UC Berkeley Public Health Nutrition

Home » Blog

Category Archives: Blog

Follow us on Twitter!


Fall 2018 Kickoff Potluck

IMG_3823 (1)

2018 Fall Potluck

First and second year PHN students gathered at Dr. Kris Madsen’s house in Larkspur, amid the beautiful redwoods, for a picturesque and delicious potluck. Everyone was kept easily entertained by lively conversation, healthy food and several adorable youngsters (featured in the front row of the picture above!).

Some of the favorite potluck dishes were a vegan banh mi, sweet potato noodle pad thai and saffron carrot cake. These recipes (and more!) can be found on the PHN website here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall it was a fabulous way to start the new year. We look forward to the end-of-year celebration in May, where there will surely be many more creative potluck dishes!

“Beyond Free Lunch: Schools Open Food Pantries For Hungry Families”

food pantry


Our own Barbara Laraia speaks about childhood food insecurity in NPR’s All Things Considered.

Check out the story below!

NPR The Salt: Beyond free lunch schools-Open Food Pantries for the Hungry

Why I Voted Yes On Measure D

by Michelle Azurin, PHN Candidate, Measure D Advocate

If you live in Berkeley, you have surely seen something with the words “No on D” somewhere… at the Bart station, on the bus, and even in your mailbox. The American Beverage Association spent almost 2.4 million dollars to ensure that the ease at which a child in Berkeley can get his or her hands on a can of soda never changes. It is often said that money talks-but the 30 dollars spent per voter on marketing the anti-soda tax campaign speaks louder than words. But was it loud enough to drown out the soda industry’s undeniable contribution to the prevailing rates of chronic disease? Apparently not, since three-quarters of Berkeley’s voters turned out in support of Measure D yesterday, passing the first soda tax in the country.

soda blog post trio edited

Politics is usually something in which I prefer not to dabble; however, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with “Yes on D,” also known as the Berkeley vs. Big Soda campaign, for my “Advocacy in Action” class (PH 298.4 with Professor Harry Snyder). Why is this something that resonates with me so well?

Shortly before I moved out of my parent’s house to begin graduate school at Cal, my father started taking insulin injections as his type II diabetes could no longer be controlled by oral medication alone. He has had diabetes for as long as I can remember, and his nightly routine has not changed in years: he will always follow up family dinner with a soda and a cigarette (or two). I have witnessed the extent to which diseases like diabetes can constrain a person. Moreover, I have become exposed to the challenges that each individual faces in making the best choices for his or her health; addictive substances are classified as so for a reason. When someone says that people are solely responsible for their health and are entitled to their decisions without guilt (although, to clarify, Measure D is a tax on distributors of sugary drinks, not on consumers), I cannot turn away from the conversation without arguing that the issue is much more complex than this. Considering the cheap price and easy access to poor health decisions, it is no wonder that health care expenditures are as high as they are.

Nonetheless, when canvassing and phone banking for Berkeley vs. Big Soda, I tried to stay away from these nitty-gritty details and keep the conversation focused on the reason why this campaign exists in the first place: the health of our nation’s kids. When presented with the statistic that 40% of children are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime (a statistic which rises to 50% for Latino and African-American children), most voters I spoke to were quick to agree that this is a problem that desperately needs to be addressed. They may argue as to whether or not the tax is truly the optimal way to do it, but it can be agreed that it will at least make people reevaluate whether purchasing soda over water is really the best decision for both their wallet and their health. If you have gotten the chance to attend the talks for the Soda Series, you should have heard that Mexico is already one step ahead of us in passing the law first. By supporting policy that utilizes preventative measures (in all aspects of our social environment) to make health more accessible to each and every person, we support justice in both the food system and in public health.

Spring Has Sprung! A recap of The Mighty Month of May.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. ~Anne Bradstreet


05.06.14      Capstone Soirée

IMG_2162 (2)

Two years after the first Public Health Nutrition class post-concentration-hiatus, the second year students presented their capstone projects at a soirée for fellow students, faculty, and guests.

Second year PHN students spent the entire Spring semester working on their capstone projects with faculty member Lia Fernald, who guided students through the Masters thesis writing process.

Their hard work culminated at the soirée, where each student had the chance to present his or her work and entertain questions from the crowd.

In addition to wine provided by faculty, and catering by La Med, tasty desserts and dishes were prepared by first year PHN students, offering support the best way us Nutrition folk know-through food!


5.07.14      Eat.Think.Design Presentations

Several of the PHN students prepared food and presented projects at an Innovation Feast.  Their work involved designing innovative solutions for San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers Market token system, food distribution at City Harvest’s Mobile Market, and creation of a pop-up restaurant to celebrate Filipino culinary traditions with farm-fresh, seasonal food and stories.


A couple PHN students wowing the crowd with their innovative ideas!




The course, Eat.Think.Design., was co-taught by one of our PHN faculty members, Kristine Madsen.

Previously known as Designing Innovative Public Health Solutions, the course was re-designed to have a food theme by four PHN students who had taken the human centered design based class the previous year.








5.13.14      Progressive Dinner

An idea that had been marinating for a year…finally came to fruition!

The PHN first and second year cohorts celebrated the end of a successful year with a progressive dinner- three courses at three different locations.

ImageRound 1: The evening began in Jamie’s garden with some appetizing snacks, wine and beer.

Round 2: Cauliflower crust pizza, asian slaw with peanut sauce, chili, and <classy> jungle juice at Mandy’s.

Round 3: Delicious baked goods including peanut butter chocolate chip brownies, lemon tarts, and berry bars at Kate’s.

Round 4: Post-dinner celebration with tea and chocolate at Dani’s.



5.18.14      Graduation 

First PHN class in 3 years!
First PHN class in 3 years!


The first Public Health Nutrition cohort in 3 years! After a brief hiatus, the PHN concentration is back in full swing!

Faculty member Barbara Laraia introduced the graduating students at the commencement ceremony in Zellerbach Hall. Now these lucky students can tack on the letters M, P, and H to the end of their names!

Many congratulations to the graduating class!

We look forward to what the next year class will bring to the table.

Speaking of the table…here (PHN recipes) are some of the delicious recipes you just read about!





Afterschool Meal Quality Matters by Mehreen Ismail, MPH Nutrition Candidate

Afterschool Meal Quality Matters by Mehreen Ismail, MPH Nutrition Candidate

 Shivering in a massive freezer room, I squinted in the dim light while trying to find two magic words: whole grain. These words were nowhere to be found on the box of frozen, breaded chicken patties I was examining. Even so, I knew that box and many more had to be delivered to the two afterschool meal sites I coordinated. I also knew my colleagues would have none of the same reservations I had about putting those processed chicken patties on the menu. After all, the children who would eat that chicken were at least being fed, right?

 Moments like these were not uncommon for me when I worked at a multi-county food bank in 2012. My former employer was able to serve those chicken patties and many other packaged, processed foods through reimbursement from the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Primarily supporting child and adult daycare centers, CACFP is a federal nutrition program that also assists school districts and non-profit organizations that sponsor afterschool meal service. Meals must adhere to the CACFP meal pattern, which is not as tuned into nutritional quality as the redesigned National School Lunch Program (NSLP) meal pattern. Afterschool meals are distinctly targeted toward youth living in low-income communities where they may be “at risk” for nutritional deficiencies.



CFPA Nutrition Policy Advocate Tracey Patterson and Mehreen Ismail

 Although it is certainly important that children are being fed in cases where being fed dinner is not guaranteed, afterschool hunger is only a small part of what CACFP must tackle. Meal quality and appeal matter. One organization emphasizing this issue within the afterschool space is California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA). For five months, I had the privilege of working with CFPA to uncover what quality and appeal mean for CACFP afterschool meals and for the policies guiding them in California.

 With the largest number of afterschool program sites in the country, California is well positioned to be a leader in afterschool meal quality and appeal. Each month during the school year California afterschool programs serve millions of meals through CACFP. I was able to speak with a few of the sponsors contributing to this impressive meal count and learn about how their afterschool meal programs operate. Across the board, these sponsors recognize that what and how they serve their participants is important. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and ethnically diverse items are regular features on their menus. Children, parents, and staff are regularly asked for their feedback on the program. On a school district site visit, I saw some of these best practices in action. Looking at one of their menus, I was heartened to see chicken as an entrée, this time of the oven roasted and made from scratch variety.

 As the Child Nutrition Reauthorization approaches in 2015, the CACFP meal pattern may be revised, encouraging more sponsors to serve high quality, appealing food. To stay updated on this process and to see how quality and appeal are incorporated, check out CFPA’s advocacy work at cfpa.net.  

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Corporate Connection by Mandy Murphy, RD

Opening up my e-mail this week, I see a message titled “CDC Reminder – May 1 Sysco Sacramento workshop.” Not recognizing the sender, I’m intrigued. I open it up to read that in this case “CDC” stands for the “Consultant Dietitians of California, Inc.” and they are inviting me to their second “Successful Survey” workshop in northern California. If I were to attend, I would receive six continuing education units; all registered dietitians must complete 75 continuing education units every five years to maintain their license. I scour the e-mail further to see if there is anything else about Sysco; I was wondering what a well-known food company was doing co-hosting an educational event geared toward dietitians. Scrolling down, I see the marketing message states that attendants will learn the:

“new Dining Practice Standard of real Food First!      

Using delicious, simply prepared fortified food.

Huh? Since when is real food prepared and fortified? I have always taught my clients that real food either comes from the ground (plant-based foods) or comes from a mother (animal-based foods). I wondered if these prepared and fortified foods that they would be discussing in the conference were the subtle, unannounced connection to the Sysco Corporation.

Sysco claims to be the global leader inselling, marketing, and distributing food products. Last fiscal year, the food product giant reported record-breaking sales of $44 billion. Sysco has apparently formed some kind of a partnership with the Consultant Dietitians of California to allow them to discreetly host this workshop for registered dietitians.

While this partnership between industry and a professional organization may seem benign, Sysco has food products to push, while the Consultant Dietitians of California should be resounding the vision of its overarching organization – the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “optimizing the nation’s health through food and nutrition.” How can health be optimized when the Consultant Dietitians of Calfornia’s message is compromised through the lens of Sysco?

This corporate partnership is not unique to the Consultant Dietitians of California, which clearly states that it is a group of “independent contractors” on its website. In fact, every single issue of the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsthat I have ever browsed highlights advertisements from various food companies. For example, the February 2014 edition showcases four full-page spreads:

  • A colorful advertisement from McCormick & Co., Inc.,
  • An announcement that $1Million is available through the “Champions for Healthy Kids Grants,” funded by the General Mills Foundation and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,
  • A statement that the Academy’s mission has advanced and that progress has been made “through collaboration” with Abbott Nutrition, the National Dairy Council, the beverage institute for health & wellness – The Coca-Cola Company, General Mills, Kellog’s, McCormick, PepsiCo, SOYJOY, and Unilever, and,
  • A full-page glossy colorful back cover spread from the National Dairy Council, which announces that February is Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month. It offers tips to share with our lactose intolerant patients, including advice for patients to talk to their doctors to confirm whether they are indeed lactose intolerant and to encourage them to “still try to consume dairy because it provides essential nutrients needed for a healthy diet.”

glossy spreads

Aside from these four pages of food industry shout-outs, it is hard to detect other color or excitement in the journal.


The Academy’s position paper on “Interventions for the Prevention and Treatment of Pediatric Overweight and Obesity” claims that we need to use “a systems-level approach” when strategizing around childhood obesity; we need to examine the “influences of the food and beverage industry, food marketing practices and regulations.” How can the Academy assert this as its position while simultaneously allowing (or perhaps even inviting?) food industry marketing to:

  • Debut on its journal cover and lurk in between the pages?
  • Shape educational opportunities for registered dietitians earning continuing education units?
  • Take over the Academy’s annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo by buying booth space and food demonstration time?


It is time for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to take a stand against these corporate partnerships. How can it accept money from the giant food industry system it is trying to fight against? What the Academy and food industry have is not a partnership; it’s a sponsorship.

The Gut Microbiome: The Holy Grail of Health & Wellness? By Dani Lee, MPH Nutrition candidate

How research on the human gut microbiome reinforces the need to support diverse, sustainable food systems.

By Dani Lee, MPH Nutrition candidate


The microbiota (microorganisms that occupy a specific niche) is a current buzz word in the scientific community, and an area of hot new research in world of nutrition. In researching how diet and environmental factors shape the human gut microbiota- key players in health outcomes such as malnutrition, allergies, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, autism, immunity and so much more- many of us are starting to wonder if we have hit the holy grail of nutrition. Quite possibly!


But, most importantly, this research is continuing to reinforce two things we as a public health nutrition community have been promoting for years:

(1) balanced and varied diets comprised of lean proteins, healthy fats and high in high-fiber, complex carbohydrates from plant-based food sources, and

(2) a need for policies that promote a more sustainable food system.


dirty carrots

Daphne Miller, MD, family physician and Associate Profesor at the University of California, San Francisco, recently spoke at the UC Berkeley Global Public Health Symposium on the importance of traditional diets and sustainable, small scale food production systems supporting healthy, balanced and diverse gut microbiota. Miller also wrote a piece about the need to protect soil ecology to promote better gut health in Yes! Magazine, in which she explores her “dirty thoughts”-arguing that quite possibly, it is where our food grows, more so than the food itself, that supplies us with powerful healing properties. She explores the topic further in her most recent book, .





Lee Riley, MD, Professor of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, recently published an article on the potential influence of antibiotics within our food system on promoting imbalance, or dysbiosis, of our gut ecology and ultimately contributing to the rising prevalence of obesity in the US. Not a surprising hypothesis given the fact that approximately 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the US are used for sub-theraputeic purposes in livestock and poultry. Riley’s hypothesis is also being explored by Dr. Martin J. Blaser, the director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University, and was recently discussed in and opioning piece by Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times.


The sheer volume of new findings coming out every day in the area of gut microbiota research is exciting, encouraging and overwhelming at the same time. The growing body of research about the human microbiome (the collective genomes of the microorganisms) highlights the need for us to view the human body through an ecological lense.


Currently, we are consuming the earth’s resources at an increasingly unsustainable rate – equivalent to one and a half planet’s worth. Of greatest interest to me at the cross section of the human microbiome and nutrition is research supporting the need for a global shift to more sustainable consumption patterns-specifically, the development of more sustainable agricultural production methods and food system practices that support and protect ecosystem diversity instead of destroying it.


Microbiome research shows that human bodies host diverse ecosystems. The diversity and balance of these ecosystems play a large role in our overall health. As humans, we are part of a larger, global ecosystem, and our actions to support the health of our planet’s ecosystem will ultimately impact the health of our body’s ecosystems.