Tag Archives: fruits

An apple a day RX? Madison announces program for docs to prescribe fruits, veggies

Some Madison residents are eligible for a program in which doctors prescribe healthy and fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

The city announced the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program — FVRx — is focused at the neighborhood level, with financial support from Wholesome Wave and a partnership between Willy Street Co-op North and UW Health Northeast Family Medical.

Wholesome Wave is a national group dedicated to “affordable, healthy, local food for all.” Its mission is to empower under-served consumers to make healthier food choices by increasing affordable access to fresh, local food. The group funded the pilot with a $23,000 grant to the city of Madison.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said in a statement, “By collaborating with partners at Public Health Madison and Dane County, Willy Street Co-op, Second Harvest Foodbank and UW Health Northeast Family Medical Clinic, the city continues to illustrate how government and the community can work hand-in-hand to increase the well-being and health of all of our residents.”

Here’s how the program works: A patient can qualify for aid to help purchase produce and join the co-op if a doctor deems he or she does not have food security. Food security means a person has reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.

To qualify for the aid, a patient must answer yes to one of two questions:
• In the last year, have you worried about having enough food until you could buy more?
• In the last year, have you actually run out of food before you could buy more?

The aid comes in the form of a packet that includes a coupon to become a co-op owner and 60 $2 coupons that can be used in the produce department until the end of the year.

Participants can also join a program at the co-op that offers an additional 10 percent off of groceries and a free coupon to attend one of the co-op classes, which would normally charge a fee.

“The co-op is invested in continuing to expand the ways in which we can help address food security in Dane County,” said Kirsten Moore, director of cooperative services.

Moore said data collected from the pilot will help the co-op determine how to continue and fund these type of programs for the future.

“We already have some great ideas to share in the next few months, and we look forward to launching new initiatives to expand these offerings,” Moore said.

 

Popular foods taking on new hues without artificial dyes

Mozzarella cheese at Panera restaurants won’t be as glaringly white.

Banana peppers in Subway sandwiches won’t be the same exact shade of yellow.

Trix cereal will have two fewer colors.

Food makers are purging their products of artificial dyes as people increasingly eschew anything in their food they don’t feel is natural. But replicating the vivid colors Americans expect with ingredients like beets and carrots isn’t always easy.

In fact, General Mills couldn’t find good alternatives for the blue and green pieces in Trix, so the company is getting rid of those colors when the cereal is reformulated later this year. The red pieces — which will be colored with radishes and strawberries — will also look different.

“We haven’t been able to get that same vibrant color,” said Kate Gallager, General Mills’ cereal developer.

The shift away from artificial dyes represents the latest chapter for food coloring in the United States, which has had a rocky history. As recently as 1950, the Food and Drug Administration said children became sick after eating an orange Halloween candy that contained a dye. The agency eventually whittled down its list of approved color additives after finding several had caused “serious adverse effects.”

Now, more companies say they are replacing artificial dyes with colors made from fruits, vegetables and spices, which are widely considered “natural,” although the FDA doesn’t classify them that way.

But these present more challenges than artificial dyes.

In addition to costing more, colors from fruits and vegetables can be sensitive to heat and acidity. And since they’re used in higher doses to achieve boldness, tweaks to other parts of recipes may be needed. Such adjustments can be tricky for companies that manufacture on massive scales.

Still, companies want to court people like Heather Thalwitzer, a 31-year-old homemaker in Melbourne, Florida. Thalwitzer avoids artificial colors because she wants her 6-year-old son to eat quality food and she said red dye has been linked to “mania.”

She has tried alternatives like naturally colored sprinkles from Whole Foods, which her husband thinks taste like fish. But she can get along without such products. One year, she made cupcakes topped with a single blueberry for her son’s birthday.

There are times when Thalwitzer makes exceptions, such as when her son is at a friend’s party.

“I’ll let him have the birthday cake,” she said. “But I’ll cringe.”

THE EVOLUTION OF NATURAL

Part of the challenge with colors from natural sources is that the range of hues has been limited.

Blues, for instance, weren’t widely available the U.S. until 2013. That’s when the FDA approved a petition by candy maker Mars Inc. to use spirulina extract as coloring in gum and candy.

The alga can now also be used in ice creams, drink mixes and other products.

“That was a big thing for us,” said Stefan Hake, CEO of the U.S. division of natural color maker GNT.

At the company’s office in Tarrytown, N.Y., Hake demonstrated how to get blue from spirulina by pouring a liquefied version of it through a coffee filter to isolate the right color components.

The approval of spirulina extract also opened up the world of greens, which can be made by mixing blue and yellow. It turns out plants like spinach brown in heat and aren’t ideal for coloring.

Getting approval for a new color source can take years, but it’s one way companies can fill out their palette of natural hues. In coming weeks, an industry group plans to submit a petition to use the carthamus in safflower for yellow, according to color maker Sensient Technologies.

“It’s just one more that might be another crayon in the crayon box,” said Steve Morris, Sensient’s general manager of food colors for North America.

Sensient also developed a “deodorizing process” to remove flavors from ingredients. That allowed it to introduce an orange for beverages made from paprika.

Morris declined to detail the company’s process. But since the ingredient is not “fundamentally changing the form,” he said the ingredients are still within FDA guidelines of permissible color sources. 

Sensient said three-quarters of its new projects for clients in North America involve natural colors. Globally, its sales of colors — natural and synthetic — comes to about $300 million.

COLORING INSIDE THE LINES

There are seven synthetic colors approved for broad use in foods. But these dyes can be mixed to create a wide range of colors. The colors are made by synthesizing raw materials from petroleum, according to the FDA.

Synthetic colors still dominate in the United States, but some cite a study linking them to hyperactivity in children in calling for them to be phased out. Lisa Lefferts at the Center for Science in the Public Interest also says artificial colors can be used in deceptive ways.

“They mask the absence of ingredients,” she said.

Tropicana’s Twister in Cherry Berry Blast flavor, for instance, list apple and grape juice concentrates, but no cherries or berries. A synthetic color gives it the appearance of having the latter fruits.

Of course, colors also are used to make foods more appealing and send visual signals about the ingredients they contain. Subway says it will stop using a synthetic dye in its banana peppers, but will maintain their bright yellow look with turmeric.

Some say a switch to natural color sources isn’t yet possible because it might turn off customers, although they’re looking into how to change.

“We have to deliver bold colors and flavors, or people will stop buying,” said Will Papa, chief research and development officer at Hershey, which makes Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers and Reese’s.

Mars, which makes M&M’s and Skittles, said it isn’t yet using the spirulina extract it petitioned to have approved.

Not everyone thinks getting rid of artificial colors hinges on finding exact matches with natural alternatives. Panera is betting people won’t mind that its mozzarella cheese might have a yellowish hue after the removal of titanium dioxide. For cookies with candy-coated chocolates, the natural colors Panera is testing are also duller.

Over time, people will get used to the more muted hues of foods with natural ingredients, said Tom Gumpel, Panera’s head baker.

“You have to remove some of your expectations,” he said.

Wisconsin ranks No. 8 in number of farmers markets

There are few better places to buy summer vegetables, fresh cheese curds and homemade baked goods than Wisconsin, which has the eighth-most farmers markets of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer has put the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison in the spotlight. The market held on the square surrounding the state Capitol is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country, meaning all of the roughly 160 vendors must grow or make their own products. They can’t sell items purchased from others.

The market serves as an example “of how farmers markets can be a huge success for the local economy and the farmers and consumers,” said Anne Alonzo, who leads USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Nationwide, the number of farmers markets registered with the USDA has grown from about 3,700 a decade ago to 8,268 this year. In Wisconsin, the number of markets has grown from 170 to 295 in that time.

Here are a few other things to know about farmers markets and the USDA’s efforts to promote sales of locally produced food:

• “THE FACE OF AGRICULTURE”

Alonzo describes farmers markets as “the face of agriculture,” with 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide selling directly to consumers.

“I think the best part is that these farmers markets help local economies because the food is produced, it’s processed, it’s distributed and it’s sold there, and so it stays in the local economy and the money stays there, leading to what we believe is strong economic development and job creation,” she said.

• FIND A FARMERS MARKET OR CSA

Alonzo has been in Wisconsin in part to promote the USDA’s online National Farmers Market Directory, which consumers can use to find markets near them. The agency plans to launch a similar directory of community-supported agriculture, or CSA, programs next year.

CSAs typically provide weekly deliveries of produce and other products, such as eggs or honey, to people who buy season-long subscriptions.

“We think there’s a lot of benefits to both farmers and consumers vis-a-vis CSAs,” Alonzo said. “Farmers can distribute their products during the hours that work for them, and they receive payment for the products early in the season, which helps the farms’ economic planning. And this gives consumers access to … a wide variety of fresh, local food.”

More than 12,000 farms nationwide offered CSAs last year, she said.

• FOOD HUBS

The next big thing in the local food movement is likely to be the growth of food hubs, where farmers who can’t make deliveries or aren’t interested in marketing can bring food to be packaged and sold. The number of food hubs nationwide has doubled since 2009 to more than 300.

The USDA is working to put together a directory of them as well.

“We’re really excited about these new business models,” Alonzo said. She added, “I think it’s a win-win. It’s a win for the farmers, it’s a win for the food hub and it’s a win for consumers because … it makes a lot of sense.”

On the Web …

USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets

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