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

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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.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.