California Walnuts Harvest Tour

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By: Michelle Burton, RD at Capitol Nutrition Group and Rebecca Scritchfield Media, LLC

Last week I had the pleasure of venturing out to Sacramento and the California Central Valley for the California Walnuts Harvest Tour. I experienced the autumn walnut harvest first hand, sampled a number of AMAZING dishes featuring this star ingredient, and learned about new research that’s coming out related to walnuts. I hope you’ll enjoy this brief photo journal of my trip, and that it will inspire you to incorporate walnuts into your everyday!

Walnuts Shaking

Donald Norene, his wife, and his son all took us on a tour of their family’s walnut orchard — Norene Ranches. They have a spectacular 750 acres of his farm dedicated to walnuts. He explained that you know when the walnut trees are ready for shaking when you can throw one on the ground and it’s outer shell comes right off. They showed us the tree shaking live which was very cool. It was wonderful getting to taste fresh walnuts right off the tree.

walnut sweeping

After the walnuts are shaken off the trees, they’re swept into piles, “vacuumed” up, and shuttled to a central location for the next step in their harvest journey — hulling.

walnut hulling

The walnuts arrive at the huller where the green outer shell is removed along with other sticks and debris. Then they’re cleaned, dried, and loaded into trucks to be sent to the local processing plant (which we were also able to tour). It was amazing to see the technology involved with sorting, shelling and packaging the walnuts for commercial distribution.

walnut orchard lunch

Wine & Roses put together a beautiful lunch for us in the orchard featuring a number of dishes that showcased the unique flavor and versatility of walnuts. It started with a caramelized onion, fig and walnut flatbread, followed by a squash, apple and walnut slaw salad, then a walnut quinoa salad with grilled chicken, and the finale was THE best caramel walnut cheesecake that I’ve EVER had. I’ll be sure to share that recipe once I get my hands on it!

walnut cooking demo

We came together again that evening for a food demo by Chef and Owner of Mulvaney’s B&L Restaurant, Patrick Mulvaney. He prepared a roasted chili in walnut sauce, and we dined on a salad of heirloom tomatoes with chunky walnut pesto and fettuccine with walnuts and squash among other fabulous walnut creations. During a nutrition presentation by Registered Dietitian, Heidi Diller, I was intrigued to find out that new research is coming out showing a potential link between walnuts and increased fertility in men. They’re planning to continue research in this area, but definitely some promising information!

Looking to satisfy your walnut craving?

You can find a number of easy and delicious recipes on the California Walnuts website at www.walnuts.org.

 

Disclosure: My attendance at the California Walnuts Harvest Tour was sponsored by California Walnuts, but I was not compensated to write this blog.

Welch’s Vineyard Tour and Harvest Event

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By: Alison Sacks, RD at Capitol Nutrition Group and Rebecca Scritchfield Media, LLC

This week I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Richland, Washington to participate in the Welch’s Vineyard Tour and Harvest Event to discover all the goodness of Concord grapes and how grape juice is made! This unique region of Washington, located in the Yakama Valley is one of the top producers of Concord grapes and is absolutely beautiful! The experience was wonderful to see the harvesting process during peak season and get to know the farmers behind the Welch’s brand.  IMG_0201

Welch’s dates back to 140 years ago, when Thomas Bramwell Welch decided to serve Concord grape juice instead of wine at his church. He later went on to bottle the first pasteurized juice using Concord grapes that has become a common household name to so many of us.  The oldest Welch’s grape vine dates back to 1849 in Concord, MA and to this day is still producing berries. (Now that’s sustainability!)

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Welch’s grower explaining the unique seed of the Concord grape that contains 77% of the polyphenols.

Family Famers: The Heart of Welch’s

At the heart of Welch’s are 1,000 family farmers who know that quality starts in the fields. For many of these farmers, it’s where their families and livelihoods have grown for generations. We spent the afternoon with Farmer Tim Grow whose first Welch’s memories date back to his childhood helping his grandfather on the family vineyard, where today his own two daughters lend a helping hand on the same family vineyard.

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Concords are sweet, tangy, bold purple grapes that need a special climate to grow – specifically, chilly areas.

What Makes a Concord Grape Great

For starts Concord grapes are berries! What makes them distinct from most table or wine grapes are its bigger berries and seeds and deep purple slip-skin. Purple is a cue that fruits and vegetables have plant nutrients called polyphenols that can help promote health, especially heart health (the darker the purple, the more polyphenols).

Berry polyphenols act as antioxidants, helping to protect our healthy cells from the damaging effects of oxidative stress. The majority of polyphenols are found in the thick skins and seeds of the Concords that are usually discarded when eating, which is why pressing Concords into juice helps to concentrate and preserve the heart healthy polyphenols.

Concord grapes are also an important ingredient in heart health. Decades of research has shown when 100% Concord grape juice is drunk consistently it helps support healthy blood vessels by increasing the flexibility of arteries for healthy blood flow. Studies also show Concords may also provide an anti-clotting effect similar to red wine and may help manage the effects of LDL or “bad,” cholesterol by keeping arteries free and clear of excess plaque build-up.

Check out this neat infographic on different ways you can pump up the purple in your diet.

Delivering the Fruit to the Glass

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The treat tank where heat and enzymes are added to help extract the heart healthy polyphenols from the skin and seeds of the Concords.

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A glimpse inside the belly of the grape harvester.

The Concord grape harvest is short and sweet, lasting only about 30 days between September and October. Due to climate variables, no two years of grape growing are alike but what makes Welch’s unique is their ability to blend grapes from multiple growing regions to deliver that consistent field-fresh flavor.

100% grape juice is made with nothing but whole Concord grapes-seeds, skin and all. From the time the Concords are picked in the fields they are inspected, washed and pressed into juice within 8 hours. During the pressing process the Concords are treated with heat and enzymes, which extracts the heart-healthy polyphenols from the grape seeds and skins and is releases into the juice.

Translating the Grape Science

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Sampling a taste of the day’s harvest! Delicious!

We know less than 50% of Americans meet their daily fruit needs so adding 100% fruit juice can be a delicious and convenient way to help fill this gap. Including ½ cup of 100% fruit juice as part of a meal or snack is a simple way to help get in an extra serving of fruit and support a healthy heart. While fresh fruit contains more fiber per serving, consuming fruit in any form still delivers that same health promoting vitamins and minerals. Health experts agree that when 100% fruit juice is added as a compliment to whole fruit intake, consumption can actually double or triple.

8 ounces of 100% Concord grape juice provides 250 mg of polyphenols and contains more than 40 grapes. Its equal to 2 servings of fruit and high in immune boosting vitamin C and a good source of potassium-a key mineral important in regulating blood pressure.

One Juice-So Many Uses

Adding 100% fruit juice to your diet is an affordable and convenient way to help support a healthy lifestyle. Its year-round-availability and flavor variety makes it an easy way to sip sensibly or add to dishes. Look for labels that contain “100% fruit juice” or “No added sugar” and read ingredient labels to make sure they do not contain any added sweeteners or artificial ingredients. Looking for other ways to get creative with Concord grape juice?

  1. Add it to your grains! Make oatmeal or quinoa with 100% grape juice instead of water.
  2. Add a splash of 100% juice to seltzer water for a tad of sweetness.
  3. Make ice pops in the summertime or freeze into ice cubes to add to beverages.
  4. Dress up your favorite greens with a homemade salad dressing using 2 parts heart-healthy oil, 1 part of your favorite vinegar, and a splash of 100% grape juice.
  5. Cook with 100% grape juice instead of red wine.

Thirsty for More?

What are some of your favorite ways to use 100% juice? Feel free to share your favorite recipes by leaving a comment below. You can also follow the hashtag #DiscoverConcordGrapes and visit Welch’s Heart Healthy Recipe site for more flavorful ways to use 100% Concord grape juice.

Disclosure: My attendance at the Welch’s Vineyard Tour and Harvest Event was sponsored by Welch’s but I was not compensated to write this blog.

Good For Business — Bad For Health: The McRib Sandwhich is on Cavuto

I was recently part of a panel that was on the Fox News show Cavuto discussing why the high fat, high salt McRib sandwich has become so popular. The “mystery meat” in the McRib is full of ingredients. I poked fun at the “fake bones” in the molded meat concoction. But it doesn’t seem to bother many Americans as the McRib flies off the shelf when it’s available and has been credited with improving McD’s bottom line.  You can watch the whole video here, but below are a few highlights from my more serious arguments:

Problem: people are short on time and money

I completely understand that people’s lives aren’t getting any less busy, anytime soon. Finding time to cook can seem daunting between work, school and extracurricular activities. There are times when convenience foods will win out and swinging through the drive through may seem like your only option.

Solution: choose smarter convenience foods

My philosophy has always been moderation, so if you are going to choose fast food, then limit the number of times you go in a week/month, and consider ways to balance it out. Maybe you opt for the sandwiches for your family and pair it with a bagged salad from the grocery store instead of springing for the extra-large fries. Make it a goal to keep other healthy convenient foods on hand, like canned beans and tuna fish which are inexpensive and high in nutrients.

Where Does Rebecca Recommend You Should Eat?

I was not about to fall into THAT trap and pick the “healthiest” of the fast food places — that’s not fair for a nutritionist to play “favorites” so I chose the fast food place I wish everyone visited a little more. It’s closer than any place else. Your own kitchen. Who is with me?

What are your healthy convenience foods you keep on hand?

Leave a comment and let me know what foods you keep on hand for last-minute, quick meals.

The Hospital is No Place for Fast Food Chains

 In a recent interview with Neil Cavuto from Fox News I shared my support for the removal of McDonald’s restaurants from a number of hospital cafeterias. Click here to see the full interview on Fox’s website. Here are a few of the thoughts I shared on air:

1. Hospitals are notorious for serving bad food in their cafeterias

It seems crazy to me that a place where people are sick and having serious, complicated procedures and transplants, is serving such unhealthy food. They should have an obligation not just to patients, but also to their visitors to provide a healthy environment that promotes wellness. This isn’t a mall food court, it’s a hospital.

2. Perception is reality

Having fast food available in hospitals is also praying on those who are vulnerable and are more likely to lean on comfort food to ease the emotional stress of being at the hospital. In the 2006 Pediatrics Study they even found that people perceived fast food as healthier if it’s inside a hospital.

3. Hospitals should offer balanced choices

They should look at their food environment and help people get their 1/2 plate of fruits and veggies with their meal. This means offering salad bars and serving hot foods with non-starchy veggies and fruits as sides — not french fries and white rice.

4. Change is possible — some hospitals are already on board

The Cleveland Clinic has been a model hospital in making positive changes to their food service systems. They don’t have any fryers, have eliminated trans fats, and the fast food they do offer has a limited menu promoting healthier choices.

So what’s the answer?

Ultimately no one is forcing someone to buy fast food — it’s a personal choice. I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s alone, they just happen to be the “big fish” and are always targeted with these sorts of issues. Hospitals have the power to create a healthy, positive environment for patients and visitors alike if they can just take a step back, look at their food environment as a whole and make changes that promote wellness.

Ch-ch-ch-chia Packs a Nutrient Punch!

By Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

Do you remember chia pets (ch-ch-ch-chia!)? Where you added small seeds to terracotta forms that eventually produced a plant? The same chia seeds are now carried in stores like Whole Foods…to eat.

Chia seeds have been grown in Mexico for thousands of years. They were even brought to the capital of the Aztec empire in several tons as a tribute to the gods. The seeds have impressive nutrition, containing lots of linolenic acid, dietary fiber, and protein. They are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants (specifically polyphenols)  which help to fight free radicals, or cell damagers, in the body. To add to the resume, chia contains ten times the omega-3 as salmon or other fatty fish (but no DHA for brain health which fish has) making it super heart healthy. Additionally, this little seed packs a punch of five times the calcium of milk, for strong teeth and bones. Talk about a power nutrient!

Chia, while usually consumed raw, is not limited to such a method of intake. The American Dietetics Association recently released a study in which chia was soaked in water, creating a gel like mass. Used as a thickening agent, but also an oil replacement, the chia was added to cake batter to reduce the overall fat content of sweet treats. Since it is a tasteless and odorless food, the taste is virtually unaltered but the nutrient content was improved.( I’ll be doing a test later to see how it turns out in a home setting. Be on the look out for a step by step blog post!)

Our favorite way to have a little chia on a regular basis is with a smoothie. In this recipe, the chia seeds are added directly into the blender along with your favorite fruit for an easy on the go breakfast. As chia seeds expand with the addition of liquid, this breakfast will also keep you full way past your commute!

  • 1 C Greek yogurt (high protein and low sugar compared to other yogurts!)
  • 1 C fruit (it could be fresh or frozen: strawberries, banana, raspberries…)
  • 2 T chia seeds

Blend all ingredients together and enjoy the multitude of nutritional benefits!