Healthy eating: The gift that keeps on giving

My grandchildren are coming for an extended visit over the holidays. I’ve been concerned about some of their eating habits, but as their grandma, I don’t want to make a big deal about it. What are some subtle things I can do while they’re here to encourage them to eat a little better?

What a great grandma! You deserve kudos for noticing potentially damaging eating habits developing in your grandchildren and caring enough to nudge them in a healthier direction.

Here are some ideas to try from youth nutrition specialists with Ohio State University Extension:

  • Adopt a “water first for thirst” policy. When the grandkids ask for something to drink, pour a nice big glass of ice water for them instead of high-sugar soft drinks or other beverages. Experts generally recommend children 4-8 years old drink 4 cups of water a day (without added sweeteners), and that increases to 7-8 cups for ages 9-13, and 8-11 cups for ages 14-18. For teens, that translates into drinking enough water to fill a 2-liter bottle. Lowfat (unflavored) milk also is a nutritious option. However, limit 100 percent fruit juice to less than 8 ounces a day, and avoid sweetened drinks altogether. Consider dressing up water by adding strawberry and orange slices or cucumber slices and mint.
  • Start a tradition of making healthful smoothies for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Just pack the blender full of fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, pineapple, peaches or mandarin oranges, plus ice cubes, yogurt and juice. You could even add fresh spinach for green smoothies. No need for extra sugar or ice cream. For thicker smoothies, try using frozen fruit.
  • Speaking of fruits and vegetables, keep a good variety on hand and make it as easy as possible for your grandchildren to eat. Depending on how old your grandchildren are, try slicing fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces. In one study, younger elementary-school students said they found whole fruit to be too cumbersome to eat comfortably, and started eating much more of it when fruit was sliced for them. For preschoolers, be sure to cut grapes and cherry tomatoes in half before serving to be sure they aren’t a choking hazard.
  • While you’re at it, double up on vegetables both for snacks and during meals — most children don’t eat nearly enough. For snacks, consider having a large clear bowl in the fridge with ready-to-eat baby carrots, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, and broccoli and cauliflower florets.
  • Other healthful snacks to consider keeping around include nuts, whole-grain crackers, rice cakes and air-popped popcorn.
  • Pay special attention when you’re eating out, when it’s very easy to overconsume empty calories. Try to steer them away from fried and breaded foods, even fried fish, chicken and vegetables. If french fries or potato chips come with a meal, ask if it’s possible to substitute a salad, fruit or soup.

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, 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.

This column is being distributed earlier in the week than usual in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Steel yourself: ’Tis the season for sweet treats

 I don’t usually have much of a sweet tooth, but during the holidays I tend to go overboard on cookies and other baked goods at parties and when people bring treats to the office. This year, it seems to have started already. Any ideas to help me keep in control?

Actually, it sounds like you may be a step ahead of most people. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 70 percent of U.S. adults and children consume more added sugars than recommended — and not just during the holidays.

The guidelines say to keep added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calorie intake. That means if your recommended calorie intake is 2,000 calories, your goal should be to keep sweets to a maximum of 200 calories a day.

It’s hard to estimate how many homemade gingerbread cookies or slices of pecan pie that might be. But since you can find added sugars in many types of foods and beverages, including salad dressing, yogurt and energy drinks, it’s a good idea to do what you can to limit the holiday treats to a reasonable amount — one or two small items a day, at most.

You’re probably thinking that, during the holidays, that’s easier said than done. But here are some thoughts to keep in mind as the celebrations begin:

Decide in advance that you’ll choose only the treats you will truly, deeply enjoy. Some sweets are definitely worth the indulgence, but, let’s face it, others aren’t. Give yourself permission not to sample items for fear of insulting the baker (even if it’s your supervisor at work or your very best friend), and make up your mind now to pass on the items that aren’t your very favorites. And for those treats that are worthwhile, imagine taking one modest portion from the platter and slowly savoring each bite. Many dietitians recommend this mindful approach to eating not just during the holidays but all year round to reduce the extra, empty calories we often mindlessly consume.

Find ways to cut back on other added sugars in your diet this time of year. Sugar-sweetened soda, fruit drinks, coffee and other beverages account for nearly half the added sugars that Americans typically consume. Opting for ice water, sparkling water, or plain coffee or tea instead of high-sugar drinks most of the time can go a long way to allowing you to feel just fine about indulging in an iced butter cookie or slice of pumpkin roll. And beverages are just one aspect of the diet to consider. If you normally have cereal with added sugars or toast with jelly for breakfast, for example, choose unsweetened alternatives during this time of year.

At holiday gatherings, position yourself so the goodies aren’t in your line of vision. Remember the old joke about the “see-food” diet? It’s true — visual cues are often hard to ignore. But you can make this work for you, too. Keep a fruit bowl on your kitchen counter to make it easy to grab an apple before you leave for a party. Filling up on fruits and vegetables always makes it easier to blithely decline an extra treat.

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Irene Hatsu, state specialist in food security for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF version of this column, please click here.

Managing diabetes is not always easy

 My husband has type 2 diabetes, and lately he has been frustrated about his blood sugar. Even though he gives himself the proper dose of insulin according to his carbohydrate intake, his glucose levels often don’t go down as much as they should. He has a doctor’s appointment, but can you shed some light about what’s going on?

Talking with his doctor, or a registered dietitian or diabetes educator, to gain some insight is a good idea. But many things can affect blood glucose levels. He might need to adjust his insulin, but physical activity, or lack of it, can make a big difference. Worry, frustration and feelings of burnout regarding diabetes have also been associated with higher blood sugar levels, according to a 2010 study in the journal Diabetes Care. The biology and the science behind insulin and blood sugars aren’t as cut and dried as you might wish.

Your husband also might benefit from a new online course developed by Ohio State University Extension. “Dining with Diabetes: Beyond the Kitchen” is available for free at go.osu.edu/DWD_BTK, as part of the online eXtension campus, which is a service of the U.S. Cooperative Extension System. The course includes:

  • Narrated PowerPoint presentations on “Carbohydrates,” “Fats and Sodium,” and “Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber.”
  • Videos with ideas on making smarter decisions at the grocery store.
  • Links to information from authoritative sources.
  • Quizzes to test your knowledge.
  • The ability to post questions and experiences — and to read those of other participants.

Participants who sign up and view all presentations and videos, complete the quizzes, and submit a final evaluation are eligible for a quarterly drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card.

Your husband might particularly be interested in one of the resources available in the course, a blog post from the Joslin Diabetes Center. It describes how a high-fat meal can affect blood glucose, both by slowing the time it takes for the glucose to be digested and reach the bloodstream, and by affecting the liver’s ability to absorb glucose. Depending on your husband’s eating habits, this might help explain what’s happening with him.

The online course is an offshoot of in-person Dining with Diabetes classes offered periodically in 27 Ohio counties by OSU Extension. The three-session program, co-presented by an Extension educator and a certified diabetes educator, provides information on menu planning, carbohydrate counting and other topics, and includes live cooking demonstrations of healthy recipes with taste-testing. To find out if the program is offered near you, contact your county Extension office. Find it at go.osu.edu/extoffices.

Living with the ups and downs of diabetes can be aggravating. But getting answers to questions when they arise, and connecting with others facing the same issues, can help.

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: November is National Diabetes Month. This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, Food, Nutrition and Wellness field specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

Focus on safety with prep for holiday meal

I host Thanksgiving dinner for extended family every year. I am never as organized as I hope to be and get totally stressed out. Now some older family members are battling serious health issues, and I’m especially concerned about making sure I do everything properly so no one gets sick. Any tips?

Actually, the fact that you recognize some people are more susceptible to foodborne illness indicates you are much more on top of things than you might think. Unfortunately, food safety issues during the holidays often take a back seat to other matters — like who will have to sit at the “kiddie table.”

Planning ahead is key to keeping yourself calm and collected during the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle, and to making sure food safety takes precedence. For example, consider these tips from Countdown to Thanksgiving on foodsafety.gov:

  • A few weeks before Thanksgiving, start clearing the refrigerator to make sure you have plenty of room to thaw the turkey. A 16- to 20-pound turkey takes four to five days to thaw in the refrigerator, and it takes up a lot of space. So, don’t wait until you bring the turkey home from the grocery store. Eat up those leftovers. Put that bottled water back in the pantry to have space later.
  • Make sure you have a meat thermometer that’s easy to use and that you trust. Turkey needs to be cooked to 165 degrees F throughout. You need to test it at the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast. You can’t do that with the pop-up thermometer that comes with the turkey.

Taking these issues seriously is important, especially for people with health problems such as diabetes and cancer, which weaken the immune system. That decreases their bodies’ ability to fight off foodborne illness. Other at-risk populations are people 65 and older — even those who are otherwise healthy — pregnant women, and children under age 5. What might cause a mild gastrointestinal illness for someone else could send these people to the hospital. Why? Again, from foodsafety.gov:

  • As people age, the gastrointestinal tract holds onto food longer and the stomach produces less acid, allowing bacteria more of a chance to grow and cause havoc. And, the liver and kidneys can have more trouble ridding the body of foreign bacteria and toxins as we age.
  • Young children’s stomachs also produce less acid, and their immune systems are still developing. That’s why children under 5 have the highest incidence of many types of foodborne illness, and are more at risk for serious complications. In addition, small bodies are more susceptible to dehydration from the diarrhea that often accompanies foodborne illness.

Given the potential for such consequences, planning ahead and taking food safety precautions makes sense. For more holiday guidance, see foodsafety.gov and search for “Thanksgiving.”

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, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or filipic.3@osu.edu.  

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.