More fruit, veggies in school lunches

178470554My daughter says students at her school throw away a lot more cafeteria food these days because they get too many vegetables. Why serve a food if kids just throw it away?

A lot of people had this fear when new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school meals went into effect in 2012. Those new standards are required for the 100,000-plus schools taking part in the National School Lunch Program. The rules mandate schools offer more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and require students to select either a fruit or a vegetable as part of their lunch.

Even though many people complain the result is more food waste, some new research indicates that’s not the case. A study in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine compared the amount of food thrown away in the cafeterias of four low-income schools in Massachusetts before the new rules went into effect and afterwards.

They found that the amount of food wasted in these school cafeterias remained about the same, and serving more fruits and vegetables led to higher consumption of produce. For example, the number of children choosing fruit at lunch increased from 53 percent to 76 percent after the rules went into effect, but there was no increase in the amount of food thrown away, meaning the children were eating more fruit.

In addition, among children choosing vegetables at lunch, the percent of vegetables consumed increased from 25 percent to 41 percent, and the amount increased from about one-eighth of a cup to one-third of a cup a day. These children also tended to eat more of their main entree.

Interestingly, another recent study looked at the effects of local bans on chocolate milk in schools. The goal of such bans is to reduce the calories and added sugar in children’s diets: a cup of chocolate milk has about 25 grams (over 6 teaspoons) of sugar, compared with about 12 grams in white milk. But a study conducted by Cornell University and published in the journal PLOS ONE on April 16 found that such bans in 11 Oregon elementary schools led to students drinking 10 percent less milk and wasting 29 percent more milk. Although the students consumed less sugar and calories, they also consumed less protein and calcium.

Researchers suggested ways schools could encourage plain milk over chocolate milk instead of outright bans, and ways to serve other healthy offerings that might have better results. See more at foodpsychology.cornell.edu/op/chocomilk and smarterlunchrooms.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.

Many Americans improving their diet

151921148I met some friends for lunch, and we all realized we’re eating better than we used to. Some of us think it’s because we’re “older and wiser,” but some think everyone is eating better these days. Any idea who’s right?

It’s probably a combination of both.

As we age, our bodies generally need fewer calories, partly because of age-related loss of lean muscle mass. (Most adults lose 2 to 3 percent of muscle for each decade that passes.) So, older adults may end up eating less. If that’s one of your markers for “eating more healthfully,” aging could have something to do with it.

But there does appear to be a cultural shift in the U.S. as well. A January 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports that the average diet quality of American adults improved between 2005 and 2010. Over those years, working-age adults tended to eat fewer calories overall, fewer calories from fat and satuated fat, and less cholesterol and more fiber. Older adults (those who were 60 and older in 2005-2006), didn’t report much change in calorie intake, but did report improvements in other areas.

The analysts concluded Americans were eating better during those years for a number of reasons. First, they pointed to the Great Recession, which began in late 2007. The economic downturn caused a 12.9 percent drop in spending on food away from home: at restaurants, bars, sports arenas, vending machines, food trucks and other venues where people eat out.

That makes a difference because foods prepared away from home tend to be higher in calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and also lower in fiber and calcium.

But the study’s authors said the recession didn’t explain everything. They also found that Americans are increasingly reading Nutrition Facts labels and looking at health claims on food labels (such as “May reduce the risk of heart disease”). Plus, they noted that other studies have also found that there was more consumer demand — and more availability — of whole grain foods over the years of this analysis. All of this points to an increased focus on nutrition when shopping for food to eat at home, as well. Also, consumers in this study overwhelmingly said they at least sometimes would use nutrition information in making choices at restaurants if the information was readily available.

Whatever the reason, the finding that many Americans are eating better puts you and your friends in good company.

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.

 

Labeling genetically modified foods

474161813I’m surprised that genetically modified foods aren’t required to be labeled. Why aren’t they?

This remains a controversial topic, and there are points to be made on both sides. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which does not require genetically modified foods to be labeled, encourages food manufacturers to do so voluntarily because people are increasingly interested in knowing more about the food they’re eating.

Opponents of labeling foods say it would present a logistical challenge and would create an added expense. But even more, they argue that foods made from genetically modified crops aren’t materially different than foods made from non-genetically modified crops.

When a plant is genetically modified, it has a gene spliced into its genetic structure to produce a specific type of protein. The human body digests those proteins just like any other protein — it can’t detect if a gene or protein is from a genetically modified food or not. Requiring a label, some say, would potentially cause unneeded alarm among consumers: Some consumers will take the label as a warning, and they’ll avoid the product even though authorities, including the FDA, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization, aren’t questioning the safety of such products.

Still, some (perhaps many) consumers simply would like to know if their food is made from genetically modified crops. Some have concerns about potential environmental impacts. Others wonder about long-term effects of consuming food from crops produced in this way — something that has happened just in the past two decades and is now prolific. It’s estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the processed food on grocery store shelves have an ingredient, primarily corn, soy or canola, that’s from a genetically modified crop.

To meet those consumers’ demands, some manufacturers and retailers are discussing ways to voluntarily label products. And, some manufacturers are reformulating some products to be free of genetically modified ingredients. In addition, consumers can choose to purchase “USDA Certified Organic” products, which are required to be free of genetically modified ingredients.

For more information, see a recently updated fact sheet, “The Impact on Human Health of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Foods,” from Ohio State University Extension available to download at http://go.osu.edu/GMO.

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.

Enjoy seafood, but do so safely

187004239I read about a seafood processor that was shut down because of food safety concerns. We’re trying to eat more seafood these days. Should we be doing anything special to avoid foodborne illness?

Eating more seafood is a great choice for a healthful diet, but it’s good that you’re aware of potential food safety concerns. Outbreaks associated with seafood have been caused by a variety of bugs, including norovirus, salmonella, vibrio and others. And recently, two seafood processors, one in New York City and another in Seattle, were shut down because of concerns over Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes and other pathogens commonly associated with seafood are killed with proper cooking. But listeria is often associated with ready-to-eat foods such as deli meats, hot dogs, soft cheeses, sprouts, raw milk and, yes, smoked seafood.

Listeria primarily affects older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 percent of listeria cases are fatal, making it the third leading cause of death from food poisoning.

To reduce your risk of seafood-related foodborne illness, the Food and Drug Administration offers a great primer, “Fresh and Frozen Seafood: Selecting and Serving it Safely,” athttp://1.usa.gov/FDAfish. Tips include:

  • Most seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Fish should be opaque and separate easily with a fork; shrimp and lobster will become pearly and opaque.
  • Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy or sour. Spoiled seafood can have an ammonia odor that becomes stronger after cooking. If you smell such an odor from raw or cooked fish, throw it away.
  • Avoid frozen seafood with ice crystals or frost, which indicates it may be old or have been thawed and refrozen.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they are likely to have higher amounts of methylmercury, which can harm the development of a child’s nervous system. They should also limit fish consumption to 12 ounces a week and choose types known to be lower in mercury: shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. Canned albacore (white) tuna is somewhat higher in mercury and should be limited to 6 ounces a week.

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.