding employees is not only a company perk, it's the law. Under certain circumstances, employers can set-up these mobile lactation stations for their field-based employees for under $150. What better way to promote employee health, avoid fines and penalties and support local families?

Posted on Monday, February 4, 2019 at 1:50 PM
Tags: AB 1976 (1), Breast feeding (2), breast milk (2), nutrition (126)
Focus Area Tags: Family Food Health

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