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.

News: Chow Line: Focus on what causes most foodborne illness

chow_030615_178082621What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

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.

What foods are most problematic when it comes to foodborne illness?

While an estimated 48 million Americans become sick and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness, many of those cases can’t be traced to a specific source. So, to answer questions like yours, authorities recently examined outbreaks caused by a known pathogen, which account for roughly 9 million illnesses and 1,000  fatalities annually.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service identified foods associated with four major foodborne pathogens: Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157, Listeria monocytogenes and Camplyobacter. They focused on these four bugs in part because of the frequency and severity of the illnesses they cause.

The report looked at foodborne illness outbreaks between 1998 and 2012, giving greater weight to those that occurred most recently, since 2008. Among the findings:

  • Beef and vegetable row crops, such as leafy vegetables, were responsible for more than 80 percent of E. coli O157 illnesses.
  • Illnesses associated with Salmonella were linked to a wide number of types of foods, with seeded vegetables (such as tomatoes), sprouts, fruits, eggs, poultry, beef and pork responsible for 77 percent of illnesses.
  • Dairy foods, most often raw milk or cheese produced from raw milk (such as unpasteurized queso fresco) were responsible for 66 percent of illnesses related to Campylobacter, and chicken was responsible for 8 percent of illnesses.
  • Half of illnesses from Listeria were caused by fruits and another 31 percent were caused by dairy foods. The researchers cautioned, however, that the high proportion of illnesses linked to fruits are due to a single large outbreak from cantaloupes in 2011.

For any type of foodborne disease, people who are most at risk for serious illness include young children, older adults, pregnant women and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS or an organ transplant. To reduce the risk, take common-sense precautions, including:

  • Know safe minimum cooking temperatures. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees F, poultry (whole or ground) to 165 degrees, and pork to 145 degrees plus a three-minute rest period. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.
  • Avoid foods that are known to put you at high risk, such as raw milk or foods that have been recalled due to a food safety issue.
  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often when preparing and serving food.
  • Keep raw meat and fish, which could harbor bacteria that would be eliminated during cooking, away from fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Chill perishable foods properly. Don’t let them sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

For more guidance, see the CDC website at cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

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 Sanja Ilic, food safety 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 version of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Great nutrition ideas ripe for the picking

chow_022715_157696894I need some fresh ideas to give my diet a boost. I eat fairly well now, but I feel like I’m in a rut and want some easy ways to make some changes while keeping health and nutrition front and center. Your thoughts?

You picked a good time to focus on a healthy diet with National Nutrition Month just around the corner in March.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) has sponsored the annual event since 1973, when it started as National Nutrition Week. The group has a website devoted to the month, nationalnutritionmonth.org, which is chock-full of handouts and tip sheets with just the kind of information you’re looking for. Look under “Promotional Resources” on the website for access.

The great ideas from this group of registered dietitians include tips such as:

  • Want some crunch? Don’t reach for chips — try crunchy vegetables instead. Use low-fat dressing as a dip.
  • Dress up seafood or poultry with a fruit puree. Just blend apples, berries, peaches or pears for a thick, sweet sauce.
  • Thirsty? Choose water first, and drink plenty of it, especially if you’re active or if you’re an older adult.
  • Reducing sodium doesn’t have to be bland. Create your own salt-free seasoning blend. The group’s “Eating Right with Less Salt” tip sheet offers recipes for a mixed herb blend, an Italian blend and a Mexican blend.
  • Are your portion sizes reasonable? If you haven’t measured foods in awhile, it could be a good exercise to get out the kitchen scale and measuring spoons and cups to evaluate how close your normal portions compare with recommended serving sizes. (It also wouldn’t hurt to review recommended serving sizes for different foods at choosemyplate.gov.)
  • Not getting enough vegetables? Try heating a cup of vegetable soup as a snack or as part of lunch or dinner.
  • Add some variety to healthy snacks by combining options from different food groups: top a banana with frozen yogurt and a few nuts, or spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on apple slices.
  • When you’re doing your food shopping, make it a point to buy one fruit, vegetable or whole grain you’ve never tried before. You never know what might become a new favorite.
  • If you’re not doing so already, and if you’re able to, eat fish or shellfish twice a week. Types that are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and lower in mercury include salmon, trout, oysters and sardines.

The National Nutrition Month website also offers plenty of other resources, including healthy eating quizzes and games for kids and adults, and information on services offered by registered dietitians. Check it out. You’re bound to come away with plenty of new ideas to chew on.

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.

Chow Line: School fundraisers, snacks getting healthier

chow_022015_178586482I saw a news report that seemed to indicate that schools can no longer hold bake sales or sell chocolate bars as fundraisers. Can that be right?

The new nutrition standards have indeed gone a step further this school year as rules for snacks and other foods sold during the school day have taken effect. With healthier school breakfasts and lunches already being offered, the new standards for snacks and fundraisers are meant to send a clear message about healthy eating and provide a way for students to actually form healthful eating habits not only at meals, but throughout the school day as well.

The school snack standards say foods and drinks sold during school hours, including items in vending machines, school stores, and a la carte cafeteria menus, cannot exceed limits on fat, salt and calories. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods are encouraged. Foods sold in school fundraisers must meet the same guidelines.

The standards are for foods sold in schools. So, bake sales held during the school day would be covered, but snacks brought to the classroom by a student or parent would still be permitted under the federal rules. However, before sending Junior to school with a container of cookies for his classmates, you should check with your teacher or school to see if there are any local guidelines in place.

While some people are criticizing the new standards as overreach, the reasons behind them are crystal clear: The latest figures, from 2012, show that more than a third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, leading to concerns about long- and short-term health issues.

Obviously, not everything a student eats or drinks is purchased at school. Still, public health authorities believe schools can play a particularly critical role in supporting the development of healthy behaviors from an early age.

In a study published in 2009 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that 40 percent of students in 2005-06 consumed at least one food or beverage as a snack during the school day, and most of the time those snacks were very low in nutrients and high in calories. In other words, junk food. By the time students were in high school, 55 percent snacked during the school day, averaging an extra 220 calories a day.

Now, when students grab a snack at school, it will more likely be a 90-calorie granola bar rather than a 240-calorie doughnut, or a 160-calorie snack bag of light popcorn rather than a 190-calorie pack of chocolate cookies. In addition, fundraisers are starting to move away from chocolate bars and other high-calorie foods and more toward other items, such as those emphasizing school spirit and other gifts.

To learn more about the new standards for healthy school snacks, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s web page at healthymeals.nal.usda.gov/smartsnacks. Action for Healthy Kids has some great healthy fundraiser ideas at bit.ly/actionfundraise.

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 Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Assure food safety when using slow cooker

chow_021315_97866973

photo: iStock

I use my slow cooker a lot, but I recently read that you should thaw frozen items beforehand. I can understand that this would be necessary for meat, but is it a problem to use a bag of frozen vegetables without thawing it first?

That should be OK.

The idea behind thawing food before putting it into a slow cooker is to reduce the amount of time the food is in the “danger zone,” which is between 40 and 140 degrees F. That’s when any bacteria that might be on or in the food could multiply quickly and become a food safety concern. Food should move through the danger zone within two hours.

Meat is more dense than vegetables are, and if you put it in a slow cooker when it’s still frozen, it could stay in that danger zone for too long. Vegetables thaw more quickly, so it’s less of a concern to use frozen vegetables in a slow cooker.

Food safety is especially important to take into account if the food will be eaten by people most at risk from foodborne illness: older adults, children, pregnant women, or anyone undergoing cancer treatment or dealing with a chronic illness, such as diabetes. They are most at risk for developing serious complications from the intestinal problems that could result from food bugs.

Although slow cookers use low temperatures — generally between 170 degrees and 280 degrees F — to cook food, the lengthy cooking time and steam produced in the cooker combine to destroy bacteria. That said, it’s especially important to use some type of liquid (to generate steam) and to keep the lid on the slow cooker as much as possible during cooking. The temperature can dip 10 to 15 degrees F when the lid is removed.

To assure safety when using the slow cooker:

  • If you’re planning to cook a roast or other large cut of meat or poultry in the slow cooker, consult the manufacturer’s recommendations to be sure the meat is heated thoroughly quickly enough. Or, just cut the meat into smaller chunks first.
  • For the first hour, use the high setting. That will move the food through the danger zone more quickly. After that, you can switch to a lower setting if the food will be cooked all day.
  • You may want to test the heating capacity of your slow cooker. To do that, fill the crock in the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full of water. Put on the lid and turn the heat to low, or 200 degrees F if you have a model with a temperature display. After eight hours, check the temperature of the water with a meat thermometer. Be sure to do so quickly, as the water will cool significantly as soon as the lid is removed. The water should be 185 degrees. If the temperature is below that, the slow cooker may be unsafe to use.

If you’re not home during the entire cooking process and the power goes out, throw away the food even if it looks done.

For more information about slow cooker food safety, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s fact sheet at www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Slow_Cookers_and_Food_Safety.pdf.

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 Linnette Goard, Food Safety, Selection and Management field specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Chow Line: Simple steps to eating a heart-healthy diet

photo: Hemera

photo: Hemera

I’ve seen a lot of Valentine’s Day promotions focusing on heart health. What are some easy ways I can make sure my diet is heart-healthy?

Your body will give you a heartfelt thank you for following a healthful, balanced diet with three heart-healthy components:

  • Limited saturated and trans fats. Eating too much of these types of fats increases your risk of high blood cholesterol, particularly the “bad” LDL kind. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to 10 percent of total calories (for example, 180 calories from saturated fat, or 20 grams a day, on an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet). For trans fats, the guidelines recommend keeping them as low as you possibly can. Look at Nutrition Facts labels for saturated and trans fat content. And reduce consumption of butter and other fats that are solid at room temperature, as well as animal fat from meat, cheese and dairy products.
  • Reduced sodium. Too much sodium causes the body to retain excess fluid, resulting, for many people, in high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Limiting processed foods can help you significantly reduce sodium in the diet. Most Americans average about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day. The recommended limit is 2,300 milligrams, or 1,500 milligrams if you already have high blood pressure.
  • Lots of fiber. People who eat more fiber tend to have a lower risk of heart disease. Increase fiber intake by eating more beans and other legumes, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and choosing whole grains instead of refined. The average American’s diet supplies only about 10-15 grams of fiber a day, while the recommendation is to eat 20-35 grams.

Need some help putting these recommendations into practice? Here are some quick tips:

  • Choose vegetables and fruit first. They’re naturally low in fat and sodium and tend to be high in fiber. Include a serving of whole fruit (not juice) at breakfast and lunch. Fill half your dinner plate with vegetables. Eat salad every day.
  • Choose lean meats and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. If you’re a cheese lover, try 2-percent-fat varieties. Watch out for processed meats, such as ham and lunchmeat — they tend to be sky-high in sodium.
  • Opt for high-fiber breakfast cereal. Look at Nutrition Facts labels and choose cereals with 5 grams of fiber or more per serving.
  • Lay off the pizza. Pizza alone is responsible for nearly 10 percent of the saturated fat and 6 percent of the sodium in the American diet. Make it an occasional treat rather than a staple.

If you’re thinking of adopting a whole new diet, the DASH Eating Plan, based on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommendations, is worth a try. Learn more about it online at nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash.

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 Carolyn Gunther, Community Nutrition Education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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