Learn more about your food with Food-A-Pedia

chow_052215_93639906I’ve started to plan meals for a week at a time to help streamline my grocery shopping. Since I’m trying to drop a few pounds, I’d like to do some quick legwork to compare calories in some foods I eat regularly. If I wait to look at Nutrition Facts labels while shopping, I feel like I’m in the store forever. Any ideas that could help?

There is plenty of information online that could help you track down the calories and nutrients in foods, but one that might be particularly easy to use — and is free — is Food-A-Pedia, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SuperTracker website.

With SuperTracker, you can plug in information to get a personalized nutrition and physical activity plan. To get a personalized plan, you need to sign up and provide profile information. But anyone can use many of SuperTracker’s features, including Food-A-Pedia.

Food-A-Pedia includes information on 8,000 foods and beverages, and you can easily compare two items side by side.

Just go to supertracker.usda.gov/foodapedia.aspx. You’ll find a search box where you can enter a food item. Include the category (“Fruits,” “Vegetables,” or “Pasta and Rice,” for example) to narrow down the number of results that come up.

After you find the first food, you can conduct another search to find the second food item to make your comparison.

For example, let’s say you want to compare the calories and nutrients in poultry and fish. First, in the search box, enter the type of poultry you normally eat — let’s say chicken — and choose the result that most closely matches your typical meal, perhaps “Chicken, breast, boneless, skinless, baked.” The results will appear immediately to the right on your screen. Then, go back to the search box and type in the type of fish you normally consume — let’s say cod. Choose the result that most closely matches how you prepare cod, perhaps “Cod, baked or broiled, without fat.” The results appear in the box next to the chicken breast entry.

Now you can easily compare the calories, saturated fat, added sugars and sodium of those two items. You’ll see that a medium-sized chicken breast provides 141 calories, whereas a typical cod fillet provides just 93 calories. You can also adjust the amounts of each food to compare, changing the measures — to “ounces,” for example — to allow you to compare the same amount of each food: 4 ounces of chicken breast provides 184 calories, whereas 4 ounces of cod provides 113 calories.

Of course, not all food items are listed in Food-A-Pedia. If you find yourself running into glitches, there are many other free apps and websites that can also give you such information. Compare notes with friends and family members to find out what they might be using. Becoming more informed about the food you eat is worth the legwork.

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 Dan Remley, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With flavored water, look at label closely

chow_051515_101531757I switched my beverage of choice from pop to bottled flavored water. I’m enjoying trying a lot of different brands and flavors. Is there anything I should be on the lookout for when choosing which one to try next?

Water is a great alternative to sugary soft drinks. But as you reach for your next flavored bottled water, be sure to take a close look at the label to make sure you’re consuming what you think you are. Some bottled flavored water is actually just that — water with flavorings. In fact, a range of flavors of unsweetened carbonated water is now widely available. But some products labeled “water” contain a lot of sugar and calories, caffeine, artificial sweeteners or other additives that you may prefer to avoid.

First, read the Nutrition Facts label. Look at the calories per serving and the number of servings per container. That will quickly let you know how many calories you’ll be consuming after you twist off the bottle top.

Second, read the ingredients listings carefully. Are you satisfied with what you see? Watch out for sugar, which can be labeled as many different things, including corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, malt syrup, nectars (such as peach nectar or pear nectar) and sucrose.

Note that caffeine doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient if it is naturally present in one of the other ingredients — tea, for example. But if it’s added on its own, it has to be in the ingredients listing.

Many flavored waters boast they contain vitamins and antioxidants. That’s all well and good, but it can be an expensive way to consume them. Eat a wide variety of produce — five servings a day or more — and you’ll be fine on that score. It’s a similar situation to that of sports drinks — athletes who vigorously exercise for an hour or more may benefit from the carbohydrates and electrolytes that sports drinks contain, but many people who reach for those beverages simply don’t need them, or the calories they contain. If water with vitamins also contains sweeteners, then it probably isn’t a healthy option.

Overall, water is the best choice to quench your thirst. Since you are interested in flavored water, why not make your own? Just fill a glass or pitcher with cold water and make some additions. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Fresh mint leaves
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Cubed watermelon or cantaloupe
  • Sliced oranges, lemons or limes
  • A splash of orange, pineapple or grapefruit juice

Just be sure to thoroughly rinse any such ingredients under running water before adding them to your water. Anything with a tough outside skin or rind should be scrubbed with a vegetable brush under running water before being cut into, to make sure any contaminants on the exterior aren’t transferred to your fresh glass of cool water.

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.

A deadly reminder on home canning safety

chow_050815_466233529I was surprised when I heard that the botulism that recently killed someone likely came from home-canned potatoes. I just started canning last year. What can I do to make sure I’m doing so as safely as possible?

A lot of people were surprised. Foodborne botulism is rare: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are only about 20 cases per year in the U.S. But when it does strike, the culprit is usually home-canned foods.

Botulism is caused by a nerve toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. These bacteria are found in the soil but grow best in conditions with very low oxygen. The bacteria form spores which keep the bacteria dormant until they find themselves in an environment that allows them to grow. If untreated, someone with botulism could experience paralysis of the respiratory muscles, arms, legs and other parts of the body. Botulism is fatal in 3 to 5 percent of cases, the CDC says.

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, C. botulinum spores can produce deadly toxin within three to four days in the right conditions, which include:

  • A moist, low-acid food.
  • Temperature between 40 and 120 degrees F.
  • Less than 2 percent oxygen.

All fresh vegetables, including green beans, asparagus, carrots, corn, potatoes and peppers, are low-acid foods, meaning they have a pH above 4.6. The lower the pH, the higher a food’s acidity. Tomatoes used to be considered a high-acid food, but in recent years some types have been found to have pH values higher than 4.6, making them a low-acid food. Because tomatoes are right on the border between high acid and low acid, anyone using the boiling-water method to can tomatoes or homemade salsa needs to add lemon juice or citric acid during the canning process to be safe.

For low-acid foods, a pressure canner must be used (and used properly) to destroy any botulinum spores that may be lurking in the food. Temperatures need to reach 240 to 250 degrees F  for a long enough time, which depends on the food being canned, the size of the jars and the way the food is packed in the jars.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Complete Guide to Home Canning is the bible for do-it-yourself canning. It is available to download for free, chapter by chapter, at the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website, nchfp.uga.edu.

Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, also offers how-to videos and classes on home food preservation. For details, go to fcs.osu.edu/food-safety/home-food-preservation. OSU Extension also offers a fact sheet on botulism, available at go.osu.edu/botulism.

Don’t be cavalier about home canning. Home-canned foods can look, smell and taste normal and still be contaminated. Follow canning guidelines precisely to be sure your canned vegetables are safe.

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 field specialist in Food Safety, Selection and Management.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

A tried-and-true DIY ‘detox’ diet

chow_050115_496683961I’ve seen a lot of different versions of “detox” diets. Which type might work best to help me shed a few pounds this spring?

“Detox” and similar diets have been around for ages. As early as the 1930s, the grapefruit diet promised quick weight loss because of some sort of fat-burning enzymes, which simply don’t exist.

Today, many detox diets focus on juicing or eliminating entire food groups and promise to help you burn fat, boost metabolism, improve digestion and (almost always) lose weight. However, there seems to be no consensus about what a detox diet really consists of, or what it is that you need to detoxify out of your body that your liver, kidney and colon don’t already eliminate.

That said, spring is always a good time to recharge your diet. And if you want to drop a few pounds, why not do so in a way that’s sustainable over time and avoid a yo-yo pattern of weight loss and gain? Start with these guidelines:

  • Eat two fruits a day — the equivalent of 1 to 2 cups total. Be sure to eat a wide variety, not only to keep your diet interesting but so you reap the benefits of a range of different types of produce. Try strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, honeydew, pineapple, mango, oranges, grapes or any other fruit. Frozen and canned fruit also count. To lose weight, limit how much juice and dried fruit you eat, such as raisins or prunes, because they pack a lot of calories in a small amount and won’t fill you up. In fact, if you choose to eat dried fruit, count it double (a quarter-cup equals a half-cup of fruit for the day).
  • Eat 2.5 cups of vegetables or more each day. Again, choose a wide variety. Over the course of a week, be sure to include dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, kale, collard or other greens; red and orange vegetables including red peppers, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin and winter squash; beans, such as black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans; and other vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, green beans and zucchini. Limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes, green peas and corn. When eating raw leafy greens, double the amount: Eat 2 cups and count them as 1 cup.
  • Limit refined grains, such as bread, rice and pasta, to 2 to 3 ounces a day, and enjoy an additional 2 to 3 ounces of whole grains. An “ounce” in this case is equal to one slice of bread, half an English muffin, a half-cup of oatmeal, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, a half-cup of rice or pasta, or one 6-inch tortilla.
  • Enjoy 3 to 5.5 ounces of protein per day, including poultry, seafood, lean beef, nuts and eggs (1 egg is equal to one ounce of protein).
  • Eat 2.5 to 3 cups of lowfat or nonfat dairy a day, including milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Choose healthy oils, such as olive oil, and limit to 1 to 2 tablespoons a day.

This plan might look familiar: It’s the plan recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Get more details at www.choosemyplate.gov.

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’s state specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

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

Diet may play role in chronic inflammation

chow_042415_101695235Are there foods you can eat to reduce chronic inflammation?

Health issues related to chronic inflammation have been getting quite a bit of attention in recent years. Ironically, inflammation is an important part of the immune system — in young people, bouts of inflammation actually help fight off disease and help repair damage from injury or exposure to harmful substances.

But according to the National Institutes of Health (more precisely, the National institute on Aging), as people grow older, chronic inflammation often sets in, and it tends to be associated with a whole host of diseases and conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, frailty, type 2 diabetes, physical disability and dementia.

The challenge is that the science to help us understand this link is still evolving. Does chronic inflammation lead to these conditions? Or is it merely a marker in someone whose body is already trying to deal with them? Or, is it possible that chronic inflammation and these ailments have a more complex relationship?

That said, chronic inflammation is associated with these conditions, some of which can be debilitating. And it appears that an overall healthy diet, especially one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce mild chronic inflammation. While, again, the evidence isn’t quite clear, it is promising. Knowing that there could be this added benefit to eating right might help nudge you toward reaching for that apple instead of an apple fritter.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional association for registered dietitians, recommends against focusing on a specific food for some type of miracle cure against chronic inflammation. There have been some studies that suggest foods such as fatty fish (salmon, for example), berries, tart cherry juice and other specific foods have anti-inflammatory properties. But instead of focusing on a few food items, considering changes to the whole diet is a better approach.

The Academy, and other trusted sources such as the Harvard School of Public Health, offer anti-inflammatory guidance including:

  • Fill up half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals, and eat a wide variety. For fruit, include strawberries, cherries, oranges and blueberries. Vegetables should include tomatoes and leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards and chard.  Avocados, though high in calories, are also considered to have anti-inflammatory properties because of the heart-healthy fat they contain.
  • Eat nuts, in moderation, as part of your diet, including almonds and walnuts.
  • Incorporate high-fat fish, such as salmon, sardines and anchovies, into your regular meal plan, and choose heart-healthy oils such as olive oil.

Diet isn’t the only thing associated with inflammation. Stress, weight, sleep patterns and physical activity are also among the factors that could have an effect. Strive for balance, not only in your diet but in life, and you may reap more benefits than you realize.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University 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, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Why choose whole foods over processed?

chow_041015_463520903I’m dating a guy who loves to cook, which is great, but he seems to rely on a lot of processed foods. Would it be worthwhile, health-wise, to try to shift him more toward fresh, whole foods? 

Probably, yes. But it depends on what you mean by “processed foods.”

Although foods that are minimally processed — frozen fruits and vegetables without sauces or seasonings, for example — fare comparably to their fresh counterparts, highly processed foods often are loaded with sodium, fat, added sugar and calories or are otherwise compromised, such as whole grains being processed into refined grains.

A recent study presented at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting indicates that processed foods may have larger health implications in the U.S. than previously thought.

The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined the nutritional profile of highly processed foods and how pervasive they are in the typical grocery cart.  What it found was eye-opening.

Between 2000 and 2012, the researchers asked more than 157,000 households to scan barcodes of all foods and beverages they bought at grocery stores. Most households participated in the study for about four years. The researchers gathered information on each item, including nutrition, product description and ingredient listings, to determine how processed each food item was.

The researchers defined “highly processed” food items as those that contained multiple ingredients and industrially formulated mixtures, including soft drinks, cookies, chips, white bread, candy and prepared meals. In contrast, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, dried beans, and fresh meat were classified as unprocessed or minimally processed. The researchers also distinguished between foods that were ready to eat, such as candy and chips; foods that were ready to heat, such as frozen dinners; and foods that required cooking or preparation.

Over the course of the study, the portion of calories from highly processed foods and beverages remained steady at just over 60 percent, the researchers said. By 2012, more than 80 percent of calories from a household’s purchases were in ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat form, and those foods tended to be higher in fat, sugar and salt than minimally processed foods. Their conclusion: While processed foods such as canned vegetables and whole-grain breakfast cereal can contribute to a healthful diet, more highly processed foods could be major culprits in overconsumption and obesity.

The researchers said they hope their findings encourage food manufacturers to boost the health and nutrition in processed food products. In the meantime, take a look at your own grocery cart.

Try to focus purchases on fresh, whole and minimally processed foods. Reading labels can help. Products labeled “whole grain” should have at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. Look for products with less than 5 percent of the recommended values for fat or sodium and that have less added sugar.

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 Daniel Remley, Ohio State University Extension’s field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

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Sugar alcohols aren’t sugar or alcohol

bar of chocolat sized up by a magnifying-glassWhat is sugar alcohol? I gave up sugar when I found out it will go into your fat cells if you don’t use it for energy. Does the same thing happen with sugar alcohols? And, is there a difference between different types of sugar alcohol?  

Sugar alcohols aren’t really sugar and aren’t really alcohol.

Without getting steeped in a chemistry lesson, the chemical structure of sugar alcohols resembles both sugar and alcohol (hence the name) but is different than both. That’s why you won’t get drunk on sugar alcohol, and why you might see it listed as an ingredient in gum, candy and other foods labeled as “sugar-free.”

Although they’re not sugar, sugar alcohols do contain calories — up to 3 calories per gram, compared with 4 calories per gram in regular sugar. That’s why you often see the notice “Not a calorie-free food” on sugar-free food items that contain sugar alcohol. It’s possible you may not be saving as many calories as you think.

The calories in sugar alcohols, just like other calories we consume, could end up in fat cells if the calories aren’t immediately used for energy.

There are quite a few different types of sugar alcohols. Also called polyols, they have been used for decades in the food industry as an alternative sweetener and as a thickener. Different types have varying levels of sweetness and varying numbers of calories per gram. For example, according to the International Food Information Council’s Sugar Alcohol Fact Sheet, online at www.foodinsight.org/Sugar_Alcohols_Fact_Sheet:

  • Xylitol has 100 percent of the sweetness of sugar but only 2.4 calories per gram, or 60 percent of the calories of regular sugar.
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate (or HSH) has just 25-50 percent of the sweetness of sugar but provides 3 calories per gram — 75 percent of the calories of regular sugar.
  • Erythritol has 60-80 percent of the sweetness of sugar but only about 0.2 calories per gram, a fraction of what’s in regular sugar.

A benefit of sugar alcohols is that, although they’re carbohydrates, they’re not absorbed as quickly in the body as regular sugar is, and they are metabolized differently, requiring little or no insulin. If you have diabetes, that could be important, as they won’t spike your blood sugar when you eat them.

Another upside of sugar alcohols is that they aren’t broken down by bacteria in the mouth like sugar is, so they don’t cause cavities.

However, there is a downside, too. Because the body doesn’t digest sugar alcohols very well, they can make their way through the digestive system and into the lower intestine, where, when in large enough quantities, they can cause bloating, gas and even a laxative effect.

These effects vary with different types of sugar alcohols. Erythritol, for example, appears less likely to cause such problems. If you consume sugar alcohols and find yourself with digestive issues, cut back on them for a while and see if it helps.

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

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.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Beef lovers: How safe are your burgers?

chow_032715_153493310If steaks are safe when cooked to 145 degrees F, why do hamburgers need to be cooked to 160 degrees? All the meat comes from the same cow, right? 

All beef comes from cattle, yes, but when it comes to food safety, ground beef is a whole different animal.

The reason is simple. Bacteria and other types of foodborne illness-causing contaminants that commonly feast on raw meat are surface creatures. As long as those steaks, roasts or chops aren’t messed with, pathogens remain close to the surface where the heat from cooking gets hottest and, given the proper time and temperature, sears them out of existence.

But as soon as raw meat is ground up, anything on the surface becomes mixed throughout. The internal temperature at the very center of the patty must get hot enough for long enough to eliminate the E. coli, Salmonella and other bugs lurking there. Research shows that most, if not all, raw meat plays host to some type of bacteria. It doesn’t matter if the meat is conventional or organic, or purchased from a mega super store or your friendly neighborhood butcher. You should just assume raw meat has some contamination and treat it with respect.

That’s why you see those warnings on restaurant menus saying, “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.” Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message. In 2014, a dozen people in four states, including Ohio, became ill after eating rare or medium-rare hamburgers; seven were hospitalized. E. coli O157:H7 was to blame. It’s important to note that there were likely many more people affected: For every E. coli infection confirmed in a lab, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates another 26 cases go unreported.

Four of the five Ohioans sickened in that outbreak said they ate burgers at a “gastro pub” chain that regularly cooks burgers to just 145 degrees F, boasting that it is “the temperature of a perfectly cooked medium-rare burger.” Food microbiologists tend to disagree with that assessment. In fact, food safety guidelines for food service establishments say they should cook hamburgers to 155 degrees F to be safe. At home, consumers need to cook burgers to 160 degrees because it’s likely the meat has been in and out of refrigeration periodically — such as when you’re at the grocery store or during the drive home — and thus needs an extra measure of safety during cooking.

Food safety experts’ concerns go beyond ground meat. Today, an estimated 25 percent of steaks sold in the U.S. have been “mechanically tenderized” — that is, mechanically punctured with needles or knives or injected with a 10 percent solution to make the cut more tender. The trouble is that as soon as the meat is cut into, surface contaminants get inside. With beef, you’ve got to treat those cuts of meat like hamburger and cook them thoroughly to 160 degrees F to be safe.

Unfortunately, it’s not always clear when meat has been treated this way. If the steak still has a bone, it’s likely the surface is intact. But if you’re not sure, ask the butcher for guidance.

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 food safety, selection and management specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Calcium important, dairy a good source

chow_032015_178493804A friend started a new diet, and he said he was surprised to learn milk and other dairy products can actually cause, not prevent, osteoporosis. Can you explain?

This notion pops up from time to time, but rest assured that there’s broad consensus among nutrition researchers and registered dietitians that getting enough calcium, along with vitamin D, is an important part of a healthful diet, and dairy products remain a good source of these critical nutrients.

But the factors affecting calcium absorption and how the body uses calcium are complicated, and researchers are still discovering information about it. So, be prepared to continue to hear occasional back-and-forth about the best guidance.

One of the studies often cited by those who warn people off dairy products is from 1997. This Harvard University study examined data from more than 77,000 women who self-reported their food intake in questionnaires in 1980, 1984, and 1986. Surprisingly, they found that higher reported consumption of milk and other dairy didn’t protect women against hip or bone fractures.

However, other examinations of the evidence on dairy foods and bone health indicate that the 1997 study doesn’t tell the whole story.

For example, a 2000 comprehensive review of research conducted on dairy foods and bone health between 1985 and 1999, including the above study, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It determined that 42 percent of the studies’ findings showed favorable effects of dairy foods on bone health, while 53 percent showed insignificant effects and only 5 percent showed unfavorable effects.

One of the issues regarding dairy foods and calcium is related to dairy’s protein content. When a person eats more protein, more calcium is lost through the urine. So, wouldn’t it make sense to get calcium from foods without protein?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are many things that affect how the body handles calcium. While dairy might have some issues, so do other foods.

Even the “Nutrition Source” from Harvard’s School of Public Health, whose researchers conducted the 1997 study, doesn’t advocate abstaining from dairy products. Just read its article “Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?” online at www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/. You’ll see that the authors suggest that while American adults “may not need as much calcium as is currently recommended” (which is 1,000-1,200 milligrams a day), they still recommend one daily serving of milk in addition to another 300 milligrams of calcium from other sources.

While deliberation about calcium and dairy foods is sure to continue, you can rely on this piece of guidance: Eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of nutritious foods, limited in added sugars and saturated fat, and with plenty of produce and whole grains, while maintaining a healthful weight and getting enough physical activity. If you do that, everything else should fall into place.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University 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 Education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Find ways to eat nuts without adding calories

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

I’ve heard for a long time that eating nuts can be beneficial to your health. But nuts are also really high in calories. How much is enough? How much is too much?

The news about nuts keeps getting better and better. A recent study examining diets of more than 200,000 people from both the U.S. and China indicates that regular consumption of nuts — including peanut butter and peanuts, which are technically legumes, not true nuts — may reduce the risk of early death from heart disease and other causes by about 20 percent.

Another recent study looked at data from 2,000 teens in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Preliminary results indicate that young people who eat a modest amount of nuts — at least three small handfuls per week — reduce their risk of developing “metabolic syndrome.” Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone has at least three of the conditions that can lead to heart disease later in life: obesity in the abdominal region, high triglycerides, low “good” cholesterol (HDLs), high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

Nuts are beneficial because they are chock-full of nutrients, including vitamin E, which may reduce development of plaques in arteries, and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease risk of stroke and heart failure, and reduce irregular heartbeats.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 40 percent of Americans eat enough nuts to see a health benefit. And the metabolic syndrome study on teenagers found that only 9 percent of young people ate enough.

Still, you are correct that nuts are high in calories, and those calories need to be taken into account. Most nuts contain 160-200 calories per ounce. Over the course of a year, eating an ounce of nuts a day could add up to 10 pounds on the scale if you don’t cut back calories in other ways.

In the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, nuts are considered a protein. While the guidelines recommend that the average adult eat about
5.5-6 ounces of protein a day, a half-ounce of nuts or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is counted as a full “ounce” of protein. Generally, a half-ounce of nuts equates to a small handful — about 12 almonds, 24 pistachios or seven walnut halves, for example. But go ahead and use a food scale if you want to be sure of what you’re eating.

As long as you reduce calories from other parts of your diet, eating between a half-ounce to an ounce of nuts several times a week could be beneficial. Consider:

  • Adding walnuts to a salad.
  • Snacking on peanuts instead of chips or cookies.
  • Sprinkling peanut halves or slivered almonds onto green beans or adding ground nuts to spinach or mashed cauliflower.

Finally, opt for raw or dry-roasted and unsalted nuts most of the time. And don’t fool yourself. Eating nuts coated with sugar or nut-based candies can undermine their heart-healthy benefits.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University 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, food security specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.