Students serve up nutrient rich alternatives
Posted: December 12, 2012
The Winchester Star
Winchester — One of the most basic rules of nutrition is also one that not enough people follow.
Doctors, nutritionists, trainers, health gurus — almost everyone can agree on the fact that getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential to maintaining good health.
Yet knowing that, studies continue to show the majority of Americans — about 90 percent — still don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet, said Audra Gollenberg, assistant professor of public health at Shenandoah University.
“Some of the leading causes of death in Americans are diet related chronic diseases,” said Gollenberg, who is also program director of SU’s public health program.
With the help of some of her students, she is hoping to change that, at least on a small scale.
Gollenberg had SU seniors Katherine Brady, 22, and Amber VanHorn, 21, provided a free healthy cooking demonstration Dec. 5, and about 30 of their fellow students showed up to watch.
The pair demonstrated how to make sautéed collard greens and three bean salad, both recipes that feature nutrient dense vegetables.
The fact that the vegetables were rich in nutrients is an important distinction, Brady said. “Just because there is a vegetable in a recipe doesn’t make it healthy.”
The demonstration was part of their internship with Gollenberg to gain experience with community education and designing healthy eating workshops.
But the group isn’t only focused on getting SU students thinking about healthier eating, although that is a great goal, Gollenberg said. She recently received funding to do a farmers market incentive program with local participants of Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and some of her students are helping pull the information together.
“In order to encourage WIC participants to eat more fresh food, we are going to give them vouchers to be used at local farmers markets, and we will give them cooking demonstrations to show them how to cook the food,” she said.
The program, which will launch in early spring, will start with 40 women and $30 in vouchers to be used at participating farmers markets, Gollenberg said. It is not a huge sum, but it is a start. Local markets may participate in the program.
By teaching the women about focusing on vegetables in season, they will keep down their costs, support local farmers and cut out some unnecessary steps for their food to make it from farm to table.
And by offering cooking demonstrations, she hopes the program will help overcome another barrier. The fact that many people don’t know how to cook fresh vegetables, at least in a healthy way, is a deterrent to people buying them.
With fruit, which often does not require much preparation, people often say cost is the main deterrent, Gollenberg said.
Although the voucher program is only for WIC participants, the cooking demonstrations will be open to the public, but dates have not been set, Gollenberg said.
The program will focus on dishes with a good amount of nutrient rich vegetables, their beneficial properties and how to cook them, she said.
Collard greens for instance are low calorie, contain no cholesterol, are good sources of vitamins A and C, and help prevent breast, colon, prostate, cervical and ovarian cancers. The recipe that VanHorn made with olive oil, garlic and salt was only 73 calories per serving.
Many people would not think of collard greens as a go-to snack, Brady said, admitting she used to be one of them. She had never eaten collard greens until two days before the demonstration.
But considering they are a nutritional dish, can be cooked in about 15 minutes and are “yummy” to boot, they are on her radar now, she said.
She had a similar realization with her three bean salad, which brings a number of nutrients to the table. Green beans and yellow beans are high in fiber, vitamin A and potassium. Kidney beans have low cholesterol and are a good source of protein and vitamin C. Onions are high in fiber and vitamin C, while mushrooms are good for fiber and vitamin D.
The beauty of both recipes is they are easy even for novice cooks, Brady said. One thing about college students — and busy moms — is they want as few steps as possible to keep life simple.
There are plenty of vegetables Gollenberg hopes to highlight with the program that are much simpler and more affordable than people think.
For instance, asparagus can be roasted on a greased cookie pan for 10 to 12 minutes on 350 degrees, she said. Even simpler, put it in a dish with a little water on the bottom, cover with plastic wrap, slit it for ventilation and cook for two to three minutes on high in the microwave to steam them. Keep adding 30 seconds each time until spears are done to your liking and season them.
Other great vegetables to try are beets (good source of folates and potassium), spinach (iron, antioxidants and vitamin K), sweet potatoes (vitamins A and B6 and fiber), and Swiss chard (vitamins C and K).
Deep frying is not even a consideration if the cook wants the dish to have any nutritional value at all, she said. Instead go with methods such as sautéing, baking, steaming, lightly pan frying in olive oil, and roasting.
“Those are often fairly easy methods, too,” she said.
A good winter salad involves butternut squash and spinach and is high in vitamin A, folic acid and fiber, Gollenberg said. She steams the butternut squash in chunks and adds it to spinach that has been rinsed and dried. Then add dried cranberries and walnuts and an olive oil or a vinaigrette dressing. The recipe can be modified to change the kind of nut or dried fruit or add spices, such as cinnamon or pumpkin spice.
To make an easy pumpkin soup, cut the top off a cooking pumpkin and scoop out the stringy stuff. Bake it, top down, at 325 degrees for 45 minutes or until it is soft. Scoop out the meat of the pumpkin, puree it in a blender with a little milk. To change the flavor a little, add pureed cook onions, apple cider or different spices.
“Real roasted pumpkin is so good for you,” Gollenberg said. “It probably has triple the amount of vitamin A you need for your daily amount and lots of fiber.”
For more information on the cooking demonstrations, contact Gollenberg at email@example.com.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org