Decisions at the fair: Indulge, or be healthy?

chow_073115_464568131We’re planning to go to the state fair. I haven’t gone in a long time and I keep thinking about all of the horribly unhealthy foods that I know I’m going to want to eat that day. I want to enjoy myself, but I’m afraid I’m going to gain back the 12 pounds I’ve lost this year all in one day. Any guidance?

It’s certainly not likely you’ll gain 12 pounds in a day of overindulgence, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to have an elephant ear for breakfast, stromboli for lunch, bacon-on-a-stick for dinner and deep-fried ice cream for dessert. Your gastrointestinal system would probably have a hard time forgiving you for that, especially if you’ve been eating healthfully for months and your system isn’t used to such excess.

Instead of planning for an entire day of gluttony, why not do this? Focus on one or two treats that if you didn’t have, you’d end up truly disappointed. Then make smart choices the rest of the day. If you’ve been looking forward to a funnel cake for years, go ahead and enjoy. An occasional splurge is nothing to feel guilty about. Just be sensible.

Not all the food at fairs is “horribly unhealthy.” Seek out charbroiled chicken breast, sandwich wraps or a Greek salad. In fact, the Ohio State Fair, at least, offers a phone app with not only a map and a schedule, but a searchable food finder to help you locate the type of food you want.

The fair also is encouraging food vendors to join the “Taste of the Fair” program, offering small versions of signature menu items at a reduced price. Think of this as built-in portion control. And if one of your favorites isn’t participating in the program, you can control your own portions by splitting a dish with a friend or two.

It can be difficult to make smart choices at the fair because nutrition information isn’t readily available. But if you plan ahead, www.calorieking.com does offer some nutrition facts: Search for “fair food” and see if your favorites are listed. Would you really choose to indulge in a tray of deep-fried Oreos if you knew it had 890 calories? Or an order of chili fries if you knew it had nearly 700 calories?

Here are a couple of other things to remember:

  • Most, if not all the time, choose water as a beverage. Not only is it the best way to keep yourself hydrated on a hot day outdoors, but you’ll save yourself hundreds of calories by foregoing beverages high in sugar. If you must have flavor, unsweetened iced tea is your next best choice.
  • Don’t fool yourself: Deep-fried vegetables are more fat than they are vegetables. Lemon shakeups are more sugar than they are fruit. Roasted corn is a better choice for a vegetable, especially if you go easy on the butter and salt. A piece of fresh fruit is also a great choice: Ask at an ice cream stand that offers banana splits if they’d sell you just the banana, or find the local foods and farming exhibits, which sometimes offer complimentary apples or other produce. If you need a sweet icy treat, frozen bananas are healthier than ice cream.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

As mercury rises, beat the heat with water

chow_072415_494040875Do we really need to drink more water when the weather is hot?

If you’re outdoors when it’s hot and sticky, and you become hot and sticky yourself, then, yes, that’s a good signal that you should drink more water.

You might not think much about it, but water is the most abundant substance in your body. Each and every organ in your body needs water to do its job. Water serves as a medium where chemical reactions take place — and the body is a veritable 24-hours-a-day laboratory bustling with such reactions. Water also helps control body heat through perspiration and helps lubricate your knees, elbows and other joints. And it does other jobs, as well — too many to list here.

As your body uses all that water, and loses it from perspiration, urination and other functions, the water needs to be replaced.

While you might need to consume a few ounces of protein, carbohydrate and even some healthful fats in your daily diet, you need a lot more water: It’s recommended that men get 3.7 liters of water a day, and women, 2.7 liters. And in certain situations, such as very hot weather, your body needs more than normal.

But before you start lugging around 2-liter bottles filled with H2O, it’s important to know that you do get quite a bit of water from other beverages and even from foods. With foods, fruits and vegetables generally contain the most water — watermelon is about 91 percent water by weight; raw broccoli, 89 percent. But even other foods such as beans, chicken, pasta and bread contain ample amounts of water that your body can put to use.

That said, don’t discount the need for a glass — or actually about eight — of good old-fashioned water each day. That’s about the amount of fluids you should drink to accompany the water you’re getting from food. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, the body’s need for water varies from day to day, with more needed when you experience:

  • Higher levels of physical activity. During exercise, the academy advises “drink early and often.”
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures, either hot or cold. You need water to maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Exposure to dry air, such as heated or recirculated air.
  • High altitudes. At about 8,200 feet, your heart rate as well as urine output could increase, both of which require you to drink more water.
  • Pregnancy, which increases the recommendation for fluid intake for women to 3.8 liters a day.
  • Illness that includes fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Plenty of fluids are needed to prevent dehydration.
  • Eating a high-fiber diet. The body needs more water to process the fiber through the intestines.

Nutritionists generally recommend water as the top choice as a beverage. Not only is it calorie-free, it’s cheap from the tap and provides everything your body needs to replenish fluids. So, tip back your glass and enjoy, knowing you’re doing your body good.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Time is ripe to eat more fruits, veggies

chow_071715_460407859I was hoping I would begin to eat more fruits and vegetables during the summer, but I have to admit I haven’t gotten into the habit yet. Any ideas to help get me started?

It’s easy to get into a rut when it comes to what we eat day in and day out. If you’re not accustomed to snacking on fruits and vegetables and including them in meals, you might feel — just as with any new habit — a bit stymied on how to start.

That could be why a new study found that only about 1 in 10 Americans eats enough produce. That’s right — not only are you not alone in your produce-deficit diet, you’re in the vast majority.

According to the study, conducted by researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 13 percent of Americans consumed the recommended 1.5-2 cups of fruit a day in 2013, and less than 9 percent consumed the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables a day.

The report also provided a state-by-state analysis, and it showed Ohioans faring even worse, with only 11 percent eating enough fruit and 7 percent eating enough vegetables. If you’re interested in the details, you can read more by searching for “State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables” on www.cdc.gov. The results are disheartening, given that research shows over and over that eating plenty of produce provides protection against heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer and other chronic illnesses.

An easy way to adopt eating new foods is to make them readily available. Buy some easy-to-consume produce such as baby carrots, apples, peaches, plums, bananas, or any “grab-and-go” fruit or vegetable, as well as bagged salads or microwaveable steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies that you enjoy eating. Store them in a place where you can easily see them to give yourself a visual reminder. Incorporate them into your dietary routine throughout the day: If you pack your lunch, include a piece of produce. If you normally grab a granola bar to eat on the way to work, take some grapes or berries instead.

Be sure to congratulate yourself at every step of the process: when you buy the produce, when you take it from the fridge, and when you eat it. Even a very simple internal “Good for you!” is helpful to ingrain a new healthy habit into your daily routine.

For fresh ideas, go to the “Fruit and Veggies: More Matters” website at www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org. Among its recommendations:

  • Eat produce first. One study showed that serving produce first makes it more likely that people will put it on their plates than if it’s served last.
  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your regular dishes. Add grapes to chicken salad. Add a can of vegetables to your favorite soup.
  • Build meals around fruits and vegetables instead of serving them on the side: Think stir fries, stuffed peppers and cauliflower casseroles.

The website offers plenty of other information, including recipes, lists of produce in season, and ideas to getting more fruits and vegetables. Check it out and get inspired.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension’s food security specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: If you’re at risk, be aware of Listeria

chow_071015-87514165Last weekend at a cookout, I ate a raw hot dog. Someone there told me I should never eat raw hot dogs because of the risk of foodborne illness. But I always thought hot dogs are already cooked, and you really only need to heat them up if you want them hot. Who is right?

Hot dogs, or rather frankfurters or wieners, are cooked (sometimes smoked) sausages. Although most people can eat them “raw” without a problem, a foodborne illness outbreak in 1998 associated with unheated hot dogs and deli meats caused 108 illnesses, four miscarriages and 14 fatalities. The culprit was Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause the illness listeriosis, especially in pregnant women and other high-risk populations.

Those populations include people who are taking immunity-suppressing drugs, those with diabetes or other conditions that weaken the immune system, and anyone over the age of 60. If you’re in one of those groups, heat hot dogs until steaming hot and keep them at 140 degrees F until served.

Listeriosis is a relatively rare but severe disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1,600 people become ill with it each year, compared with an estimated 1.2 million illnesses from Salmonella bacteria. But of those who get listeriosis, an estimated 1 in 6 die. That’s one reason why you should take it seriously.

Another fact to keep in mind: Listeria is different from many other foodborne pathogens because it can actually grow in the fridge. The more cells there are of a pathogen, the higher risk it poses. Not to be a killjoy, but you should remember this the next time you consider eating a cold dog instead of hot dog.

Unfortunately, Listeria isn’t confined to lunchmeats and frankfurters. The largest outbreak in the U.S. was in 2011, when listeriosis associated with cantaloupes from a Colorado farm caused 147 illnesses, 33 deaths and one miscarriage. Earlier, in 1985, listeriosis from Mexican-style soft cheese contaminated with raw milk caused 142 illnesses, 18 deaths, and 20 miscarriages or stillbirths. Other recent outbreaks have been associated with ice cream, commercially sold caramel apples, cheese and raw sprouts. As you can see, many foods associated with Listeria monocytogenes aren’t normally cooked before eaten, so we lose that protective step with those foods.

According to the CDC, Listeria is found in the environment and we’re exposed to it regularly. If you’re at higher risk of foodborne illness, pay heed if you become very sick with fever and muscle aches or stiff neck, or if you’re pregnant and develop mild flu-like symptoms. These are symptoms of listeriosis — contact your doctor immediately.

To reduce your risk, avoid drinking raw milk or products made from raw milk; rinse produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating; and wash hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing raw foods. For more information, see www.foodsafety.gov and look under “Food Poisoning” for listeria.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Spark interest in fruit, veggies on the Fourth

chow_070215_184369301I want to rev up the healthfulness of our Fourth of July cookout. I always make a veggie platter or fruit salad, but they get bypassed for burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and chips. What can I do to draw more attention to healthier fare?

Why not take your cue from Old Glory and focus on red, white and blue fruits and vegetables this weekend?

Too often, people at parties and holiday gatherings treat fruits and vegetables as the Debbie Downer of dining. But with a little thought and effort, you can make produce the star of the show:

  • Put strawberries, sliced bananas and dark grapes (not quite blue, but close) on skewers.
  • On a rectangular platter, arrange raspberries and cut apples in red and white stripes, and put a bowl of blueberries in the corner.
  • Layer red, white and blue fruits in a clear glass straight-sided bowl and let it show its colors.
  • Keep it simple and just line up three bowls of red, white and blue fruits or vegetables on the buffet line. You can use watermelon, berries, cherries or red peppers; cauliflower, cole slaw, bananas, apples or white grapes; and blueberries or purple grapes.

Focusing on the colors of fruits and vegetables isn’t just a gimmick. The color of produce often indicates what sort of phytochemicals it provides. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that aren’t essential nutrients but still appear to provide health benefits.

There are many different types of phytochemicals. Some are antioxidants that help limit damage to cells resulting from oxidation, which is a normal process in the body. Some are carotenoids, which offer many benefits including lowering the risk of age-related sight problems. Some phytochemicals appear to have anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory properties. And some have been linked with improved blood flow, anti-cancer properties and even other benefits.

Research is still nailing down precisely the effects of phytochemicals in the body. In the meantime, you not only want to get a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but you want to make sure you regularly consume produce of all different colors — dark green, yellow, purple, orange and, of course, red, white and blue — to make sure you’re getting a broad range of these nutrients.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers a wealth of information about phytochemicals on its website. Arranged by color group, you can find out what fruits and vegetables contain which phytochemicals and what health benefits they offer. It has information on flavonoids, from anthocyanidins to flavonols; carotenoids, from beta-carotene to zeaxanthin; and other phytochemicals, from indoles to resveratrol. If this sparks your interest, learn more at pbhfoundation.org/about/res/pic/phytolist/.

For more information and fruit and veggie recipe ideas, see Ohio State University Extension’s “Maximize Your Nutrients” web page at localfoods.osu.edu/maximizenutrients.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Eating out? Help kids make healthful choices

bldar022405079We seem to be eating out more and more. Instead of just ordering for them, I want to teach my children (ages 9 and 11) how to make healthier choices, whether we’re at a sit-down restaurant or going through a drive-thru. Any tips?

You’re right to be concerned. A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a study, “How Food Away from Home Affects Children’s Diet Quality.” It found that for children ages 6-18, each meal eaten out contributed an extra 65 calories and lowered diet quality by 4 percent, as measured by an index based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, compared with meals prepared at home. About a third of the higher number calories were due to soft drinks and other sweetened beverages. For older children, the number of extra calories consumed per meal jumped to 107.

While eating extra calories every once in a while might not be so bad, doing so regularly is a sure path to becoming overweight or obese.

Eating home-prepared meals as a family (with family members engaged with each other — the television turned off) has its benefits. Studies indicate that children and teens in these families tend not only to have healthier diets and less risk of obesity, but better emotional well-being as well. Given that evidence, see if you can find ways to plan ahead so you can eat in more often than not.

But sometimes eating out is the only option. Here are some tips from the Nemours Foundation (kidshealth.org) and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org):

  • Avoid fried and breaded foods, even fried fish, chicken and vegetables. Instead, let your children choose among healthier options, such as grilled chicken or a deli turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • If french fries or potato chips come with a meal, ask about healthier sides.
  • When available, choose a whole-grain option for bread or pasta. (Note that “multi-grain” doesn’t offer the same benefits as whole grains.)
  • Encourage healthier drink options, such as water or low-fat milk. Besides reducing sugar intake, they can help your children avoid the caffeine prevalent in many beverages. Keep in mind that flavored milk usually has a lot of added calories.
  • Watch portion sizes. Tell your children explicitly that they don’t have to eat everything on their plate. If sandwiches or other items are large, ask for them to be cut in half so your children can split them.

The restaurants you choose to go to also can have a big impact. Find ones with healthier options that are prominent on the menu. A study published earlier this year in the journal Obesity showed that when a family restaurant chain in the eastern U.S. changed its children’s meals to include fruit or vegetables as the default instead of fries, relatively few customers asked for fries on the side and the healthfulness of the meals sold skyrocketed. Having healthy food options as the norm on menus makes a difference when eating out.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Youth, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

You can scream for safe homemade ice cream

chow_061915-87803330When we visit my in-laws during the summer, they always make homemade ice cream for the kids. When I object to the raw eggs they use in their recipe, they say they’ve never become sick so it’s not an issue. Is it safe to use raw eggs in homemade ice cream?

Food safety experts agree: Raw eggs that haven’t been pasteurized or otherwise treated to kill bacteria should never be considered safe to consume.

It’s true that chances are small that the eggs your in-laws use will cause a problem: It’s estimated that only about 1 in 20,000 eggs are contaminated with Salmonella Enteritidis, the type of Salmonella that’s associated with eggs. Still, with the tens of billions of eggs produced in the U.S. that aren’t pasteurized, that leaves about 2.2 million that would be contaminated in any given year. Fortunately, the vast majority are cooked before being eaten. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by Salmonella-tainted eggs.

Most people who get sick from Salmonella experience fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after consuming a contaminated item. The illness generally lasts four to seven days, but for those at highest risk — including infants, older people and those with a weakened immune system, such as pregnant women and anyone with a chronic illness, including diabetes — the illness can be serious, even life-threatening. Why take a chance?

There are plenty of recipes for homemade ice cream that don’t include eggs. But it’s likely your in-laws prefer the rich flavor and creaminess that egg yolks provide. If there’s no talking them into eggless ice cream, here are a few ideas from foodsafety.gov to play it safe:

  • Cook the egg base, also known as a custard base. Combine the eggs and milk as called for in the recipe. You can add the sugar at this step, too, if you’d like. Cook the mixture gently, stirring constantly, until it reaches 160 degrees F. That temperature is high enough to kill any Salmonella bacteria that might be present. Use a food thermometer to be sure. Afterward, chill the mixture before adding the other ingredients and freezing the ice cream.
  • Use an egg substitute instead of in-shell eggs. You might have to do some trial and error to determine the right amount.
  • Use pasteurized in-shell eggs. Although they’re more expensive, they are becoming more widely available. These come in a normal egg carton and are clearly labeled as pasteurized.

When it comes to adopting new food safety practices, it’s very common for people to resist unless they’ve experienced foodborne illness related to that particular food item. “We’ve always done it this way, and we’ve never had a problem” is a typical response. But when you’re serving other people, your first responsibility is for their health and well-being. Don’t let your relatives brush off your concerns, especially when your children are involved — and especially when there are perfectly reasonable alternatives available.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Linnette Goard, Ohio State University Extension’s specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Planning vacation? Be a health-savvy traveler

chow_061215_178607548I don’t want to gain weight when I’m on vacation this summer, but for me that’s easier said than done. How can I keep my focus on a healthy diet during my trip and still have a good time?

Attitude is key. You really can have a good time on vacation and still make smart food choices. But it’s a lot more difficult if you think eating healthfully is all about self-sacrifice.

You’re not alone: There’s a very good reason for the term “comfort foods.” It’s not unusual for people to equate indulging in certain foods with fun, relaxation and good times, and those foods aren’t necessarily, say, carrots. So when you’re on vacation and focusing on pampering yourself, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food choices. But you’re smart enough to realize that you pay for that later.

One strategy you might want to try should begin before you even start packing your bags. It’s inspired by information about comfort foods from the Obesity Action Coalition (for more, go to www.obesityaction.org and search for “Comfort Foods — Why do they make us happy?”). It involves taking a few minutes to think about your vacation and writing down everything — as long as it’s not food-related — that you’re looking forward to about it. Will you be sticking your toes into a sandy beach? Seeing new sites in a favorite city? Visiting friends and relatives you haven’t seen in awhile? Giving yourself time to read a book or listen to music?

Writing these things down on paper will help you focus on them as the best things about your getaway. It will allow you put less emphasis on food choices that may, in the past, have been a big part of your vacation focus. By purposely shifting your focus away from food, it’s easier to make healthful food choices and not feel deprived. After all, you’re making that choice on a sunny beach — or wherever your itinerary takes you.

That said, making healthy choices while traveling does have its challenges. Here are some practical tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • When driving long distances, bring a water bottle and pack a small cooler to carry sealable plastic bags containing carrots, celery, bell peppers, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, cherries, strawberries or other favorite fresh fruits and vegetables. Also consider packing some yogurt and 2 percent milkfat cheese for some healthy protein options.
  • On occasions when fast food is the only option, be sure to get out of the car instead of using the drive-thru. Walk around for 5 or 10 minutes just to stretch your limbs and get some physical activity. Skip anything from the deep fryer and forgo cheese and extra sauces on sandwiches.
  • Breakfast offers a great opportunity to get some good sources of protein, whole grains and fiber. More often than not, choose eggs, oatmeal or other low-sugar cereal, low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit over doughnuts and sweet rolls.

See more at www.eatright.org; search for “travel.”

And one last thing: Every time you make a healthful choice, congratulate yourself. Don’t feel deprived. Feel great about pampering yourself in a whole new way.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Caroyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension’s community nutrition specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Be sodium smart with soup, processed foods

chow_060515_468139785Does any canned soup contain just a small amount of sodium? Even the types marked as “healthy” seem to have quite a bit. Do I have to resort to making homemade soup?

You’re right — soups, like many other processed foods — can contain a frightful amount of sodium.

How much is too much? The recommendation is to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day, or to just 1,500 milligrams if you’re 51 years or older, African-American, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Americans in those categories account for about half of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, the average sodium intake for Americans is more than 3,400 milligrams a day. Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Scientists estimate that reducing average sodium consumption by 400 milligrams a day could reduce deaths in the U.S. by 28,000 a year.

It sounds like you’re already reading labels: That is key. Besides looking at Nutrition Facts to find out how many milligrams of sodium there are per serving, also look for these terms and know what they mean:

  • Salt/Sodium-Free: Fewer than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Very Low Sodium: 35 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Low Sodium: 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.
  • Reduced Sodium: At least 25 percent less sodium than in the original product. Note that these products often contain more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted: At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular product.
  • No-Salt-Added or Unsalted: No salt is added during processing, but these foods are not necessarily sodium-free. Check the Nutrition Facts Label to be sure.

One reason so much salt is added to processed foods is — you guessed it — flavor. Food manufacturers who try to drastically reduce sodium often find that those products don’t sell.

So, what can you do? Here are a few ideas:

  • Try looking in the organic or health food aisles for canned soup. Those products aren’t always low in sodium, but sometimes they are.
  • Do a web search for “no salt added soup” or “low sodium soup.” You might find brands to buy online that aren’t available at your local store.
  • Water down a favorite soup or broth enough so it reduces the sodium to an acceptable level. You can add back flavor and substance with garlic or other herbs and spices, including salt-free spice blends; fresh or frozen vegetables, such as chopped carrots, peppers and tomatoes; extra noodles or cooked chopped meat or poultry; or even a splash of wine or balsamic vinegar.

If you’re ready to try making soup from homemade stock, the American Heart Association offers ideas for boosting flavor. See them at bit.ly/AHAsoup.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road,
Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, Ohio State University Extension’s food security specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

When shopping, be smart about food safety

chow_052915_147010343I recently moved to a rural area, and it takes about 25 minutes to drive to the nearest grocery store. A friend suggested we keep a cooler in the trunk to put perishables in as we leave the store. That seems like overkill. Is it necessary?

It’s not a bad idea, especially during hot weather. Although the normal guideline for perishable foods is to make sure they remain in the “danger zone” of 40 to 140 degrees F for no longer than two hours, that time frame shortens to just one hour when it’s 90 degrees or hotter. So, when it’s hot outside, it’s important to do what you can to keep food as cool as possible.

It’s important to note that the time limit for the danger zone is cumulative: That is, if food remains in the zone for 45 minutes between the time you put it in your cart at the grocery store and the time you get it in the refrigerator or freezer at home, the time it can be in danger zone later — when you’re preparing it, for example — decreases to an hour and 15 minutes, or just 15 minutes at temperatures above 90 degrees. And that’s assuming that the food hasn’t been in the danger zone before you get your hands on it.

What’s so magical about this time limit? Well, given the right conditions, most bacteria that cause foodborne illness will double in number every 20 minutes. As ambient temperatures rise to 90 degrees F and above, bacteria multiply even more quickly. The more bacteria, the more likely it will make you ill. And even if these bacteria are in raw meat or other foods that you will cook before eating, they can still make you sick if you don’t cook them to the right temperature for long enough or if they produce toxins that aren’t destroyed by the cooking process.

Here are a few guidelines from Foodsafety.gov, the online gateway for federal food safety information, about grocery shopping and food safety:

  • Be smart about the path you take in the grocery store. Go through the canned food section first, so the food that’s in your cart the longest is non-perishable. Fresh meats should be the last items to go into your shopping cart.
  • In the cart, be sure to separate raw meat from fresh produce and other ready-to-eat items to prevent cross-contamination. Many stores have lightweight plastic bags, like those in the produce department, also available in the meat department to help protect other grocery items from any stray raw meat juices.
  • Ask the cashier to bag raw meat separately from other items.
  • Drive directly home from the grocery store. If you have other stops to make while in town, do so before you do your grocery shopping.
  • If you use reusable grocery bags, be sure to wash them often. Cloth bags can be washed in a washing machine and dried either in the dryer or air-dried. Plastic-lined bags should be scrubbed using hot water and soap and air-dried. Be sure the bags are completely dry before storing or using them. If you have insulated bags, ask the cashier to use them for perishable items to help keep them as cool as possible.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension’s food safety specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.