Fact-Based Guidance for Health and Well-Being

This page was written and researched by Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS Family & Community Health Sciences Educator Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County kensle@njaes.rutgers.edu.

Egg Care for Spring Celebrations

Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS — Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

It is the season for great celebrations and special occasions, like Easter, Passover, and Spring itself! While eggs are used all year, they are especially important for many spring and summertime activities. They are used for special creative hobbies and for decorating and hiding just before the big Easter egg hunt.

Like meat, poultry, seafood and produce, eggs are perishable and need to be handled properly to prevent foodborne illness. Occasionally, eggs with clean, uncracked shells can be contaminated with bacteria, specifically Salmonella Enteritidis. Here’s what YOU can do to have a safe spring!

Keep a Clean Kitchen, Clean Hands and Follow Rules of Safe Cooking.

Keeping your hands clean is important!  Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after food handling.  Beware of cross-contamination.  Foodborne illness can occur when kitchen equipment is not thoroughly washed between uses.  Always wash food contact surfaces and cooking equipment, including blenders, in hot water and soap.

Bacteria love to grow in moist, protein-rich foods like eggs.  Refrigeration slows bacterial growth, so it’s important to refrigerate eggs and egg-containing foods. Your refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below. Use a thermometer to monitor.  Refrigerate eggs after coloring them for Easter.  Do not leave in baskets at room temperature for more than two hours.  Remember the 2-Hour Rule: Don’t leave perishables out at room temperature for more than two hours.

Whether you like your breakfast eggs scrambled or fried, always cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm.  When making cakes, cookies, or other dishes, tasting the batter or cookie dough is tempting, but licking a spoon or tasting raw cookie dough from a mixing bowl can be risky. Bacteria could be lurking in the raw eggs.  Cook cheesecakes, lasagna, baked pasta, and egg dishes to an internal temperature of   160 ºF. Make sure to use a food thermometer.

For Easter an Easter Egg Hunt, only use eggs that have been refrigerated, and discard eggs that are cracked or dirty.  When cooking the eggs, place a single layer of eggs in a saucepan.  Add water to measure at least one inch above the eggs.  Cover the pan, bring the water to a boil, and carefully remove the pan from the heat.  Let the eggs stand (18 minutes for extra large eggs, 15 minutes for large, 12 minutes for medium).  Immediately run cold water over the eggs. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, place them in an uncovered container in the refrigerator where they can air-dry.

When decorating the eggs, be sure to use food-grade dyes. It is safe to use commercial egg dyes, liquid food coloring, and fruit-drink powders. When handling eggs, be careful not to crack them. Otherwise, bacteria could enter the egg through the cracks in the shell.  Keep hard-cooked Easter eggs chilled on a shelf inside the refrigerator, not in the refrigerator door.  Hide the eggs in places that are protected from dirt, pets, and other potential sources of bacteria.  And make sure to follow the two-hour rule, and the “found” eggs are back in the refrigerator or consumed within two hours.

Remember that hard-boiled eggs are only safe to eat for one week after cooking.  For more information see the Gateway to Government Food Safety Information at www.foodsafety.gov   Questions on food safety call The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). TTY 1-800-256-7072.

KE/ke 3.28.22


Healthy Food Predictions for 2022

Karen Ensle EdD, RDN, FAND, CFCS, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

As 2022 starts, we think about our health habits in 2021 and then look to a healthier 2022.  Nutrition research still supports the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that is reviewed and updated every 5 years.  The 2020-2025 edition is our newest update.  It focuses on whole-food,  plant-based,  minimally-processed foods that are low in added sugar, salt, and processed fat especially saturated fat and trans fat.

Here are the trends that I have observed over the past year as well as my thoughts on how they will influence consumers as well as our health.

  • The science stays the same. The DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet along with the MyPlate icon still provide the most relevant scientific information for nutrition and health as they support the Dietary Guidelines.
  • Consumers’ eating habits have not aligned with the Dietary Guidelines and healthy eating. One study showed that 3% eat healthily. The rest of the American population consumes too much fat, salt and sugar to meet the guidelines.  Sales of plant-based foods keep trending upwards in double digits and are over $7 billion a year in the US according to The Plant-Based Association who say they are expected to triple globally by 2030. Remember, plant and vegan foods can still be highly processed and methods of cooking and food preparation make a difference in whether a dish or prepared food is healthy.
  • Covid-19 has created change in food habits.  The pandemic has caused consumers to worry, and disrupted many lives, health, food, and our food systems along with schools, restaurant and food service systems. There is hope on the horizon. New Covid treatment  vaccines, and social distancing along with PPE are enabling us to go from stuck at home to back to life.  Consumers, are starting to follow mindful behaviors to control their weight, prevent and treat chronic disease, move more, eat healthier, and navigate the inflation of costs for healthy food they can afford to purchase. The shift to social media adds many truthful and not so truthful information on cultural differences, new methods of cooking and information that is not science based.
  • Consumers want flavor and convenience first but they do care about health even if their desires do not always match with science (gluten-free and keto/carb-free being two examples). The explosion of food delivery services for restaurant meals with GrubHub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats to mention a few. Also, Instacart and Amazon are offering robust grocery delivery services. American consumers are embracing online food delivery.  Online shopping, farmer’s markets, and local food markets bring many healthful options to consumers on a budget.
  • Younger food consumers want to save the planet. Food sustainability and security will continue to be seen and felt everywhere food is sold.
  • The production of plant-based foods:  protein items, kinds of milk, grains, desserts, and new innovations for more efficiency and produces less waste is a goal. Using byproducts such as coffee flour, shrimp shells (chitlin), eggshells, or banana peels will renew, and upcycle, byproducts in new ways.
  • New planet-friendly packaging and people-friendly production methods and companies who support treating everyone in the supply chain fairly will be a priority.
  • Supporting food recovery with food banks and many community services that feed leftover foods to the homeless, lowering waste with recycling and composting along with using sustainable ingredients and ethical farming practices will be considered.
  • Making sure farming includes energy efficiency and growing  local foods and being conscious of land use, agricultural diversity, and local food stability.
  • Practicing food safety and avoiding food-borne illness along with the finding new wasys to deal with waste that comes from food recalls.

Many Americans are not financially stable and Feeding America reports that over 38 million Americans experience food insecurity.  This instability is held together by food stamps, food banks, and local charities. Many volunteers and professionals work very hard to staff the SNAP programs, help with food banks and educate people in WIC programs.

When the Covid pandemic improves, people will still have to lose weight. Chronic diseases continue to affect more than half the population. Heart disease is still the top cause of death in the US. Obesity/overweight is still over 66%. Type 2 Diabetes affects almost 10% of the population and almost 35% have prediabetes.

Hot topics include: Gut health and fiber. The research with the microbiome emphasizes a plant-based diet that is high in fiber to promote a healthy microbiome and the growth of healthy bacteria. This is one of the most heavily researched areas of health and nutrition and will continue to give us new information on body digestion and other body systems.

Better days in 2022 if we make healthy eating a priority, take stock of our own health and take small steps to eat mindfully and make sure we get 150 minutes of exercise daily. Good luck and follow science-based nutrition and food research for a healthier future!


Eating a Mediterranean diet may lower your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and death by up to 30 percent, according to a highly publicized study done in Spain and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.  Help your heart and overall health by adding the foods highlighted in the study, which are staples of the Mediterranean diet.

Mediterranean Diet: Nine Staple Foods

Olive Oil — The study participants’ main fat was olive oil—they ate 4 or more tablespoons of this oil daily, which is rich in monounsaturated fats. (Conversely, they ate less than 1 serving per day of saturated-fat-rich butter or cream.) Make olive oil your primary “fat” for cooking, salads, and baking.

Nuts — Study participants ate 3 or more servings of nuts (including peanuts) weekly. They were encouraged to eat a daily serving of mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts) for an afternoon snack (small is equal to 1/3 cup).  Remember that nuts are calorie-dense, so eat small amounts.  Sprinkle them on top of your favorite yogurt or a salad.

Fish — Mediterranean-diet followers ate 3-plus servings of fish or shellfish weekly. Aim to add fish of any kind; just don’t fry it. Bake or grill it instead. Eat salmon or tuna which are rich in heart-healthy, omega-3 fats, weekly.

Legumes — Study participants reported eating 3 or more servings of legumes each week. Legumes include beans, peas and lentils which are all good meat replacers and as a vegetarian source of protein. But they also can count as a vegetable because they deliver fiber and nutrients, such as folate and potassium that you would find in other vegetables.

Fresh Fruits — Diet followers consumed 3-plus fruit servings daily. If you’re going to drink 100 percent juice to increase your fruit intake, try and cap it at 6 ounces daily. Otherwise, add fresh, frozen or canned fruit, packed in its own juice, to your diet in many ways. Try adding it to a salad or oatmeal, top your yogurt with fruit or just snack on it plain.

Fresh Vegetables — Study participants reported eating 2 or more servings of vegetables each day along with at least one serving of raw vegetables or a salad. Try adding vegetables to an omelet or have a bowl of vegetable soup or a salad for lunch or dinner.

Sofrito — This is a sauce made with tomato and onion and often includes garlic and herbs. It is slowly simmered with olive oil and is typically used to season vegetables, pasta and rice. Mediterranean diet followers said they ate sofrito two or more times each week.

White Meat — In this Mediterranean diet study, subjects weren’t told how much meat to eat but were simply encouraged to eat white meat, instead of red meat, such as chicken or turkey breast instead of veal, pork, hamburger or sausage. And along those lines, participants reported eating less than one serving daily of red meat, hamburger or “meat product,” such as ham, sausage, etc.

Wine — Mediterranean-diet followers consume wine with meals. Study participants who habitually drank alcohol reported drinking seven (or more) glasses of red or white wine per week, or about one drink a day.

Try the Mediterranean eating plan for its heart healthy benefits.  Remember, taking small steps to add healthy foods to your diet will improve your health and wellness.  

More Simple Tips For Healthy Eating: Start Small

(scroll down to see the Mediterranean diet pyramid in English and Spanish)

A healthy diet is good for your overall health. It also can help you reach a healthy weight and stay there.  To improve your eating habits, it’s best to make small lifestyle changes that you can keep doing over time.

How can you change your eating habits? To eat a healthy diet, you may need to make some changes. Remember that you can change your eating habits a little bit at a time.

Small changes are easier to make and can lead to better health.

Here are some ways to make healthy changes in your eating habits:

  • Keep more fruits, low-fat dairy products (low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt), vegetables, and whole-grain foods at home and at work. Focus on adding healthy food to your diet, rather than just taking unhealthy foods away.
  • Try to eat a family meal every day at the kitchen or dining table. This will help you focus on eating healthy meals.
  • Buy a healthy-recipe book, and cook for yourself. Chew gum when you cook so you won’t be tempted to snack on the ingredients.
  • Pack a healthy lunch and snacks for work. This lets you have more control over what you eat.
  • Put your snacks on a plate instead of eating from the package. This helps you control how much you eat.
  • Don’t skip or delay meals, and be sure to schedule your snacks. If you ignore your feelings of hunger, you may end up eating too much or choosing an unhealthy snack. If you often feel too hungry, it can cause you to focus a lot on food.
  • Eat your meals with others when you can. Relax and enjoy your meals, and don’t eat too fast. Try to make healthy eating a pleasure, not a chore.
  • Drink water instead of high-sugary drinks like soda, ice teas, sports drinks and  high-sugar juice drinks.

The Many Benefits of Asparagus — with Recipe

(scroll down to see the recipe and the Mediterranean diet pyramid in English and Spanish)

Asparagus, officially known as Asparagus officinalis, is a member of the lily family.  This popular vegetable comes in a variety of colors, including green, white and purple. It’s used in dishes around the world, including frittatas, pastas and stir-fries. Asparagus is also low in calories and packed with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, an essential nutrient involved in blood clotting and bone health.  In addition, asparagus is high in folate, a nutrient that is vital for a healthy pregnancy and many important processes in the body, including cell growth and DNA formation. Asparagus is a low-calorie vegetable that is an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals, especially folate and vitamins A, C and K.

A Good Source of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds that help protect your cells from the harmful effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.  Oxidative stress contributes to aging, chronic inflammation and many diseases, including cancer.

Asparagus, like other green vegetables, is high in antioxidants. These include vitamin E, vitamin C and glutathione, as well as, various flavonoids and polyphenols  Asparagus is particularly high in the flavonoids; quercetin, isorhamnetin and kaempferol.  These substances have been found to have blood pressure-lowering, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anticancer effects in a number of human, test-tube and animal studies. Purple asparagus contains powerful pigments called anthocyanins, which give the vegetable its vibrant color and have antioxidant effects in the body as well.   In fact, increasing anthocyanin intake has been shown to reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and heart disease.  Eating asparagus along with other fruits and vegetables can provide your body with a range of healthy nutrients including antioxidants that promote good health. 

A Vegetable that Can Improve Digestive Health

Dietary fiber is essential for good digestive health. Just half a cup of asparagus contains 1.8 grams of fiber which is 7% of your daily needs. Studies suggest that a diet high in fiber-rich fruits and vegetables may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

Asparagus is particularly high in insoluble fiber which adds bulk to your stool and supports regular bowel movements. Asparagus also contains a small amount of soluble fiber which dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract.  Soluble fiber feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.  Increasing the number of  beneficial bacteria in the gut, plays a role in strengthening the immune system and producing essential nutrients like vitamins B12 and K.  As a good source of fiber, asparagus promotes regularity and digestive health and may help reduce your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Folic Acid Helps Support a Healthy Pregnancy

Asparagus is an excellent source of folate, also known as folic acid.  Just a half cup of asparagus provides adults with 34% of their daily folate needs and pregnant women with 22% of their daily needs.  Folate is an essential nutrient that helps form red blood cells and produce DNA for healthy growth and development.  It is especially important during the early stages of pregnancy to ensure the healthy development of the baby.  Getting enough folate from sources like asparagus, green leafy vegetables and fruit can protect against neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

Neural tube defects can lead to a range of complications from learning difficulties to a lack of bowel and bladder control to physical disabilities. In fact, adequate folate is so vital during pre-pregnancy and early pregnancy that folate supplements are recommended to ensure women meet their requirements. Asparagus is high in folate which helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects during pregnancy.

Potassium Helps to Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure affects more than 1.3 billion people worldwide and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.  Research suggests that increasing potassium intake while reducing salt intake is an effective way to lower high blood pressure.  Potassium lowers blood pressure in two ways: by relaxing the walls of blood vessels and excreting excess salt through urine. Asparagus is a good source of potassium, providing 6% of your daily requirement in a half-cup serving.

What’s more, research in rats with high blood pressure suggests that asparagus may have other blood pressure-lowering properties. In one study, rats were fed either a diet with 5% asparagus or a standard diet without asparagus.  After 10 weeks, the rats on the asparagus diet had 17% lower blood pressure than the rats on the standard diet.  Researchers believed this effect was due to an active compound in asparagus that causes blood vessels to dilate. However, human studies are needed to determine whether this active compound has the same effect in humans. In any case, eating more potassium-rich vegetables, such as asparagus, is a great way to help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.

Veggies Can Help You Lose Weight

Currently, no studies have tested the effects of asparagus on weight loss.  However, it has a number of properties that could potentially help you lose weight. First, it’s very low in calories, with only 20 calories in half a cup. This means you can eat a lot of asparagus without taking in a lot of calories.  Furthermore, asparagus is about 94% water. Research suggests that consuming low-calorie, water-rich foods is associated with weight loss.  Asparagus is also rich in fiber, which has been linked to lower body weight and weight loss. Asparagus has a number of features that make it a weight-loss friendly food. It’s low in calories, high in water and rich in fiber.

Asparagus is Easy to Add to Your Diet

In addition to being nutritious, asparagus is delicious and easy to incorporate into your diet.  It can be cooked in a variety of ways, including boiling, grilling, steaming, roasting and sautéing. You can purchase it fresh, frozen or canned. Asparagus can be used in a number of dishes like salads, stir-fries, frittatas, omelets and pastas, and it makes an excellent side dish. It’s extremely affordable and widely available at most grocery stores and farm markets.  When shopping for fresh asparagus, look for firm stems and tight, closed tips. 

Roasted Asparagus With Pecans

25 min·Yield: 4


1 bunch asparagus

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of Salt

1 cup pecan halves, chopped


1) Wash asparagus and pat dry with paper towel.

2) Place in plastic bag with olive oil, coat well. Chop pecans.

3) Place asparagus on baking sheet and sprinkle pecans on top.

4)  Roast in 450 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or when asparagus is tender but not mushy.

Recipe from Karen Ensle’s Collection

Asparagus is low in calories but boasts an impressive nutrient profile.

In fact, just half a cup of cooked asparagus contains:

Calories: 20

Protein: 2.2 grams

Fat: 0.2 grams

Fiber: 1.8 grams

Vitamin C: 12% of the RDI

Vitamin A: 18% of the RDI

Vitamin K: 57% of the RDI

Folate: 34% of the RDI

Potassium: 6% of the RDI

Phosphorous: 5% of the RDI

Vitamin E: 7% of the RDI