Planning vacation? Be a health-savvy traveler

chow_061215_178607548I don’t want to gain weight when I’m on vacation this summer, but for me that’s easier said than done. How can I keep my focus on a healthy diet during my trip and still have a good time?

Attitude is key. You really can have a good time on vacation and still make smart food choices. But it’s a lot more difficult if you think eating healthfully is all about self-sacrifice.

You’re not alone: There’s a very good reason for the term “comfort foods.” It’s not unusual for people to equate indulging in certain foods with fun, relaxation and good times, and those foods aren’t necessarily, say, carrots. So when you’re on vacation and focusing on pampering yourself, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food choices. But you’re smart enough to realize that you pay for that later.

One strategy you might want to try should begin before you even start packing your bags. It’s inspired by information about comfort foods from the Obesity Action Coalition (for more, go to and search for “Comfort Foods — Why do they make us happy?”). It involves taking a few minutes to think about your vacation and writing down everything — as long as it’s not food-related — that you’re looking forward to about it. Will you be sticking your toes into a sandy beach? Seeing new sites in a favorite city? Visiting friends and relatives you haven’t seen in awhile? Giving yourself time to read a book or listen to music?

Writing these things down on paper will help you focus on them as the best things about your getaway. It will allow you put less emphasis on food choices that may, in the past, have been a big part of your vacation focus. By purposely shifting your focus away from food, it’s easier to make healthful food choices and not feel deprived. After all, you’re making that choice on a sunny beach — or wherever your itinerary takes you.

That said, making healthy choices while traveling does have its challenges. Here are some practical tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • When driving long distances, bring a water bottle and pack a small cooler to carry sealable plastic bags containing carrots, celery, bell peppers, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, cherries, strawberries or other favorite fresh fruits and vegetables. Also consider packing some yogurt and 2 percent milkfat cheese for some healthy protein options.
  • On occasions when fast food is the only option, be sure to get out of the car instead of using the drive-thru. Walk around for 5 or 10 minutes just to stretch your limbs and get some physical activity. Skip anything from the deep fryer and forgo cheese and extra sauces on sandwiches.
  • Breakfast offers a great opportunity to get some good sources of protein, whole grains and fiber. More often than not, choose eggs, oatmeal or other low-sugar cereal, low-fat yogurt and fresh fruit over doughnuts and sweet rolls.

See more at; search for “travel.”

And one last thing: Every time you make a healthful choice, congratulate yourself. Don’t feel deprived. Feel great about pampering yourself in a whole new way.

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

Editor: This column was reviewed by Caroyn Gunther, Ohio State University Extension’s community nutrition specialist.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

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,, 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
  • 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

Start early to teach healthy eating

459647761As the parent of a preschooler, I wonder how much I should focus on the importance of eating healthy foods. I don’t want to go overboard, but isn’t it important to establish this concept early in life?  

Helping children establish a healthy, balanced diet — one that will last a lifetime — does indeed require a balanced approach. When it comes to eating, you don’t want to be too restrictive or, on the other end of the spectrum, too indulgent with your child. At the same time, it is beneficial to establish some basic rules and expectations with your child — and the sooner, the better.

A recent study indicates that doing so with children as young as 2 years old can lead to benefits down the road.

The study, reported at a conference in Boston in November, was conducted by pediatrics researchers at the University of Buffalo. Using data on nearly 9,000 children, the scientists looked at the ability of 2-year-old children to display self-control — that is, their parents reported fewer instances of irritability, fussiness and whimpering and a stronger ability to wait for something — as well as whether their parents set any rules regarding what the children ate. Then the researchers looked at data two years later regarding the now-4-year-old children’s consumption of soft drinks, fruit juice, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fast food, salty snacks and sweets.

The researchers found that children who displayed the ability to self-regulate their behaviors at 2 years old ate more healthfully at 4 years old as long as their parents had also established rules around healthy eating. When parents didn’t set boundaries about which types of food their children could or could not eat, the researchers found little difference in the children’s diets.

Other things you can do that will help lead your child to adopt a healthy diet are to make sure healthy foods are readily available at home, and to be a role model by eating a healthy diet yourself. Along with setting rules and expectations about eating the right foods, these are the three key parenting practices that help kids establish healthy diets.

For more ideas on helping children up to 5 years old eat a healthy diet, Ohio State University Extension offers a 26-page ebook, “Smart Eating for Young Children.” It’s available to download as a PDF for $4.99

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

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, Community Nutrition Education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Healthy eating tips the easy way

78036797I’m interested in eating more healthfully and hopefully losing a few pounds, but I don’t want to track everything I eat or count calories. Do you have any general tips that could help?

Many people do find that keeping a food log helps them lose weight, but if you’re not interested in doing that right now, yes, of course you can take other steps. Here are some tips:

  • The Harvard Medical School suggests cutting back on carbohydrates, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks and from refined-carbohydrate foods, including many types of bread, cereal, pasta, snack foods, and French fries and other types of fried potatoes. Instead, choose water or unsweetened beverages, and whole-grain foods that offer fiber and other nutrients. Look for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Pay special attention to portion sizes, even if you’re eating something you consider to be good for you. A study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people tend to eat more of a food if it’s labeled as “healthy,” even if it has the same number of calories as similar options.
  • Similarly, don’t assume cutting fat is always healthier. Some low- or no-fat food products replace the fat with added refined-carbohydrate ingredients — not necessarily a benefit. And, research has shown a little fat, such as that in dressings or avocados, helps the body absorb nutrients in leafy greens. Instead, focus on limiting saturated fat and eliminating trans fat, opting instead for unsaturated fats.
  • Eat a wide variety of produce, whole grains, and beans and other legumes to get a broad range of nutrients. In particular, choose fruits and vegetables of many colors, especially green, red, yellow, orange and dark purple. The pigments in colorful produce contain vitamins and phytochemicals that are linked with a lower risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
  • Incorporate more fish and small amounts of nuts into your diet. They are good sources of protein and healthy fats, and Americans tend to not get enough of them.
  • Never shop for groceries on an empty stomach. A study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, provided compelling evidence supporting what you probably already know: People tend to choose more high-calorie foods if they shop when they’re hungry. Eat first and you’ll be healthier for it.

Eat healthfully when dining out

154225000I’ve been trying to lose some weight, but lately I’ve been eating out a lot, both for business and pleasure. How can I keep eating healthfully at restaurants?

It can be a challenge to keep calories under control when eating out. Portion sizes tend to be big, and, if nutrition information isn’t available, items that sound healthful on the menu may not be so in reality.

However, with a little planning and determination, you can stay on track and keep shedding pounds, even while dining out. Here are a few tips:

  • If you know where you’ll be eating, look online for a menu to review ahead of time. This will help in case you find yourself caught up in conversation and not able to study the menu carefully once you get to the restaurant.
  • While you’re online, see if nutrition information is available, either on the restaurant website or a weight loss or fitness website. It’s not always possible to find, but it’s worth investigating since most chain restaurants publish this information.
  • Don’t assume that salad is your best option. With high-calorie dressings, croutons, cheese, fried chicken or other fried toppings, salads can easily put you overboard on calories if you’re not careful.
  • Look for lean protein — chicken, fish, or lean pork or beef — that hasn’t been fried or smothered in sauce. Entrees that are baked, broiled, grilled or stir-fried are your best options.
  • With pasta, choose tomato or marinara sauce instead of cream or cheese sauces. Opt for a dish that doesn’t have cheese as a primary ingredient. If the server offers to add freshly grated cheese on your entree, you can control the amount.
  • If your meal comes with a side, order a salad or vegetable without butter. If it comes with two sides and there’s only one healthy option that sounds appealing, ask for a double order of that item.
  • Before you head out, you might want to eat a small portion of lean protein (possibly a high-protein drink or bar) to help you feel satiated and avoid overeating at the restaurant.
  • If the portion size is large, ask for a take-home container immediately. Then remove half of the meal from your plate so you aren’t tempted to polish it off.
  • Watch the beverages. Stick with ice water, diet soda or unsweetened iced tea. Limit alcoholic beverages to one at most.

You can enjoy your time dining out and make healthy choices at the same time. Don’t forget your decision to eat a healthy diet when you step through the restaurant door.


Use Nutrition Month to get back on track

162322018I know National Nutrition Month is coming up in March, and I want to use the occasion to jump-start my resolution to eat better this year. But I’ve done this kind of thing before and I’m out of new ideas. Where can I find some good ones?

This is a great plan. It’s not unusual for New Year’s resolutions to wane by now. But using National Nutrition Month to revive your resolve is a shrewd move: There will likely be an abundance of nutrition-related information out there for the taking, and you’re bound to find new ways to get back on track.

You can take the bull by the horns and search out ideas yourself. A great place to start is the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). As the sponsor of National Nutrition Month, the organization offers a dozen two-page tipsheets on a variety of topics at

Here are just a few pointers from some of the tipsheets:

  • To reach a goal of eating 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day, try adding sliced pineapple, apple, peppers, cucumber and tomato to your sandwiches. (Find more ideas in the tipsheet “20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables.”)
  • For a kid-friendly healthy snack, peel a banana, dip it in yogurt, roll it in crushed cereal and freeze it. (More in “25 Healthy Snacks for Kids.”)
  • Add some variety to your salad by adding corn, peas, sugar snap peas, water chesnuts or a variety of other vegetables. (More in “Color Your Plate with Salad.”)
  • Trying to lose weight? Slow down: It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your body is getting food. Don’t wait until you feel full before you stop eating. (More in “Eating Right for a Healthy Weight.”)
  • On days when you’re planning a dinner out, plan ahead. Have a light breakfast and lunch. (More in “Healthy Eating on the Run: A Month of Tips.”)
  • If you’re tired of the same old breakfast options, make your own morning sandwich with a toasted whole-grain English muffin with lean ham and low-fat Swiss cheese. (More in “Power Up with Breakfast.”)
  • Give Nutrition Facts labels a fresh eye. Look at the “% Daily Value” column. Aim high (20 percent or more) in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and aim low (5 percent or less) for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. (More in “Shop Smart — Get the Facts on Food Labels.”)

My advice? Download all 12 tipsheets and use them for inspiration throughout the month.


Fight against flu bug with healthy diet

161868190I’m trying to do all I can to avoid getting the flu this season. Is there anything in particular I should include in my diet that could help?

When it comes to avoiding the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the best actions you can take are to get vaccinated with the flu shot; take everyday precautions against the spread of germs, such as avoiding contact with sick people and washing your hands thoroughly and often; and, if you get the flu, see your doctor quickly (within two days of becoming ill) and ask about taking antiviral drugs to treat the illness.

A healthy, balanced diet won’t prevent you from being exposed to the flu virus, but it can help boost your immune system to help you fight off the flu virus and other illnesses. Recently, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued a reminder about which nutrients are most often recognized as helping build immunity:

  • Protein plays a key role in the immune system’s patrolling white blood cells (called macrophages), which attack bacteria. Most Americans get plenty of protein, but often people cut back at this time of year to lose pounds they may have gained over the holidays. Be sure your diet always includes a good variety of high-quality protein sources, including fish and seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and nuts and seeds (preferably unsalted).
  • Vitamin A helps keep the immune system regulated and keeps skin and tissues functioning properly in the respiratory system, as well as the mouth, stomach and intestines. Good sources of vitamin A include orange vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers, kale, spinach, apricots, eggs and foods fortified with vitamin A, such as milk or cereal (look on the label).
  • Vitamin C is a vital player in helping lymphocytes, another type of white blood cell, to fight against infectious microorganisms. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C, including citrus fruit, red bell peppers, broccoli, tomato juice and foods (such as cereals) fortified with the vitamin.
  • Vitamin E, as an antioxidant, helps protect healthy cells from being attacked by the immune system and may help improve immune function in other ways. Good sources include spinach, peanut butter, sunflower seeds or oil, safflower oil, and foods fortified with vitamin E.
  • Deficiencies in zinc can impair the immune system. Good sources of zinc include lean beef, wheat germ, crab, wheat bran, sunflower seeds, black-eyed peas, almonds, milk and tofu.

Other nutrients may also play a role. The bottom line? Strive for a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lean protein to keep your immune system running smoothly.

Make healthful eating fun for kids

I’m trying to get my children to eat healthier, but they constantly ask for high-sugar cereal and other foods that aren’t good for them. How can I entice them to eat healthier foods?

First, remember that they’re kids. Mealtimes (and snack times, too) should be good, even fun, experiences.

But that doesn’t mean they have to consist entirely of cookies and candy. One thing to think about, even with fruits and vegetables, is presentation. It can make all the difference.

A study published recently in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine examined elementary school children’s choices between a cookie and an apple (or both) at the end of their cafeteria serving line. The number of kids choosing apples skyrocketed when the apples had a sticker featuring Elmo, a popular character from Sesame Street. Interestingly, putting a sticker of an unknown character also increased apple choice, but not by nearly as much.

Another study, published in Pediatrics in 2010, showed that children were more likely to choose a snack — whether it was gummy bears or baby carrots — if the wrapper had a familiar character on it (in this case, the characters tested included Shrek, Scooby-Doo and Dora the Explorer).

The findings suggest that the makers of healthy foods can use marketing and branding concepts to increase their products’ appeal to children much the same way as big-name processed foods have done for decades. But it can be expensive. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the food industry spends an estimated $1.6 billion annually to market food and beverages directly to children and teens.

Still, there are a few things you can do at home to boost your children’s interest in healthy food:

  • Let your kids help in the kitchen. Even children as young as 2 can help wipe tables, tear lettuce or greens, snap green beans, and rinse produce. Getting kids involved with meal preparation will increase their enthusiasm to eat the foods they help prepare.
  • Help your kids make fun, healthy snacks. Ideas include “Bugs on a Log,” made by filling celery with a little peanut butter and placing raisins on top, or “Fruit Kebobs,” made by putting melon balls and cubes of fruit on a stick.
  • Most of all, be a good role model. Pile those vegetables high on your dinner plate. Drink your milk. Choose whole-grain foods you enjoy, and share them with your children. As with anything, children learn more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say.

Understanding HDLs can be complex

I have always been proud of my high HDL level, but I heard recently that it might not be very important in terms of heart disease after all. What happened?

Well, not so fast.

You probably heard about a study that the medical journal The Lancetpublished online in May 2012. It received a lot of publicity because its findings were rather startling: After years of advising people to do what they can to raise their levels of HDLs — high-density lipoproteins, or what we’ve called the “good” cholesterol — researchers found that the 15 HDL-raising genetic variants they tested are not, in fact, linked to a reduced risk of heart attack.

However (and this is important): The scientists also emphasized that low HDL levels remain a good predictor, or what they call a “biomarker,” that a person has a higher risk of heart disease. This study revealed that low HDL levels themselves aren’t actually the bad guys — it appears that they’re just somehow associated with some as-yet-undetermined factor that increases the risk of heart disease.

So, for people who have a low HDL level, increasing it — by changing the diet or taking supplements, for example — won’t lower the risk of heart disease in and of itself. Raising a low HDL level simply won’t change the underlying factors that signal an increased risk.

At the same time, eating a healthy, balanced diet has many benefits. If it increases your HDLs at the same time, there’s certainly no harm in that.

It’s also important to realize that this finding does not affect recommendations regarding LDLs, or low-density lipoproteins. And, while genetic factors play a strong role in determining LDL levels, there’s a lot you can do to keep them as low as possible, including avoiding trans fats; keeping saturated fats low (less than 7 percent of your total calories); limiting total fat to 25 to 35 percent of total calories; keeping cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day; consuming 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols a day; increasing soluble fiber to 10 to 25 grams a day; and maintaining a healthy weight.

In addition, get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise most days of the week, if not every day. And, when necessary, take prescribed medication, such as statins, to lower LDLs.

For more information, the National Institutes of Health offers a free, comprehensive, easy-to-read guide to “Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC: Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.” To download a copy, go to