Chow Line: Tapeworms in Salmon a Potential Risk

I heard a recent report that some salmon in the U. S. has been found to have tapeworms. That has me worried — is salmon still safe to eat?

Fresh raw salmon fillet

In most circumstances, yes.

The report you are speaking of comes from a new study published this month in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. The study said that the parasitic Japanese broad tapeworm, also known as Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, was found in wild pink salmon from Alaska.

The study authors said that salmon from the American and Asian Pacific coasts and elsewhere pose potential dangers for persons who eat these fish raw. When the wild-caught salmon are transported on ice instead of frozen, the parasitic tapeworm may survive transport.

However, the risk of consumers becoming infected with a tapeworm is fairly low. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that all fish except catfish, tuna and salmon in certain instances, if it is to be eaten raw, first must be frozen to kill parasites.

But, while the risks are low, consumers can take precautions to reduce the risk of foodborne illness when handling, preparing or eating seafood, according to the FDA. The federal agency says that while it is best to cook seafood thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illness, those who prefer to eat raw fish should eat fish that has been previously frozen.

Commercially frozen seafood is frozen solid at a temperature of -35 degrees and stored at this temperature or below for a minimum of 15 hours to kill parasites.

However, for consumers who catch fish fresh, most home freezers have temperatures at 0 to 10 degrees, which may not be cold enough to kill parasites because it can take up to 7 days at -4 degrees or below to kill parasites, especially in large fish, according to the FDA.

Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. In the case of shrimp, lobster and crab, the flesh should be pearly and opaque. For clams, oysters and mussels, cook until shells open. And for scallops, cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm.

The CDC and FDA offer these other tips to prevent foodborne illness from seafood:

  • Only buy fish that is refrigerated or displayed on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting (preferably in a case or under some type of cover).
  • Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.
  • Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from milky slime.
  • The flesh should spring back when pressed.
  • Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening or drying around the edges.
  • Don’t buy frozen seafood if its package is open, torn or crushed on the edges.
  • Avoid packages with signs of frost or ice crystals, which may mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling any raw food.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with soap and hot water between the preparation of raw foods, such as seafood, and the preparation of cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

If a parasite is present in a fish, FDA offers these tips:

  • Notify the store where you bought the fish so that the store can carefully inspect remaining fish.
  • Depending on the return policy of the particular store, you may wish to return or exchange the unused portion.

Remember, while freezing will kill the parasites that may be present in some fish, freezing doesn’t kill all harmful microorganisms. That’s why the safest route is to thoroughly cook your seafood.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

Chow Line: Dark Chocolate a Healthier Option for Valentine’s Day

I want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a sweet treat for my wife this year, but I don’t want to derail her healthy eating regime. What kind of sweets can I present her?

Dark chocolate with cocoa on wooden table

If you want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with sweet treats while keeping your wife’s health in mind, you can still consider presenting her with some chocolate. However, make sure you choose a dark chocolate, with which she can both enjoy and gain some heart-healthy advantages.

In moderation, dark chocolate is believed to provide multiple health benefits. This is because of its high levels of flavonoids, which are antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can alter and weaken cells, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Research has found that flavanols, which are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate, have potential influences on vascular health, including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Milk chocolate, on the other hand, doesn’t provide the same health benefits. Generally speaking, dark chocolate has more cocoa than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate also has fewer unhealthy sugars and saturated fats than milk chocolate. Researchers at Harvard University Medical School suggest choosing chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa or more.

If you’d prefer to present your loved one with something other than sweets for Valentine’s Day, opt for red wine, which is also rich in flavonoids.

If you choose the red wine option, remember, it needs to be consumed in moderation, which generally, for men, means no more than two drinks per day and no more than one drink per day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC offers these other tips for heart-healthy Valentine’s Day treats:

  • Limit your sodium intake. Spice up your romantic dinner with seasonings such as fresh or dried herbs and spices, and avoid prepackaged mixes that may contain a lot of salt.
  • Opt for healthy substitutions for saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol in your baked treats. For example, swap the butter for olive or canola oil instead.
  • When preparing your romantic dinner, choose to bake, broil or grill your food rather than fry it.
  • When able, use fresh ingredients instead of prepared ones. For example, choose fresh lemons over lemon juice concentrate or fresh garlic cloves instead of garlic powder.

Remember, in addition to Valentine’s Day, February is also host to American Heart Month. Show your sweetie that you care by getting active and eating healthier, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure. And if you smoke, try quitting.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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

Chow Line: Slow Cooker Is a Good Option for Healthy, Hearty Meals on Cold Winter Days

One of my resolutions this year is for my family to eat healthier while I save time and money. Preparing hearty meals in a slow cooker could be one answer, but is it really safe to use?

In a word, yes.

For many people, coming home after long hours of work, school or other activities to the delicious and inviting smells of a warm, hearty meal ready to eat is a perfect ending to a hectic day, especially during a cold winter spell. Not only are slow cookers convenient, they can also help families save money by making less expensive, tougher cuts of meat — like shoulder, round and chuck steak — more tender and shrink less. 

However, there are some precautions you should take to ensure that the meals you cook in your slow cooker are both safe and nutritious to eat. For example, two of the more popular food items to prepare using a slow cooker are meats and poultry, which need to be time and temperature controlled for safety.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, it’s important to avoid cooking frozen meats and poultry in a slow cooker. Always thaw them first. This is because frozen beef or poultry won’t reach 140 degrees quick enough and could cause a foodborne illness.

Slow cookers work by cooking foods at lower temperatures – typically between 170 to 280 degrees – for several hours. This could be a concern for some foods because the bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees, according to Foodsafety.gov.

Use a food thermometer to accurately determine if your food has reached the proper internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.

Other tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the USDA include:

  • Keep perishable foods, especially presliced vegetables, refrigerated and out of the danger zone. Bacteria multiply rapidly when at room temperature. To avoid this, keep your food refrigerated until it’s time to add it to the pot.
  • Make sure your foods fit. The slow cooker should be half to two-thirds full to ensure your food cooks thoroughly.
  • Position foods that take longer to cook on the bottom of the slow cooker, then arrange other solid ingredients on top, making sure to spread evenly.
  •  Keep the lid on. It’s important to retain the heat when making a slow cooker meal. Only remove the lid to stir or check for doneness.
  • If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time.
  • Foods take different times to cook depending on the setting used. While foods will cook faster on high than on low, for all-day cooking or for less tender cuts, you may want to use the low setting.

If you have any leftovers, it’s important to store them in a shallow covered container in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking. And, when reheating leftovers, don’t use your slow cooker – use your stove top, microwave or conventional oven to heat the food to at least 165 degrees before eating.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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

Chow Line: Serving Game Day Food Safely

I am hosting a Super Bowl party for the first time and I want to make sure that my guests have a good time. But, I’m not the best cook in the world – what are some things I should do to make sure I serve good food without getting anyone sick?

Hors d’oeuvres

First things first, take a deep breath and relax. Serving up an appetizing buffet for the Big Game isn’t as hard as you may think. Hundreds of thousands of households across the country partake in that time-honored tradition annually. In fact, Super Bowl Sunday is the second largest food consumption day of the year, second only behind Thanksgiving, according to the National Chicken Council.

With that in mind, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several tips to help you ensure that your guests have a good meal without the fear of food poisoning.

The first step is to wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds before preparing, eating or handling food. Also, if you’re using a cutting board to prepare vegetables for your veggie tray, wash the cutting board or countertops and utensils with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. And make sure that you rinse fruits and vegetables – even those you plan to peel – under running water. 

Now for the meats. The No. 1 food typically served during a Super Bowl party is chicken wings. In fact, 1.33 billion chicken wings are expected to be consumed Feb. 5 when the New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons, the National Chicken Council says.

Make sure your guests don’t get a foodborne illness, like salmonella poisoning, by ensuring you cook the wings – whether they are baked or fried – to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, recommends the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the wing for the most accurate reading. If you are preparing hamburgers using ground beef, make sure the internal temperature reaches at least 160 degrees before serving.

Tips for putting food on the buffet table include:

  • Keep hot foods at least 140 degrees or warmer using a chafing dish, slow cooker or warming trays.
  • Keep cold foods at least 40 degrees or colder by using small service trays or serving dishes in bowls of ice, making sure to replace the ice often.
  • Avoid double dipping (George Costanza!) by providing your guests small plates so that they aren’t eating directly from the bowls containing your dips and salsa.
  • Make sure you don’t keep any perishable food out on the buffet at room temperature for more than two hours. Cooked food left out longer than two hours can rapidly grow bacteria that will leave the food unsafe to eat, according to the CDC.

Food safety is also important after the party.

Leftovers (if you have any food remaining from your hungry guests!) can be placed in a shallow container and stored in the refrigerator for no more than three to four days. If you don’t plan to eat them within that time frame, the CDC says you can freeze them. Leftover cooked meat or poultry can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

Chow Line: Select Healthy Snack Choices in 2017

Help! It’s January and I’m among the folks who’ve made eating better one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’ve heard that snacking between meals is a good option, but I’m having some difficulty finding snacks other than carrot sticks and celery stalks to munch on that are healthy. What are some other options?

breakfast cereal and other ingredients in a wooden box, horizontal

Glad you asked! Healthy snacks are a part of a balanced, healthy eating plan by offering extra nutrients that may be missing from your meals, as well as providing an energy boost and satisfying midday hunger pangs. The key is to choose a snack that will be beneficial to your overall health and diet. And that takes some planning.

The ChooseMyPlate.gov website offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers suggestions on healthy snacks:

  • Prep veggies ahead of time: Store sliced vegetables in the refrigerator and serve with dips like hummus or low-calorie dressing.
  • Top half of a whole-wheat English muffin with spaghetti sauce, chopped vegetables, and low-fat shredded mozzarella and melt in the microwave.
  • Mix it up: Mix dried fruit, unsalted nuts and popcorn in a snack-size bag for a quick trail mix.
  • Blend plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt with 100 percent fruit juice and frozen peaches for a refreshing smoothie.
  • Choose whole grains: Try whole-wheat breads, popcorn and whole-oat cereals that are high in fiber and low in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. Limit refined-grain products such as snack bars, cakes and sweetened cereals.
  • Snack on lean protein: Choose lean protein foods such as low-sodium deli meats or unsalted nuts. Wrap sliced, low-sodium deli turkey around an apple wedge. Hard-boiled eggs also are a good choice.
  • Fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits can be easy options that need little preparation. Choose whole fruit and limit the amount of 100 percent juice you drink.

If you’re at work or another place away from home where you find that the only handy option is what’s available in the vending machine, you can still make healthy snack choices. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers the following suggestions:

  • A small bag of pretzels, peanuts, almonds or trail mix.
  • Fat-free or reduced-fat popcorn.
  • Whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter or cheese.
  • Whole-grain granola or cereal bars.
  • Graham or animal crackers.
  • 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice.
  • Dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries or apricots.
  • Microwaveable soup or oatmeal. However, be careful to watch your sodium and added sugar intake.

Remember, healthy snacking isn’t supposed to be the size of a full meal – know how much is enough. The American Dietetic Association suggests choosing a single-serve container for your snack or putting a small helping in a bowl or a snack-sized bag rather than eating directly from the container. And lastly, snack when you are hungry – not because you are bored, frustrated or stressed.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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

Chow Line: Kids’ Menu Choices Not Always the Best Option

When I take my family out to eat at a restaurant, most often I choose an option for my kids off the children’s menu because it’s food that they would eat and, frankly, it’s less expensive. But lately I’ve been hearing reports that say children’s menu option

A vector illustration of colorful kids meal menu

s aren’t always the best choice nutritionally for kids. That leaves me to wonder — is the kids’ menu the best option?

That really depends on which restaurant you go to. According to a study led by the RAND Corp., an independent health policy research organization, and published recently in the journal Nutrition Today, many items offered on children’s menus at the nation’s top 200 restaurant chains have too many calories.

The study authors consulted with a panel of child nutrition experts who recommended that children ages 5 to 12 consume bundled meals that have no more than 600 calories, including the beverage. However, the study found that portions of a la carte items offered on many kids’ menus averaged 147 percent more calories than recommended. The nutritionists recommend that single servings of entrees not exceed 300 calories, fried potatoes not exceed 100 calories, desserts not exceed 150 calories and unflavored milk not exceed 110 calories on kids’ menus.

But, hundreds of single-serving options on kids’ menus exceeded 600 calories for just one item, without even including the rest of the meal. Those items included pizza, burgers, and macaroni and cheese.

A study of children’s entrées and side dishes at 29 chain restaurants published in the August 2015 Nutrition Journal found that one-third of main dishes at fast-food restaurants and half of main dishes at full-service restaurants exceeded levels of calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The issue is significant, considering that more than one in three children and adolescents consumed fast food every day, according to a recent study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. For kids, eating more restaurant food is associated with higher daily calorie intake from added sugar and saturated fats, the study found.

While that may sound overwhelming for parents, there are ways to make healthier menu choices for your kids when dining out.

Many restaurants participate in the Kids LiveWell program created by the National Restaurant Association. Participating restaurants commit to offering at least one full children’s meal (an entrée, side and beverage) that is 600 calories or less; contains two or more servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; and limits sodium, fats and sugar. Check out the Kids LiveWell locator app and look for the icon on the kids’ menu that indicates a healthful choice.

You can make healthier menu choices for your kids at any restaurant by choosing items low in fat, salt, and added sugars. Try adding a side order of greens like salad, broccoli, green beans or asparagus as an appetizer. And instead of the soda, milkshake or fruit juice that is often included in a kids’ meal, opt for water to wash down the meal. Drinking tap water can be a real money-saver for you, too.

As the issue of children’s health and obesity continues to be a main focus of the food industry, it could lead to more healthful kids’ menu options at restaurants, especially as more parents are becoming more aware of the issue.

In fact, according to Technomic’s 2016 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 46 percent of diners with kids aged 12 and younger say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers nutritious options for children. That kind of market-driven demand could give you even more options in the future.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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

Fructose intolerance manageable with proper diet

My son has been complaining recently about tummy aches after eating certain fruits like grapes and watermelon. Lately, he can’t seem to tolerate apple juice even though it’s his favorite drink. Could the fruit be causing his pain? I thought that feeding him fruits was a healthy choice?

Generally, fruits and vegetables are a healthy choice for children. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it is recommended that children ages 2-3 eat 1 cup of fruit per day, those ages 4-8 consume 1-1.5 cups, those ages 9-13 consume 1.5 cups, and those 14-18 consume 1.5-2 cups of fruit per day.

Fruits, fruit juices and some vegetables, however, contain a naturally occurring sugar known as fructose. Fructose is also found in honey, table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten many processed foods and beverages. Some people may suffer from fructose intolerance, a condition in which the body’s digestive system doesn’t absorb fructose properly. This can result in abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and gas for some.

According to a 2010 study by the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), fructose intolerance is common in children with recurrent or functional abdominal pain, but the condition can be effectively managed with a low-fructose diet. It seems the condition is more prevalent in teenage girls who suffer from chronic abdominal pain, the study’s authors said.

According to the study, “Fructose Intolerance/Malabsorption and Recurrent Abdominal Pain in Children,” fructose intolerance in children is typically diagnosed by exclusion, meaning other gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are ruled out as the cause of the abdominal pain.

Once these have been ruled out, your doctor can test your son for fructose intolerance by administering a fructose breath test, which measures the rise in hydrogen in a person’s breath after an oral dose of fructose, according to the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Health Team.

If your child is diagnosed with fructose intolerance, you should see a registered dietitian to determine foods that are OK to eat and those that should be avoided. Generally, people with fructose intolerance should limit their intake of high-fructose foods such as juices, apples, grapes, watermelon, asparagus, peas and zucchini, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While it may be difficult to both find foods with low fructose and get your son to not eat foods with high fructose, there is good news for those with fructose intolerance: The ACG study found that more than half of patients who are fructose intolerant are able to maintain a low-fructose diet and are able to notice an immediate improvement in their symptoms.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.  Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

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

Ham probably cooked, but read the label

We’re having ham for Christmas dinner this year. I believe ham is already cooked, but when I was growing up, I remember my mother always put a glaze on it and baked it in the oven for several hours. Do I have to do that, or can I just warm it up before serving? 

Most ham sold in the U.S. is cured and fully cooked, but even in that case, it can still take several hours to warm in the oven. At 325 degrees F, a 6-pound bone-in cooked smoked ham would take nearly 2.5 hours to heat to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. That’s the temperature recommended for reheating most precooked ham sold in the U.S.

But be forewarned: There are many different types of ham. Your best bet is to always follow the preparation guidelines on the label. Some types of ham might have all the looks and appearances of being ready-to-eat, but aren’t. In that case, the label will prominently say “Cook thoroughly” or something similar and will have cooking instructions. You don’t want to miss that.

Most products labeled as “ham” come from the hind leg of a hog, anywhere from the middle of the shank bone (that’s the round leg bone you might see — and have to cut around — in some hams) up to the hip bone, which is called the “aitch” on hogs and cattle. The upper part, the butt end (which is exactly what you think it is), has more fat and so it’s often thought of as more flavorful.

If you find yourself with a “picnic ham,” you’re really eating pork shoulder that’s been cured so it tastes much like regular ham. If you ever buy a whole hog for the freezer, you’ll get two whole fresh hams, which is ham meat that hasn’t been cured and is more like pork than traditional ham. And, of course, you might also see turkey ham at the store, which is a bird of another feather altogether.

Most ham sold in the U.S. is “city ham,” which is wet-cured with brine and often smoked or injected with smoke flavoring. Cooking may occur during this process, but, again, it’s important to check the label. Country ham, on the other hand, is dry-cured with salt, then is hung to dry for several months and often smoked as well. Country ham is much saltier than city ham and requires soaking in water for hours to let some of the salt leach out before cooking.

A spiral-sliced ham is safe to eat without reheating. If you do want to serve it warm, be careful not to dry it out. Cover it with heavy foil and heat it at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes a pound, until it reaches 140 F. Leftovers, or spiral ham that has been repackaged outside of the original facility, should be heated to 165 degrees F.

A boneless ham is a product that undergoes more processing than other types of ham. It is made by chopping or sectioning the meat into smaller pieces, and, like other types of processed meat, it is tumbled and massaged to allow the pieces to stick together in a particular shape.

Any ham that’s not ready-to-eat needs to be cooked to reach at least 145 degrees F internal temperature, and allowed to rest at least three minutes before cutting and serving.

For more details, go to fsis.usda.gov and search for “Ham and Food Safety.”

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With alcohol, stopping at one or two is best

During the holidays, I have to admit that I tend to drink more alcohol than usual. I think I could use a reality check. When you’re out with friends or at a party, how much is enough?

The science is pretty clear on this one: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Unfortunately, some people interpret that as an average, but it’s not. If you consume alcohol only on Saturday night, it’s not OK to imbibe seven drinks all at once — or 14 if you’re a guy. It’s not even recommended to partake in that second or third drink (again, depending on your gender). “Moderate drinking” has defined limits, and that’s what they are. Note that pregnant women, anyone under age 21, and people who have certain medical conditions or who are taking certain medications are among those who should not drink alcohol at all.

It’s also important to know what constitutes “one drink.” It can be 12 fluid ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol), 8 ounces of malt liquor (8 percent alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol) or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (40 percent alcohol, or 80 proof).

For many people, the one or two drink per day maximum might seem overly restrictive. But there are good reasons for the recommendations, and the CDC does a good job explaining them (cdc.gov/alcohol). Alcohol consumption above these limits is associated with a variety of short-term risks that most people are aware of, including car crashes, acts of violence and sexual risky behaviors. It’s also linked with an increased risk of chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and cancers including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and breast cancer. For some conditions, the risk increases even with very low levels of alcohol consumption — in fact, the CDC says, for breast cancer and liver disease, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. And, although past research indicated moderate drinking might be good for the heart, more recent studies suggest maybe not.

The lower limit for women is not simply because women normally have a smaller body size than men. Differences in body chemistry and composition also play a part. Muscle is better at metabolizing alcohol (breaking it down and removing it from the body), and men typically have more muscle mass than women. So, given the same drink, women may experience the effects of alcohol more quickly and for a longer time than men, and it’s more likely that drinking will cause long-term health problems in women.

If you think you can’t have a good time at a party without three, four or more glasses of alcohol, then you’re right, it’s time for a reality check. Try enjoying a glass or two of sparkling water with a twist before pouring that glass of wine. At the very least, space out drinks to enjoy no more than one per hour, sipping water, iced tea or other non-alcoholic beverage in between. And focus more on the friends and family that you’re gathering with instead of what’s in your glass. You’ll feel better, and without all of the empty calories that alcohol provides, you might look better, too.

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Healthy eating: The gift that keeps on giving

My grandchildren are coming for an extended visit over the holidays. I’ve been concerned about some of their eating habits, but as their grandma, I don’t want to make a big deal about it. What are some subtle things I can do while they’re here to encourage them to eat a little better?

What a great grandma! You deserve kudos for noticing potentially damaging eating habits developing in your grandchildren and caring enough to nudge them in a healthier direction.

Here are some ideas to try from youth nutrition specialists with Ohio State University Extension:

  • Adopt a “water first for thirst” policy. When the grandkids ask for something to drink, pour a nice big glass of ice water for them instead of high-sugar soft drinks or other beverages. Experts generally recommend children 4-8 years old drink 4 cups of water a day (without added sweeteners), and that increases to 7-8 cups for ages 9-13, and 8-11 cups for ages 14-18. For teens, that translates into drinking enough water to fill a 2-liter bottle. Lowfat (unflavored) milk also is a nutritious option. However, limit 100 percent fruit juice to less than 8 ounces a day, and avoid sweetened drinks altogether. Consider dressing up water by adding strawberry and orange slices or cucumber slices and mint.
  • Start a tradition of making healthful smoothies for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Just pack the blender full of fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, pineapple, peaches or mandarin oranges, plus ice cubes, yogurt and juice. You could even add fresh spinach for green smoothies. No need for extra sugar or ice cream. For thicker smoothies, try using frozen fruit.
  • Speaking of fruits and vegetables, keep a good variety on hand and make it as easy as possible for your grandchildren to eat. Depending on how old your grandchildren are, try slicing fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces. In one study, younger elementary-school students said they found whole fruit to be too cumbersome to eat comfortably, and started eating much more of it when fruit was sliced for them. For preschoolers, be sure to cut grapes and cherry tomatoes in half before serving to be sure they aren’t a choking hazard.
  • While you’re at it, double up on vegetables both for snacks and during meals — most children don’t eat nearly enough. For snacks, consider having a large clear bowl in the fridge with ready-to-eat baby carrots, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, and broccoli and cauliflower florets.
  • Other healthful snacks to consider keeping around include nuts, whole-grain crackers, rice cakes and air-popped popcorn.
  • Pay special attention when you’re eating out, when it’s very easy to overconsume empty calories. Try to steer them away from fried and breaded foods, even fried fish, chicken and vegetables. If french fries or potato chips come with a meal, ask if it’s possible to substitute a salad, fruit or soup.

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

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

This column is being distributed earlier in the week than usual in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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