Welcome to my blog on healthy eating and food safety. I look forward to your comments and feedback regarding use of this tool to disseminate educational information. This blog will be updated on a regular basis.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Much Money Should I Spend on Food

How Much Money Should I Spend On Food
I often get questions about how much money should households spend on food on a monthly basis.  Below is a link to a calculator that will lead you to a calculator designed to provide an estimate based on the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Low-Cost Food Plan

Friday, February 5, 2016

Tracking Food, There's an App for That

Tracking Food, There’s an App for That

We are now into the fifth week of 2016 and although one in three Americans makes a New Year’s resolution pertaining to a healthier lifestyle, after just one week, already 25 percent of those resolutions have been left behind. By six months, those still working toward meeting their resolution goals drops to 50 percent. There are many reasons for this downward trend, but mostly, it’s because sticking to a resolution is hard work. Being healthy is a lifestyle, not just a 10-week plan and it can be difficult to self-motivate long-term. For those of you that are technology oriented, explore how a food tracking app might be helpful in reaching your health goals this year and beyond.


First, what is a food-tracking app?  It is a program that allows the user to input the foods they have eaten throughout the day and gives output data related to calories consumed and other dietary data like sodium intake, the amount of sugar consumed, etc. Some apps also allow users to input exercise data and personal body type data. The level of detail depends on the app. A simple keyword search on a popular download site yielded almost 100 diet tracking apps, many of which are free. Choosing the right app for you, however, can be painstaking.  No matter what app you choose, these tools have their pros and cons but overall they were incredibly helpful in giving a visual of calories in/calories out and how much (or how little) food we should be consuming in a day.


Just like almost anything else on the web, the first thing you must do is sign-up. Sites often ask for similar information including gender, age, height, weight and weight goal.  The differences between apps appear after entering this information. For example, when comparing two sites, one site calculated  daily caloric need as 1600 calories (standard USDA recommendation for average American female) and one calculated it to be 1365 calories per day, which was possibly calculated based on my measurements and weight goal (which was to maintain my current weight). A 365-calorie difference for some is not a big deal, but for those that really want to lose weight, an accurate calculation of caloric need is important.


Many sites have a pretty good catalog of searchable food items in their database, although some may be easier to use because the food items popped up as they were typed as opposed to taking you to a different screen to select foods. The food entry part of these apps is the most time consuming, but obviously the most important. The apps and sites work best when you’re eating manufactured foods, eating simple things like “apple,” or when eating at popular restaurants. It gets tricky, and sometimes downright annoying when you do a lot of home cooking. For example, one day you make a squash, apple, and lentil soup from scratch. Whenever these foods were eaten, the apps wanted to enter it into the food tracker and the challenge is how to do that accurately. Often it is necessary guesstimate how much of each ingredient was in each serving and enter those items separately.


After entering food for the day, both the sites used allowed for a physical activity entry. Both sites produced nearly identical data for all the activities completed and the options are pretty endless. You can get credit for anything from playing with your children, shoveling snow and of course, all the typical things like running, biking and swimming.  Although the different sites gave similar data for each activity.


A helpful option is being able to see just how much every little thing consumed chewed into my daily caloric need. Many times we say  to ourselves, “oh it’s just one little slice of cheese,” or “it was just a handful of chips,” but actually seeing the calorie gauge increase with each entry really painted a clear picture of what is being consumed and ultimately, how much  exercise was need to burn off calories..


You can also see if you are consuming more than the daily recommended amounts of sugar, sodium and fat, which is also very useful information when thinking about overall diet and health.


Although there is not yet any specific data showing that food-tracking apps help people meet their health and nutrition goals, if you are better at visual learning or like data-based information, tracking your daily food and activity using an app could be helpful to you.


This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu.



Monday, February 1, 2016

February is American Heart Month

February Is American Heart Month
During the month of February, Americans see the human heart as the symbol of love. February is American Heart Month, a time to show yourself the love. Learn about your risks for heart disease and stroke, and stay "heart healthy" for yourself and your loved ones.
According to a recent article by the Center for Disease Control, Cardiovascular disease (CVD)—
including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is the number 1 killer of women and
men in the United States. It is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and
enjoying family activities.
You can control a number of risk factors for CVD, including: diet, physical activity, tobacco use,
obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes.
As you begin your journey to better heart health that can last a lifetime, keep these things in mind:
  • Try not to become overwhelmed. Every step brings you closer to a healthier heart, andevery healthy choice makes a difference!
  • Partner up. The journey is more fun—and often more successful—when you have company.
  • Ask friends and family to join you.
  • Don't get discouraged. You may not be able to take all of the steps at one time. Get a good night's sleep—also important for a healthy heart—and do what you can tomorrow.
  •  Reward yourself. Find fun things to do to decrease your stress. Round up some colleagues for a lunchtime walk, join a singing group, or have a healthy dinner with your family or friends.
 So this February show some love to yourself, and take one step to hug your heart!
Source: Devon Christiansen, Director, Brown County Aging & Disability Resource Center

Friday, January 29, 2016

Preparing Recipes Shown on Cooking Shows

Preparing Recipes Shown on Cooking Shows

Cooking shows are extremely popular.  A study conducted by Cornell University researchers showed that people who frequently make recipes they see on these programs weigh more than those who  watch cooking shows and don’t cook.  Researchers suspect viewers may replicate the exact dishes which are often calorie-laden. 

The study surveyed 501 women ages 20-35 to assess their cooking habits and how they obtained recipe information from cooking shows and often cooked from scratch weighed an average of 11 pounds more that those who watched food TV and did not often cook.

It may be advantageous for cooks to gather information from sources other than television.  A number of cooking shows normalize over consumption and gratification.  It is important for people who enjoy watching these shows to recognize these influences and learn to modify recipes to be more healthy or find recipes from other sources.
Source: Cornell University


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How Much Breakfast Cereal Do You Eat?

How Much Breakfast Cereal Do You Eat?
Cereal is one of those foods that are easy to overeat, because cereal bowls are of different sizes and we are accustomed to eating a bowl of cereal.  Many bowls will hold two to three servings of cereal. 
Penn State researchers found that people eat more breakfast cereal by weight, when flake size is reduced.  When flakes are reduced by crushing, people pour a smaller volume of cereal into their bowls, but still take a greater amount by weight and calories.

The researchers reported that people have a hard time judging appropriate portions.  The other challenge is the significant variations in volume that are due to the physical characteristics of foods, such as the size of individual pieces, aeration and how things pile up in a bowl.   That adds another dimension to the difficulty of knowing how much to take and eat.

National dietary guidelines define recommended amounts of most food groups in terms of measures of volume such as cups.  This can be a problem as recommended amounts have not been adjusted for variations in physical properties that affect volume.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

Tips for Cooking Whole Grains

Tips for Cooking Whole Grains

With all of the choices for whole grains, you may ask “where do I begin.”  Once you know what type of grain you need in a recipe, here are some tips for buying and cooking whole grains.

Purchase grains from a source that you are familiar with.  Certain grains, especially those with the germ intact, can rancid quickly.  Purchase only the amount of grains you think you will use within 2-to-3 weeks.  Grains and grain flours should be stored in a cool dark place.  In warm, humid weather, grains can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. 

Each grain has its own cooking time, so read up on what you will be working with.  Seeds like quinoa and amaranth are quick cooking and are ready in less than 15 minutes. Others like kamut and buckwheat are harder grains and require a longer cook time, even benefiting from an overnight soak in water. Cooking most grains is very similar to cooking rice. You put the dry grain in a pan with water or broth; bring it to a boil, then simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Pasta is generally cooked in a larger amount of water; the excess is drained away after cooking.    


If you want to cook grains more quickly, let them sit in the allotted amount of water for a few hours

before cooking. Just before dinner, add extra water if necessary, then cook. You'll find that cooking time is much shorter with a little pre-soaking. Another shortcut is to cook whole grains in big batches. Grains keep 3-4 days in your fridge and take just minutes to warm up with a little added water or broth. You can also use the leftovers for cold salads (just toss with chopped veggies, dressing, and anything else that suits your fancy), or toss a few handfuls in some canned soup. Cook once, and then take it easy.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Just Say Cheese!

Just Say Cheese!

One of the staples I keep in my refrigerator is shredded cheese.  Yes, I live in Wisconsin and love cheese.  Wisconsin has nearly 1,200 licensed cheesemakers that produce over 600 types, styles and varieties of cheese – nearly double the number of any other state. 

Shredded cheese is a tasty way to add calcium to foods. An added bonus is it often adds an extra splash of color.
Foods I enhance with a sprinkle of cheese include:
  • Salads
  • Omelets
  • Baked potatoes
  • Nachos
  • Tacos
  • Casseroles
  • Pasta
Shredded cheese comes in several varieties and is available in both regular and reduced fat versions.
So … if you’re looking for an easy way to kick up the flavor, nutrition and color of foods, just say cheese!

Monday, January 18, 2016

What to Look for When Purchasing Chili

What to Look for When Purchasing Chili
As I write this blog, the wind chill outside is -20 degrees. I have been in the mood to make soup lately. Today I made white chicken chili. Homemade soup is wonderful, but there are times when time is short, and chili needs to be purchased.
There are many choices of chili to choose from on grocery store shelves.  If you purchase chili, make sure to read the Nutrition Facts Label.  Some chili products are high in sodium and saturated fat.  However, chili can be good sources of fiber and protein.
Here are some tips for selecting a healthy chili. Look for a product with beans. 
  • Beans are a great source of plant based protein and fiber.
  • Check the Nutrition Facts Label for sodium content for serving and compare with other brands of chili.
  • If the brands have comparable amounts of sodium, stretch the servings by adding corn, diced tomatoes or whole grain pasta.  In Northeast Wisconsin, many people eat chili served on top of pasta in a soup bowl.
  • Don’t eat the whole can of chili at one meal. Remember there are multiple servings in a can.
  • In addition to the chili, add a salad, whole grain bread, crackers or pasta along with a serving from the dairy group.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Lettuce" Make a Healthy Salad

“Lettuce” Make a Healthy Salad
The holidays are over and you may be thinking about losing a few pounds.  Salads are a great option for dieters if the right ingredients are chosen.  When you make a salad consider using some or all of these ingredients.
·       Vegetables – Choose at least one vegetable from each of these groups: cruciferous (broccoli, kale, red cabbage) root (carrots or beets) and allium (onion).
·       Mushrooms – This powerhouse contain selenium, potassium, and B vitamins.
·       Avocados, Nuts and Seeds – They contain monounsaturated fat – considered to be a healthy fat. 
·       Dried fruits – Need a tangy flavor? Add some dried cranberries.
·       Salmon, Chicken, Eggs, Turkey or Beans – These protein sources make a salad a meal.  Remember a serving of meat is 3 ounces.
·       Oil-and-Vinegar- Base-Dressing – These ingredients make a great dressing.  Remember to use dressings sparingly due to calorie content.
·       Greens – Select dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard are very nutrient dense, a much healthier choice than ice berg lettuce.           

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Eating Healthy While Traveling

Eating Healthy While Traveling
Being someone who travels outside the U.S. usually once a year, and in the U.S. throughout the year, I have learned to pack my own snacks.  The food provided when traveling by air is not plentiful and the quality is often poor.   My family lives in a neighboring state and I often do not take time to stop and eat a meal and the primary options are fast food restaurants.
When traveling here are some foods I pack:
  • Granola bars
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Cheese (if I am driving and can bring a cooler.  My family is always more than happy to eat cheese produced in Wisconsin)
  • Sparkling water
  • Apples and bananas
  • Pre-peeled oranges
  • Carrots
  • Trail mix
  • Dried fruit 
If you are flying, check out websites like Independent Travel www.independenttraveler.com, Trip Advisor www.tripadvisor.com for advice about eating on the go.   

Monday, January 11, 2016

Following Dietary Guidance Need Not Cost More--

Following Dietary Guidance Need Not Cost More—but Many Americans Would Need To Re-Allocate Their Food Budgets
·       Most Americans across all income levels consume poor diets.
·       Behavior changes, such as preparing food at home instead of eating out, are associated with improvements in diet quality.
·       To realize the much larger improvements in diet quality required to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many Americans would need to reallocate their food budgets, spending a larger share on fruits and vegetables and a lower share on protein foods and foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and sodium. 

Every 5 years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, with the latest release scheduled for the end of 2015. These guidelines discuss the components of a healthy diet, focusing on the types and amounts of food to feature in a healthy diet, and which foods to cut back on. The Dietary Guidelines are used by consumers, nutrition educators, and policymakers. For example, the Dietary Guidelines form the basis for the Federal Government’s MyPlate dietary advice and the nutrition standards for USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. 
The average American does a poor job of following Federal dietary guidance. Many Americans get too many calories from refined grains, solid fats, and added sugars, and do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Nutrition guidance recommends that a 2,000-calorie diet include 2 cups of fruit, 2.5 cups of vegetables, and a minimum of 3 ounces of whole grains. Instead, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) finds American adults consuming about 1 cup of fruit, 1.6 cups of vegetables, and 0.8 ounces of whole grains each day. Cost has been raised as a possible barrier to a healthy diet. However, both healthy and less-healthy diets are available at low and high cost, suggesting that cost is not the only, or even the most important, barrier. 
Food cost is only one of many factors that consumers consider when making decisions about the foods they eat. Taste, familiarity with specific foods, how much time a consumer has to prepare a food or a meal, the skills required to prepare the food, and how hungry a consumer feels all play a role. 
A consumer’s preference for eating a healthy diet also matters. Consumers who value health will seek out healthy foods that fit their budget and time constraints. However, consumers who do not put a high priority on eating healthy and believe that a healthier diet costs more than their current diet, may choose to continue with their current diet rather than spend the time and effort in seeking out healthy foods they can afford.



Friday, January 8, 2016

Update on Coffee

Update on Coffee
Over the years, there have been a number of articles about health issues related to the consumption of coffee.  But recent research indicates coffee may not be as bad as once thought.  For many people, the health benefits outweigh the risks.

Earlier studies did not always take into account that high-risk behaviors like smoking and inactivity tend to be more common among heavy coffee drinkers.  If these unhealthy habits are taken out of the equation, there is actually a healthy relationship between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality. 
There are some exceptions.  Drinking too much unfiltered coffee can lead to elevated cholesterol levels.  Some people have difficulty metabolizing coffee and could be at a higher risk for heart disease.
Although coffee may have benefits as well as risk, other beverages like milk and fruit juice contain nutrients that coffee does not.  Therefore, it is wise to drink an assortment of beverages each day.     


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
Today the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture released the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Now in its eighth edition, the Dietary Guidelines continues to be an important resource to help our Nation reach its highest standard of health.
Making small changes in food choices can add up to big health benefits and help prevent diet-related chronic diseases. So the updated Dietary Guidelines describes how Americans can establish long-term healthy eating patterns by emphasizing small, doable shifts in their daily eating habits.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Great Food Choices for 2016

Great Food Choices for 2016
With the start of the New Year, many people make resolutions related to health.  In addition to planning to exercise more frequently, make plans to select healthier foods when shopping at the grocery store. 
Here are some great foods to put in your shopping cart.
·       Nuts and seeds of all types are a heart-healthy choice.
·       Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat which are heart healthy.  They can help lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
·       Healthy oils like olive oil and canola oil are heart healthy choices. Canola oil has less saturated fat than other oils.  Olive oil has a beneficial effect on cholesterol.
·       Greens are nutritional power houses. They have high amounts of immune-boasting vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting phytonutrients along fiber.  Greens include but are not limited to spinach, kale, avocados, baby arugula, lettuce, and asparagus.
·       Tuna and salmon are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.  These foods can lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides and curb inflammation.
·       Whole grains are good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  In addition to whole grains like oatmeal, popcorn and barley, try some of the ancient grains like spelt, amaranth, quinoa and wheat berries.