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Nutrition

Rethink favorite recipes with pecan

Kitchen staples are being used to add twists to traditional dishes, so finding an item you can use to mix up classic family recipes is key. Pecans pack flavor, texture and nutrition all in one bite, and they have a long shelf life.

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Freshen up family dinners by adding new ingredients like pecans, with natural richness and subtle sweetness coupled with irresistible crunch.

Kitchen staples are being used to add twists to traditional dishes, so finding an item you can use to mix up classic family recipes is key. Pecans pack flavor, texture and nutrition all in one bite, and they have a long shelf life. Shelled pecans can be kept in airtight containers in the refrigerator for about nine months and for up to two years in sealed plastic bags in the freezer.

While pecans are beloved in classic desserts, like pecan pie, they also offer a variety of nutrition benefits that can be added to nearly any meal. They are among the highest in “good” monounsaturated fats, contain 3 grams of plant protein per serving and are a source of fiber, flavonoids and minerals like manganese, which is essential for metabolism and bone health.

Nearly two decades of research document the heart-health benefits of pecans. In fact, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1 1/2 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pecans, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of pecans (28 grams) has 18 grams of unsaturated fat and only 2 grams of saturated fat.

Add crunch to this Chinese Chicken Salad with Pecans by swapping out croutons, use chopped pecans as a flavorful and nutrient-dense coating for Pecan Chicken Meatballs and bake this Pecan Banana Bread as a nutritious and kid-friendly breakfast or snack to fill your home with a delicious scent.

Pecan Chicken Meatballs
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 9 meatballs

1pound ground chicken
1/4cup spinach, chopped
1tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1egg
1teaspoon minced garlic
1/4teaspoon onion powder
1/4teaspoon paprika
1/4teaspoon salt
1/4teaspoon pepper
1/4teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1cup finely chopped fresh pecan pieces, divided

Heat oven to 400 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In large bowl, mix ground chicken, spinach, lemon juice, egg, garlic, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne (if desired) and 1/2 cup pecans until well combined.

Roll chicken mixture into 1 tablespoon-sized meatballs.

Place reserved pecans in bowl. Roll meatballs in pecans to coat then place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake 20-30 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.

Serve warm with sauces for dipping or over pasta.

Chinese Chicken Salad with Pecans
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Servings: 4

Dressing:

1/4cup pecan butter
1tablespoon rice vinegar
1tablespoon honey
1teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 1/2teaspoons soy sauce
2tablespoons warm water, plus additional as needed (optional)

Salad:

4ounces dried thin rice noodles

cold water
4cups chopped romaine lettuce
4cups chopped iceberg lettuce
1/4cup toasted and chopped pecans
2scallions, finely chopped
1cup bean sprouts
1/2cup crispy wontons
1cup mandarin oranges
2tablespoons sesame seeds
2cups rotisserie chicken breast, chopped

To make dressing: In medium bowl, whisk pecan butter, rice vinegar, honey, sesame oil and soy sauce until smooth.

Add 2 tablespoons warm water and whisk until incorporated. Add additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if desired, until dressing reaches pourable consistency.

To make salad: Cook rice noodles according to package instructions. Once cooked, drain and transfer to bowl with cold water to keep from sticking.

In large bowl, toss romaine and iceberg lettuces, pecans, scallions, bean sprouts, crispy wontons, mandarin oranges and sesame seeds.

Divide salad among four plates; top each with 1/2 cup chicken and serve with dressing.

Pecan Banana Bread
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 60 minutes
Servings: 8

10ounces gluten-free baking flour mix
1teaspoon baking powder
1/2teaspoon baking soda
1/2teaspoon sea salt
2flax eggs
1cup organic brown or coconut sugar
1/2cup coconut oil
1/2vanilla bean
1/2cup vegan yogurt
3/4cup mashed bananas, ripe
1cup raw pecan pieces, chopped, plus additional for topping

Heat oven to 350 F. Prepare 9-by-5-inch banana bread pan.

In medium bowl, sift flour mix, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt; whisk to combine.
In mixer bowl, mix eggs, sugar and coconut oil 2 minutes on medium-low speed.

Scrape vanilla bean and add to mixture. Add vegan yogurt and mashed bananas; mix 2 minutes on medium-low speed.

Remove bowl from mixer and fold 1 cup raw pecan pieces into batter until evenly distributed.
Add batter to banana bread pan and use spatula to smooth down top. Sprinkle additional pecan pieces on top.

Bake banana bread on top rack 60 minutes until toothpick comes out with few crumbs but not completely clean.

Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes in pan. Hold sides of pan and flip onto wire rack.

Allow bread to cool completely. Slice as desired.

Discover more nutritious recipes at AmericanPecan.com.

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Nutrition

Food safety when eating outdoors

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Photo by Quaritsch Photography from Unsplash.com

It may already be September, but summer is far from over! There’s still plenty of warm and sunny days perfect for picnics and barbecues. Unfortunately, this time of year is also a favorite for foodborne bacteria that cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning), which multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. 

Follow the tips below to keep your food safe when eating outdoors.

Before your picnic or barbecue

  • Defrost meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator. If you thaw by submerging sealed packages in cold water or defrost in the microwave, the food should be cooked immediately afterward.
  • Never reuse marinade that touched raw foods unless you boil it first. Instead, you can set some of the marinade aside before marinating food to use for sauce later.
  • Marinate foods in the fridge, not the countertop.
  • Wash all produce before eating, even if you plan to peel it. The knife you use to peel it can spread bacteria into the part you eat. Fruits and vegetables that are pre-cut or peeled should be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.
  • If your picnic site doesn’t offer clean water access, bring water and soap or pack moist disposable towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
  • Don’t forget to pack a food thermometer!

Packing coolers

  • Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home.
  • Use ice or ice packs to keep your cooler at 40 °F or below.
  • Pack raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler, or wrap it securely and store at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can’t drip onto other foods. Place beverages in a separate cooler; this will offer easy drink access while keeping perishable food coolers closed.
  • Minimize the time coolers are held in the trunk of the car, as the trunk can get very hot. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at high temperatures. Once at the picnic site, keep food in coolers until serving time (out of direct sun) and avoid opening the lids often.

Grilling

  • Have clean utensils and platters available. Cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the right temperatures ─ use a food thermometer to be sure (see FDA’s Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart). Keep cooked meats hot at 140 °F or warmer until serving time — set them to the side of the grill rack to keep them hot.
  • When removing foods from the grill, place them on a clean platter. Never use the same platter and utensils for cooked food that you used for raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

Time and temperature 

Don’t let hot or cold food sit in the “Danger Zone” (between 40 °F and 140 °F) for more than 2 hours – or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 °F. If they do, throw them away.

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NewsMakers

Skipping breakfast may increase chance of kids and teens developing psychosocial health problems

It is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat.

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Photo by Leti Kugler from Unsplash.com

Young people who eat healthy breakfasts at home have better psychosocial health, shows a recent study in Frontiers in Nutrition. While previous research has reported the important role of a nutritious breakfast, this is the first study to look at the reported effects of whether kids eat breakfast, as well as where and what they eat. These results provide valuable insights and recommendations for parents and their children.

“Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat,” said first author Dr. José Francisco López-Gil of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain. “Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Similarly, consumption of certain foods/drinks are associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairies, cereals) odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.”

Breakfast matters

In this study, López-Gil and his collaborators analyzed data from the 2017 Spanish National Health Survey. This survey included questionnaires both about breakfast habits as well as children’s psychosocial health, which included characteristics such as self-esteem, mood, and anxiety. The questionnaires were completed by the children’s parents, or guardians, and the results included a total of 3,772 Spanish residents between the ages of four and 14.

Among the most important results, López-Gil and the team found that eating breakfast away from home was nearly as detrimental as skipping the meal entirely. The authors suggest that this may be because meals away from home are frequently less nutritious than those prepared at home.

The results also showed that coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, bread, toast, cereals, and pastries were all associated with lower chances of behavioral problems. Surprisingly, eggs, cheese, and ham were linked with higher risks of such issues.

Beyond nutrition

Although this study is limited to Spain, these findings are consistent with research performed elsewhere. The availability of nutritious breakfasts at schools would likely influence the results in some locations.

But other factors, such as the social and family support that young people can receive during breakfast at home, may also play a role in the observed benefits. The authors emphasize the need for further studies to understand the cause-and-effect relationships behind their observations, but they still suggest the usefulness of these results.

“The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study,” said López-Gil. “Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle routine, but also that it should be eaten at home. Also, to prevent psychosocial health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or cereals, and minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.”

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Nutrition

It doesn’t matter much which fiber you choose – just get more fiber

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

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Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash.com

That huge array of dietary fiber supplements in the drugstore or grocery aisle can be overwhelming to a consumer. They make all sorts of health claims too, not being subject to FDA review and approval. So how do you know which supplement works and would be best for you?

A rigorous examination of the gut microbes of study participants who were fed three different kinds of supplements in different sequences concludes that people who had been eating the least amount of fiber before the study showed the greatest benefit from supplements, regardless of which ones they consumed.

“The people who responded the best had been eating the least fiber to start with,” said study leader Lawrence David, an associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University.

The benefit of dietary fiber isn’t just the easier pooping that advertisers tout. Fermentable fiber — dietary carbohydrates that the human gut cannot process on its own but some bacteria can digest — is also an essential source of nutrients that your gut microbes need to stay healthy.

“We’ve evolved to depend on nutrients that our microbiomes produce for us,” said Zack Holmes, former PhD student in the David lab and co-author on two new papers about fiber. “But with recent shifts in diet away from fiber-rich foods, we’ve stopped feeding our microbes what they need.”

When your gut bugs are happily munching on a high-fiber diet, they produce more of the short-chain fatty acids that protect you from diseases of the gut, colorectal cancers and even obesity. And in particular, they produce more of a fatty acid called butyrate, which is fuel for your intestinal cells themselves. Butyrate has been shown to improve the gut’s resistance to pathogens, lower inflammation and create happier, healthier cells lining the host’s intestines.

Given the variety of supplements available, David’s research team wanted to know whether it may be necessary to ‘personalize’ fiber supplements to different people, since different fermentable fibers have been shown to have different effects on short-chain fatty acid production from one individual to the next.

“We didn’t see a lot of difference between the fiber supplements we tested. Rather, they looked interchangeable,” David said during a tour of his sparkling new lab in the MSRB III building, which includes a special “science toilet” for collecting samples and an array of eight “artificial gut” fermenters for growing happy gut microbes outside a body.

“Regardless of which of the test supplements you pick, it seems your microbiome will thank you with more butyrate,” David said.

The average American adult only consumes 20 to 40 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber, which is believed to be a root cause behind a lot of our common health maladies, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders and colon cancer. Instead of having to go totally vegetarian or consume pounds of kale daily, convenient fiber supplements have been created that can increase the production of short-chain fatty acids.

The Duke experiments tested three main kinds of fermentable fiber supplements: inulin, dextrin (Benefiber), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) marketed as Bimuno. The 28 participants were separated into groups and given each of the three supplements for one week in different orders, with a week off between supplements to allow participants’ guts to return to a baseline state. 

Participants who had been consuming the most fiber beforehand showed the least change in their microbiomes, and the type of supplement really didn’t matter, probably because they were already hosting a more optimal population of gut bugs, David said.

Conversely, participants who had been consuming the least fiber saw the greatest increase in butyrate with the supplements, regardless of which one was being consumed.

In a second study the David lab performed with support from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, they found that gut microbes responded to a new addition of fiber within a day, dramatically altering the populations of bugs present in the gut and changing which of their genes they were using to digest food.

Using their artificial gut fermenters, the researchers found the gut microbes were primed by the first dose to consume fiber, and digested it quickly on the second dose.

“These findings are encouraging,” said graduate student Jeffrey Letourneau, lead author of the second study. “If you’re a low fiber consumer, it’s probably not worth it to stress so much about which kind of fiber to add. It’s just important that you find something that works for you in a sustainable way.”

“It doesn’t need to be a supplement either,” Holmes added. “It can just be a fiber-rich food. Folks who were already eating a lot of fiber, which comes from plants like beans, leafy greens, and citrus, already had very healthy microbiomes.”

“Microbiota Responses to Different Prebiotics Are Conserved Within Individuals and Associated with Habitual Fiber Intake” by Zachary Holmes, Max Villa, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Eric Dallow, Brianna Petrone, Justin Silverman, Pao-Hwa Lin, and Lawrence David appeared in Microbiome.

“Ecological Memory of Prior Nutrient Exposure in the Human Gut Microbiome” by Jeffrey Letourneau, Zachary Holmes, Eric Dallow, Heather Durand, Sharon Jiang, Verónica Carrion, Savita Gupta, Adam Mincey, Michael Muehlbauer, and James Bain, Lawrence David appeared in ISME Journal.

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