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Health Beat: Cooperative Extension Serves Nutritious Courses

Bianca Alexander oversees students making 'bread in a bag.' (Photo provided by Cooperative Extension Services)Dr. Caryl Johnson and her colleagues at the University of the Virgin Island’s Cooperative Extension Service attack obesity on several fronts – in the kitchen, at the grocery, in the classroom and on the exercise mat.

“Food companies are trying to get people addicted to certain foods,” Johnson said, and most of those foods are high in sugar and/or fat. Just what the doctor didn’t order.

CES is campaigning to raise awareness of the dangers of over-consumption and to educate people, especially children and youth, about the importance of good nutrition. As part of its ongoing mission, it will conduct a two-week program including cooking classes for children in July and a longer program for adults starting in August.

“We teach nutrition in the schools all year long,” Johnson said, “in as many schools as we can get into.” Most visits are to elementary schools, though staffers sometimes talk with junior high and high school students.

“We do a sugar demonstration,” she said, showing students how to calculate how much sugar is contained in certain foods. The information is on the label, but it might as well be in code. “It’s in grams, and we don’t think in grams.” It also may be listed “per serving” so the consumer needs to take into account how many servings the food manufacture says are in each bottle or box of product, and multiply accordingly.

An individual-sized can of cola, for example, contains about nine teaspoons of sugar, Johnson said. If the manufacturer says there are two servings per can, then he’s claiming a little over four teaspoons of sugar per serving. But most people will drink the entire can.

So, Johnson noted, it’s not always what we’re eating that makes us overweight, “sometimes it’s what we’re drinking.”

Bianca Alexander teaches students about nutrition. (Photo provided by Cooperative Education Services)CES is basing its summer program on the national Choose My Plate program presented by the U.S. Agriculture Department. A fresh take on the food pyramid of years ago, the Plate is divided into half, with fruits and vegetables on one side, indicating they should comprise half of what we eat. The other side of the plate is unequally divided between grains and protein, with protein the smallest share.

“The children have a good awareness” of nutrition, Johnson said. “The unfortunate part is they don’t have the ability to buy their own food” and that’s why CES also has some programs for adults.

"Michelle Obama says one of the problems she sees is young moms and dads don’t know how to cook,” Johnson said. So she is advocating after-school programs that teach cooking, “and basically that’s what we’re doing here.”

The children’s summer program is already filled, Johnson said. It is scheduled to run July 7 through 18. Students aged 11 to 14 will spend the morning in the kitchen with Bianca Alexander in a hands-on approach to healthy eating. In the afternoon, Johnson will take over, teaching sewing.

There is still room in the adult program that will start in August. Details are being finalized, but the course will be offered for six to eight weeks. Participants meet just one day a week for two hours. The first hour will be devoted to such topics as sanitation and food handling and budgeting and smart shopping. The second hour will be devoted to cooking, revealing simple secrets for preparing such tempting delicacies as smoothies, stir fry and bread in a bag.

Both children and adult learners will reap the garden fresh benefits of the Cooperative Extension’s garden, depending on what’s ripe.

More information is available by calling Alexander at 1-340-693-1073.

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