Tasty, Healthy Food Gifts In Montana

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Montana-grown foods make perfect holiday gifts - giving joy on multiple levels to individuals, families, and communities. When you give healthful local foods, you feel good about sharing wholesome and nourishing products. Gift recipients reap the health benefits of grown-in-Montana items and enjoy the direct connection to our special landscape.

Montana’s ranchers and farmers benefit directly from sales of their products and the increased value of agricultural land. Towns and cities across Big Sky country benefit as purchasing power stays closer to home and is reinvested in other local businesses.

“Agriculture has always been an integral part of Montana’s economy and culture,” says Lonie Stimac, marketing officer for Made in Montana at the Department of Commerce. “Food and beverage producers are one of the largest categories in our online Made in Montana directory. Grown in Montana products now range from the more traditional beef, lamb, barley, and lentils to organic Shiitake mushrooms and Siberian garlic.”

The movement to support local use of Montana’s agricultural treasures has itself experienced rapid growth recently. The statewide Grow Montana coalition focuses on locally-owned food production, processing, and distribution. AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization) in Helena promotes sustainably grown food through its Abundant Montana directory. Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan ‘incubates’ new food businesses and offers a selection of holiday baskets at mmfec.com .

According to Stimac, there are lots of easy ways to find delicious made in Montana products for everyone on your holiday list. Here are three strategies guaranteed to support local agriculture and to please the palates of your friends and family:

* Buy directly from home grown producers: Watch local newspapers for special promotions by local farmers and ranchers. Visit holiday festivals and craft shows in your community where local foods are likely to be featured for sale.

* Look for locally grown in Montana stores: Check the shelves of your local store for products with the Made in Montana label. Community groceries and several chains are working hard to carry as many local food items as possible.

* Shop online for grown healthy in Montana: “Dozens of Montana products are available with a click of a mouse,“ notes Stimac. “Many can be accessed through the online Made in Montana directory.” Here are four sites where you can find the flavorful whole grains recommended by nutrition experts - all from the golden fields of Big Sky country:

1. Amazing Grains: Home of Montina flour, this Pablo-based business specializes in gluten-free whole grains and flours for those with gluten intolerance and wheat allergies.

2. Cream of the West: Located in Harlowton and owned by eight family farms and ranches, this company sells gourmet cereals, cowboy gift crates, and other gift merchandise.

3. Western Trails Food: From the banks of Yellowstone in Glendive, this business offers Montana-grown barley products, customized baskets and boxes, and gift certificates.

4. Wheat Montana Farms: Montana’s largest home-grown bakery, in Three Forks, offers baked goods and gift items through its delis and online store, as well as in supermarkets.

Smart Ways to Enjoy the Gift of Vitamin D

While you’re in a giving mood this holiday season, give yourself and your loved ones the hottest nutrition gift of the year: Vitamin D. Long known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ this nutrient has recently taken on an even healthier glow. The studies are stacking up and the experts are changing their recommendations. It turns out that many of us are vitamin D-deficient, especially in those with limited sun exposure (during winter and in northern states).

Why all the fuss about D? It turns out that strong bones and teeth are at the top of an impressive list of benefits from getting your daily dose of D. It is essential for every human cell and it also helps cells communicate with each other. Scientists now believe that D helps fight infection, slow muscle loss in aging, and prevent a host of serious health problems, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gum disease, and autoimmune disorders.

* How much is enough? How much is too much? Children: For youth, the answer to ‘how much’ is now clear. In October 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics doubled their recommendation: from 200 International Units (IUs) to 400 IUs per day. From birth through adolescence, all children who do not consume at least a quart of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk per day should take a supplement. Adults: Most vitamin D experts believe that the current guidelines for adults (200 IUs to age 50, 400 IUs from 51 to 70, and 600 IUs for 71+) are probably far too low. The current consensus is that 1,000 to 2,000 IUs per day is a healthier goal and many expect this to be the recommended amount when future guidelines are released. While the upper limit of safe intake is currently set at 2,000 IUs per day for adults, many vitamin D researchers are urging that this be raised as well.

* Smart sun exposure. Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because skin cells can make it from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. For fair-skinned people, the smart way to sun is sunscreen on the face - and direct exposure to arms, legs or torso for 10 to 15 minutes at least 2 to 3 times per week. People with darker skin, like American Indians and African Americans, need longer exposure. In winter months, the angle of the sun’s rays is too low to make vitamin D, so you need to get your D from other sources.

* Smart food sources. Frankly, it is hard to get the currently recommended levels of vitamin D from food sources alone. The only significant sources are fish oils and fortified foods (milk and some yogurt, cheese, juice, and cereal). In the U.S., fluid milk is fortified with 100 IUs per 8-ounces, so drinking your 3-A-Day will provide 300 IUs. A 3-4 ounce serving of fish (such a salmon or tuna canned in oil) can add another 350 IUs or so - and a cup of ready-to-eat cereal can provide around 40 IUs.

* Smart use of vitamin D supplements. As indicated by the numbers above, a vitamin D supplement is the only realistic way to reach the higher levels suggested for adults. This is especially true in winter - when sun exposure is ineffective anywhere above the latitude of Atlanta, Georgia. Fortunately, vitamin D supplements (as 1,000 IU capsules) are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and well absorbed. Vitamin D can be taken with or without food - alone or with a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement.

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Eight Energizing Gifts to Share the Joy of Fitness

The best gift is often one that you would most like to receive yourself. With active gifts, you can add even more to the enjoyment by actually sharing your present with those you love. When you enjoy physical activity together, you’ll be sharing all the benefits of fitness. During this stressed-out, food-centered time of year, we could all use some simple pleasures, especially when they include ‘side effects’ like weight management and stress reduction.

* Start an active family tradition during the holidays. Many active traditions - walking around to see holiday lights or sledding in the park - cost nothing. Others - a shiny new toboggan or bikes for the family - are well worth the cost, since they promote family togetherness, and physical health.

* Make an active holiday date with friends. Here is a no-cost idea for difficult economic times. Skip the usual gift (or cookie) exchange among friends or coworkers. Instead, find fun, active ways to celebrate together, like a downtown holiday stroll or a photo ‘safari’ in a local park.

* Give a coupon for future physical activity and fun. Certificates for future needs also make inexpensive (and always appreciated) gifts. Possible coupons include dog walks, snow shoveling, and yard work. Or make dates to share active fun: dance lessons, X-country skiing, or winter walks.

* Support local businesses with fun outdoor activities. Winter brings plenty of opportunities for outdoor fun and gift-giving. Stuff someone’s stocking with day passes for an ice skating rink, Nordic ski center, or downhill ski lift. If you’re an expert, include an offer for personalized instruction.

* Warm up someone from head to toe for outdoor fun. Consider a small gift that makes a big difference during winter activities. Hats, scarves, mittens, gloves, or socks - especially in bright, fun colors - are an inexpensive way to help someone look good and feel comfortable during their time outdoors.

* Purchase a ‘two-fer’ at a fitness center, gym, or yoga studio. Watch for holiday specials at local fitness facilities or worksite wellness programs. You can often pick up good deals on two-for-one classes or personal training sessions. Invite a family member or friend to have fun getting fit with you.

* Order an interactive game or fitness/dance/yoga DVD. While interactive video games do not provide the same fitness benefits as the real sport, they do get gamers off the couch and moving. Instructional DVDs are generally less expensive and may be more beneficial, especially if they are really fun!

* Wrap up a simple fitness gift for everyone on your list. Fun gifts to encourage physical activity are available for every age and interest. Visit a toy department or athletic store for ideas, such as Nerf® and Koosh® games, balls of all sorts, jump ropes, yoga mats, small weights, and water bottles.

Healthful, Heartfelt, Holiday Gifts

* Stir up dry ingredients for whole grain pancakes or waffles. Package in a festive bag (e.g., small burlap or holiday fabric bags with a bright bow). Using a sparkling ribbon, tie a small bottle of maple syrup and a recipe card for the mix to the bag.

* Purchase or prepare your favorite dried soup mix. Place it in an oversized holiday mug surrounded by tissue paper. Attach a soup spoon and a recipe card for whole grain muffins. Wow your friends with this simple, thoughtful, and affordable gift!

* Add zest to someone’s salad bowl with bottles of olive oil and specialty vinegar (homemade or store bought) in wrapping. Add some fresh herbs or a handmade card with your favorite dressing recipe.

* Pack a basket with antioxidant-rich foods and beverages: Red wine, olive oil, dark chocolate bar, flaxseeds, almonds, and green tea. Or choose your own theme (healthy kids, smart dorm foods, brain foods for seniors, etc.) and let your creativity go!

* Put together a basket of seasonal or specialty fruits and nuts. Check out the new apple varieties, pomegranates, pears, tangerines, and your favorite nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts.

* Make or purchase your favorite fruit jam, jelly, or preserve. Attach a small spreading knife and a tasty muffin recipe to the jar, wrap it in a festive dish towel, and tie with a big holiday bow.

* Choose a local restaurant with healthy items on the menu and make a homemade gift certificate for a friend. Promise a lunch date for a special occasion or for anytime they need a lift. Not only will you be giving them a delicious meal, you are also sharing your time - the most precious gift of all.

* Give a whole year of healthful enjoyment - a subscription to a cooking magazine, such as Cooking Light or Eating Well.

* Write (or type) and print 5 to 10 of your favorite family recipes. Then laminate, hole-punch in the upper left-hand corner, and tie together with a big red bow. Sharing easy-to-prepare, good-for-you recipes will make your gift even more special.

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