Friday, November 20, 2020

Healthy Holidays

I thought with social gatherings being limited this year, it would be easier to avoid the holiday treats that seem to be my seasonal downfall. I was wrong, sort of. Even though I have not attended as many in person functions this year, I am guilty of baking more on my own. My social media news feeds are filled holiday food posts, from fancy new finger foods to a twist on an old favorite. I am bombarded with temptation from every direction and apparently, I am not alone. Statistica (2019) reported a more active lifestyle and weight loss as being at the top of resolutions each year.

While Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings may look different this year, many are like me and will still bake their favorite holiday dishes. As warm and fuzzy as comfort foods make us feel, it is important to remember there may be fewer mouths to feed; and while it is tricky to stay on a healthy path during the holidays, it is not impossible. If you are like me and struggle to eat healthy and stay active during the holidays, be sure you keep the challenges this year has added in mind. However, all hope is not lost, there are a few healthy holiday tips that may help you avoid becoming a New Year’s resolution statistic. 

Moderation, modification, and movement may be your best friends this holiday season. Moderation is an essential part of enjoying the tastes you crave while maintaining a healthy goal. Go ahead, enjoy the dressing or potatoes you have looked forward to for months or eat a piece of the pie you only bake once a year. Just be sure you do not to eat the entire pie. In other words, do not try to avoid the temptation, that is an uphill battle. Instead, allow yourself to indulge a little (in moderation).

Likewise, if your holiday meal went from a gathering of thirty to a gathering of four, modify what you cook so you are not facing an overabundance of leftovers. In addition to modifying the amount of food, you may also want to try your favorite dish with a healthy twist. You may be surprised at how delicious a healthy substitution can taste! The American Heart Association (2020) recommends these simple substitutions:

  • Instead of 1 cup of whole milk, try 1 cup of skim milk plus one tablespoon of liquid vegetable oil.
  • Instead of 1 cup heavy cream, use ½ cup low-fat yogurt.
  • Instead of unsweetened baking chocolate (1-ounce), try 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • Instead of sour cream, use an equal amount of Greek yogurt.
  • Instead of 1 cup sugar, try ¾ cup plus one tablespoon of honey.

Finally, make sure you stay moving. Focus on little movements throughout the day, like vacuuming or playing catch with your children; staying physically active does not mean you need to run a marathon every day, being conscious of little adjustments can make a big difference. If stress is a part of your holiday season, try going for a short walk. A 30-minute walk will provide a boost of energy and the endorphins released will improve your mood and lower your stress levels.

Whether you want to stay healthy or want to head in a healthier direction during the holidays, small changes may be just what you need, just remember the three m’s, moderation, modification, and movement.

The Rains County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office wishes you a happy and healthy holiday season. If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.


American Heart Association. (2020). Smart Substitutions to Eat Healthy.

Statistica. (2019). America’s Top New Year’s Resolutions for 2020.

Technology Talks... let's try this again!

This year has been unlike any other with COVID-19 changing how we do many things. Between keeping your glasses free from mask fog and searching for the ever-elusive disinfectant, we are also attempting to adapt to virtual communication. However, figuring out Zoom or Facetime (or one of the other hundred virtual platforms) can be quite a struggle. Even those comfortable with technology under normal circumstances are often left scratching their head. Tech companies release new platforms and devices at a surprisingly rapid rate, simple phones have become a thing of the past and many are left feeling uncomfortable using their phone even for simple tasks. Upgrading to a smart phone can be intimidating and it comes with steep learning curve. Getting comfortable with a new device takes time and patience. The past few months provided us with a great deal of unexpected time, but patience was not necessarily included.

Ninety-six percent of Americans own some sort of cellular phone and 81% of those own a smartphone, a 35% increase from 2011. Furthermore, 53% of the 65-year-old and up population have traded in their trusty flip phone and transitioned to a smart phone (Pew Research, 2020). If you are new to the smart phone world or if this virtual communication norm has pushed you to the edge, please know I understand and I want to help!

Rains County AgriLife Extension is hosting Technology Talks, an introductory course on understanding (and using) your smart phone; this course will cover texting, email, internet use, and apps (virtual communication apps like Zoom and Facetime). Technology Talks is geared toward individuals new to their smart phone or those needing assistance using their current device. This course will meet for two extended sessions, Friday, December 4th and Friday, December 11th from 10:00 am – 12:00 noon at the Rains County Extension Office, 410 Tawakoni Drive, Emory, TX. Attendees need to bring their smart device (phone or tablet) to both sessions.

This is a welcoming and fun learning environment where no question is too basic. This course is free of charge and we welcome everyone to come and learn. Please call (903) 473-4580 or email (address below) to reserve your spot; due to social distancing requirements, space is limited and have your handkerchief ready to wipe those glasses because yes, masks are required.  

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.


Pew Research Center. (2020). Mobile Fact Sheet.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Your Skin and Healthy Aging

Our skin is the largest and fasting growing organ in our body. It is imperative that we focus on taking care of our skin just like we focus on our overall health. As we age, our skin becomes drier and we lose elasticity in our skin, which may cause sagging and fine lines to appear.  The most helpful tips to keep in mind when preventing skin damage are:

  • Limit direct sun exposure for longer periods of time and use at least a SPF30 sunscreen.
  • Wash and moisturize your skin regularly.
  • Sleep for 7-8 hours daily to boost a clear complexion. 
  • Stop tobacco use and limit alcohol consumption.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. 
  • Eat a healthy diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.

“A healthy diet shows with healthy skin”, says Elaine Montemayor-Gonzalez, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.  Montemayor- Gonzalez continues, “What we put in our bodies greatly affects the aging of our skin, so foods with antioxidants and essential fatty acids are the most important foods to consider for keeping your skin healthy”. Antioxidants help prevent free radical damage, which can lead to skin problems such as sagging, wrinkled, or blemished skin. Some of the best antioxidant rich foods are berries, beets, spinach, kale, and 70% cocoa dark chocolate.

Other antioxidant rich foods that are also beneficial for healthy skin are loaded with fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and E. 

These essential nutrients all work together to help support, protect, and produce new skin cells for your body.

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids are healthy fats that naturally help moisturize your skin, keep skin flexible and protect from sun damage.  Try foods such as salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
  • Vitamin A can be sourced from food we eat through beta carotene.  Vitamin A helps with new cell production, growth, and helps prevent wrinkled skin. Excellent sources to include in your diet are sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and mango. 
  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects your skin from oxidative damage caused by the sun, which can lead to visual signs of aging.  It also helps support collagen formation to keep skin strong and firm.  Vitamin C is added to many topical serums and creams due to its superpower to help reduce the appearance of brown spots, red marks, and skin irritations.  Top foods high in vitamin C include chili peppers, yellow bell peppers, tomato, lemons, oranges, and strawberries.
  • Vitamin E is an essential nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties that aids in supporting cell function and skin health. Vitamin E is beneficial at reducing UV damage to skin and with the help of nutritious foods, can be absorbed better when combined with vitamin C. Vitamin E is also available for topical use in anti-aging creams, eye serum, sunscreens, and makeup. Sunflower seeds, avocado, salmon, trout, nuts, and olive oils are some of the foods with vitamin E.

Keep your skin and body healthy by adding a variety of foods to get the best all-around nutrition.  Your skin will age with time but preventing skin damage is key to a longer radiant glow. 

Try new recipes that incorporate more antioxidants and fatty acids, visit to help you plan your meals.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains County AgriLife onFacebook for additional information and upcoming events.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Eating a Healthy Breakfast

We have always been told, “breakfast is the most important meal.” Making sure you and your family eat a healthy breakfast is the best way to start each day on the right track. A healthy breakfast can help optimize mental function, support healthy weight goals, and build a strong immune system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture ( recommends a healthy meal include a balance of fruit, vegetables, grains, and protein.

A healthy breakfast should include, but is not limited to, the following components:
  • Whole grains such as oats, whole wheat bread, or quinoa
  • Lean protein such as eggs or turkey sausage
  • Fruit or vegetables such as berries, bananas, broccoli, or spinach

These breakfast components assist our bodies with day to day bodily functions. Whole grains give us energy and fiber. Protein helps to keep us fuller longer, and fruit and vegetables provide us with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Amy Valdez, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension adds, “this combination of food is going to make sure you stay satisfied throughout the day and will keep you energized and focused.”

Meal planning and prepping are two relatively simple ways to help you stay on track.
  • Plan - Planning is key when it comes to breakfast. Create a menu of breakfast options for the week. When shopping, stick to these foods to help reduce the chance of choosing unhealthy options and to save you time and money.
  • Prepare– If time is limited in the morning, we tend to choose the first foods we see, which may not always be the healthiest. This can be avoided by either preparing the entire week’s meals or simply prepare portions of your breakfast to save you time.

If you need a few ideas to get you started, Overnight Vanilla Oats and Egg Muffins are two of my favorite breakfast on the go recipes (click here to download recipe cards). 
  • Overnight Vanilla Oats – 1 cup oats, 1 cup vanilla flavored almond milk, and ¼ cup of your favorite nuts and/or fruit are optional. Mix the oats and almond milk together and pour into two 8 oz wide mouth jars with lids, splitting evenly. Secure the lids and refrigerate overnight. You may add your optional items with the initial mixture or in the morning, depending on how you like them (depending on your optional add-in, soaking overnight in the mixture may make them mushy). Oats may be stored up to five days in the refrigerator, just remember, the longer they sit, the softer your oats will become. (Makes 2 servings. Serving Size: 8 oz. Per Serving (before optional add-ins): 195 Calories, 3.9g Fat, 34.7g Carbohydrates, 5.9g Protein.)
  • Egg Muffins – 5 eggs, ½ cup real bacon bits, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a 6-count muffin tin (or use silicon muffin baking cups). Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Divide evenly in muffin cups (about ¾ full). Bake until muffins are set and beginning to brown (roughly 12-15 minutes). Muffins may be stored up to five days in the refrigerator. Just grab one, heat it up (or eat it cold), and go! (Makes 6 servings. Serving size: 1 Muffin. Per Serving: 124 Calories, 8.8g Fat, .4g Carbohydrates, 11g Protein.)

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains CountyAgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.

Friday, June 26, 2020

July is UV Safety Month: Take Steps to Protect Your Family

Are you ready for summer? Did you know summer brings the longest days giving us more time to spend outdoors having fun? From vacations, biking, and hiking, or just enjoying ice cream, watermelons, or popsicles, summer brings memories of younger days and family togetherness. As we look forward to making new memories, we can plan for a safe summer by reducing the risk of harmful effects of UV exposure. July has been designated as Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; whose goal is to spread the word on the harmful effects of UV rays on unprotected skin. 

Ultraviolet light is radiation emitted naturally from the sun, but can also be man-made, an example being tanning beds. Classified in wavelengths, UVC light is blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer, but the sun’s UVA & UVB affect the skin differently with UVA causing wrinkling (premature aging) due to penetrating deeper into the skin and UVB causing sunburns. Overexposure increases risk of developing skin cancer.  Cautions are placed on the times of exposure due to UV radiation being strongest between 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

A benefit of UV radiation is Vitamin D production, which helps calcium and phosphorous to be absorbed by the body and helps in bone development. According to the World Health Organization, 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times a week is recommended[1]. Prolonged UV exposure can cause premature aging, cataracts, and skin cancer, not to mention painful sunburns. The most dangerous UV radiation is artificial indoor tanning. “By taking precautions before we head out the door for summer activities and all-year round, we can reduce the risk of UV radiation by following some simple steps,” states Julie Tijerina, Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Tijerina offers the following safety tips to protect the skin during exposure:

Stay in the shade: Look for shaded areas under trees or bring an umbrella or pop-up shelter, especially during peak hours. Know the EPA’s shadow rule: If your shadow is taller than you are, UV exposure is lower.  If your shadow is shorter than you, UV exposure is higher[2]. Remember that surfaces, such as water, snow, white sand, and cement, reflect the sun’s damaging rays and can increase chances of sunburn. Cloudy days do not block the sun’s rays, which are just filtered. In higher altitudes, UV exposure is higher due to less atmosphere to absorb UV radiation.
Wear Protective clothing: Thanks to clothing, the skin is partially shielded from UV rays. Choose long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric. Be aware that wet clothes offer less protection than dry ones and dark colors offer more protection that light ones. To cover your face and neck, wear wide-brimmed hats[3]. 
Protect the eyes: Not only do sunglasses help protect the eyes from UV rays, they also reduce cataract risk later in life. Choose UV resistant sunglasses that wrap around and block both UVA and UVB rays; polarized sunglasses just reduce glare[4]. 
Use Sunscreen: Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting and scattering sunlight from our skin. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number measures how well it blocks UV rays, with higher numbers offering more protection.  Do not forget to check the expiration date, those without a date are good for three years, and less if they have been exposed to high temperatures. An SPF of at least 15, offers protection against both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) radiation. Purchasing the right SPF sunscreen depends on what exposure you will be having fun in.  Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen twenty minutes before you head out. Reapply every two hours, after swimming, toweling off, or sweating[5].
Avoid Indoor Tanning: According to the CDC, the UV radiation from “indoor tanning significantly increases the risk of developing melanoma, basal, and squamous cell cancers.”  It also causes premature aging of the skin and suppresses the immune system[6].
Learn about the UV Index: In as little as 15 minutes, the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to unprotected skin. Plan to check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s UV Index by visiting to determine your favorite vacation spot’s UV radiation intensity. Rated on a scale from 1-11, suggestions are offered on to help you plan for your protection.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension offers programming to fit your community’s needs. Ask for Sun Safety Fact sheets: Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation and Your Eyes and Children and Sun Safety. For more information, visit your local health department, or ask for more information on sun safety from your local County Extension office at

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook for additional information and upcoming events.