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Extension Agent: Grow, eat healthy food

March 29, 2010 at midnight
Updated March 29, 2010 at 10:30 p.m.

By Joe Janak

As a guest speaker for our extension "Better Living for Texans" program, I gave a presentation to a senior citizens group recently about eating healthy. One of the comments from the public was that they didn't know an agriculture agent had training on nutrition.

My comment was that all I was presenting was sound, scientific data compiled by the national Agricultural Research Service.

I use the research service for many educational opportunities and urge the general public to do the same. For instance, the latest Agricultural Research Service report released a guide to choosing a solar water pump for remote (off-grid) applications.

The laboratory near Bushland, Texas, found that for pumps with motors rated less than 1,500 watts, solar is usually the best choice. With current technology and costs, wind power or a hybrid wind/solar pump is usually best for power needs for pumps that require 1,500 watts or more. The guide, published by the American Solar Energy Society in 2009, is available online at

But back to growing and eating healthy food. Agricultural Research Service has issued a number of reports about eating healthy foods and, of course, if we can grow these ourselves, we are better off.

High on the list of current research is the antioxidant value of foods. Eating foods with few or little antioxidants allows free radicals to form in our body's cells. These free radicals weaken atoms and the molecular structure daily in our cells and unless neutralized with antioxidants, oxidative stress or cellular damage occurs. This is bad for our cells, especially for our brain cells, and the effect is multiplied if we suffer from a cold, disease, pollution, smoking, sun's rays, etc.

Agricultural Research Service and others have proven that eating foods high in antioxidant levels will reduce this cellular oxidative stress and allow us to live healthier and possibly longer.

In one research service study, volunteers were given a shake with high levels of carbohydrates, protein and fat and no antioxidants to drink. Their blood samples had a reduced ability to counter noxious free radicals which damage cells.

Another study showed that you should eat antioxidants not just daily, but with every meal to counter act the excess number of free radicals produced, which may begin damaging cellular components, ultimately leading to cancer, atherosclerosis (fatty material thickening, hardening, eventually blocking the arteries) and other diseases.

Beside antioxidants protecting our regular cells, billions of neurons in our brain talk to each other for every little task we do. It has been long thought that as we grow older, these neurons die and can not be replaced. This concept is now changing.

One of USDA's studies shows rats fed high antioxidant Vitamin E or strawberry or spinach extracts from adulthood to middle age did not experience the age-related cognitive performance losses seen in rats fed the standard chow.

Another Agricultural Research Service study showed that rats fed spinach, strawberry or blueberry extracts effectively reversed age-related deficits in neuronal and cognitive function. It also showed "rats fed blueberry extract, far out performed others while crossing a rotating rod to test balance and coordination."

Although Alzheimer's Disease is not fully understood, another study showed that the blueberry extract-fed rats may allow better neuronal communication in brains with plaque buildup, a symptom of Alzheimer's.

So, how do we get these antioxidants? Do what your mother said, "Eat your fruits and veggies." And I have to add one to that, "Eat nuts, too." Eat five servings a day of fruits, nuts and vegetables.

The USDA has come out with a list of the Best Sources of Antioxidants: Top 20 Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables. Review the list and eat them daily. Plant these in your garden, flowerbed or back yard.

Note: Pecans are the only nut in the top 20. Some time ago, I asked our pecan growers, "How many of you have candy on your counter at home for anyone to partake in?" The response was overwhelming - nearly all.

I followed that with, "How many of you have a container of shelled pecans on your table to partake in every day?" No one raised their hand.

Let's grow and eat the right food, daily. We'll all be healthier.

Joe Janak is a Victoria County extension agent.



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