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Nutrition

Sweet, refreshing summer snacks

Watermelon is a picnic staple for countless reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a beloved treat that many people associate with memories from childhood. However, nostalgia isn’t the only reason adults are just as likely to gravitate toward watermelon at a summer event.

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There’s no time like a hot summer picnic to let your patriotic spirit show. These snacks featuring a classic favorite fruit – watermelon – are the perfect solution for nearly any summertime celebration.

Watermelon is a picnic staple for countless reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a beloved treat that many people associate with memories from childhood. However, nostalgia isn’t the only reason adults are just as likely to gravitate toward watermelon at a summer event. Its sweet, cool and refreshing flavor also makes it a favorite for all ages.

From a practical standpoint, watermelon is also quite portable, versatile and easy to serve, and with a composition of 92% water, it’s a simple way to sneak in some extra hydration on a hot day. Another benefit is its value; watermelon is one of the best values in the produce section among fruit, and just one watermelon can feed up to three dozen people.

Serving watermelon at a party can be as simple as slicing wedges, or you can prepare a dish such as:

  • A fruit basket, with the rind serving as a colorful bowl to hold the watermelon and other fresh fruits.
  • A charcuterie board with a selection of fruit, cheese and protein for simple snacking.
  • Creamy parfaits, perfect for a summery brunch or alternative to more traditional desserts.
  • A creatively colorful and patriotic “cake” that makes for a tasty centerpiece on the dessert table.

A simple fruit-infused water can give your summer event an instant upgrade in no time at all. Add extra dimension and complexity to the flavor by adding some of your favorite herbs like basil and mint.

Watermelon-Infused Water

2cups watermelon balls or cubes
1cup other fruit, such as berries

herbs, such as basil or mint

Place watermelon, fruit and herbs in pitcher and cover with water. For best flavor, allow to chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.

Red, White and Blue Watermelon Parfait

1cup blueberries
1container (6 ounces) Greek yogurt (vanilla, lemon or coconut)
1cup watermelon, plus three pieces diced watermelon

whipped cream, for serving

In pint canning jar, layer blueberries, yogurt and 1 cup watermelon. Top with whipped cream and garnish with three diced watermelon pieces.

Note: To make ahead or make thicker, drain Greek yogurt on paper towels to absorb some liquid.

Patriotic Fruit Salad

1watermelon

honeydew

blueberries

Slice 1/4 inch off bottom of watermelon, lengthwise, to create stable base.

Use pencil to draw zig-zag lines for basket opening. Using paring knife, make cuts through rind.

Carefully remove top section, pull out large chunks of flesh and cut them into 3-by-3-inch squares.

Trim 3/4-inch thick slices off squares to use for cutting out stars with 1 1/2-3-inch, star-shaped cookie cutters.

Use ice cream scoop to remove flesh from inside basket and cut scoops into quarters for fruit salad. Place in bottom of basket. Add honeydew and blueberries; stir to combine.

Cut out white stripes from honeydew.

Garnish top of fruit salad with watermelon stars, honeydew stripes and blueberries.

Patriotic Charcuterie Board

1/2medium seedless watermelon, cut into wedges
1/2cup fresh raspberries
1 1/2cups fresh blueberries
10strawberries (dipped in white chocolate, if desired)
5ounces fresh goat cheese
1/2cup toasted, salted cashews
2ounces cured meats like prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, salami, soppressata, sausage or pepperoni
1Honeycrisp apple, cored and sliced

lemon juice

fresh basil leaves

On large board or platter, arrange watermelon, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cheese, cashews, meat and apples. Drizzle fruit with lemon juice. Garnish with basil leaves before serving.

Flag Kebab Cake

1pint fresh, washed blackberries
12wooden skewers
1seedless watermelon, flesh cut into 1-inch cubes
1angel food cake, cut into 1-inch cubes (white part only)

dips, such as yogurt, chocolate, caramel or marshmallow (optional)

Thread five blackberries on each of five skewers, followed by alternating watermelon and cake cubes.

On remaining skewers, alternate watermelon and cake so first and last cubes are watermelon. Place skewers on platter; fruit and cake will create stars and stripes when lined properly.

Serve with dips, if desired.

Find more ideas for incorporating watermelon into your summer festivities at watermelon.org.

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Nutrition

Food safety when eating outdoors

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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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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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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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