health

UConn Extension: Committed to a Sustainable Future 

fall newsletter collage of three pictures and story titles

Connecticut has faced challenges related to sustainable landscapes, food and agriculture, health, and the climate for generations. As problems are solved, new issues arise. UConn Extension educators work in all 169 cities and towns of Connecticut to help solve the problems that our residents, communities, and state face. Connecting people with agriculture, the natural environment, and healthy lifestyles are critical components to a sustainable future. Extension works collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to find solutions that improve our communities for the next generation.

Read the fall newsletter.

Trails 101 Video Series Helps New Users Enjoy CT Trails

hands holding a trail mapThis time of the year, Connecticut residents are heading outside to enjoy the cool fall temperatures and beautiful New England scenery. Connecticut offers a wealth of outdoor spaces from city parks to rural area trail systems where people can engage in all types of activities such as hiking, biking, and nature watching while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Spending time outdoors is a great way to get exercise, reduce stress, and can be a good educational experience for kids of all ages. Additionally, doing activities outside can increase happiness and wellbeing.

For new trail users, heading onto the trails can seem a bit overwhelming as it can be hard to know what to expect on the trails.  Information about what to pack, eat, and how to navigate trail systems is not always widely available. This is why we have launched a new video series called Trails 101 on our Connecticut Trails webpage. This series of four videos explains to trail users everything they need to know before stepping onto the trails. The videos cover topics such as how to prepare for a hike, what to bring, trail etiquette, and the leave no trace principles. Trail users of all levels have a responsibility to know how to respect themselves, others, and the environment when heading out into nature. These videos provide the tools needed for a successful adventure on Connecticut trails. 

Other resources available for new trail users include websites such as AllTrails.com, a crowd-sourced website. AllTrails is a great resource to help people locate hikes in their area. On AllTrails, trails can be sorted by difficulty level, length, and type of trail. There is information about features of the trail such as vistas and waterfalls, and accessibility of the trails. The hikes are posted by community members so they do not always include all information available so cross checking with trail managing organizations would also be helpful. The benefit of AllTrails being a crowd-sourced website is that other trail users can leave reviews of the hike and the current conditions to help others decide if the trail is right for them at that time.

Another online resource for finding trails is the Connecticut Forest and Park Association Interactive Map. This map helps hikers find blue blazed trails near them. The website includes an informational video on how to use the interactive map which we would highly recommend watching as it shows just how helpful this interactive map can be. 

As helpful as all these online resources can be, sometimes, the best option is a paper map. Paper maps can be printed from the internet, purchased from the organization that maintains the trail of interest, or, sometimes, found for free at trailhead information huts. Since cell service is not always available and cell phones can run out of battery, it’s always good to be prepared by having a paper trail map.

A final resource trail users should explore before heading outside is the Leave No Trace website which provides information on how to be a responsible trail user. On the website, they discuss the 7 principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). These principles outline ways humans can make the least amount of impact on the environment when visiting natural places. We all live in the same environment so it is the job of everyone to help preserve it. These principles are not hard to follow yet they have a huge impact on preserving our wild places. For example, the LNT principles of disposing of waste properly and traveling on durable surfaces are small actions trail users can take to maintain the beauty of the natural environments we all enjoy recreating in.

After watching the Trails 101 video series, looking at websites like AllTrails.com, and reviewing the LNT principles, it’s time to hit the trail, get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. Enjoy exploring all Connecticut has to offer.

Article by Marissa Dibella


These videos were made possible by a generous gift from the David and Nancy Bull Extension Innovation Fund to the UConn PATHS Team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. PATHS is an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health and communities, and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.  Our team works in a wide variety of departments and disciplines including public health, health education, nutrition, community development, and landscape architecture.

Written and produced October 2020 by Jenifer Nadeau,  Michael Puglisi,  Umekia Taylor, Stacey Stearns,  Dianisi Torres, Laura Brown, Mike Zaritheny, with review and special assistance from Dea Ziso, Marissa Dibella, Laurie Giannotti, Claire Cain, Kristen Bellantuono, Kim Bradley, and Amy Hernandez.

Mystic Aquarium and CVMDL are Enhancing Animal Health and Learning Experiences

Visiting an aquarium transports people to another world, an underwater world filled with many different plants and animals. Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut cares for 5,000 animals from over 355 species, from octopus to beluga whales and sea lions. Studying these animals offers a unique opportunity to learn about conserving these species in the wild, in support of Mystic Aquarium’s mission to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education, and research.

CVMDL road sign
Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory on Jan. 14, 2019. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Behind habitats that feature brightly colored fish and a diversity of other animals, like beluga whales that appear to engage with visitors, are the professionals – veterinarians, aquarists, trainers, divers, and environmental quality staff – that protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of the animals. The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) in the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science at UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is a partner in protecting and enhancing the health of the aquatic animals at Mystic Aquarium and has collaborated with Mystic Aquarium’s veterinarians for almost thirty years.

CVMDL partners with Mystic Aquarium on diagnostics and research to advance aquatic animal care and health and shares these initiatives with the larger scientific and educational communities.

The partnership between CVMDL and Mystic Aquarium started with Dr. Salvatore Frasca Jr., the Director of CVMDL. Dr. Frasca’s research focus is on pathology and diagnostics of aquatic animals. Service, through his appointment with UConn Extension and work with CVMDL, has always been a key component of his work.

“I chose UConn because it was close to Mystic Aquarium,” Dr. Frasca says. “I’m proud and pleased that CVMDL, through our service and educational activities, has been supporting Mystic Aquarium for over 30 years. We have a legacy of Extension activities at Mystic Aquarium that many people from both organizations have been part of.”

Dr. Frasca was enrolled in the Residency/PhD program in veterinary anatomic pathology at UConn in the 1990s after earning his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to that, he had worked closely with Dr. J. Lawrence Dunn, the veterinarian at Mystic Aquarium at the time. The two realized that there was a nationwide shortage of educational opportunities for veterinarians to learn aquatic animal medicine. Together, they wrote a grant to create an internship program at Mystic Aquarium.

Mystic Aquarium’s Internship in Aquatic Animal Medicine and Research teaches veterinarians how to apply and develop their skills for the benefit of aquatic animals and helps veterinarians further develop their expertise with research. It was the first aquatic marine animal veterinary internship ever offered, and Mystic Aquarium’s internship program has since trained nearly 30 veterinarians, many of whom are now leaders in the field of aquatic animal medicine, including two of the veterinarians currently employed at Mystic Aquarium. After receiving the grant, Dr. Frasca was encouraged to apply, and served as the first veterinary intern in the program in 1992. For nearly thirty years the program has continued to train veterinarians in aquatic animal health and has prompted similar opportunities in other locations.

The idea of developing educational experiences in clinical medicine and pathology was the foundation of the original partnership. CVMDL provides the pathology component and Mystic Aquarium has the clinical component. They are parallel tracks that weave back and forth because of the nature of the programs. Veterinarians come to UConn’s residency program in veterinary anatomic pathology, in part, because they want to experience aquatic animals. CVMDL integrates aquatic animals into the fabric of the training material and provides transformational learning experiences.

Enhancing Animal Health and Conservation

Allison D. Tuttle, DVM, Diplomate ACZM with a penguin
Allison D. Tuttle, DVM, Diplomate ACZM

Dr. Allison Tuttle is the Senior Vice President of Zoologic Operations at Mystic Aquarium. She was introduced to Mystic Aquarium on a tour with the AQUAVET program, and then served as the Veterinary Intern in Aquatic Animal Medicine and Research from 2002 to 2004. Dr. Tuttle re-joined the aquarium as Director of Animal Care in 2007 when Dr. Dunn retired. In her current role, Dr. Tuttle oversees animal husbandry, animal rescue, veterinary services, environmental quality, the dive program, and exhibit interpretation.

“I fell in love with Mystic Aquarium on that initial tour,” Dr. Tuttle says. “There is a nice balance of opportunities among the programs we have, and we play a key role in wild marine animal rescue for our region.”

Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program manages 1,000 miles of coastline and monitors deceased wild marine mammals and sea turtles to determine their cause of death. The aquarium sends samples to CVMDL for histopathologic analysis, which provides critically important information on what is happening in our oceans. The aquarium submits reports containing this data to federal agencies, and these reports are utilized to shape regulations and policies preventing fisheries and human interaction, which is important for marine mammal and sea turtle conservation.

wild whale examination
Photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium.

“Our oceans are changing and there are a lot of unusual mortality events, in particular with large whale species in the greater Atlantic region,” Dr. Tuttle says. “As new issues emerge with the ocean it becomes increasingly important to monitor what is occurring. It’s tremendously difficult to study these whales; the data we collect is sometimes the only information we have on these animals.”

CVMDL’s pathology and diagnostic services have been integral to the health of Mystic Aquarium’s animals as well. They partner on sample analysis for their animals as well as on scientific collaborations. The aquarium sends samples to CVMDL for histopathologic analysis and biopsies on active clinical cases. The results from CVMDL guide care of the animals, important in the management of a healthy, robust population, by informing treatment and allowing for the best animal care possible.

Scientific research is another area where Mystic Aquarium and CVMDL collaborate. Aquatic clinical medicine and pathology go hand-in-hand. For example, Mystic Aquarium worked with CVMDL and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station to report Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) infection in a colony of penguins in 2003. EEE is an emerging health concern. Until that report, EEE infection in penguins had not been described. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

“Mystic Aquarium has a great relationship with UConn and Dr. Frasca,” says Dr. Tuttle. “We have a strong connection with UConn and our conservation and animal care are greatly enhanced through our partnership with CVMDL.”

CVMDL is on the front lines of research and testing to keep humans and animals safe. The aquatic animal pathology service is one part of their work. Clients include those within the state, such as Mystic Aquarium and The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, and clients and aquariums from across the country. The laboratory offers diagnostic testing in support of pathology, including bacterial and fungal culture and molecular testing. The long-standing service history in aquatic animal pathology started with the relationship with Mystic Aquarium and now serves a number of other aquariums nationwide.

“CVMDL is committed to working with Mystic Aquarium, we’ve always known that Mystic Aquarium is a special asset for Connecticut,” Dr. Frasca concludes. “Extension activity is born of confluence and synergy of educational activities. That is exactly what happened with Mystic Aquarium.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds!

Written by UConn Dietetics Student Hannah Waxler

The Fall season brings to us a favorite squash!! Pumpkin! Did you know it’s a squash? Pumpkin and the spices that seem to flavor it best are added to just about everything: pumpkin coffee, pumpkin muffins, and of course, pumpkin pie! As delicious as pumpkin treats are, did you know that the seeds of a pumpkin can also be roasted and enjoyed?

Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of many nutrients, including fiber, protein, magnesium, and potassium1. Pumpkin seeds can be seasoned in many ways and are delightfully crunchy when roasted, which makes them a great addition to salads, trail mixes and for a simple snack-in-a-handful!

Check out this simple way to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds:

  1. Get a pumpkin!
  2. Fill a large bowl with warm water
  3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees
  4. Wash your hands!
  5. Carefully, use a sharp knife to cut around the top of the pumpkin around the stem, and then pull on the stem to take off.
  6. Using a large spoon or your hands, pull all of the seeds out of the pumpkin and place the clumps of seeds directly into the bowl of water. This will get messy, but it’s fun! The stringy orange pulp in the pumpkin can be discarded when pulled out with the seeds.
  7. Use your hands to separate any remaining pumpkin pulp from the seeds in the bowl of water. The pulp will sink, and the seeds will float once in the water.
  8. Strain seeds out of the water with a colander, and pat the seeds dry with a paper towel.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Place cleaned and dried pumpkin seeds in a bowl. Now it is time to season them! This is the fun part!
  • For a sweet, pumpkin pie flavor, use equal parts cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
  • For a savory flavor option, use equal parts salt, pepper, garlic, and cumin.
  • Use your own spice mixture as well!
  • Once seasonings sprinkled on, use your hands to mix seeds well.
  1. Lay seasoned pumpkin seeds out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  2. Bake the seasoned pumpkin seeds for 30-35 minutes at 275 degrees. Every 15 minutes, carefully open the oven and using a spoon or pancake flipper, stir the seeds around so they are able to roast evenly.
  3. Once the seeds are lightly browned, remove from the oven and allow to cool on pan.
  4. Store the roasted pumpkin seeds in a sealed container at room temperature.

seeds coming out of carved pumpkin with kid looking on in background hand holding seeds in front of a pumpkin holding pumpkin seeds over bowl

There are many ways you can enjoy your toasted pumpkin seeds! A few ideas:

  • Sprinkle on top of a green salad
  • Add them into a trail mix or granola
  • Sprinkle on top of yogurt
  • Enjoy these crunchy treats on their own

Happy roasting!

pumpkin seeds on tray ready for roasting roasted pumkin seeds ready to eat

Citation:

  1. USDA https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/784459/nutrients. Accessed October 10, 2020.

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Fall is Here – Stay Hydrated

Written by UConn Dietetics Masters Student Shawn Lada

person drinking water backlit by sun
Drink water the day before and during physical activity or if heat is going to become a factor. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, especially before strenuous exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Rhett Isbell)

We may be having cooler days now, but it is always important to stay hydrated. Keeping your body hydrated helps your heart, brain, muscles, and joints to stay healthy, along with keeping you regular and preventing urinary tract infections! During hotter days and summer months your body needs more fluid because you lose fluid when you sweat. Guess what? Sweating also occurs if you are working out in a gym in the winter! Even if you are not working out, your body loses fluid every day and you may not be drinking as much fluid as you need to rehydrate1.

Bottom line: Be aware of your fluid intake each day and adjust as necessary.

Depending on your activity level, from low activity like washing the car and walking the dog, to high/athletic activity like running a number of miles or lifting weights–and even depending on your gender–you may need around 90 ounces to 180 ounces of water a day. (That is up to almost 1 ½ gallons or 23 eight-oz cups!) The good news is you get around 20% of your fluid intake from fruits and vegetables2.  Do you know how water packed they are? Think of sweet juicy watermelon and crunchy apples! That’s water making that ‘crunch’!

The other 80% of your daily fluids come from water, milk, coffee, tea, and other beverages3. Other sources of fluids include foods like plain yogurt, broth-based soups, and popsicles.

For the rest of your hydration needs–and to get into a healthy routine–keep a reusable water bottle nearby, or a glass of water if you are at home, sipping as you go through the day4.

Remember: if you’re feeling thirsty, listen to your body and drink up! By the time you are thirsty, you are probably already on your way to becoming dehydrated. A way of knowing if you are dehydrated is to look at the color of your urine. It should be clear or pale yellow5. If it’s not, it’s time to drink some refreshing water!

Struggling to take a liking to plain drinking water? Try adding sliced fruits, like lemons and limes, and vegetables like cucumber slices, or even some mint!

Visit this page for more inspiring ways to flavor your water! https://communitynutrition.cahnr.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/3067/2020/08/Drink-Up-English-Spanish.pdf

Citations:

  1. French, K. A., & James, L. (2020, September 16). Water, Water Everywhere. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://extension.psu.edu/water-water-everywhere
  2. Appel, L. J., M.D, Baker, D. H., Ph.D., Bar-Or, O., M.D, Minaker, K. L., M.D., Morris, C., Jr., M.D, Resnick, L. M., M.D, . . . Whelton, P. K., M.D., M.Sc. (2004, February 11). Report Sets Dietary Intake Levels for Water, Salt, and Potassium To Maintain Health and Reduce Chronic Disease Risk. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2004/02/report-sets-dietary-intake-levels-for-water-salt-and-potassium-to-maintain-health-and-reduce-chronic-disease-risk
  3. French, K. A., & James, L. (2020, September 16). Water, Water Everywhere. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://extension.psu.edu/water-water-everywhere
  4. Water & Nutrition. (2016, October 05). Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/nutrition/index.html
  5. French, K. A., & James, L. (2020, September 16). Water, Water Everywhere. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://extension.psu.edu/water-water-everywhere

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Cholesterol Education with the UConn Dietetics Program

Written by UConn Dietetics student Madeline Fulton

93 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL. Nearly 29 million adult Americans have total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL.1

Too much cholesterol circulating in your blood can put you at risk for developing heart disease and stroke. What is cholesterol? It’s a waxy, fat-like substance made by our livers. Cholesterol is needed for our bodies to produce hormones, digest fatty foods, and other important jobs. Our bodies produce the right amount of cholesterol needed. There are two types of cholesterol we care most about: “GOOD” (aka HDL) and “BAD” (aka LDL). We want more “GOOD” cholesterol in our bodies because it helps our bodies get rid of the “BAD” cholesterol. The “BAD”, or less healthy cholesterol, can build up over time and cause our arteries to become stiff and narrow. This reduces the blood flow which could result in blockage to the heart (a heart attack) or the brain (a stroke). Cholesterol in our blood is affected MOST by eating saturated fats (fatty meats, butter, baked goods) and trans fats (fried fast food, vegetable oil, microwave popcorn, some stick margarines).

The way you can help yourself and improve your cholesterol levels is to:

  1. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS. Don’t miss doctor’s appointments or lab work.

    chart with cholesterol guidelienes
    National Cholesterol Education Program Guidelines, 2018
  2. Learn and be aware of the foods that can help you control your good and bad cholesterol, as well as, the saturated and trans fats you eat:
    • “Good” cholesterol (aka HDL) is affected in a good way by foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), flax and chia seeds, avocado, high fiber fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.
    • “Bad” cholesterol (aka LDL) is affected by foods like fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy products, deep-fried fast foods, processed foods (chips, cookies, other snack foods), and butter.
    • Review your diet. Only on occasion should you eat rich (highly marbled) meats, cream, butter, and fried foods.
  1. Participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Aerobic exercise (those that increase your heart rate) can help improve your GOOD cholesterol levels. Aerobic types of exercise include: walking, running, biking, or jumping rope.2
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation. The current recommendation for females is up to one drink per day; while the recommendation for males is up to two drinks per day. “One drink” is considered one glass (5 oz.) of wine, one beer (12 oz), or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.3
  3. If diet and exercise plans don’t seem to be lowering your cholesterol numbers into a healthy range, medication might be necessary. Make sure to speak with your doctor to see what plan will work best for you!

Tip: Small changes go a long way when it comes to managing your cholesterol! The small changes will add up, helping you to develop long-lasting lifestyle and nutrition changes.

Citations

  1. Virani SS, Alonso A, Benjamin EJ, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2020 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2020. Accessed September 21, 2020.
  2. S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008. Health (San Francisco) 2008 Physical Activity. Accessed September 21, 2020.
  3. Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of. 2015. “2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (8th edition). Accessed September 21, 2020.

This material is funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

What to Eat (and Drink) Before, During, and After Exercise

Article by Mackenzie Lane, UConn Dietetics Student

Do you ever stop to think about taking a bite of a granola bar before your morning jog? Or force yourself to skip a mid-hike snack so you can feast at the next meal? Or think post-workout meals will make you gain weight?

No need to look any further for fact-based nutrition and exercise information! Here are tips to keep you healthy and help you reach your exercise goals.

Before Exercise: Fuel up!

Just as you put fuel in your car before you drive, you need to put fuel in your body before you exercise.” – Internationally-recognized sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD

Not eating anything before exercise can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This can cause fatigue, blurred vision, and lightheadedness – all factors that can make exercise less enjoyable and can lead to injuries. Working out is a mental game just as much as it is physical, so your BRAIN needs fuel to stay focused on your goals, too!

Fuel up two hours before exercise with:

  1. Water – plain water is best!
  2. Healthy carbohydrates – complex carbs like whole grain bread or your morning oatmeal are great choices. Simple carbs, like toaster pastries and sugar-sweetened cereals, are not good choices. These sugary foods will not keep your energy levels up for very long.

If you can’t fuel up a couple hours before exercising and you only have 5-10 minutes, eat a piece of fruit. Bananas are a great choice for quick digestion and energy!

TIP: Avoid eating too much fat or protein foods before exercise. They take longer to digest than carbohydrates, take oxygen and blood away from your muscles, can cause an upset stomach, or speed up digestion too quickly.

During: Water, water, and more water!

family playing soccerStay hydrated with small, frequent sips of water throughout your workout. This is true for high intensity workouts that last for several hours, as well as for low to moderate intensity exercise sessions.

If you are exercising for 1 hour or less: No need to fuel with food during your workout.

If you are exercising for longer than 1 hour: Fuel up with 50-100 calories of carbohydrates every half hour. Try pretzels, bananas, sports drinks, energy bars (more for high intensity endurance exercise).

TIP: If you can’t tolerate food during exercise, try sipping on a sports drink.

After Exercise: Refuel time!

This is when your muscles take protein from your blood to repair and build your muscles. It is also when your muscles best absorb carbohydrates from your blood to make up for your lower stores from exercise.

Aim to refuel 20-60 minutes after exercise with:

  1. Fluids – plain water, 100% fruit juice, and low-fat or skim milk are great options
    • Sports drinks are NOT recommended after exercise. Drink them during exercise lasting more than one hour.
  2. Carbohydrates – whole grain bread, crackers, cereals, pasta; brown rice; fruits and veggies
  3. Protein – combine protein foods with carbs such as peanut butter and whole grain toast, or low-fat cheese and turkey sandwich!

Keep in mind, each type of physical activity is different for each person’s body. These are general recommendations. Follow what works best for you and your exercise goals! Keep up the hard work and remember to fuel your body with nutritious foods!

This material was funded by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

 

Tropical Smoothie – A Healthy Recipe with Dianisi Torres

Dianisi Torres of our UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) makes a healthy tropical smoothie with you using ingredients from the Dollar Store. The presentation is in English and Spanish.

Dianisi Torres, de nuestro programa Educación Alimentaria y Nutricional Expandida de la Extension de UConn, conocido como EFNEP, hace un licuado tropical saludable con usted usando ingredientes de la tienda de Dólar. La presentación es en Inglés y Español.

 

Velazquez Answers Nutrition Questions on Radio Amor in Bridgeport

Zoraida Velazquez talks about MyPlate on Radio Love in BridgeportThe global pandemic is challenging everyone. It’s made many of us more conscience of the threats surrounding us every day. Many people are more aware of the food they eat and health impacts of their nutritional choices. Extension educator Zoraida Velazquez is answering questions for Bridgeport and residents of surrounding communities each Friday morning on Radio Amor/Radio Love 690 AM. Her nutritional advice and guidance are helping the community improve their health and wellbeing.

Zoraida joined UConn Extension in 1978. She’s an educator in the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (UConn EFNEP). EFNEP helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. She began her career in UConn Extension’s New London County office before moving back to the New Haven County office. Zoraida grew up in New Haven and is well-known among the community.

“I’m always involved in the community because I love working with people in need,” Zoraida says. Zoraida has served as a pastor for the last 43 years, in addition to her work with EFNEP. She and her husband are currently pastors in Wallingford.

Zoraida began working with Radio Amor in 2015. She had a weekly ten-minute spot called Salud y Nutrition where she answered listeners’ questions. The station manager initiated the program with the goal of bringing services to the community.

Keyla Negron was a nutritional science in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. She heard the program in 2016 and called our Extension office to learn more. Keyla went down to the New Haven County office during her summer break and helped Zoraida with the radio show as a volunteer. They prepared answers for each week’s questions and resources to share with listeners.

The program remained popular with listeners. Then, there were administrative changes at the station in 2017. The station discontinued Zoraida’s program, along with many others.

In January of 2020, Javier Cabrera, the new manager of Radio Amor, reached out to Zoraida. “He remembered hearing the program and told me that it was very informative to the Spanish community, and he wanted to bring back this and other programs for the listeners to benefit from,” she says. “Radio Amor is a Christian radio station, but it’s open to the community with no discrimination to color or race.”

The show quickly resumed with the first episode airing on March 6, 2020. COVID halted it for a second time. It took a couple of months, but in mid-May, Radio Amor had adjusted to the challenges created by the pandemic. Zoraida is back on the air for twenty minutes a week, answering nutrition-related questions for listeners.

“I started in March with MyPlate,” Zoraida says. “I wanted to go back to the basics with the listeners. Then we progressed into the importance of families eating together at the table, I encouraged moms to take advantage of helping their children with healthy eating.”

Other popular topics include stretching the food budget and learning what to make from products that are on hand. Zoraida recalls one person calling in to say that they used to make arroz con leche when things were tough, and white rice with just eggs because there was not enough money for other food products.

“Zoraida Velazquez has been such a blessing to Radio Amor for many years,” says Javier Cabrera, the Operations Manager at Radio Amor. “Pastor Velazquez shares very helpful and important information with our audience, educating them on how to stay healthy. Radio Amor is honored to have Pastor Velazquez as one of our educators empowering our community with the necessary resources to help them stay healthy.”

Zoraida’s 20-minute radio show is rarely long enough to answer all the questions. It regularly becomes a 45-minute segment. Zoraida stays on the air until she’s answered all of the questions.

“When I came back on air in May after the break because of coronavirus, food safety was understandably a hot topic,” Zoraida explains. “We started talking about foodborne illness. Questions I received included whether or not it was okay to leave food out, understanding what to do if there is food recall because of E. coli or salmonella. Other people wanted to know where they could go for food assistance, or how they could participate in EFNEP. Parents want to know how to get their children to eat more vegetables.”

Topics continue evolving, and Zoraida caters each program to the needs of her listeners. She did a segment on the importance of keeping the body hydrated since many of her listeners admitted that they didn’t like drinking water unless it was flavored. She’s received numerous questions about energy drinks and Zoraida encourages parents not to let their teenagers consume energy drinks because they can be harmful.

UConn Extension’s EFNEP staff work statewide to empower participants and provide knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits. Although in-person programming is currently limited, all our EFNEP staff continue working in their communities and serving residents.

Zoraida exemplifies the spirit of service and community assistance that the EFNEP program is known for. Zoraida and other EFNEP staff understand the needs of the communities they are serving because they live and work in these communities.

“Salud y Nutrición is one of the best segments we air weekly understanding the need of health education in our community,” Javier continues. “We want to thank UConn Extension for allowing Pastor Velazquez to share her knowledge and years of experience as a Nutrition Educator. Today, we can say that thousands of our listeners have benefited from her knowledge. Radio Love is here to help and serve our community and Pastor Velazquez has been a vessel to our community.”

Questions related to food and nutrition will continue to arise. Zoraida is ready and waiting for them each Friday morning on Radio Amor, or through another channel with UConn EFNEP. Additional resources from the EFNEP program are available at https://efnep.uconn.edu/.

UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:

  • Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
  • Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
  • Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
  • Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.

Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Article by Stacey Stearns