How to help your child eat a healthy diet

chow_042916-125754388Our toddler has a sweet tooth. Should we let him indulge, or is it time to start restricting snacks?

Guidance from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says establishing healthy food habits early in life, along with a good dose of daily exercise, is key in helping children become healthy, active adults. So, yes. Just like the rest of us (adults), your toddler should be learning to eat small portions of sweets every once in a while, not all the time.

If you believe your child is already overweight, you should discuss your concerns with your son’s doctor. The academy suggests letting children “grow into” their weight without a special calorie-restricting diet. Children’s bodies are growing and developing, so you don’t want to put them on a weight-loss diet. Too much calorie restriction could deprive them of the energy and nutrients they need to properly develop bone and tissue as they grow taller. And, putting too much focus on weight could cause body image issues.

Still, a recent study indicates that it may be especially beneficial to pay attention to food choices in young children who crave sweets.

The study, “Eating in the Absence of Hunger and Weight Gain in Low-income Toddlers,” is being published in the May 2016 issue of Pediatrics. Researchers looked at young children, specifically 209 children at 21 months, 27 months and 33 months old. They focused on those from low-income families because they are at a higher risk of childhood obesity. The researchers found that the toddlers who ate more cookies after a filling meal and who became upset when the sweets were taken away had gradual increases in body fat over the course of the study. Interestingly, the children who chose a salty option (potato chips or cheese puffs) instead of cookies did not experience the same weight gain. Still, the overall finding was that the tendency to eat when not hungry increased during toddlerhood, particularly with sweets, and this was associated with an increase in body fat.

So, it’s good that you’re paying attention. Noticing your child’s sweet tooth and looking for ways to help shows that you are aware of the importance of establishing a healthy diet early in life. Here are some suggestions from the academy:

  • Being a good role model is important: Children easily pick up on their parents’ habits. Be sure you’re eating properly.
  • Put the focus on health, and refrain from negative comments about weight.
  • Become aware of the difference between eating when hungry and eating for other reasons — because of boredom, for example. Teach your child to pay attention to their inner cues and to choose food only when they’re truly hungry, and to stop eating when they’re satisfied.
  • Don’t use food to pacify or reward children. That can lead to a pattern of emotional eating.
  • Make snacks healthful: Whole-grain cereal, graham crackers, fresh fruit slices and string cheese are among good choices.

For more good ideas, go online to see the academy’s guidance for parents at eatright.org/resources/for-parents.

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, specialist in Community Nutrition Education with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Dining out? Put focus on friends over food

chow_042216-86530086Now that spring is here, I seem to be going out for dinner with friends a lot more often. I have already gained five pounds. Besides choosing a salad as my main dish, what else can I do to be sure I don’t overeat when eating out?

First, don’t assume that all salads are necessarily lower in calories than other choices on the menu. A quick Internet search of nutrition information for one restaurant chain showed its entree-sized salads ranged from 440 calories for a salad featuring seared tuna to 1,510 calories for a Caesar salad with chicken.

Unfortunately, it’s often not easy to determine what would be the healthiest option or figure out what items have a reasonable number of calories. Rules requiring restaurant chains to include nutrition information on menus, in the works since 2010, have been delayed until next year at the earliest. And even then, they won’t cover independently owned restaurants and smaller chains.

There’s also a psychological hurdle: When you join with friends to enjoy a meal together, it’s easy to switch into “special occasion” mode and treat yourself to items you wouldn’t necessarily choose every day. But if you’re eating out more often, you need to be careful not to indulge every time.

Here are some tips from the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org) and the National Institutes of Health (medlineplus.gov):

  • Prepare ahead. If you know you’ll be eating out later, have a small, healthy breakfast and lunch, and a light snack — such as an orange, a small apple or a handful of baby carrots, and a full glass of water — before you leave for the restaurant. And if you know where you’ll be dining, check the restaurant’s website to see if you can find nutrition information ahead of time.
  • Watch portion sizes. Dietitians have long advised clients who are trying to lose weight to eat only half of what is served to them and take the other half home for another meal. Now, some say that even half of the oversized portions served at many restaurants might be too much. When you get your food, visualize what a sensible serving size would be, and eat only that much.
  • Look on the menu for items for seniors, which are often smaller portions, or those designated as healthful choices. Don’t overlook those options thinking they’re not for you.
  • Include a simple side salad with an oil-based or light dressing. Avoid creamy dressings. Ask for dressing on the side, and don’t use all of it.
  • Choose foods that indicate they are broiled, grilled, steamed, poached, roasted or baked, which tend to have fewer calories. Words that indicate an item has more calories include breaded, fried, buttered, battered, crispy, creamy and au gratin.
  • Watch the alcohol, which adds calories and may increase your appetite and lower your resolve to eat healthfully.
  • Finally, enjoy yourself, knowing you are mindfully making the right choices while savoring the company of good friends.

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, food security specialist with Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Saturate yourself with information about oils

edible oils

I’m confused about fatty acids. I know to avoid saturated and trans fats, and I’ve heard good things about omega-3s and unsaturated fats. But there are also oleic, linoleic and other types of fats. What does all this mean for the type of oil I should be using?

You’re right. If you start digging down into the nitty gritty, information about fatty acids can get very complex very quickly.

First, know that all oils (liquid at room temperature) and fats (solid at room temperature) are really composed of a broad range of fatty acids, including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. That said, here’s some basic information.

Any fatty acid with the word “omega” in its name — omega-3 or omega-6, for example — is unsaturated. Monounsaturated fat includes oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid, and is the primary fatty acid in olive oil. Although many health authorities recommend olive oil as the top heart-healthy option, there’s growing conversation in nutrition circles about the strength of the evidence behind that advice. Still, it remains a good option and deserves a spot in your pantry.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Linoleic acid is the primary type of omega-6 fatty acid that we consume and is essential in our diet. Being “essential” means we need to consume linoleic acid because our bodies  cannot synthesize it from other sources. Not too long ago, researchers thought linoleic acid might cause inflammation and damage arteries. But more recently, scientists have found that higher blood levels of linoleic acid are associated with less trunk fat — the abdominal fat linked to heart disease — as well as less inflammation, higher metabolism and a leaner body mass. (See a report about this Ohio State University research at go.osu.edu/fattyacids.) So, the thinking on linoleic acid is evolving.

Vegetable oils have traditionally been a major source of linoleic fatty acids, but in the last five years or so, many processors have changed the composition of vegetable oils, decreasing linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats, in favor of omega-9s, or monounsaturated fats. Most corn oil still appears to be a good source of linoleic acid. Grapeseed oil is also a good source, as are some store-brand bottled oils. Check the Nutrition Facts label: Oils higher in polyunsaturated and lower in monounsaturated fat provide more linoleic acid.

Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly long-chain ones that are most closely associated with heart health, are primarily found in cold-water, fatty fish. Most people don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet, and since they are heart-healthy, the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings a week of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines or albacore tuna. Another type of omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), is found in some plant-based foods such as chia seeds, flax seeds and flaxseed oil, and to a lesser extent, in canola oil.

The bottom line? Eat more fish and other omega-3s, and try for more omega-6 linoleic acid in your diet. Look for “polyunsaturated” on oil labels.

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 Martha Belury, registered dietitian, scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the Carol S. Kennedy Professor of Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

You can’t judge a whole grain by its color

chow040816-170176370I have seen “white whole wheat” bread and high-fiber white pasta products for years now, but I’ve always been a little suspect. Aren’t true whole-grain products darker in color because of the bran?

Yes and no. Not all darker-colored breads are whole grain. Not all white breads are refined grain. And not all white pastas are low in fiber. You just can’t judge a grain product by its color — you need to look at the label.

This is important because if you’re like most Americans, you’re not consuming nearly enough whole grains or fiber. According to a 2014 study in the journal Nutrition Research, only 8 percent of adults eat the recommended amount of three servings of whole grains each day. And a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture study reported that average fiber intake is just 16 grams a day, far short of the 25 grams a day recommended for women and 38 grams a day for men.

Whole grains contain 100 percent of the original kernel — the bran, germ and endosperm — while refined grains contain just the endosperm. Several B vitamins, including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate, and minerals, such as iron, magnesium and selenium, are stripped from whole grains when they’re refined. Although refined grains are normally enriched with vitamins and minerals and get back much of what was lost, whole grains still contain a richer nutritional profile of antioxidants, B vitamins, protein, minerals, fiber and healthful fats than those that are refined.

To figure out if your bread and pasta are whole grains, look at the food label. First, review the ingredients list. The first item should start with the word “whole”: whole wheat, for example, or whole rye, whole oats or whole-grain wheat flour. Be wary of terms such as “100 percent wheat,” “multi-grain” or “cracked wheat” on the package. If it doesn’t have the word “whole,” it’s not a whole grain, whether it’s brown, tan or white in color.

Most breads are made from hard red winter wheat, and you’re right in thinking that whole-wheat bread made from that type of wheat is darker in color. But about 10-15 percent of wheat grown today in the U.S. is white wheat, and some of that, called hard white wheat, is often used to make whole-wheat white bread. Hard white wheat began being developed in the U.S. at Kansas State University in the 1960s. It started being grown on a more widespread basis in the 1990s and 2000s.

Pasta, on the other hand, is made from durum wheat, which lends a darker color to whole-grain varieties. In the last few years, some brands of high-fiber white pasta have landed on grocery store shelves. They might not contain 51 percent whole grain — the minimum required by the Food and Drug Administration for a whole-grain health claim on the label — but they have additional ingredients added during processing to boost the fiber content, such as oat fiber or a special high-fiber cornstarch. Again, look at the ingredients listing to know what’s in the product.

For more about whole grains, see www.choosemyplate.gov/grains-nutrients-health.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Colleen Spees, registered dietitian and assistant professor with Ohio State University Extension and The Ohio State University’s College of Medicine’s Division of Medical Dietetics.

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.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Food irradiation safe, but not widely accepted

International Radura symbol for irradiated foods

International Radura symbol for irradiated foods

I used to hear a lot about food irradiation, but I haven’t heard very much recently. Are foods being irradiated in the U.S.? Is it safe?

Many foods are approved for irradiation, but you likely won’t see them in the grocery store. Most of the reason, many experts say, is because of negative consumer perceptions about the process: Who wants to eat anything that sounds like it has something to do with radiation?

Of course, irradiation doesn’t make food radioactive. At lower doses, irradiation kills pests such as fruit flies. At higher levels, it breaks chemical bonds in bacterial and mold cells so they die or can no longer multiply, which could prevent foodborne illness and make food last longer before spoiling.

Food is irradiated by going through a chamber on a conveyor belt, where the food is exposed to a radiation beam. The process affects the food itself only slightly. Any losses in nutrients are minor, about the same as from cooking or freezing.

About a third of the spices and seasonings used in U.S. food manufacturing have been irradiated, as well as a small amount of fruit from Hawaii, Mexico and other places. A few retailers sell ground beef that’s been irradiated to reduce the risk of E. coli O157:H7. But irradiation is approved for use on many other foods, including:

  • Wheat flour, to control mold.
  • White potatoes, to inhibit sprouting.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, for insect control and to increase shelf life.
  • Beef, pork and poultry, to reduce bacteria.
  • Crustaceans, such as lobster, shrimp and crab.
  • Shell eggs.
  • Molluscan shellfish, such as oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.
  • Seeds for sprouting, such as alfalfa sprouts.

Irradiated foods must say on the label that they’ve been irradiated and must carry the international logo for irradiation, the Radura symbol. It’s a circle with what looks like a flower inside, along with words indicating the food has been irradiated. Bulk foods, such as fruits and vegetables, need to be individually labeled or have the symbol displayed nearby. An exception is foods that contain irradiated ingredients: Canned soups that use irradiated spices, for example, don’t have to indicate anything special on the label.

Critics of irradiation argue that it alters food in ways that are not yet clear, and using the process could encourage sloppy practices in the food industry and give people a false sense of security about food safety.

It’s true that not all foodborne illness would be eradicated even if every bite of food was irradiated, but public health authorities believe making more use of irradiation could have a significant effect in reducing foodborne illness. The Food and Drug Administration has evaluated the safety of irradiated food for more than 30 years and has found the process to be safe.

To learn more, see the FDA’s web page on food irradiation at go.osu.edu/FDAfoodirrad.

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, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, Ohio State University Extension food safety specialist and assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.