Vitamin D—The Sunshine Vitamin

By: Morgan Crawford A Recent ASU Nutrition Student


Vitamin D has recently become a hot topic in the world of health and wellness. From small health blogs to the New York Times, this vitamin has been featured just about everywhere. With so much information available, it can be overwhelming to sort through the thousands of resources that make claims about Vitamin D. Let’s take away some of that confusion and take a closer look at this miraculous vitamin!




First, it is important to understand how Vitamin D works within the body. Unlike other vitamins such as A, or C, Vitamin D actually functions as a hormone. More specifically, it is known as a prohormone, anything the body converts to a hormone. The process by which this occurs is fascinating but unfortunately quite complicated; to keep it simple, here is how it happens: The body takes cholesterol that is found under our skin and with the help of ultraviolet rays from the sun, converts it to Vitamin D. It is then the prohormone’s job to help the body absorb calcium to form bone, strengthen the immune system, and regulate muscle function.


Vitamin D is also present in a small group of foods including swordfish, cod, tuna, salmon, sardines, liver, milk, and egg yolk. Notice that these are all animal products—this is because vitamin D is the product of cholesterol conversion; only animals and humans produce cholesterol. Plants do not produce it; therefore, it is not found in plant-based foods. Because of this, many items are fortified with Vitamin D such as orange juice and breakfast cereals. One interesting exception to this rule is the recent discovery of mushrooms containing high levels of Vitamin D. One study from Boston University Medical Center suggests that eating mushrooms provides similar levels of Vitamin D as a daily vitamin supplement. This is excellent news for vegetarians and vegans!


Now that you know what Vitamin D is and where it is found, you may be wondering, why is it so important? Adequate bone formation is a major component of a healthy body, and Vitamin D is just as crucial as calcium in this process. Mental health is another aspect that many people wouldn’t necessarily think of when it comes to vitamin D. Because it acts as a hormone, it is responsible for the adrenal function which produces serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—low levels of these hormones can lead to depression. This is why a Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with depression; you need Vitamin D to regulate the “happy hormones” in the body. This explains why we are often advised to get more Vitamin D during winter months—we have less sun exposure; therefore, the body can’t convert as much cholesterol, resulting in low levels of this crucial vitamin. For that reason, many people suffer from seasonal depression during the winter months.


The immune system is also heavily influenced by Vitamin D. This is especially important during this time of year while colds and the flu are present. Recent studies from the Vitamin D Council have shown that those who take Vitamin D supplements are at about half the risk for developing an upper respiratory infection. If you are interested in the biological processes behind the immune function, check out this article from the Vitamin Council.

Vitamin D is arguably one of the most crucial substances for the body, yet most people are severely deficient. Low levels can lead to serious health complications if not addressed. Some of the risks that can occur from a deficiency include cardiovascular disease, early onset of dementia, higher risk of cancer, weakened immune system function, weakened bone tissue, and significant weight gain.  Fortunately, there are several options when it comes to treating a deficiency and it is typically an easy fix with dietary and lifestyle changes.


Here are a few signs of a Vitamin D deficiency:

  1. Fatigue and general tiredness
  2. Frequent bone fractures
  3. Depression
  4. Frequent sickness


With so many sources and such an abundance of information out there, I know how overwhelming it can be! The world of health is vast and can often times be confusing. Now that you are equipped with some of the necessary information about Vitamin D, I hope you feel more knowledgeable and better equipped. Vitamin D plays so many crucial roles throughout the body—from immune function and bone formation to mental health, it is so important that the body has an adequate amount so these processes can occur. So head outside and get some sunshine!



For more articles like this, check out our Fill Your Plate blog. Looking for some recipes that the whole family will enjoy? Check out the recipe section.

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Celebration of Beauty

By Alexandra Pettit

Starting February 1st Schnepf Farms will open their orchards to the public to share the sweet smell of the peach blossom. During this experience, many can enjoy the beauty of over 80 acres of peach trees that are in or just beginning to bloom. Trees dotted with pink and white blossoms giving off the sweet aroma that resonates honey and almonds. The blossoms can be found once a year usually during the early spring months.

During this experience, visitors can enjoy guided trolley rides with a personalized tour with farm owner, Mark Schnepf. They also offer walking trails, train rides through one of the orchards, hayrides, bike trails, and many more fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. Be sure to stop by the country store and bakery to pick up some peach blossom all natural honey, peach salsa, peach pies, and more wonderful peach products. Schnepf Farms is the largest peach grower in the state and are pesticide free and all organic. Also, don’t miss out on their UPICK “certified” Organic Garden.

For more information about the Peach Blossom Celebration, Prices, Directions or any other events offered at Schnepf Farms check out their website.


Looking for more fun activities for the family? Check out our fill your plate blog.

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A History of Food Additives

By Angela Bates A Recent ASU Nutrition Student

Many times in history, feeding masses with little to no money was an issue. Other times, food was abundant, but manufacturers wanted it to look better, taste better, or last longer. English bakers in the 1600s found themselves short on flour because wheat was scarce and expensive. With a living to make and a lack of supplies, they turned to sawdust and chalk. King John had enacted the Assize of Bread in the 1200s, providing one of the first food regulating laws in history, but this only stated that bakers had to mark their loaves and they had to weigh a certain amount to be up to regulation. It said nothing of the ingredients. Similar ordinances were put into place for wine, a commonly adulterated food, and butter, which was found to contain more than butter quite often. How did food regulation get its start in the United States?

Colonial America had its own regulations, similar to those of England, requiring inspection of flour and pork barrels. Massachusetts became the first state to ban food adulteration, with many states following in the late 1700s. These statutes, however, did not require the labeling of foods. Once the industrial revolution started to streamline food production, issues arose. Canning allowed foods to be preserved to be shipped around the country. Mass production stopped the face-to-face interaction of purchasing foods from a farmer or baker and instead, food purchasing involved a store and no sight of the food production.

Oh, maybe this bread contains alum and chalk,

Or sawdust chopped up very fine,

Or gypsum in powder about which they talk,

Terra alba just out of the mine.

And our faith in the butter is apt to be weak,

For we haven’t a good place to pin it

Annato’s so yellow and beef fat so sleek,

Oh, I wish I could know what is in it?”

The poem written by Doctor Harvey Wiley of the Bureau of Chemistry shared the sentiment of America when bread contained chalk, cocaine was in medicine, borax preserved foods, strychnine made beer more bitter, and formaldehyde prevented rot in meat. Industrialization of food had created a monster. Profits came before the people as companies wanted to have the best looking or cheapest foods to make more money. As Deborah Blum, author of The Poison Squad tells NPR, the people had put faith in the idea that food came from farms, pure and unadulterated. This was, unfortunately, not true at all.

Taking, for example, the production of milk, dairymen, and manufacturers wanted to stretch the product for higher profits. In many cases, it was watered down. In one case in Indiana, it was watered down with dirty pond water. Once milk had been watered down, it looked like it had been, so they would put a plaster or chalk in the milk to give it the opaque white quality back. Some would use toxic dyes to give it a more appealing color than the gray and blue it had. Formaldehyde was used to prevent premature spoiling, so milk could be sold after longer periods of time without refrigeration, which was still not around. Red lead helped give cheddar its orange and arsenic gave candies their shellac shine, but who would stop these companies?

Abraham Lincoln had created the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Chemistry in 1862, which would eventually become the Food and Drug Administration. A chemist named Dr. Harvey Wiley was offered a position in the Department of Agriculture as chief chemist. Congress had questioned the safety of preservatives and additives found in foods at the time, so they gave Dr. Wiley a grant in 1902 so he could study the effects of these chemicals. He did that and more, shocking an intriguing the public with his “Poison Squad.”

Dr. Wiley recruited young men at the USDA and students from Georgetown Medical College to receive free meals from the government, three times per day. He assured them they would be eating delicious full-course meals, prepared by a chef, but that they would also be consuming potentially dangerous chemicals currently being used as food additives, such as borax, formaldehyde, salicylic acid, and more. Participants seemed to be raining in, surprisingly, but Dr. Wiley kept it to a dozen young, healthy men.

During the experiments, journalists reported on the young men, dressed in suits as they dined on poisons. The Los Angeles Herald wrote an article about the Poison Squad in January 1903, relaying their daily menu, breakfast through dinner. They described the boric acid “bullets,” the capsules of boric acid the squad consumed at each meal. The public was enchanted by the men with poems, signs, and songs about the squad appearing around the country. The public was also now worried about the foods they ate and wanted to know if they were safe. Most of the Poison Squad went down in history unnamed and unthanked, but their suffering had not been completely unnoticed.

In May of 1903, Wiley’s Poison Squad went on strike, citing their stomach pains and discomfort was too much in the heat of summer. Dr. Wiley agreed to end the experiment early in June with just seven men. The experiment had concluded that borax was a cause of stomach aches, headaches, and appetite issues. Even with the conclusion of the first experiment, new men were ready to volunteer for the next experiment. Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, Dr., Wiley had to stop the salicylic acid experiment early due to the subjects’ reactions. Some of his volunteers withdrew from the tests and doctors remarked that some of the men were on a “slow approach toward death.” Nevertheless, Doctor Harvey Wiley had more poisons to test.

Dr. Wiley’s initial Poison Squad had allowed him to say, without a doubt, that borax, boric acid, salicylic acid, benzoic acid, benzoates, formaldehyde, sulfuric acid, and sulfates were unsafe. Robert Freeman, of the original Poison Squad, died of tuberculosis, possibly weakened by the experiment. Though his mother wanted to sue, he had signed the agreement absolving them of any possible effects. So Wiley found volunteers at the Bureau of Chemistry who ingested soft drinks that were meant to be nerve tonics. They were suspected to contain cocaine, opium, caffeine, or other various stimulants. With the experiments complete in 1908, Dr. Wiley announced his opinion that Americans were shortening their lives by consuming the food additives used. His words were not completely welcomed.

The food industry attempted to defame Dr. Wiley, but he seemed a model citizen. Food manufacturers attempted to pay Congress to keep additives legal, but the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 signaled the return to real food. Although he felt that certain other additives and bleached flour were also unsafe, many of those are still in use (and debated) today. Wiley’s work inspired other “poison squads” to test against food additives and stimulants. He became head of the Good Housekeeping laboratory and tested products and foods for 18 years with them.

Our food additive approach in America might still not be quite perfect, but to say we have not come a long way would be ignoring the hard work and dedication to consumers that Doctor Harvey Wiley and the men of the Poison Squad performed. Eating whole foods right from the source is an option that can ensure you know exactly what is in your meals. People like Wiley will continue to fight for the future of food and consumers.




For more articles check out our fill your plate blog. Looking for some fun recipes to make at home? Check out our recipe page.

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Fill your Plate: Hidden veggies and fun snack for kids

By Sandra J., Dietetic Intern at the University of Arizona

Making meals and snacks that your kids will eat and like can be challenging. As busy parents, making creative meals may sound impossible. So Much so, that parents will settle with our kids often eating pre-packaged meals like Mac N Cheese.

As a parent and nutritionist, I know the importance of vegetables and fruit. However, I struggle to get my children to eat their veggies but I try to find ways to sneak them in their plate (meals).

Here is an easy pasta dish that has whole grains and some fiber from the pasta, vitamins, and minerals from the marinara/ spinach sauce and protein from a kid’s favorite food… cheese!

Give this recipe a try, parents!

Bows of Pasta


Ÿ 1 box (16oz) of whole wheat bow tie pasta

Ÿ Jar (16oz) of Marinara sauce

Ÿ 1 (16oz) bag frozen spinach (thawed and strained)

Ÿ Parmesan cheese 2 cups


1). Cook pasta as directed.

2). In a blender, blend the marinara and thawed and strained spinach.

3). After pasta is cooked, strain and place back in hot pot.

4). Turn heat on medium. In the hot pot, combine blended marinara and spinach sauce with pasta bows.

5). Add the shredded Parmesan cheese and gently fold (mix) everything together until heated (about 5 minutes).

Notes: Blending the thawed spinach into the marinara sauce adds an extra boost of nutrition such as vitamin A, C, K, folic acid, iron, and calcium. No wonder Popeye ate this to stay strong and healthy!

If your little is not a fan of tomatoes or you just need an idea to swap the marinara sauce for something else, use pesto sauce instead.

Teddy Toast

(recipe adapted from “Teddy Bear Toast” New Horizon Academy Kids Cuisine,

Weather this is prepared for breakfast or for a fun snack, this take on toast sets your kids up for “bear-y” good day!

This toast has whole grains and fiber, plant protein from the peanut butter and vitamins and minerals from the fruit.


Ÿ Whole wheat toast

Ÿ Peanut butter*

Ÿ Banana, sliced

Ÿ Blueberries (washed and dried).


1). Toast 1 slice of whole wheat bread.

2). Spread about 1 tablespoon of peanut butter onto bread.

3). Slice banana into coins and use banana slices for ears and a nose.

4). Use the blueberries for eyes and top of the nose (place one blueberry on banana slice).

Serve these “Teddy Toasts” with some low-fat milk (8oz), some blueberries and the rest of the banana that is not used on little Teddy.

*Note: Try getting a no sugar added peanut butter to help reduce the amount of sugar your child may get on a daily basis.

You can also use raisins in place of the blueberries to change things up.

I hope these ideas can be added to your kitchen toolbox of recipes. Enjoy!!

Image from: “Teddy Bear Toast” New Horizon Academy Kids Cuisine,


For more fun recipes check out the website. Also check out the produce in season section, to get some yummy fresh produce.

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Seven Layer Bars/ Pear Cobbler

By Stephen Gruner a Recent ASU Nutrition Student 


Seven Layer Bars are a favorite dessert in my family. Anytime they are baked, the entire house smells like sugar heaven. There are quite a few ingredients and the recipe can take a lot of time to make. That is why they are so delicious, you can really taste the love put into the dessert!


Ingredients: 2 ½ packages of graham crackers, 1 ½ stick of melted butter, 5 ½ oz. butterscotch chips, 1 ½ cups of chocolate chips, 1 cup of coconut, ½ cups of crushed pecans, 1 can sweetened condensed milk



  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter and mix together butter and crushed graham crackers.
  3. Press mixture into a 9 x 13 inch lightly greased pan.
  4. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, and pecans together.
  5. Pour sweetened condensed milk over ingredients.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes and allow them to cool off

Another dessert that my family loves to make it pear cobbler. A great topping on pear cobbler is whipped cream and is highly recommended!



Pear Cobbler


Ingredients: 5 sliced fresh pears, 3 cups sugar, 1 stick butter, 1 ½ cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ½ teaspoons of salt, 1 ½ cups milk, 2 eggs


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  2. Mix pears with 1 ½ cup of sugar and let stand.
  3. Put butter in 9 x 13 pan and place in the oven until melted.
  4. Combine all dry ingredients including the remaining sugar. Mix well.
  5. Beat eggs and add to milk. Slowly combine with dry ingredients.
  6. Pour the batter over melted margarine and do not stir.
  7. Spoon pears on top of the batter and do not stir.
  8. Bake for 1 hour and serve hot or cold.

For more fun recipes check out the website.

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