Kids not eating fruit? Try cutting, slicing it

 How can I get my grandchildren to eat more fruits and vegetables when they’re visiting? I am lucky that I get to have them over often, but I can’t seem to entice them to eat much produce.

You’re not alone. Most children (and teens and adults for that matter) don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But for kids, you might try thinking small. That is, if you don’t already, try slicing fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces. You might be surprised at the results.

Research by the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University indicates that slicing fruit could increase consumption, at least in school cafeterias. You might find similar success at home.

For the study, published in 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers first interviewed 23 elementary and middle school students and found two primary reasons why they avoided fresh fruit. Surprisingly, younger students said they found whole fruit to be too large and cumbersome to eat comfortably. Students with braces or missing teeth said the same thing. The second reason? The older students, particularly girls, said they felt the whole fruit was messy and unattractive to eat in front of others.

The researchers decided to test how slicing fruit, specifically apples, would affect consumption. They provided eight elementary schools with a commercial apple slicer. When students requested an apple, a cafeteria worker would slice it before giving it to the student. By doing so, the sales of whole fruit increased in the schools by an average of 61 percent.

The researchers then followed up their study in middle schools. Of six middle schools in a district, three were provided the commercial apple slicer, and three weren’t. In all, the slicers increased average daily apple sales by 71 percent. The researchers also examined cafeteria waste to determine how much of the apples served were eaten. They found that in schools with the fruit slicers, the percentage of students who ate more than half their apple increased by 73 percent.

This all points to how important it can be to pay as much attention to how food is served as to which food is served when it comes to encouraging kids to eat fruits and vegetables. Other research has shown that promoting cafeteria salad bars with superhero-type characters can increase consumption of vegetables. And, of course, children tend to pick up habits from watching important adults in their lives, so be sure to model the behavior you want to see them imitate.

Another thing to consider, depending on how old your grandchildren are, is to make sure there are no choking hazards. The USDA suggests cutting foods like grapes and cherry tomatoes in half before serving them to preschoolers.

For more information about overcoming barriers to eating healthy, take a look at the Cornell lab’s website at foodpsychology.cornell.edu. For tips from the USDA according to age group, see choosemyplate.gov/audience.

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, field specialist for Ohio State University Extension in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Restrictive diet can help ease intestinal issues

 I have a friend who no longer eats wheat products, onions, garlic or a lot of other foods. She said it’s because she has been experiencing stomach problems and a “low-FODMAP” diet was recommended. It sounds serious. What is it?

FODMAP is an acronym used for foods containing certain carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed well in the intestines and can be rapidly fermented in the gut. In some people, they cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, excess fluid, constipation and diarrhea. The acronym stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols — a mouthful, which is why you will hear the term “FODMAPs” a lot more often than the actual words it stands for.

The low-FODMAP diet was developed in the last 10 years by Australian researchers to treat people with irritable bowel syndrome. The syndrome is pretty common, but relatively few people have severe symptoms. It is sometimes confused with the more serious inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn’s disease. The conditions have similar symptoms, but people with inflammatory bowel disease can also experience rectal bleeding and fever, and the disease can cause serious complications, including intestinal blockages, ulcers in the intestine and problems getting enough nutrients. Although it’s a separate medical condition, there is some evidence that a low-FODMAP diet could help people with this disease, as well. But the bulk of studies have focused just on people with irritable bowel syndrome.

One recent study, published earlier this year in the journal Gastroenterology, followed more than 90 patients for six weeks. Half followed the low-FODMAP diet, while the other half — the control group — simply avoided large meals, binges, and caffeine and alcohol, which are known to irritate the gut. More than 50 percent of the low-FODMAP group reported major improvement in abdominal pain, while only about 20 percent of those in the control group did.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for consumers to identify low-FODMAP foods, and, as the diet regimen is relatively new, the list of foods continues to be updated. Among the foods to be avoided are asparagus, artichokes, onions, garlic, snow peas, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, sweet corn, apples, cherries, pears, mango, nectarines, peaches, plums, watermelon, apricots, dates, milk, yogurt, cream cheese or other soft cheese, ice cream, rye, wheat breads, wheat pasta, cashews, pistachios, honey, agave, high-fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners including sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, while soy milk and silken tofu are high in FODMAPs, firm tofu is low, and soybean oil is FODMAP-free.

It can be easy for people who self-restrict on the low-FODMAP diet to fall into a diet too low in fiber or dairy and miss out on important nutrients. So, it’s strongly recommended that anyone following a low-FODMAP diet do so under the care of a gastroenterologist or registered dietitian familiar with the diet. After initial restrictions, the medical team can reintroduce higher-FODMAP foods and monitor for symptoms that may recur.

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, specialist for Ohio State University Extension in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

What will happen when fiber is no longer fiber

 I understand that the recommendation for fiber intake is going up. When will we see that reflected on Nutrition Facts labels?

The new labels should be on foods by July 2018. And you’re right, the Daily Value — the number on Nutrition Facts labels that indicates the recommended intake for nutrients — is increasing from 25 grams of fiber a day to 28. As with any Daily Value number, this is the recommended level for someone eating a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. The higher number is based on findings of the Institute of Medicine, which recommends that people consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. Unfortunately, most people don’t get nearly that amount.

Along with Daily Value update, the Food and Drug Administration also actually provided a definition of what counts as fiber for Nutrition Facts labels. And unless the rules are updated before taking effect, some fiber that’s included in many processed foods today won’t meet the new standard.

There are many different types of fiber, and they don’t all act in the body the same way. So, in the new definition, the FDA requires that any fiber included on the Nutrition Facts listing have an established “beneficial physiological effect” — that is, it has to be considered beneficial to human health. Such benefits include reduced blood glucose, cholesterol or blood pressure; increased satiety, which would help people reduce calorie intake; improved laxation or bowel function; and increased absorption of minerals, such as calcium.

The FDA will allow any fiber that’s intrinsic and intact in the food itself — the fiber naturally found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, for example — to be included in the grams listed under “fiber” on the new labels. But it won’t include everything.

Today, food manufacturers often extract and isolate fiber from foods to add to high-fiber breakfast bars, protein shakes, cereals, breads, yogurts, granolas and even calorie-free sweeteners. They can also chemically synthesize some types of fiber.

These “isolated or synthetic” types of fiber not only provide additional fiber to the processed food, but also often help provide the flavor and texture that the food manufacturer is looking for in the finished product. However, not all types of this kind of fiber have been shown to have the human health benefits the FDA is looking for.

So far, the FDA lists 25 fibers in this category as making the grade, allowing them to be counted as fiber. They include psyllium husk, guar gum, pectin and cellulose. But in its review of the scientific literature, the FDA could not find health benefits of other types of fiber often used in processed foods, including inulin, bamboo fiber, soy fiber, pea fiber and wheat fiber. As it stands now, those ingredients, like all fiber, would have to be included in the amount of carbohydrate in the food but would not be counted in the amount of fiber.

The agency could update the list of what’s allowed to be included in the fiber listing as scientific evidence develops. But as it stands today, many of the “high-fiber” foods you see on grocery store shelves may no longer meet that criteria under the new rules.

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, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist for Ohio State University Extension in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

 

The scoop on fresh, homegrown tomatoes

 We are enjoying fresh vegetables from our garden, especially the tomatoes. But we have a disagreement about whether or not they are actually healthier than store-bought fresh or even canned tomatoes. We each think we’ve read information that contradicts the other. Who’s right?

You’re both right, depending on a few factors.

There are few things better than biting into a fully ripe, meaty, juicy tomato fresh-picked from the garden. And as long as it doesn’t sit around on the kitchen counter very long, you will get the peak amount of nutrition that the tomato has to offer.

Homegrown vegetables have two things going in their favor over store-bought: They have a longer time on the vine, and they have a shorter time in storage and, of course, transport. Tomatoes sold at the grocery store are usually picked before they’re completely ripe so they can withstand the rigors of being boxed up and transported across the state, the country or even the ocean. Before they’re sold, they’re ripened artificially with ethylene, a gas that plants actually produce naturally. But that results in a ripeness that’s not quite the same as when you pick that love apple off the vine yourself at peak maturity. That’s when fruits and vegetables typically have the most vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

To retain the most nutrients, store your fresh produce properly. While 55 degrees F is the optimal storage temperature for tomatoes, room temperature will do, and keep them out of direct sunlight. Proper storage helps slow the respiration process. After being picked, produce continues to “breathe,” or respire, breaking down carbohydrates to use as energy and resulting in the loss of flavor and nutrients. Some types of produce, such as asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, peas and sweet corn, have higher respiration rates than others and are more perishable. Others, such as apples, garlic, grapes, onions and potatoes, have low respiration rates, allowing them to be stored for a longer time and still retain their quality. Tomatoes are in between, classified with carrots, peaches, pears, lettuce and peppers as having a moderate respiration rate.

When produce is commercially canned or frozen, it is processed immediately after harvest to take advantage of the product’s peak ripeness and to lock in as many nutrients as possible. The product is then stored in a way to protect it from heat, light and oxygen, all of which naturally destroy nutrients. So, compared with “fresh” produce that may have been picked before it was fully ripe and spent days or weeks in less-than-optimal storage or transport conditions, canned and frozen versions often retain more of the original nutrients.

Canned tomatoes also provide another benefit: A phytonutrient in tomatoes, lycopene, is absorbed more readily by the body from processed tomatoes than fresh. Lycopene has been associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. So, in that way, canned tomatoes are more beneficial than fresh.

For more about nutrients in tomatoes and other produce, see go.osu.edu/frshtoms.

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

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, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Keep safety in mind when packing lunches

When my children don’t like what’s offered for school lunch, I pack a sandwich and they carry it in a brown paper bag. My kids say most of their friends use insulated bags when they bring their lunch. Is that necessary?

It depends on the sandwich. If it contains anything perishable — lunchmeat, for example — then you’re taking a risk.

It may be hard to believe, but about 1 in 6 Americans gets food poisoning every year. While most cases aren’t severe enough to be reported, about 128,000 people end up hospitalized.

The most frequent cause of foodborne illness, Salmonella, is responsible for about 42,000 reported cases annually, and almost half are infants and school-age children. Young children are generally more at risk than adults, so keep that in mind as you determine what to pack for lunch, and how to pack it. Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees F, so perishable foods shouldn’t be kept at room temperature for more than two hours before being eaten.

Besides lunchmeat, perishable foods include eggs, yogurt, tofu, hummus, cut fruit and vegetables, and tuna, chicken or ham salad.

Perishable foods may be unsafe to eat by lunchtime, so using an insulated lunch box is recommended. Include a frozen gel pack or other cold source to ensure the food will remain below 40 degrees F until your child’s lunchtime. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using at least two cold sources in insulated packs, such as a freezer pack and a frozen bottle of water or frozen juice box. By lunchtime, the beverages should be thawed and ready to drink.

If you want to avoid concern about keeping the lunch cold enough, pack only nonperishables. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a good example: Bread isn’t perishable, and neither is peanut butter or jelly. Unopened canned tuna or chicken (or other canned meat and fish) are other options. Just pack a pouch or a can with a pop-top lid along with a fork or spoon, and your kids have their main course all set. Single-serving containers of fruit and pudding that you find on grocery store shelves (not the refrigerated section) are also safe at room temperature. Other items that are shelf-stable include whole fruits with a peel (think apples, oranges, bananas, plums and grapes), hard cheese, dried fruit, nuts, chips (look for healthier options), crackers, cereal bars and pickles.

It’s also important to be sure to keep things clean. Before preparing pack lunches, wash counters, cutting boards and utensils with a clean dishrag and hot, soapy water, and wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Clean the insulated box or bag with hot soapy water after each use, and don’t re-use paper bags. If you pack lunch the night before, keep it in the fridge with the lid open for proper cooling.

Talk with your children about leftovers. They should be discarded, and perishable items should never be eaten at a later time.

For more details on safe packed lunches, see www.foodsafety.gov/blog/2016/08/checklist.html.

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, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Test dairy, nutrition IQ with MyPlate quizzes

My son, who is 11, says that since butter is made from milk, it should be counted as a dairy food. I know that it’s not dairy, but can you help me explain why?

The most important nutrient we get from dairy foods is calcium. Some foods made from milk, such as cheese and yogurt, retain their calcium content, and those foods are counted along with milk as part of the dairy group.

However, there are foods made from milk that have little or no calcium. That includes butter, as well as cream, cream cheese and sour cream. These are all very high in saturated fat, which should be limited in a healthy diet. That’s why they’re not considered dairy foods, and they don’t count toward the three cups of dairy foods that anyone who is 9 or older should eat each day. (Speaking of amounts, it’s important to know that for cheese, all of these count as “one cup” of dairy: 1.5 ounces of hard cheese, 2 ounces of processed cheese, a half-cup of shredded cheese, and 2 cups of cottage cheese.)

Ice cream and frozen yogurt are counted in the dairy group, but they also can be high in calories, saturated fat and added sugars. Choosing low-fat or fat-free types would be healthier choices for dairy-based desserts.

As you explain all this to your son, you might want to challenge him to think more about the nutrients in his food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has just developed a set of online quizzes on the five food groups: dairy, fruit, grains, protein foods and vegetables. The 10-question quizzes are designed to be informative and fun, and could help gear up his brain cells for back-to-school activities. The true-and-false and multiple-choice questions include, for example:

  • What nutrient can you get from eating whole fruit but usually not from fruit juice?
  • What protein food is also a good source of calcium?
  • About how much of the grains you eat should be whole grains?
  • How much of your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruit?
  • What is the name of the sugar found naturally in milk?
  • What vitamin gives carrots their orange color?

The quizzes are online at choosemyplate.gov/quiz. There, you’ll also find access to a broad menu of trustworthy nutrition information, including:

  • Printable MyPlate Daily Checklists for different calorie levels (and an easy way to find out how many calories you should be eating each day).
  • The online SuperTracker, which can help you plan and track your diet and physical activity.
  • The “What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl” site, which helps you build healthy menus, browse recipes, watch how-to cooking videos and create and print your own cookbook.

The ChooseMyPlate.gov site provides a wealth of information about healthy eating at your fingertips. Bon appetit!

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, Community Nutrition specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Turn tables on food ads: Make veggies fun

We tend to eat a lot of vegetables and fruit at home, not only during meals but for snacks too. But our daughter seems to be getting less interested in “good” food and is asking for more sweets and salty snacks. How can we steer her back to healthy eating?

First, good for you for being a good role model for healthful eating. That’s the first, and, some say, the most important step to influencing your daughter’s adoption of healthy habits to last a lifetime.

But as you’re finding out, you’re not the only influence on your daughter. It’s nothing new: Food and beverage advertisers spend nearly $15 billion each year targeting children and teens in the U.S. And, recent studies reveal that more than 80 percent of the food advertisements that adults and children see on television are for foods that are classified as unhealthy.

These marketing efforts have an impact. In the journal Obesity Reviews in July, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, analyzed 29 previous studies and found that children are significantly more likely to eat foods high in sugar or salt after seeing food commercials, print advertisements, video games, branded logos and packaging with licensed characters. That’s especially important because other studies reveal that children are exposed to an average of five food ads every hour, the researchers said.

Still, you don’t have to just throw up your hands and give up. In fact, other recent research shows that marketing techniques can also be used to encourage children to eat healthfully.

In that study, published in Pediatrics, researchers at Cornell University created a team of super-power characters called Super Sprowtz, including Miki Mushroom, Zach Zucchini and Suzie Sweet Pea. They put banners including the characters on salad bars in school lunchrooms, and in some lunchrooms they also played a video depicting the characters. In schools with just the banners, 24 percent of the students took vegetables from the salad bar, almost double the number before the banners were installed. In schools that also showed the video, kids choosing vegetables more than tripled, from 10 percent to almost 35 percent. As one of the researchers, who is now at The Ohio State University, said, putting time and resources into marketing healthy choices to kids can work.

What does that mean for your family? Limit your daughter’s exposure to junk food and beverage ads on TV and other outlets. And, be sure her school actively promotes fruits and vegetables, minimizes exposure to ads for unhealthy foods and beverages, and adheres to “Smart Snacks in School.” That regulation requires all foods sold in schools during the school day meet nutrition standards, whether they’re meals, a la carte items, or items sold in school stores and vending machines.

At home, try ways to keep the fun in healthy foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a tip sheet with creative approaches to “Kid-friendly vegetables and fruits,” online at go.osu.edu/kidfriendly. Your daughter can regain her enjoyment of eating right by creating her own unique — and healthy — snacks.

Chow Line is a service of The Ohio State University’s 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, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF file of this column, please click here.

Delving deep into homemade nut butter

I occasionally like to make my own nut butter by grinding nuts in a food processor and adding some coconut oil until it becomes creamy. But I’m worried that I’m losing some of the fiber in the nuts when I grind them. Also, does eating nuts burn more calories than eating nut butter?

As far as the fiber content goes, don’t worry, unless you blanch or otherwise remove the outer layer of the nuts before you process them. Some of the fiber in nuts comes from the skin, so be sure to include the outer layer (not the shell, of course, but the skin around the nut) when processing. It’s true that eating nut butter is a totally different, less crunchy experience than eating nuts, but you won’t lose any of the nut’s fiber by grinding it into a powder, paste or butter.

It’s good that you’re thinking about fiber. Most Americans don’t eat nearly enough: Women should get 21 to 25 grams a day, while men should get 30 to 38. While nuts and seeds can be a good source, keep in mind that fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are often even better sources.

However, a word to the wise about the coconut oil you’re using to make the nut butter smoother and more spreadable: You could be paying a high price for that convenience.

Even though the internet is plastered with pages touting the health benefits of coconut oil, actual researchers of fatty acids and body energy metabolism are far from convinced. Although the saturated fat in coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that are thought to provide some health benefits, the detrimental palmitic acid in coconut oil far outweighs any potential dietary benefit in humans. Palmitic acid promotes the formation of belly fat and fat in the liver.

If you feel the need to add some type of oil to your nut butter, you’d be better off using another type of light-tasting or flavor-complementing oil with a higher level of healthier polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat, such as peanut, walnut, grapeseed, sesame, sunflower or safflower oil.

Finally, don’t be too concerned about the difference in calories that your body burns between eating whole nuts and eating nut butter. The difference would be minuscule. On average, only about 10 percent of the calories your body burns is due to digestion (including chewing) and absorption of nutrients, compared with 30 percent from physical activity (including any type of movement) and 60 percent from basal metabolism.

Interestingly, a small study in the New England Journal of Medicine — notably, in a letter to the editor, not a peer-reviewed journal article — back in 1999 calculated that the energy burned in an hour of chewing gum averaged 11 calories.

The researcher suggested that chewing calorie-free gum during waking hours all day every day could result in the loss of several pounds over a year, and its effects shouldn’t be discounted. But you wouldn’t be chewing nuts for that long. The difference in calories required for digesting nuts as opposed to nut butter is likely indistinguishable.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s 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 Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness with Ohio State University Extension, and Martha Belury, a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Carol S. Kennedy Endowed Professor of Human Nutrition in The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Flaxseed may help to control blood pressure

 My blood pressure has been inching up recently, and although I don’t yet have high blood pressure, I’m on the lookout for ways to reduce it. Recently I came across some information about flaxseed and how it can help. Can you tell me more about it?

There is some evidence that flaxseed may help reduce blood pressure, but it doesn’t appear to be a silver bullet.

First, good for you for taking steps to prevent high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is 119/79 or lower. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is 140/90 or higher. It sounds like you are in the middle — somewhere between 120 and 139 for the top number and 80 to 89 for the bottom number — which is classified as “prehypertension.” This is the perfect time for you to take steps to prevent high blood pressure from taking hold.

Why? Hypertension is insidious. It usually has no symptoms, but it can cause stroke, heart failure, heart attack, kidney failure and other serious health issues.

Blood pressure fluctuates from day to day, so there’s no need to panic after one high reading. But if you experience several higher readings, which you might get at a doctor’s office, a community health screening or a blood donation site if you’re a blood donor, you should talk to your doctor. (Just a note about free blood pressure machines in grocery stores and drug stores: The cuffs may not be the right size for you or you might not use the instrument properly to get an accurate reading. It’s always best to get your blood pressure taken by a trained professional.)

To prevent high blood pressure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages a healthy lifestyle, which means eating foods low in sodium and high in potassium, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; maintaining a healthy weight; being physically active; not smoking; and limiting alcohol (no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two for men). These are the primary recommendations for reducing the risk of hypertension. And the bonus is that they have many other health benefits, too.

Adding seeds such as flaxseed to your diet is one way to improve its quality. And studies on flaxseed have yielded intriguing results. A systematic review of 11 studies found that consuming flaxseed may very well help lower blood pressure slightly, with ground or whole flaxseed having a greater effect than flaxseed oil. The analysis, published in the Journal of Nutrition in April 2015, suggested the effect of flaxseed consumption was greater after about three months of eating 30 to 50 grams, or about 2 to 3 tablespoons, of flaxseed a day.

Flaxseed contains fiber, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and other nutrients. The high fiber content might prevent medications or supplements from being absorbed in the body, so don’t eat flaxseed at the same time as you take any of these. And, like other high-fiber supplements, flaxseed can cause constipation (if not taken with plenty of water) or other gastrointestinal issues. Tell your health care providers you’re trying flaxseed so they have a complete picture to help you manage your health.

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, specialist in Food Security with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Stay safe by signing up for food recall alerts

My wife was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and so we are both watching what we eat much more carefully. I was surprised to learn that she needs to be more careful about foodborne illness now. We think we do pretty good at following guidelines at home, but how can we find out about food recalls?

Good for you for being aware that you need to be, well, more aware.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 of us will suffer from foodborne illness every year, at-risk groups of people are more likely to get sick from contaminated food, and the illnesses can be much more severe. People with diabetes are 25 to 30 times more likely to get sick with listeriosis, for example, than a healthy adult.

Anyone with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or even cancer, HIV/AIDS or lupus, is more at risk. Other at-risk individuals include pregnant women, adults who are over age 65, and children who are younger than 5.

And you’re right, if you’re relying on mass media or word of mouth, it can be hard to keep up with all the food recalls these days. In 2015, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service issued 150 recall notices, and that agency covers just meat and animal products. There’s no single government agency to track all food recalls, but early this year, Food Safety Magazine (foodsafetymagazine.com) did a compilation itself, counting a total of 626 food recalls for 2015 from the FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration, the two agencies responsible for food safety in the U.S., as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As in most years, many of the recalls in 2015 were related to food packages not being properly labeled for food allergens, such as milk and dairy, peanuts, eggs, wheat, and soy. While that could be a serious problem for the estimated 15 million Americans who suffer from food allergens, it wouldn’t be an issue for you if no one in your household has a problem with those ingredients.

Still, a number of major recalls were due to the presence of human pathogens. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to get notified by email whenever a recall is issued.

Just go to foodsafety.gov, and click on Recalls and Alerts. Choose “Get Automatic Alerts” and fill in your email address. That way you’ll be notified of any recalls that have been issued.

You also can view recent recalls on the website. For example, last month there was an expansion of an earlier recall of frozen fruits and vegetables produced by CRF Frozen Foods and marketed under dozens of brand names. The food items have been associated with a multistate outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes infections, which can be serious, and even fatal, for at-risk populations. Even if you sign up for email alerts today, you would miss that notice if you didn’t check the “See Recent Recalls” listing. When it comes to food safety, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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, specialist in Food Safety with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.