You can scream for safe homemade ice cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Planning vacation? Be a health-savvy traveler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Be sodium smart with soup, processed foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

When shopping, be smart about food safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

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.

-30-