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Human Nutrition, Diet and Health > HNDH Blog
April 08
Breathing Is Power

May is Asthma awareness month. It is a time to bring awareness of a chronic incurable, inflammatory disorder of the airways. 

Did you know that Asthma is one of our nations most common and costly diseases? There is no known cause and over 20 million people have it.  The severity of asthma, as well as the frequency of asthma episodes (“attacks”), can be influenced by exposures to allergens and/ irritants (“triggers”) in the environment, both indoors and outdoors.

It is important to know that asthma attack triggers are often hidden. The most common triggers are dust mites, second-hand smoke, animal dander (skin flakes and saliva), cockroaches and their droppings, mold and mildew, and pollen. These triggers can be life-threatening for the millions of people with asthma in the United States, and young children are at the greatest risk. In fact, asthma accounts for one in six of all child emergency room visits and nearly 196,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. That’s more than any other childhood disease.

Just imagine: you’re short of breath, and you’re trying to fill your lungs by sucking air through a tube the same size of a plastic coffee stirrer. That’s the helpless and scared feeling a growing number of people with asthma experience. Asthma is scary, but it is a disease that can be managed.


There are practical things you can do in your home to eliminate as many causes as you can. The more you reduce asthma triggers, the easier your loved one will breathe. Here are a few recommendations on how to eliminate triggers from your home.
1.    Ventilate smoke from chimneys and fireplaces properly.
2.    When using household cleaners or other products with strong odors, vent the rooms to clear out the particles in the air.
3.    Bedcovers should be used to keep dust from the sheets to reduce dust mites so this means making up the bed each day.
4.    Wash bed sheets regularly in hot water and dry completely in a hot dryer.
5.    Carpeting is hard to clean so avoid using wall to wall carpet. A good quality vacuum cleaner is a great investment, too. When purchasing air-filters, the pleated kind will trap more particles. Some even have an electrostatic charge that will pull more asthma triggers from the air
6.    Stuffed toys can contain dust mites so wash in hot water if possible or store them in covered cabinets or boxes.
7.    When dusting use rags that attract dust or a damp rag. Dry dusting rags only spread the dust.    8.    Pets are great but 1 out of 4 people with asthma are allergic to them, especially cats. Keeping them out doors will help. If they must be indoors keep them out of the bedroom and off the furniture where you sit. Washing pets often may help control skin flakes.
9.    Dusting and vacuuming regularly is necessary to help illuminate the triggers of pet dander.
10.    Moisture may lead to many problems and should be reduced. If the room smells musty, then mildew may be present. Indoor leaks should be fixed to prevent mold. Water around tubs and showers along with soap scum provides support for mold growth so the area should be cleaned and kept dry.
Wet towels and bath mats should not pile up or they will become moldy.  Shower curtains should be cleaned monthly to keep mildew from growing.
11.    Pollen, bee stings, exercise, change in weather, poison ivy, drugs, or certain foods are also asthma triggers. Make sure you work with your doctor to help treat asthma in you or your loved one.
healthy home
Just as people with other chronic diseases have to work at monitoring their diet, the person working to control asthma has to work harder at getting rid of triggers. But it’s possible! All it takes is commitment and a little extra time.
For more information contact your County Extension Office for a brochure on “Asthma and Controlling Environmental Triggers in the Home”.
Submitted by Valerie Conner, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet, & Health, 334-361-


January 09
Healthy Choices at the Vending Machine or Cafeteria

​Snacking during the work hours can help to keep a person's energy up during the day if they haven't been able to have a healthy breakfast or lunch. However, often the snack choices available at the worksite aren't the healthiest. Also, we often lack the knowledge about nutrition to make the healthy choice.

Alabama Department of Public Health's (ADPH) seeks to provide guidance in helping individuals and worksites make healthier choices. They  use the 10-10-5 rule. 

• 10% or less of the Daily Value (DV) of total fat 

• 10% or less of the Daily Value (DV) of total carbohydrate 

• 5% or more of the Daily Value (DV) of at least one: fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron 

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For more information about ADPH's Alabama's Healthy Vending Machine Program visit their website at​

A traffic light label on food is a very similar idea. A study conducted in a Massechusetts hospital cafeteria found that the 'traffic light' labeling increased the sale of healthy items. Link to study overview with additional links at​​​

If having healthier options at your worksite is important to you, visit these sites and find out how either one these programs could be put into place at your place of work. Many organizations today have Health Committees that you could take the idea to for consideration. There are contacts available at ADPH for the Alabama Healthy Vending Machine program. Regional Extension Agents in Human Nutrition, Diet & Health with the Alabama Cooperative Extension can also assist in helping you or your workplace with snacking and healthy food information, either in publication form or through on-site programming.

Submitted by  Donna R. Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent, Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,, 256-200-2997

December 18
Checking out Health Insurance Options over the Holidays? Where to go?

​Are you one of the many uninsured that haven’t signed up for health insurance yet? Is confusion about where to go and how to figure out which plan is best for you and your family have you at a standstill?

One of the first things you might consider doing is reading background information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - What the goals of the ACA are, and the role providing health insurance to millions will have in creating a healthier US population.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension recently released publication “The Affordable Care Act” provides a good introduction.

The ACA attempts to:
- Improve the quality and affordability of health insurance for all Americans, particularly among
populations where there are major health disparities
- Lower the rate of insurance for the uninsured by expanding public and private insurance coverage
- Reduce the cost of healthcare for individuals and government
- Strengthen preventive care
- Promote the use of health information technology

To view a PDF of the publication visit

However, if you are just trying to figure out which insurance is best for you, a visit to download materials developed through the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension system may be a help.

Visit - - to download the Smart Choice workbook. The 26-page workbook will walk you through the “Why? What? How? “questions you need to know and have answered to select the smart choice.

key questions smart choice.JPG

Following the Smart Choice checklist will guide you through the process. With the partially completed checklist in hand when you visit the Health Insurance Markeplace at or call the toll-free number at 1-800-318-2596  you may not feel as overwhelmed.

There may be local events in your area over the holidays. Visit to find out resources in your area if you want to talk to a person face-to-face.

Just remember if you want health insurance by January 1, 2014, you need to get your paperwork in and premium paid by December 23th. If you are planning to wait until the very last minute to obtain health insurance you have until March 31, 2014 – the end of open enrollment.

Other resources of interest:

Kaiser subsidy calculator can be found at Use the calculator and get an estimate of your eligibility for subsidies and how much you could spend on health insurance. There are tax credits available for many families.

eXtension has a links to many other resources – the links can be found at

Submitted by Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent – Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,, 256-737-9386.

November 06
​Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changing rules for Fruit and Vegetables Growers – Comments Invited
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering changing various rules as they relate to the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). The implementation of these rules may impact the produce that is available locally.

University of Vermont Extension developed ten reasons to buy local food and they apply in Alabama.

1) Locally grown food tastes and looks better.

2) Local food is better for you..

3) Local food preserves genetic diversity.

4) Local food is safe.

5) Local food supports local families.

6) Local food builds community.

7) Local food preserves open space.

8) Local food keeps taxes down.

9) Local food benefits the environment and wildlife.

10) Local food is an investment in the future.

Implementation of the current FSMA law could impact local fruit and vegetable production due to the cost of implementing the rules. New Hampshire has noted the various concerns and has them outlined in a factsheet, “Understanding and Commenting on the Food Safety Modernization Act Proposed Rules”. Check out article at"

Concerns outlined include:

•Farm vs. Facility as defined in the law

•Covered produce

•Cost to growers

•Issues related to agricultural water

•Issues related to manure use

•Wildlife habitat on a farm

•Personnel Training


Comments from anyone with an interest in the issue are invited by FDA – from consumers, to growers, to groups impacted by the loss of local food source. There are many resources available to research make prior to making comments before the November 15th date.

New Hampshire Extension Information on FSMA

Washington State University Extension has broken out the FSMA Act into sections with links to the FSMA law in the Federal Registry and links to various FDA publications -

National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition has a very broad listing of FSMA resources also. -​

Link to make comments via 720px-US-RegulationsGov-Logo.svg.png

Submit your comments in TWO places –

Produce Rule and to Preventive Controls Rule

You can also mail in your comments – just be sure it is postmarked prior to November 15, 2013.

If mailing your comments:

Instructions: All submissions received must include the Agency name and Docket No. FDA-2011-N-0921, and RIN 0910-AG35 for this rulemaking.

Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305) 
Food and Drug Administration, 
5630 Fishers Lane, Rm. 1061, 
Rockville, MD 20852

Your opinion matters to the FDA.

Submitted by Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,, 256-737-9386
October 21
National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week is October 20 through October 26, 2013

lead proclamation.png

The presence of lead in the home has an impact on the health of everyone in the home. The impact of lead exposure can be found in almost every organ and system in your body. Children six years old and younger are most susceptible to the effects of lead. For 2013, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has proclaimed October 20 to 26 National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

Lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, and hearing problems
  • Slowed growth
  • Anemia

Keeping your home clean and well-maintained goes a long way in preventing lead exposure. Use the EPA's Lead Poisoning Home Checklist as a start.(

The 5 Questions on the checklist include:

  • Was your home built before 1978?
  • Do you see walls, furniture, or window sills in your home with chipping or peeling  paint?
  • Do your children play in lead-contaminated soil near your home?
  • Do you store food in imported pottery that contains lead?
  • Do you work with lead in your job?

For information about lead visit the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead Portal - you can find more information for your family and your community - or contact your local Alabama Health Department, they may have more local information about lead issues in your community.

Colorado Extension has a publication "Lead-Based Paint in Homes" that provides an overview and action steps. Visit the Healthy Homes Partnership for more extension-based resources on lead 

Get your home tested. Get your child tested. Get the facts.

Submitted by Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,, 256-737-9386

lead week.jpg

October 04
Fall Apples are here!


Apples are a healthy food choice. They are convenient, fast and nutritious. Naturally fat and cholesterol free, apples are also a source of fiber. Currently, the average Alabamian eats only 1.6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (CDC) -- so maybe by eating a few more apples will help you towards the MyPlate guidance system emphasis to “focus on fruits” -- and make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

There are many local apple growers in Alabama -- especially North Alabama. But wherever you purchase your apples you need to wash them and store them properly.

Store apples in the refrigerator or in a cool place; ideally between 32-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Stored properly apples can be kept for up to a month.

For snacking the apple varieties Empire, Fugi, Gala, Ginger Gold, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp and Red Delicious are excellent. For baking or cooking Golden Delicious, Jonathan, or McIntosh are good choices. A good cooking apple has a good sweet- tart balance and their flesh doesn't break down as they cook - there may be local varieties that can be found at your local farmers market. Ask at your local farmers market or roadside stand.

Apples can be frozen, canned or dehydrated. Applesauce is a family favorite also. For more information about freezing, canning or dehydrating apples a good online resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) - they have information on making apple cider to making pear-apple jam.

Pear-Apple Jam Recipe from NCHFP

2 cups peeled, cored, and finely chopped pears (about 2 lbs)
1 cup peeled, cored, and finely chopped apples
6½ cups sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup bottled lemon juice
6 oz liquid pectin

Yield: About 7 to 8 half-pints

Please read Using Boiling Water Canners before beginning. If this is your first time
canning, it is recommended that you read Principles of Home Canning.

Procedure: Crush apples and pears in a large saucepan and stir in cinnamon. Thoroughly mix sugar and lemon juice with fruits and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Immediately stir in pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam, and fill sterile jars leaving ¼-inch headspace.

snip time pear-apple jam.JPG
Visit the Alabama Farmers Market Authority website to find out more information about local farmers markets and farm/roadside stands.

Check out the CDCs State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2013 for more information about how different states are developing programs and policies to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.

The U.S. Apple Association has a recipes too. October is National Apple Month.

Submitted by Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,, 256-737-9386

September 10

The HNDH team is getting ready for the new year! 

Expanding, implementing and enhancing nutrition and health programs to better serve you!​​

September 10
September is National Whole Grains Month

​Did you know that people who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases? Grains provide nutrients important for good health and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of all grains eaten be whole grains. September is National Whole Grains Month which serves as a reminder that Americans need more whole grains in their daily diet.

So, what are whole grains? While grains are any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or other cereal grains, whole grains contain the entire kernel, like the bran, germ, and endosperm. Whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice are a few examples of whole grains.

There are health benefits to consuming whole grains as part of a daily diet. First grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber (soluble and insoluble). They have several B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate, and minerals such as iron, magnesium and selenium. Whole grains also help reduce constipation, help with weight management, and may reduce the risk of heart disease. It is believed that soluble fiber helps reduce cholesterol levels in some people.

How do we get enough in our diet?

-Whole grains should be part of your meals and snacks.

-Use whole-grain breads for sandwiches and toast, eat brown rice instead of white rice, use whole grain pastas with macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and pasta salads, and try rolled oats or crushed unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken or fish.

-Snack on ready-to-eat whole grain cereals.

-Whole-grain flour or oatmeal can be added to baked treats.

-Popcorn is a whole grain and without the butter and salt, is a healthier snack.

Read food ingredients labels and choose foods that have whole grain first on the list like brown rice, oatmeal, bulgur, wild rice, whole-grain corn, whole oats, and whole rye or whole wheat.


Multigrain, stone-ground, seven-grain or bran are usually not whole-grain foods. Also food color is not always a good indicator of whole grain. Bread can be brown due to molasses or other added ingredients.

Select products with higher percent daily value (%DV) of fiber. Make at least half your grains, whole grains for a healthier diet and not just for September but every day of the year. For more information call your County Extension Office or go to


Submitted by Valerie Conner, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet, & Health, 334-361-7273,

August 26
September is Preparedness Month – Are You Ready?
Preparedness is a year-round process. However, September is when there is a media focus on building awareness of preparing for emergencies.

Have you thought of about being prepared for an emergency in 2013 and beyond?

When storms were forecast for your area – Did you buy a weather radio? Did you stock up on non-perishable items?

When you renewed your homeowners insurance – Did you check to make sure you were covered by tornadoes and/or floods (depending on where you live). Did you place important papers in a secure location – on a digital cloud perhaps?

When you sent your child off to school – Did you have a plan a place on where to meet if for some reason you couldn’t pick up your child – Did your child know the plan?

Many people haven’t given much through to being prepared for an emergency. And when an emergency happens – whether it is a car accident, home fire, or a flood – they often do not know where to turn. Coping after an emergency is stressful and if we deal with stress positively we can manage it.
Preparedness reduces stress. You can train yourself to cope with emergencies, by making a plan and rehearsing it. It is what fireman, policemen, and disaster responses teams do.

Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Ready Program​ provides a framework for people and organizations to plan and prepare for emergencies. Visit the site at

Be Informed – What to do Before, during , and After an Emergency

Make A Plan – Prepare, Plan, and Stay Informed During an Emergency 

Build a Kit – Build a Kit for Disasters to be prepared

Get Involved – Find Opportunities to Support Community Preparedness 

If you are looking for Alabama resources the Alabama Emergency Management Agency is a start. - they have a twitter account @Alabama EMA that is a an excellent resource in an emergency.

A county of listing of EMAs can be found at​- Call and find out if there are any training opportunities in your area.

Red Cross of Alabama has training opportunities also --

Submitted by Donna R. Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet & Health, 256-200-2997

August 05
Healthy Eating at School

August is here and that means school is just around the corner. Schools are a key setting for healthy nutrition and physical activity strategies. Many schools have already made changes to their school nutrition environments, improved the quality of the foods served, and now provide students with more nutritious, healthy choices.

Do you really know if your children are eating healthy school meals? The only real way to be sure is to get involved. Show you care. Show the school that what your children eat matters a lot. Here's a checklist of what you can do to get results:

Do Lunch With the Children: Eat breakfast or lunch at school with your children. See what the meals are like. Notice the atmosphere. If you don't like what you see, do something.

Discuss Your Principles: Go to the principal. Discuss the importance of good nutrition and physical activity. Suggest programs. Ask for cooperation. Follow through.

Team Up With Food Service Staff: Visit the school cafeteria. Get to know the staff. Let them know you value their services and appreciate good daily nutrition for your child. Make sure children appreciate how healthy breakfasts and lunches serve their minds as well as their bodies.

Talk Out of School: Make your opinions heard. Talk to other parents. Work with your PTA and school board to support healthy school meals.

Listen: If you listen to what your children are learning at school about good nutrition, you can help them put their knowledge to work at home, too.

Submitted: Sharon A. Haynes, Regional Extension Agent, Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,, 256-362-6187

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