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.

Keep it simple to plan for healthful holidays

chow_111315-99146758Last year, I promised myself that after the holidays, I would eat healthier and exercise more. It never happened. This year, I don’t want to wait, but I also don’t want to set myself up for failure or be the Grinch during holiday gatherings. Any ideas?

First, recognize that it’s difficult to change our behaviors. Face it: If it were easy, you would have done it a long time ago. For a habit to stick, experts in behavior change say it’s important to keep a few strategies in mind:

  • Keep it simple. Focus on one realistic change at a time, and make it as easy and automatic as possible. Once you get into the habit — that is, once you find yourself doing the behavior without even thinking about it — you can try tackling something else. But not before.
  • Be specific. For example, instead of setting a goal to eat more fruits and vegetables, set a goal to eat at least one fruit and three vegetables each day. That way you can track your progress.
  • Celebrate your success. Give yourself an “attaboy” every time you practice your new habit. It might sound silly, but offering yourself a small pat on the back can make a big difference in whether your new behavior will actually become a habit.
  • Go public. Tell your friends and family about your goal and ask for their support. Be sure to tell them why you are trying something new — at the very least, that will help you make sure you yourself understand the reasons you want to make a change. It also helps you make sure it’s something you really want to do, not just something you feel obligated to do.

What sorts of new habits might be most helpful during the holidays? Here are some ideas:

  • Drink a pint of water before every meal. If you’re trying to lose weight, this simple strategy could be effective. According to a recent study in the journal Obesity, adults who drank 16 ounces of regular tap water before each meal, three times a day, lost almost 10 pounds in 12 weeks, compared with an average loss of less than 2 pounds for those who drank water before meals only once a day or not at all.
  • Take a 15-minute brisk walk every day after dinner. While this small amount of extra activity would be beneficial for almost anyone, British researchers who reviewed studies involving older adults found that the biggest boost for longevity might be for people who are sedentary to start doing just a little moderate to vigorous exercise. They found that people over 60 who averaged 75 minutes of such exercise a week, or 15 minutes five days a week, were 22 percent less likely to die over 10 years than those who remained sedentary.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to recommended levels (or less). It’s easy to get carried away during holiday gatherings, but alcohol provides a lot of empty calories and consuming too much carries other health risks, as well. The recommended limit is one drink a day for women or two for men. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

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.

Spark interest in fruit, veggies on the Fourth

chow_070215_184369301I want to rev up the healthfulness of our Fourth of July cookout. I always make a veggie platter or fruit salad, but they get bypassed for burgers, hot dogs, potato salad and chips. What can I do to draw more attention to healthier fare?

Why not take your cue from Old Glory and focus on red, white and blue fruits and vegetables this weekend?

Too often, people at parties and holiday gatherings treat fruits and vegetables as the Debbie Downer of dining. But with a little thought and effort, you can make produce the star of the show:

  • Put strawberries, sliced bananas and dark grapes (not quite blue, but close) on skewers.
  • On a rectangular platter, arrange raspberries and cut apples in red and white stripes, and put a bowl of blueberries in the corner.
  • Layer red, white and blue fruits in a clear glass straight-sided bowl and let it show its colors.
  • Keep it simple and just line up three bowls of red, white and blue fruits or vegetables on the buffet line. You can use watermelon, berries, cherries or red peppers; cauliflower, cole slaw, bananas, apples or white grapes; and blueberries or purple grapes.

Focusing on the colors of fruits and vegetables isn’t just a gimmick. The color of produce often indicates what sort of phytochemicals it provides. Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that aren’t essential nutrients but still appear to provide health benefits.

There are many different types of phytochemicals. Some are antioxidants that help limit damage to cells resulting from oxidation, which is a normal process in the body. Some are carotenoids, which offer many benefits including lowering the risk of age-related sight problems. Some phytochemicals appear to have anti-bacterial or anti-inflammatory properties. And some have been linked with improved blood flow, anti-cancer properties and even other benefits.

Research is still nailing down precisely the effects of phytochemicals in the body. In the meantime, you not only want to get a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but you want to make sure you regularly consume produce of all different colors — dark green, yellow, purple, orange and, of course, red, white and blue — to make sure you’re getting a broad range of these nutrients.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers a wealth of information about phytochemicals on its website. Arranged by color group, you can find out what fruits and vegetables contain which phytochemicals and what health benefits they offer. It has information on flavonoids, from anthocyanidins to flavonols; carotenoids, from beta-carotene to zeaxanthin; and other phytochemicals, from indoles to resveratrol. If this sparks your interest, learn more at pbhfoundation.org/about/res/pic/phytolist/.

For more information and fruit and veggie recipe ideas, see Ohio State University Extension’s “Maximize Your Nutrients” web page at localfoods.osu.edu/maximizenutrients.

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.

’Tis the season to stay healthy

451431143One of my friends is inspiring me to stay healthy over the holidays. She is making extra efforts to drink a lot of water and to walk more between now and New Year’s. What are some other healthy holiday ideas?

What a great way to celebrate the holidays — giving the gift of healthy living to yourself.

One of the keys to making it work is attitude. Don’t act like Scrooge when you decide not to have that second Christmas cookie. Instead, smile as you realize that you can enjoy the holidays without eating and drinking so much that you become bloated.

Your friend’s tactics are motivating in part because they’re simple. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Choose MyPlate offers other healthy holiday ideas that don’t require a massive effort, including:

  • When planning appetizers and snacks, choose crackers that are whole grain. Offer hummus, which is high in protein and a good source of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. Serve whole-grain bread rolls instead of those made with white flour.
  • Water is always a great choice to quench your thirst, and you can dress it up for holiday parties. Get some carbonated water and serve with slices of lemon or lime, or flavor with a splash of fruit juice. Enjoy a cup or two before you fill the wine glass.
  • Consider fruit for dessert. Instead of pie, try baked apples with cinnamon and just a sprinkle of sugar, or serve fresh berries with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and a spoonful of granola on top.
  • For holiday cookies and other baked goods, try using apple sauce or pureed bananas in place of butter or margarine to reduce fat and calories. Just use a one-to-one replacement.
  • If you have a recipe that calls for heavy cream, try evaporated skim milk instead. It won’t be as rich, and it doesn’t whip or thicken like cream does, but it can be a great substitute in many recipes.
  • Prepare two (or more?) vegetables for holiday dinners, and be sure to fill half your plate with them.
  • When serving meats, trim away fat before cooking, or be sure to do so on your plate before eating. And go easy on the gravy and sauces: A little goes a long way.

You might not think all of these ideas will fit with your holiday plans. But choose a few. And remember, even if you include healthier ingredients in your cookies, it is best to load up on fruits and vegetables and limit desserts. Small steps can have a big impact and help set you in the right direction for the new year.

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 week’s column will be the last for 2014. Look for Chow Line again on Jan. 9.

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’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

When it comes to food, play it safe

147010343Over the weekend, we did some holiday shopping and stopped at the grocery store. We were out for longer than I anticipated, and we left food in the car for about three hours before we got home. Is that food OK to eat? It was chilly, but I’m not sure how cold it was outside.  

It’s good that you’re asking. Too many people don’t take foodborne illness seriously. It’s hard to say why.

It could be because an illness doesn’t always occur when you don’t follow food safety guidelines. Let’s face it: If you became ill every single time after eating meat that’s not been cooked to the proper temperature, you would learn your lesson pretty quickly. If it rarely happens, you may never even associate your illness with those rare hamburgers you ate.

Another reason could be due to the fact that common symptoms of foodborne illness — nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea — mimic those of the flu or some other bug. There are more than 250 different types of foodborne illness out there. People may naively believe they have never experienced any of them, when, in fact, they have.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from foodborne illness. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Foodborne illness is a serious problem. Fortunately, it’s often preventable by taking a few precautions.

Those precautions include time and temperature control: Don’t let perishable food remain in the “danger zone” of 40 degrees to 140 degrees F for longer than two hours. That’s the temperature at which any foodborne pathogens that may be in the food can multiply rapidly and grow enough to cause illness.

In your case, the food you bought and kept in your car might have been kept cold enough for those three hours. But it might not have. You’d be hard-pressed to find a food-safety expert who would advise you to take a chance and eat that food — or worse, serve it to your holiday guests. Sadly, “when in doubt, throw it out” would apply here. The smart thing to do is to discard the questionable food and head back to the grocery store.

Foodsafety.gov, a federal website with valuable food safety information, offers more holiday food shopping guidance at bit.ly/holifoodshop. Check it out, and stay safe for the holidays.

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: Next week’s column will be the last for 2014. Look for a fresh look for Chow Line beginning Jan. 9.

This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, food safety specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Take time to focus as holidays loom

72919774I lost a lot of weight years ago, but I always struggle during the holidays. How can I make sure I maintain my weight over the next few months?

You’re right that holidays pose a challenge when it comes to weight management. There are typically so many special occasions and gatherings that involve indulgent food and drink that it’s very easy to forsake healthful habits.

Apparently, this can be more of a challenge for people who have successfully taken off weight than for people who have never struggled with weight issues.

A 2008 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology compared holiday experiences of people who had previously lost a lot of weight (averaging about 75 pounds) and kept off much of it, and those who had always maintained a healthful weight.

The researchers found those in the first group were more vulnerable to weight gain in November and December and less likely to be able to shed those pounds in January. Even though they made greater efforts to control their eating and stay active, their attention to weight and eating during the holidays decreased significantly more than their always-normal-weight counterparts.

The authors suggested that people who have previously been obese need to work harder than others to manage their weight, and that the demands of the holiday season may overpower the resources they normally use to focus on weight control.

What could be most helpful, they suggested, is to find ways to focus on and monitor eating, weight and physical activity during such a challenging period.

How do you do that? Trying these strategies might help:

  • Practice “mindful eating,” in which you deliberately find ways to become aware of what you eat and why you eat it. There are a wide range of approaches you can use, from reducing (or even eliminating) distractions while you eat to eating with your non-dominant hand. Seewww.thecenterformindfuleating.org for information. At a holiday gathering, see if you can choose not to eat when talking with others, and then take just a small portion of a favorite food and savor each bite.
  • Revisit strategies that have worked for you in the past, including monitoring your weight and food intake. If you have a lapse, don’t dwell on it. Just use the experience to redouble your efforts afterward.
  • Take time for yourself — whether it’s to enjoy a hot cup of tea or a 20-minute daily walk — during the busy holiday season. Slowing down can help keep you centered and focused on what’s important.

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, nutrition specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.