Vegetables Are the Key to Great Nutrition

How to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

By Laurie Greene, Editor

In honor of National Eat Your Veggies Day, we spoke with Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis, and director of the UC Davis Dietetics Education Program for undergrads. She encouraged the importance of leaning on vegetables for optimum nutrition and health benefits.

Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis
Francene Steinberg, department chair and professor of nutrition at UC Davis

“A varied diet of fruits and vegetables, along with grains and some protein sources is extremely valuable to give everybody the best energy for them to grow,” Steinberg said. “It really is so important to get the full spectrum of all the nutrients in these foods, particularly the vegetables.”

“In addition to all the required nutrients,” she explained, “we know the required vitamins and minerals—those that we know about and for which we have the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the “average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people.” (Source: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine)

Continuing, Steinberg said, “There are also quite a few other nutrients and compounds in those foods that are good for usthat have biologic effects. Not only just fibers, but also phytochemicals, phytonutrients, they are really part of what helps to promote overall health. It’s not just the vitamins and minerals in a vitamin pill. You really need to eat the whole fruits and vegetables and grains, and so forth, to get the full effects,” noted Steinberg.

There is a new approach to how much produce people should eat on a daily basis. Steinberg noted the importance of eating the rainbow; fruits and vegetables of every color. Previous nutrition campaigns used to stress the importance of consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

“Most people don’t even come near to eating the amount of vegetables they need. Rather than focusing on a specific number, an easier goal is just eat more than you currently do, in terms of vegetables. Eat one more serving each day. Try a new vegetable each week. See if you like them,” said Steinberg.

Eat The Rainbow

In particular, Steinberg recommended red beets which are a wonderful vegetable to add to your eating list. “Beets are delicious. These deeply colored fruits and vegetableswhether they’re red, or green, or orangethat really denotes they have more nutrients in them. There are all these colored compounds that are often bioactive in the body. They really are good for you. You can, as you say, eat the rainbow by choosing these brightly colored fruits and vegetables.” noted Steinberg.

Steinberg encourages consumers to 'eat the rainbow'.
Steinberg encourages consumers to ‘”eat the rainbow.”

By consuming more vegetables, consumers can more avoid many chronic diseases. “I think that certainly most of the chronic diseases we suffer from today stem from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, that sort of thing,” Steinberg commented. “They’re often a combination of overconsumption of overall calories and empty nutrients, and not enough consumption of some of these fruits and vegetables that hold such valuable nutrients for us,” said Steinberg.

“It really is a matter of trying to make your diet as nutrient-rich as possible, and really avoiding those empty calories that seem to provide us lots of extra calories without any added benefit,” she stated. “If folks can cut down on some of the sugary and highly fatty snacks, chips and that sort of thing, and eat a piece of fruit or an extra vegetable serving per day they’re really much better off.”

Steinberg suggested one way to stimulate the desire to eat more vegetables is by making them readily available. “I think sometimes when people buy some of the produce, then they put it away in the refrigerator, it’s not visible. It’s hidden and they go to the cupboard and look and there’s a bag of chips that’s very easy to grab.”

She also recommended ways to make sure produce is not left behind. Consumers can purchase “fruits and vegetables that are already pre-washed and cut up, and put them in a little baggie or bowl on the counter, if they’re not perishable, or just a baggie in the refrigerator. It’s a quick grab and go. You can take it and have it as a quick snack. Things that are appealing to children are small bites that are easily consumed, bright and colorful.”

Steinberg recommended consumers “try to find those fruits and vegetables that are very fresh. Sometimes the ones we find in the grocery stores are not as flavorful as [backyard-grown], from the farmer’s market, or even just knowing which vegetables are in season. At the grocery store, the best things that are in season are usually going to be the freshest and tastiest. ” said Steinberg.

Fresh is not the only way consumers can enjoy the benefits of produce since frozen varieties are easy to come by. “Some of the frozen whole vegetables and fruits are highly nutritious,” said Steinberg. “They’re very affordable and available year round.”

Steinberg also mentioned the availability of low calorie dips such as hummus can easily be found in grocery and convenience stores which encourages more fresh vegetable consumption. In fact, hummus is primarily chickpeas, another great vegetable. “Dipping fresh vegetables in hummus. That’s delicious,” she said.

Sandra Witte, New Ag Dean at Fresno State

Dr. Sandra Witte Named Dean of Jordan College at Fresno State

(March 16, 2016) – Dr. Sandra Witte, who has been serving as interim dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State, has been appointed permanent dean, effectively immediately.

Dr. Lynnette Zelezny, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, said Witte’s exceptional work as interim dean made her the best person for the position.

“We conducted a yearlong national search for a dean but did not find the right candidate for this important position,” said Zelezny. “In the meantime, it became clear to me, the faculty, staff and our strong partners in the agriculture community that Dr. Witte was the right candidate. I’m pleased she agreed to stay at Fresno State as permanent dean.”

Zelezny added: “This is a critical time for the Jordan College as we prepare for the opening of the Jordan Agricultural Research Center this spring and continue our laser-focus on crucial issues related to water and sustainability. I am confident Dr. Witte will lead the college to increasing national prominence.”real JCAST Logo

Witte has taken an unconventional route to the dean’s position, starting her career as a registered dietitian and serving as a professor and chair of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, one of seven departments in the Jordan College.

“In the Jordan College, we often talk about offering programs from farm to fork and all the business in between,” said Witte. “While most people think of agriculture from the farm end, my connection is clearly on the fork end. I have always had an appreciation for traditional agriculture, and in my time at Fresno State, that has bloomed into a passion. After all, where is the food without the farmer?” she said.

Witte joins a growing number of women in agricultural leadership positions that traditionally have been held by males in universities, industry and commodity groups in the U.S.

The Jordan College maintains an enrollment of approximately 2,400 undergraduate and 100 graduate students from diverse backgrounds from throughout California, the U.S. and the world. Undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs are offered in the major areas of agricultural business; animal sciences and agricultural education; child, family and consumer sciences; food science and nutrition; industrial technology; plant science; and viticulture and enology.

Faculty and students conduct applied research and public service in selected areas of agriculture, food sciences, industrial technology and family sciences. Students engage in learning science, technology and management in the classroom and by experience on the 1,000-acre on-campus University Agricultural Laboratory.

Witte has served as interim dean since October 2014. Previously, she jointly held the positions of associate dean of the Jordan College and dean of the Division of Graduate Studies. She joined the Fresno State faculty in 1992 and took her first administrative assignment in 2007.

She completed her bachelor’s degree in foods and nutrition at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; master’s degree in home economics, nutrition and dietetics option at Fresno State; and her Ph.D. in food systems management at Oregon State University, Corvallis.

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Photo: Sandra Witte, dean of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State (source: Fresno State