What do you think of when you hear the word bacteria? If you are like most people, you probably think of those teeny, tiny germs that are invisible to the naked eye, but have the potential to cause serious illness. And while you would not be wrong to think that way, you would be leaving out a huge percentage of bacteria that are considered “good” bacteria.
The common name for “good” bacteria is probiotics (from the roots pro and biota, meaning “for life”). They are a group of beneficial microorganisms that have been shown to improve a variety of digestive and other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and urinary tract infections.
Foods like Greek yogurt are a good source of probiotics, which have been shown to have a positive effect on digestive health. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)
Probiotics are found in a variety of foods, primarily fermented foods such as Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, fermented drinks such as buttermilk and kombucha, and pickled vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut. The bacteria required for the fermentation process – the process that gives these foods their tangy flavor – have been shown to provide natural health benefits.
The primary benefit of probiotics is their positive effect on a variety of gastrointestinal ailments such as diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and stomach ulcers. According to Harvard Medical School, probiotics can also help reduce the presence of harmful bacteria, such as H. pylori and C. difficile, both of which can cause digestive problems.
In Northern Europe and many Asian countries, people get probiotics mainly from food sources, where fermented foods are consumed more regularly. Here in the United States, many people get probiotics from over-the-counter (OTC) supplements. These products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, however, so when choosing OTC supplements, be wary of the claims they make.
The information about probiotics is not all positive, however. Some people report an increase in diarrhea after taking probiotics for the first time, which usually goes away with time. Also, people with a compromised immune system may experience illness caused by probiotics if too many are taken.
That being said, OTC probiotics have also been shown to have positive effects on health, when taken as directed. However, they are not a cure-all, and more research needs to be done to learn more about their complete effects on gastrointestinal health and immune support. Just like with other supplements, it is important to consult with a physician or pharmacist before beginning a probiotic regimen.
So, what is the final word on probiotics? Well, it depends. While they are not a magic bullet that can cure everything that ails you, they can be a positive addition to a healthy diet. Many foods that contain probiotics also contain other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals, which are an important part of a nutritious diet.
One more thing: do not confuse prebiotics with probiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible, short-chain carbohydrates that serve as fuel for probiotics. On their own, they do not offer any health benefits, but they can serve to promote the growth of probiotic species. Foods with high amounts of prebiotics include fruits and vegetables and whole grains, so a diet rich in these foods can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
To learn more about probiotics, please contact your local Extension agent.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
I have just wrapped up my three-day Kitchen Creations camp and am happy to report that it was a big hit with the campers. Each day had a different country theme. Day 1 was Italian, Day 2 was Mexican, and Day 3 was American. All the dishes the kids made, including dessert, represented that day’s country.
The recipes ranged from simple to more complex, allowing the kids to build on basic skills to learn more advanced ones. For some campers, boiling a pot of water was a daunting task. For others, they learned how to caramelize and julienne. The campers worked in teams to create two main dishes, a salad, and a dessert each day, which was shared with the entire group.
I am pleased to announce there were no leftovers. The kids either ate it all, or wanted to take their culinary creations home to share with their families. If that is not a testimony to the camp’s success, I do not know what is.
I also was impressed with the campers’ willingness to try new things. Many of them were skeptical about the vegetable lasagna we made on Day 1, but nearly all the kids were willing to at least give it a try. And just like the baked ziti, Caesar salad, and chocolate biscotti we made that day, there was nothing left at the end of the day.
Kitchen skills are essential for healthy living, and teaching kids how to cook when they are young provides a strong foundation upon which to continue to build.
Kids can be eager helpers in the kitchen, even when it comes to cleaning up. Photo source: Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension
Kids are eager learners in the kitchen. All the campers in Kitchen Creations were enthusiastic and ready to learn. They were proud of their creations, wanted to learn new skills, and were excited to use new tools and practice using familiar ones.
It is understandable that some parents may be reluctant to have younger kids in the kitchen. Maybe they are wary of possible injury. Maybe they are just so busy they do not have time to teach and supervise their children in the kitchen. It is a hectic world out there! But I know from personal experience with Kitchen Creations camp that kids, especially those interested in cooking, are more trustworthy and less accident-prone in the kitchen than some might expect.
The campers in my cooking camp are between the ages of 10 and 12 and in the four summers I have offered it, I have had only a few minor mishaps. The campers are aware of possible dangers in the kitchen. Things are hot. Things are sharp. Things are heavy. They are very conscientious about safety and handling things the correct way.
Kids who cook grow into adults who cook. Cooking is an important life skill that will be useful through someone’s entire life. Whether it is a student putting together quick, healthy meals and snacks to help them study, a busy parent trying to balance the responsibilities of everyday life while planning and making nutritious meals for their family, or a doting grandparent making something special for their grandkids, cooking is vital and brings people together.
Cooking is life.
I encourage you to support the budding chefs in your life. Instead of turning them away, allow them to help. Taking the time to prepare a meal together and then sharing that meal with loved ones builds stronger relationships while teaching important skills for a successful life.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Samantha Kennedy, FCS Agent
(Source: Samantha Kennedy)
Samantha Kennedy is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Wakulla County, FL. She specializes in health and wellness programming – healthy cooking, nutrition, and food safety – and is working to expand her expertise in financial education by studying to become an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC).
Samantha – Sam, to her friends and family – received two degrees from the University of Florida (Go Gators!): a B.S. in both Microbiology and Cell Science and Nutritional Sciences in 2000 and an M.S. in Agricultural Education and Communication in 2002. With the exception of a couple of years right after grad school, Sam has proudly been a student at or faculty member of UF for nearly 25 years.
Sam began her Extension career in 2004 as the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent in Manatee County, FL, where she specialized in nutrition, chronic disease management, food safety, and home energy efficiency. In 2013, she became the County Extension Director in Manatee County and served in that role until November 2016, when she left southwest Florida for the beautiful Florida Panhandle.
Sam loves baseball. So far she has visited more than 20 major league ballparks. Visiting all 30 is definitely on her bucket list. (Source: Samantha Kennedy)
Hands-on teaching and live demonstrations are Sam’s favorite part of being an Extension Agent. She loves interacting with clientele and teaching them new skills while having fun. The Kitchen Creations day camp she holds each summer has been a great success. Seeing the kids engaged and excited about cooking and providing them with skills they will use for the rest of their lives is very rewarding.
Other Family and Consumer Sciences programming that Sam has been involved with over the years includes: Keeping the Pressure Down, Take Charge of Your Diabetes, Let’s Walk Florida, Walk Across Wakulla, Cooking with Herbs, Cheese Making, Home Canning, One-Pot Meals, The Art of Air Frying, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and the Manatee Energy Efficiency Project, just to name a few.
Sam was born in central Michigan, but moved with her family to south Florida when she was four, after her dad decided he was never shoveling snow ever again. When she was around seven years old, her family moved to west Arkansas (where it snows, yes, but not like Michigan), where they lived for about two years before heading back to Florida for good (well, sort of). She spent the rest of her childhood and adolescence in Deerfield Beach, FL and graduated from Deerfield Beach High School in 1995 (Go Bucks!).
Sam works to keep her cats in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Clockwise from top left: Wesley (aka “Old Man”), Simon (aka “Mr. McNaughty Pants”), Lucas (aka “Squooshy,” may he rest in peace), and Porter (aka “Floofmaster P”).
(Source: Samantha Kennedy)
After graduate school, Sam moved to Katy, Texas and lived with her brother and his family for nearly two years, until she applied for and was hired for the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent position in Manatee County. Boy, was she glad to be back in Florida! Sam has lived all over the state: north central, south, southwest, and now northwest, but there is still a lot of this beautiful state she has left to see (e.g. she has never been to the Keys, if you can believe that!).
Sam’s cats (“the boys”) are the best cats in the entire universe (though she may be a bit biased). She likes to joke she runs a retirement home for cats, since they range in age from 13 to nearly 21 years old, but she would not trade a moment of it. When she is not working to support her feline family, she enjoys reading for pleasure, taking walks, journaling, hand lettering, and napping. Sam is also a huge baseball fan (Go Rays!), and has visited over 20 major league ballparks with plans to visit all 30 before the zombie apocalypse comes.
I would like to continue on the theme of reducing food waste by talking more specifically about ways to use food scraps effectively to prevent them from ending up in the landfill.
As I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of a funny scene from the 1982 film Night Shift, where Michael Keaton’s character, Billy Blaze, says into his tape recorder, “Idea to eliminate garbage: edible paper. You see, you eat it, it’s gone. Eat it, it’s out of there. No garbage.” Think about how much less waste would go into our landfills if we could just eat paper!
It is the same concept for food waste. As much as 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be eaten, destined to end up in the landfill. That is literally thousands of tons of food wasted each year. But what if we could help reduce that amount?
Got leftover veggie scraps? Instead of throwing them away, save them for a delicious veggie soup.
(Photo source: UF/IFAS)
Here are two great ideas for using leftover food scraps instead of throwing them away.
Cook with them. Leftover vegetables are great ingredients for a simple and delicious soup. Simply take the leftovers, combine them with an aromatic base of onions, garlic, and celery, add a liquid such as stock or broth (or water and white wine), throw in a generous helping of herbs, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Then use an immersion blender or food processor (or stand-up blender) to blend into a creamy soup. Any type of vegetable works for this type of soup, from greens and cauliflower to parsnips and sweet potatoes, which makes it an ideal way to use up those scraps.
Another great way to use vegetable scraps is to make homemade stock. Vegetable parts such as carrot ends and peels, celery ends and greens, corn cobs, pea pods, and all the other bits trimmed off during food preparation can be used to make stock. Not in the mood to make stock right away? No problem! Veggie scraps can be saved in a zippered bag and kept frozen for up to six months.
When the time comes, simply dump the scraps into a large stock pot (that is why it is called a stock pot!) or Dutch oven, fill the pot 3/4 of the way with water, bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor.) Strain it all through a sieve. The remaining liquid is the stock. Fresh stock can be stored 3-5 days in the refrigerator or frozen up to three months. Here is a simple resource from Cornell University Extension on how to make vegetable stock from kitchen scraps. (Here is another one from Tasty.co.)
Hold on! There are still scraps left over. What about those? Well, that brings me to the second great way to use kitchen scraps.
Food waste such as vegetable scraps can be added to compost to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer for home gardens.
(Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)
Compost them. Creating compost at home takes a little work and perseverance, but it can certainly pay off in the home garden. Nutrient-rich compost can add oomph to flower beds and vegetable patches and turn any garden into a showcase.
Vegetable scraps are perfect additions to any compost pile. Any vegetable scraps can be added to compost. Just remember to remove the little stickers, as those are not compostable.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are many benefits to compost. It enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. And it encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. These fact sheets (this one and this one) from UF/IFAS Extension are a wealth of information about home composting.
The reduction of unnecessary food waste begins with us, the consumers. By learning how to use those scraps in useful ways, such as cooking and composting, we can help eliminate the excess food waste filling our landfills.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Food waste is a huge problem here in the United States. Here are a few incredible facts: Food is the most common solid source of waste in American landfills. Anywhere from 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the US will never be eaten. Food waste harms the environment and results in a lot of wasted money.
Looking for ways to reduce food waste? Just follow these six tips.
Plan meals carefully. Only purchase what will be eaten in a reasonable amount of time, especially perishable items. Buying large quantities of fresh produce, dairy, and other perishables may seem like a time-saving practice. However, throwing spoiled food away not only wastes money, but also time, since the spoiled items need to be replaced during another trip to the market.
Instead of throwing old fruits and vegetables away, turn them into nutrient-rich compost to help your garden thrive. (Photo source: Camila Guillen, UF/IFAS)
Freeze or re-use food whenever possible. Not all food freezes well. However, fresh fruits and vegetables freeze quickly and easily when handled properly and can last in the freezer for months. Vegetable scraps are also great for making compost, which enriches the soil and can help support the growth of backyard gardens.
Look at the sell by/use by/best by dates on food products. Try to purchase items with the longest shelf-life (the latest date) available. If a product is close to its sell by date, be sure to use it or freeze it quickly. Keep in mind, however, that just because a product is past its use by date does not mean it is unsafe to eat. Take it on a case-by-case basis. If there is no mold, pests, off odors, off colors, or off textures, the product is safe to consume. This is especially true for dry, non-perishable items.
Store food properly. Storing foods at the wrong temperatures can speed up the spoilage process. Keep the refrigerator between 37 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry goods storage should ideally be around 50 degrees F, but since this is not realistic for most of us, just make sure dry goods are stored in a cool, dry place outside of direct sunlight.
Stay organized. Arrange items so that the oldest stuff is in front. This helps ensure it is used first. Always label frozen foods with the item name and date it was first frozen and use within 12 months whenever possible. Foods frozen for longer than a year start to diminish in flavor and texture. Old food also tends to attract pests, so making sure things are used efficiently can help eliminate the risk of insects and rodents.
Donate non-perishables to those in need. Food banks and other community organizations are always looking for food donations to help the hungry. Non-perishable foods that have not surpassed their use by/sell by dates are always welcome donations. Instead of trashing it, share it with someone less fortunate.
In most cases, food affected by flood damage or other disasters should be discarded for safety reasons. Better to be safe than sorry. However, everyday food waste is completely avoidable if a few simple rules are followed. The amount of food thrown away each year in the US is disheartening. When shopping, being a little more mindful of quantities and dates can help reduce overall food waste, saving both money and the environment.
National Center for Home Food Preservation (University of Georgia Extension)
Food Waste Resources (Kansas State University Extension)
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.