Canned pumpkin offers nutrition, convenience

chow_10302015-486809936We attended a chili cook-off recently, and one of the entrants said she used canned pumpkin in her recipe. She said pumpkin helps thicken the chili and adds a lot of nutrients. Is pumpkin really that good for you? What else can it be used for?

Pumpkin-eaters can take heart knowing that canned pumpkin packs a lot of nutrition.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database, even though a cup of canned pumpkin is primarily water and contains just 80 calories, it offers more than an entire day’s worth of vitamin A, as well as 7 grams of fiber. It’s also a very good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and manganese, and is a good source of potassium and many other nutrients.

Interestingly, canned pumpkin — even canned pumpkin labeled “100 percent pumpkin” — can be a mix of pumpkin and other types of winter squash. That’s nothing new. Back in 1957, the USDA said the canned product can be prepared from “clean, sound, properly matured, golden fleshed, firm shelled, sweet varieties of either pumpkins and squashes.” But most fans of canned pumpkin don’t mind. Some even say on foodie discussion boards that they prefer canned pureed pumpkin to homemade.

It’s important to note two things. First, don’t mistake canned pumpkin puree for canned pumpkin pie filling, even though you may find them next to each other in the baking supplies aisle at the grocery store. You can doctor up the pumpkin puree with your own recipe to use for pumpkin pie, but pumpkin pie filling is already sodden with added sugar, boosting the calorie count to 280 per cup.

Also, look for low- or no-sodium types of canned pumpkin. You’ll slash the sodium content in one cup of pumpkin from a whopping 590 milligrams to a more-than-acceptable 10 milligrams.

As for ideas on how to use pumpkin, you can search almost any recipe database to spark your creativity. One such site, often overlooked, is the USDA’s “What’s Cooking” website at whatscooking.fns.usda.gov. Search for “pumpkin” and the recipes that result include muffins, pancakes, cookies and other treats, as well as dishes such as:

  • Pumpkin Soup, which includes a bit of beef roast and maple syrup, black pepper and cinnamon for flavor.
  • Pumpkin Peanut Butter Sandwich, which is just what it sounds like. Blend pumpkin with peanut butter before spreading on bread, and add a sliced banana.
  • Pumpkin and White Bean Soup, which combines pureed canned white beans and apple juice with pumpkin, onion and spices for a hearty dish.
  • Pumpkin Smoothie, which uses chilled canned pumpkin with evaporated low-fat milk, orange juice, banana, light brown sugar, ice cubes and cinnamon.
  • Pumpkin Mac and Cheese, which uses pumpkin puree to boost the nutrition in this traditional comfort food.

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 specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Magnesium essential powerhouse for body

Healthy FoodsWhat is magnesium and what does it do? Is a supplement necessary?

First, the basics: Magnesium is an essential nutrient and plays a role in more than 300 processes in the body. While outright deficiencies are rare, many Americans don’t consume enough magnesium to gain potential protective effects against health problems. Magnesium supplements are readily available, but taking more than recommended can result in side effects. You should be careful and talk with a doctor, pharmacist or dietitian about the pros and cons.

Now, the details: Magnesium is a real powerhouse in the body. Most of the body’s magnesium isn’t in the bloodstream, it’s in the bone. In fact, it works closely with calcium and vitamin D to help form and maintain strong bones and teeth. Magnesium also helps regulate muscle and nerve function, and helps muscles relax and contract.

In addition, magnesium helps control blood sugar levels. It has been shown to reduce the risk of insulin resistance, a situation in which the body has trouble using insulin to move sugars from the bloodstream into cells where it can be used for energy. Research indicates that people who consume a higher level of magnesium in their diet tend to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but it’s not clear yet if magnesium could actually help treat diabetes once it has developed.

Magnesium also plays a role in regulating blood pressure and can help the heart keep a steady rhythm. It is being studied to see how much it can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Another important role magnesium plays in the body is to help make protein and DNA.

The recommended daily intake amount of magnesium for adults is 400 to 420 milligrams for men and 310 to 320 milligrams for women. It is found in many foods. Some of the best sources are leafy greens and other green vegetables (chlorophyll contains magnesium); beans and other legumes, including tofu and other soy products; nuts and seeds, especially almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pine nuts and sunflower seeds; and whole grains.

It’s not necessary to keep track of the amount of magnesium you consume from food. Unless you have a kidney problem, the body gets rid of excess amounts you might consume through the urine. But authorities say any magnesium supplement should be limited to no more than 350 milligrams a day. Too much magnesium from supplements or medications that contain magnesium can cause diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps. Extremely high amounts can adversely affect the heart, causing an irregular beat or even cardiac arrest.

Magnesium supplements can also interfere with medications, particularly antibiotics and certain medications used to treat osteoporosis. This is just one reason why it’s important to consult with a health-care provider before you begin taking a new vitamin or mineral supplement. It is also why it’s a good idea to focus on getting most of your nutrients from a healthy, balanced diet.

For more about magnesium, see the National Institute of Health’s fact sheet online at ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-Consumer.

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 specialist in Food Security.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

The difference between flu, foodborne illness

chow_101615-177226645I didn’t think I had ever had food poisoning until I read recently that many people mistake it for the flu. How can you tell the difference?

This isn’t surprising. Many people believe they’ve been untouched by foodborne illness, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million Americans, or 1 in 6, become ill due to food poisoning every year. What’s more, 128,000 become sick enough to be hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Still, there’s a reason the most common type of foodborne illness, norovirus, is typically called the “stomach flu.” Norovirus actually isn’t a flu bug at all — it’s an entirely different type of virus that can be spread through contaminated food, water and surfaces as well as person-to-person contact.

Norovirus attacks the gastrointestinal tract, while influenza is a respiratory illness. The most common symptoms of norovirus are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and cramping or stomach pain, with some people also experiencing low-grade fever, chills, fatigue, headache and body ache similar to the flu. Compare that list with the symptoms of influenza and you’ll see quite a bit of overlap: With the flu, you’ll normally experience fever or feverish chills, a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue, and some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

The flu and foodborne illness also have other similarities. Most people experience only mild illness (although it may not seem so at the time), and get better on their own. People most at risk from both types of viruses include people who are 65 and older, people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, pregnant women, and young children.

In addition, both viruses can be spread person to person, and both are more common in late fall, winter and early spring.

  • Norovirus can spread quickly. According to the CDC, you can get it by:
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus.
  • Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth.
  • Having direct contact with a person who is infected.

To reduce your risk:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water carefully for 20 seconds or more before rinsing, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food. Currently available alcohol-based hand sanitizers have not been proven to be very effective against the human norovirus. Use hand sanitizers only when hand-washing facilities are not available.
  • Carefully rinse fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly.
  • If you’re sick, don’t prepare food for others while you have symptoms and for at least two days afterwards.
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces and laundry thoroughly.

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 specialist in Food Safety.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

An apple a day OK, but enjoy other fruit as well

chow_100915-467347290Although a lot of my health-conscious friends push me to try produce that I’ve never even heard of before, I’m partial to the good old-fashioned apple. What can I tell them about the apple’s health benefits that will get them off my back?

First, there’s a lot to be said for eating a wide variety of produce. No matter how much you prefer an apple over, say, a persimmon, different types of fruits and vegetables offer different benefits. Your body will thank you for eating a broad range of red, orange, yellow, green, white, blue and purple fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.

That said, apples are nothing to sneeze at. A small apple (about 5 ounces, or about 2.5 inches in diameter) is considered one cup of fruit, which puts you well on your way toward the 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that everyone enjoys each day.

A small apple has just 75 calories. An added bonus: It has 4 grams of fiber, including both the soluble and insoluble types that provide different health benefits. Apples also provide a good helping of vitamin C as well as some potassium. Not a bad package for something you can easily hold in your hand and chew on.

In addition, the polyphenols in apples have generated quite a bit of interest within the scientific community. Polyphenols are a group of micronutrients present in fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, and some other plant-based foods and beverages. Although similar to each other, they have slight variations in their chemical structures that affect how they work in the body.

Polyphenols in apples have been studied for years, but a study published earlier this year suggests a way that one type of polyphenol in apples can benefit your health. The study, published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, focused on something called “vascular endothelial growth factor,” or VEGF. When present in large concentrations, VEGF can increase the risk of both tumors and blood vessel plaques. The researchers found that apple polyphenols called procyanidin oligomers directly interact with VEGF, potentially blocking it from causing damage.

In addition, apples provide the antioxidant quercetin, which helps protect the cardiovascular system and is associated with lung health.

As with most fruits and vegetables, much of the good stuff in apples lies within and just beneath the skin, so don’t peel. And, it appears that different apple varieties have varying levels of micronutrients, with a 2005 study identifying Red Delicious and Idared apples among the top performers that were studied.

For more about apples, see the Farm to Health resources page of Ohio State University Extension’s Local Foods website, localfoods.osu.edu/resources. It offers information on a variety of fruits and vegetables, including apples.

But remember, even though apples provide a host of health benefits, they can’t offer everything. Every once in a while, take your friends up on their offer and try something new. Whatever it is, it might become your next favorite fruit.

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 field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Try adjustments to favorite comfort foods

chow100215-464628233When fall comes and the weather starts getting cooler, I tend to indulge in comfort foods. I know most of them are high in calories, fat and sodium, and I worry about the effect on my weight and health. Are there ways I can make my favorite comfort foods healthier so I can keep enjoying them?

Yes, absolutely. In a lot of cases, you can make some relatively small adjustments to recipes that will boost nutrition, cut calories or otherwise make them healthier overall.

You can find many ideas for making these types of food substitutions with a simple search on the web. One good source from Ohio State University Extension is a free fact sheet, “Modifying a Recipe to Be Healthier,” available to download as a PDF online at go.osu.edu/modifyrecipe. Other good sources include Michigan State University Extension’s “Making comfort foods healthier this winter” (search for it at msue.anr.msu.edu) and Clemson Cooperative Extension’s “Making Comfort Foods Healthier” (search at clemson.edu/extension). Ideas include:

  • In baking, substitute applesauce or prune puree for half of the butter, shortening or oil that the recipe calls for. A half-cup of unsweetened applesauce has just 50 calories and barely any fat, compared with nearly 1,000 calories and more than 100 grams of fat in a half-cup of oil. Another idea: Just reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by a third. Chances are you won’t notice the difference.
  • For chili, stews and soups, increase the proportion of beans and legumes and reduce meat to increase fiber and reduce overall calories. For meat, choose lean beef or turkey. If using broth as a base, choose low-sodium versions. Check the organic or health-food aisle at the grocery store to see if the broth offered there is even lower in sodium than what’s offered in the soup aisle. Brands vary in sodium content, but one brand of regular vegetable broth has 800 milligrams of sodium per cup, compared with 140 milligrams per cup in another brand’s low-sodium vegetable broth. Checking for sodium is a good reason to get in the habit of studying Nutrition Facts labels.
  • Instead of sour cream, try plain Greek yogurt. If nonfat versions don’t work for your recipe, try a traditional full-fat version. A cup of regular plain Greek yogurt has 190 calories and 9 grams of fat, compared with sour cream’s nearly 450 calories and 45 grams of fat.
  • If you use whole milk or cream in your mashed potatoes, try buttermilk instead. A cup of buttermilk has less than 100 calories and 2 grams of fat, compared with 145 calories and 8 grams of fat in whole milk, and 315 calories and 28 grams of fat in a cup of half and half cream.
  • Try liquid egg substitute for whole eggs. One large egg has 70 calories and 5 grams of fat, compared with 30 calories and zero fat in a quarter-cup of fat-free liquid egg substitute.

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 specialist in Community Nutrition Education.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.