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.
If you’ve tried to find nutrition information in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, you probably got more than you bargained for. Recently, I searched “nutrition and COVID-19” and in less than one second, I got 590,000,000 hits. That’s a lot of information! With so much health and nutrition information available, especially connected with the ongoing pandemic, it can be TOUGH to separate fact from fiction. What makes it even tougher is that everyone seems to be passionately and totally convinced that their information is the right answer. How do you tell the hype from the truth?
Confusing Nutrition Choices
Photo Source: Ginny Hinton
The best way to protect yourself against questionable information and products is to become an informed consumer. That can be challenging as so many of us are becoming more used to getting our information from social media, websites, advertisements, friends and family. While information from those sources can be accurate, very often it is misleading. Use the following tips to evaluate nutrition information:
Know Your Experts:
Have you ever seen nutrition advice from a “nutritionist” or “diet counselor”? Beware, because those terms aren’t regulated, and almost anyone can use them to look like an expert. Registered dietitians (RD) or licensed dietitians (LD) hold specialized degrees and are good sources of solid nutritional information.
The internet, books, newspapers, and magazines can be good sources of information, if you know where to look. If you’re surfing the net, select websites from credible web addresses like ones ending in .edu (universities or medical schools), .gov (government agencies), or sometimes .org (not-for-profit research and education). If you’re reading an article, always look for the author’s qualifications and membership in a professional nutrition organization. With all media, check the sources they used (If they don’t cite credible sources you can check, that’s a big red flag) and scan to the bottom to make sure they’re not trying to sell a product. If you can buy a “miracle” product, a solution, or a quick fix from them, watch out! Their information may be convincing, but it is likely biased or incomplete. At best, it calls for caution and some deeper research.
The flood of health and nutrition misinformation isn’t going away, but learning to be an informed consumer is a powerful step in learning to protect yourself from being duped.
Some house plants are very easy to keep alive, even if you are a first-time gardener. Photo source: Melanie Taylor
As July begins, one mental health topic we repeatedly hear or read about is how stress is negatively affecting so many Americans right now. In these unprecedented times, many people are reaching out for guidance from their doctors, therapists, friends, and family. Depending on how your stress levels are affecting you, there are numerous suggestions ranging from exercise to therapy to medication and the list goes on. There may be one solution right at your fingertips that can help you begin to find a little peace of mind starting today. Gardening…. Let’s DIG IN!
Gardening does not have to be growing a large vegetable garden in the backyard. It can be planting flowers and plants in your landscape, maintaining potted plants on your front porch and deck, or growing houseplants inside your home. One easy way to start if you have never been a gardener is by growing herbs inside or out. Many people find gardening helps them escape to a place of peace as they dig in the soil and watch their plants and flowers grow and prosper.
This idea is not new. Horticulture is the art and science of growing plants. Horticultural therapy is the practice of engaging people in plant or gardening activities to improve their bodies, minds, and spirits. Research confirms that healthful benefits accrue when people connect with nature and plants by viewing and/or interacting with them.
Enjoy socializing with friends and neighbors in the garden. Photo source: Julie McConnell
Horticultural therapy has been around for a very long time. In the 1600’s, the poor often worked in gardens to pay for their medical care. Physicians quickly noticed these patients recovered faster and had better overall health than patients who did not work in the garden. Today, many hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, prisons, schools, social-service facilities, and community centers use people-plant interactions as a form of treatment for persons with physical or mental disabilities. Horticultural therapy may include meeting with a therapist specializing in this area or trying something on your own or with family, friends, or a local gardening group.
Saturday mornings are family time at the local community garden plot. Photo source: Julie McConnell
Some benefits you may receive from gardening include:
- Physical: Provides exercise at various levels. (Easy, medium, and strenuous levels – it all depends on what you decide to create.)
- Emotional: Promotes and satisfies your creative side, increases your feelings of confidence and self-esteem, promotes a new interest and enthusiasm for it, and even relieves tension.
- Physiological: May help lower blood pressure and heart rate, decrease cortisol levels, and ultimately relieve stress.
Even if you think you do not have a “green thumb,” you should try gardening on any level and see if it will be a healthy mode of stress release for you. Happy Gardening!
UF/IFAS Extension EDIS Document ENH970: Horticultural Therapy, Elizabeth Diehl and Sydney Park Brown.
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.
How to Stay Hydrated
Here in the Panhandle of Florida, we are starting to get into the heat of the summer. With temperatures soaring, your sweat is going to start pouring. It is extremely important to replace the fluids lost through sweating. In this article we will cover what hydrated versus dehydrated means, why it is important, and tips on how to stay hydrated in the Florida heat.
What is Hydration, and Why Does it Matter?
Hydration is the process of introducing our body to additional fluid (i.e. water). Dehydration is when you have used or lost more fluid than you are taking in. Your body is unable to continue functioning properly without fluids. Staying hydrated may seem like a difficult task, but it is extremely important for us to stay hydrated for optimal health and performance throughout the day. “Drinking enough water each day is crucial for many reasons: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.” (1) Without staying hydrated, we can seriously harm ourselves. Whether you are considered a youth or an adult, you can still lose approximately 40 percent (2) of your body’s water during hard work or exercise.
How to Stay Hydrated
Drink lots of fluids: Do NOT wait till you feel thirsty to drink. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already slightly dehydrated. It is important to drink fluids, preferably water, throughout the day. During the summer, while it is hot, it should be a top priority to replenish lost fluids in our body. A good way to start the day is by drinking a glass of water when you wake up and get your body going. Some fluids are better for us than others. When replenishing fluids lost through sweating, make sure that it is mainly from water. Some of the fluids can also be from flavored water, tea, or coffee. Try not to consume as many sugar-sweetened beverages, as many of them act as a diuretic. The sugar found in these drinks tends to draw the water out of your cells, making you feel thirsty a short time after drinking it. The sugar drawing the water out of cells will also make you need to urinate more quickly, therefore losing even more fluid. Something “punny” – No matter how much soda I drink, I’m still so thirsty… I must be “soda-hydrated!”
Photo Source: UF/IFAS
Eat Fuel Foods: Make sure you are fueling your body with the appropriate foods. Certain fruits and vegetables contain a large amount of water. Examples of water-rich fruits are: watermelon (it’s in the name!), strawberries, peaches, and pineapples. Some examples of vegetables with a high water content are: Cucumbers, leafy green (i.e. lettuce), celery, and tomatoes. Foods that are highly processed tend to be dehydrated and have lots of sugar or salt, which dehydrates you more.
Look at the Weather: Stay inside when it gets too hot outside and when it is extremely humid. The sun is at its peak between 10 am and 2 pm every day, meaning that time is when it will be hottest outside. Plan necessary outdoor activities for the early morning or later in the evening. Also, the higher the humidity, the more you are going to sweat.
How to Dress: Make sure that you dress for the weather, appropriately. Loose fitting clothing allows your skin to breathe, keeping your body cooler. Lighter shades do not absorb the heat like dark colors. Wear a wide brimmed hat to keep your head cool. Also, use plenty of sunscreen. Getting sunburned is not just uncomfortable, it can also increase your skins’ temperature, making it hard to stay cool.
Signs of Dehydration: Be aware of the signs of dehydration. As stated above, do not wait for the signs of dehydration to begin drinking fluids. Some of the signs of dehydration include but are not limited to: dark or smelly urine, vomiting, bad breath, dry mouth, irritability, confusion, and fatigue. If you are dehydrated or have lost a lot of fluid through sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea please seek medical attention.
Water: Drink Up!
Photo Source: Ginny Hinton
Some Tips for Staying Hydrated
I have a hard time getting myself to drink plenty of fluids, so below are a few tips that I try to follow to keep myself properly hydrated.
- Keep a bottle or glass of water by your bed. While you are sleeping, your body is not receiving any fluids, so it is becoming slightly dehydrated. Having water close by the bed means you do not have to get up and disrupt your sleep.
- Purchase a reusable water bottle. If you have a reusable glass or metal water bottle, you can keep it with you all the time. If you have easy access to water, you are more likely to drink it.
- Flavor your water. Plain water can become boring if you drink it all the time. Flavor your water with some fresh fruit or a flavoring packet.
- Try to drink at least 8 glasses of “good” fluids every day. Water is extremely good for you, but you can also consume clear broth, tea, coffee, or sports drinks. This will help prevent water from becoming boring. Just make sure that you limit the intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Check the color of your urine. Believe it or not, this can be a good indicator as to whether you are hydrated or not. The paler, or clearer, your urine is, the more hydrated you are. If the urine you pass is darker, yellow or even orange, you are more than likely dehydrated.
- Download an app. There are apps on our phones for everything now-a-days. There are apps that can send you notifications to drink more water. Some of these apps are also capable of recording how much you drink.
Staying hydrated is extremely important, especially now that we are facing the “dog-days” of summer. Drink lots of fluids, but do not wait till you feel thirsty. The more that you sweat, the more fluids you need to take in.
Openly discuss the physician’s care plan and seek answers to questions.
(Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)
The American Heart Association notes that cholesterol is “not inherently bad” and continues by explaining how cholesterol is necessary to “build cells, make vitamins and other hormones.”
Cholesterol is not only derived from your dietary intake, what you eat, but also your liver makes cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein or LDL and high density lipoprotein or HDL. The LDL or ‘lousy’ cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis, the build up of fat in the arteries. The HDL or ‘helpful’ cholesterol aids with removing the lousy cholesterol out of the arteries and taking it to the liver for it to be removed from the body.
Being proactive with one’s health and knowing your numbers, one can better maintain a higher quality of life and potentially suffer less infirmities.
Join us for the upcoming Exploring Your Health Indicators Webinar Series to gain knowledge of your blood tests results. The May 11 program will explore cholesterol. The May 25 program dives into inflammation and diseases. And the June 8 program will wrap the series with kidney and thyroid health indicators. Register once for all the sessions and if you miss a session, a recording of the program will be emailed to you. Invest an hour to gain knowledge that can greatly benefit your health.
Exploring Your Health Indicators Registration: https://tinyurl.com/zw28bt4z
Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 2-3 EST/1-2 CST – Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
Tuesday, May 11, 2021, 2-3 EST/1-2 CST – Cholesterol
Tuesday, May 25, 2021, 2-3 EST/1-2 CST – Inflammation and Diseases
Tuesday, June 8, 2021, 2-3 EST/1-2 CST – Kidneys and Thyroid