Lists of ‘bad’ foods often not helpful

451797833I often see website ads that say, “Never eat these foods.” Sometimes there is a picture of a banana. I have never clicked on those ads, but I am curious. Shouldn’t we eat bananas? And what other foods shouldn’t we eat?

If you did click on those ads or did a web search for “never eat these foods,” you might be surprised to find just how many foods different people say we shouldn’t eat.

But rest assured, the official position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional organization of registered dietitians, is that any food can fit into a healthful diet. Its list of “foods to avoid” is nonexistent, unless you have allergies or other sensitivities to consider.

In fact, the academy states in a 2013 position paper, “Some health and nutrition professionals and many ‘pseudo-experts’ promote specific types of foods to choose or avoid. A more responsible and effective approach is to help consumers understand and apply the principles of healthy diet and lifestyle choices.”

Targeting certain foods as “bad” can be counter-productive. It encourages black-and-white thinking, which only offers a sense of control as long as a person avoids foods on the “bad” list. Too often, people eventually succumb to temptation, leading them to spiral out of control.

Instead of “never eat these foods,” registered dietitians prefer to encourage thoughtful decisions such as “I can occasionally enjoy a small portion,” or “No, I won’t indulge today.” Helping people, especially those trying to lose weight, to make moderate food choices is a more sustainable approach to healthful eating than giving them lists of “good” and “bad” foods.

But, just to satisfy your curiosity, just what foods are on those “do not eat” lists? It really depends on who’s writing them. Some list specific food or restaurant items that are much higher in calories, sugar, sodium or fat than you might realize. Some list foods that can cause spikes in blood sugar — including fruit juice and, yes, bananas, which can offer health benefits. Others list broad categories of foods such as bread and pasta, processed foods, or foods made with genetically modified crops.

The authors of such lists often cite studies to support their arguments. But is it science or pseudo-science? It’s often difficult for consumers to tell the difference. That’s why it’s important to look for reliable sources to help you evaluate such questions. The academy is a good place to start. Check its website at http://eatright.org.

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.

Dairy an easy way to get calcium

173771158I know a few people who insist that dairy foods are bad for you. Is there any truth to that?

It does seem like a lot of people have concerns about dairy. Although it’s possible to have a healthful diet without dairy, consuming dairy products makes it much easier to get critical nutrients. So, the blanket statement that “dairy is bad for you” should be met with skepticism.

Arguments from the “anti-dairy” side are numerous. Some people are concerned about the saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates and even protein in dairy. Others are troubled about hormones, which occur naturally in milk from cows regardless of whether they are treated with synthetic growth hormones to boost milk production.

Some people do have dairy-related health issues. A small number are allergic — they must stay away from milk and dairy to avoid a reaction. More are lactose intolerant. Their intestines don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down natural milk sugar, which can cause gas pain and bloating if they’re not careful.

Still others are anxious about other issues — weight gain or even acne. The list goes on and on. But talk to a registered dietitian, and you’ll hear a different story. Dairy foods provide many important nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin D (in products that are fortified — read the label) and, of course, calcium.

Most people, particularly adolescents, simply don’t get enough calcium in their diet. While not the only possible source of calcium, dairy products can be an easy, convenient way to get the calcium you need.

Consuming enough calcium and vitamin D during our younger years helps strengthen bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and related bone fractures later in life. And as we age, we still need to consume enough to prevent the body from robbing calcium from our bones for other uses, such as the proper functioning of nerves and blood vessels and for muscle contraction. Recommended calcium intakes range from 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams a day from age 4 through adulthood. See http://bit.ly/NIHcalcium for details. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings of non-fat or low-fat dairy a day to help people meet those goals.

People who choose not to consume dairy products should do their homework to make sure they’re getting the calcium they need. Non-dairy sources include orange juice, soy beverages, tofu and breakfast cereals that are fortified with calcium; bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale and other leafy greens; and some beans including black, Great Northern, navy and white beans.

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, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

Be safe: Always use meat thermometer

84304550I’m a new convert to using my meat thermometer regularly. But I’m not sure I’m doing it right. Where can I find guidelines?

First, congratulations for jumping on the meat thermometer bandwagon. Using one is really the only way to tell if meat is cooked thoroughly. And undercooked meat is a leading cause of foodborne illness — one that is easily preventable.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers an eight-page fact sheet aptly titled “Kitchen Thermometers” online at http://bit.ly/fsisthermy. It gives you details about the proper use of more than a half-dozen different types, including digital, dial, instant-read and oven-safe thermometers (the type you leave in the meat as it is cooking).

Different kinds of thermometers have different usage guidelines. For example, some must be inserted at least 2 inches; others provide an accurate reading with only a 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch inserted into the food.

In general, here are some tips for using meat thermometers, from http://www.foodsafety.gov:

  • Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the food, making sure it doesn’t touch bone, fat or gristle.
  • Know the proper temperature reading for the food you’re cooking. The Kitchen Thermometers fact sheet includes a chart. In general, steaks, roasts and chops (beef, pork, veal and lamb) must be cooked to at least 145 degrees F, with an additional three minutes of rest time before carving or consuming. Ground beef must be cooked to 160 degrees F. Poultry (ground, whole or pieces), as well as casseroles, reheated leftovers and foods cooked in the microwave oven, must reach 165 degrees F.
  • After each use, clean the thermometer with hot, soapy water.

In addition, thermometers should be checked for accuracy every once in a while. Some types can be calibrated, allowing you to make adjustments to be sure they’re giving an accurate reading. But even thermometers that can’t be calibrated should be checked. If your thermometer is off by 2 degrees or more, it’s time to get a new thermometer.

An easy way to test the accuracy of your thermometer is to put the stem in a glass full of crushed ice and water, making sure it’s at least 2 inches deep and not touching the sides or bottom of the glass. After 30 seconds, the reading should be 32 degrees F.

Ohio State University Extension offers a two-minute video showing how to test a thermometer’s accuracy and calibrate it, if possible.

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.

Data on obesity rates questioned

177329303 (1)I’ve read the news that the obesity rate among preschoolers has dropped, but that some are skeptical. What’s the issue?

It sounds like you’re referring to data published Feb. 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012” reported that obesity rates for children ages 2 through 5 had dropped 43 percent in the last decade. At least, that’s what most of the headlines focused on.

You can’t really blame the media for the excitement: They were just reporting what the experts were saying about the study. But there is more to the findings and reason to be wary.

The data came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NHANES collects information from thousands of ordinary Americans and reports results every two years.

When researchers looked specifically at the data about 2- to 5-year-olds, they saw that obesity rates had declined from 13.9 percent in 2003-04 to 8.4 percent in 2011-12. While that’s a good sign, you’re right: Some are cautious about this finding.

One reason is that the decline hasn’t been a steady one. In 2003-04, the obesity rate for children 2 through 5 was 13.9 percent. It dropped to 10.7 percent in 2005-06 and again slightly to 10.1 percent in 2007-08. But it rose rather significantly in 2009-10 to 12.1 percent, before the latest decline to 8.4 percent. Before declaring victory, some experts would like a few more years of data to see if the good news can be verified.

Another reason for concern is that the obesity rate for children of all ages (2 through 19) remained high at 17.7 percent, as did the rate for adults, 34.9 percent. Those figures did not show a decrease between 2003-04 and 2011-12.

Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear how important it is to focus on a healthy weight in young children. Another recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine Jan. 30, reported that children who are overweight at age 5 may face four times the risk of becoming obese at age 14. It appears that preventing obesity from taking a foothold in the early years would be more helpful than encouraging older children — or adults — to lose weight later.

Experts caution that for young children, the emphasis should be on eating healthfully and increasing activity rather than shedding pounds. For guidance, see the CDC’s “Tips for Parents: Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight” at http://bit.ly/cdctips.

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.