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, September 2, 2015

Dealing With Our Eating Habits

Dealing With Our Eating Habits
When it comes to eating, we have strong habits. Some are good ("I always eat breakfast"), and some are not so good ("I always clean my plate"). Although many of our eating habits were established during childhood, it doesn't mean it's too late to change them.

Making sudden, radical changes to eating habits such as eating nothing but cabbage soup, can lead to short term weight loss. However, such radical changes are neither healthy nor a good idea, and won't be successful in the long run. Permanently improving your eating habits requires a thoughtful approach in which you Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce.

·       REFLECT on all of your specific eating habits, both bad and good; and, your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
·       REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
·       REINFORCE your new, healthier eating habits.

Reflect, Replace, Reinforce: A process for improving your eating habits

1.       Create a list of your eating habits. Keeping a food diary for a few days, in which you write down everything you eat and the time of day you ate it, will help you uncover your habits. For example, you might discover that you always seek a sweet snack to get you through the mid-afternoon energy slump. Use this diary[PDF-36KB](http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/pdf/food_diary_cdc.pdf) to help. It's good to note how you were feeling when you decided to eat, especially if you were eating when not hungry. Were you tired? Stressed out?

2.       Highlight the habits on your list that may be leading you to overeat. Common eating habits that can lead to weight gain are:
·       Eating too fast
·       Always cleaning your plate
·       Eating when not hungry
·       Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or too quickly)
·       Always eating dessert
·       Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)

3.       Look at the unhealthy eating habits you've highlighted. Be sure you've identified all the triggers that cause you to engage in those habits. Identify a few you'd like to work on improving first. Don't forget to pat yourself on the back for the things you're doing right. Maybe you almost always eat fruit for dessert, or you drink low-fat or fat-free milk. These are good habits! Recognizing your successes will help encourage you to make more changes.

4.       Create a list of "cues" by reviewing your food diary to become more aware of when and where you're "triggered" to eat for reasons other than hunger. Note how you are typically feeling at those times. Often an environmental "cue", or a particular emotional state, is what encourages eating for non-hunger reasons.
Common triggers for eating when not hungry are:
·       Opening up the cabinet and seeing your favorite snack food.
·       Sitting at home watching television.
·       Before or after a stressful meeting or situation at work.
·       Coming home after work and having no idea what's for dinner.
·       Having someone offer you a dish they made "just for you!"
·       Walking past a candy dish on the counter.
·       Sitting in the break room beside the vending machine.
·       Seeing a plate of doughnuts at the morning staff meeting.
·       Swinging through your favorite drive-through every morning.
·       Feeling bored or tired and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up.
5.       Circle the "cues" on your list that you face on a daily or weekly basis. Going home for the Thanksgiving holiday may be a trigger for you to overeat, and eventually, you want to have a plan for as many eating cues as you can. But for now, focus on the ones you face more often.

6.       Ask yourself these questions for each "cue" you've circled:
·       Is there anything I can do to avoid the cue or situation? This option works best for cues that don't involve others. For example, could you choose a different route to work to avoid stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way? Is there another place in the break room where you can sit so you're not next to the vending machine?
·       For things I can't avoid, can I do something differently that would be healthier? Obviously, you can't avoid all situations that trigger your unhealthy eating habits, like staff meetings at work. In these situations, evaluate your options. Could you suggest or bring healthier snacks or beverages? Could you offer to take notes to distract your attention? Could you sit farther away from the food so it won't be as easy to grab something? Could you plan ahead and eat a healthy snack before the meeting?
7.       Replace unhealthy habits with new, healthy ones. For example, in reflecting upon your eating habits, you may realize that you eat too fast when you eat alone. So, make a commitment to share a lunch each week with a colleague, or have a neighbor over for dinner one night a week. Other strategies might include putting your fork down between bites or minimizing other distractions (i.e. watching the news during dinner) that might keep you from paying attention to how quickly — and how much — you're eating.
Reinforce your new, healthy habits and be patient with yourself. Habits take time to develop. It doesn't happen overnight. When you do find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly as possible and ask yourself: Why do I do this? When did I start doing this? What changes do I need to make? Be careful not to berate yourself or think that one mistake "blows" a whole day's worth of healthy habits. You can do it! It just takes one day at a time!

 Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Monday, August 31, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

National Back to School Month

National Back to School Month
August is National Back to School Month and MyPlate has resources or students of all ages! Help preschoolers develop healthy eating habits; teach kids (6-11 yrs) how to build healthy meals; and guide teens as they learn healthy behaviors to carry into adulthood. Browse a variety of resources that can help you fill up your bulletin boards at schools, community centers, and places of worship with health information for children.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

August is Kids Eat Right Month™

August is Kids Eat Right Month™
Planning meals ahead of time can improve health while saving time and money. Getting children involved in planning and cooking meals can have benefits for the whole family, too. August is Kids Eat Right Month™, a nutrition education, information-sharing and action campaign created by the Kids Eat Right program, an initiative of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its Foundation. Kids Eat Right Month™ spotlights healthy nutrition and active lifestyles for children and families, offering tips to help families cook healthy, eat right, and be active.

Tips to cook healthy, eat right, and be active:
Get kids involved in the kitchen. When kids help out in the kitchen they learn cooking skills, important food safety practices, and better nutrition. They also have the potential to further develop math, reading, science, and fine motor skills. At the same time, kids are having fun and increasing quality time together with family. Involve children in the cutting, mixing and preparation of meals. Kids love control and creativity. Any way they can be included in meal planning or preparing will increase the likelihood of a successful dinner.
Kid friendly kitchen tasks. Children ages 3 to 5 can use cookie cutters, rinse produce, clear tabletops, mix simple ingredients, and use pieces of fruit to craft fun shapes. Six- to 7-year-olds can crack eggs in a bowl, de-seed peppers and tomatoes, stir and prepare instant pudding, and prepare lettuce for a salad. Eight- to 9-year-olds can rinse and clean vegetables, use a can opener, beat eggs, measure and mix dry ingredients, and use a food thermometer. Ten- to 12-year-olds can boil pasta and vegetables, simmer ingredients on the stovetop, follow a simple step-by-step recipe, slice and chop vegetables, and bake and microwave foods.
Don't forget food safety basics. Clean all countertops and kitchen surfaces prior to cooking. Remember to pull back long hair. Never taste food until it is done cooking. When children are assisting with meal preparation, make sure there is always adult supervision. Always use clean utensils. Wash hands in warm, soapy water before and after handling food.
Eat right and be active for healthy children. Factors that can affect childhood nutrition include number of meals eaten away from home, portion sizes, types of beverages consumed (especially those high in added sugars), and meal patterns and frequency. It's important to pay attention not only to nutrition, but also physical activity levels. Encourage kids to participate in physical activities that are fun, age-appropriate, and provide variety. Current recommendations state kids should get 60-plus minutes of activity daily.
Learn more about how to cook healthy, eat right, and be active at www.eatright.org/resources/for-kids. For more food, nutrition and health information from Nebraska Extension go to www.food.unl.edu.
 Authored by or Adapted from Lisa Franzen-Castle, PhD, RD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Nutrition Specialist. Healthy Bites Newsletter, July 2015, at http://http://food.unl.edu/fnh/healthybites_august.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Foods Labeled "Natural"

Foods Labeled “Natural”
Americans are looking for foods that will allow them to eat healthier.  According to a Nielsen Healthy Eating report, the term natural helped sell $40.7 billion of food products in 2014. 
As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a natural food is one that does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.  Due to this definition, the word “natural” can mean a variety of things. Instead of having an exact definition for the term, the FDA has set guidelines for its use. 
If you are uncertain on whether or not the food is considered “natural” check the ingredient listing. The food should not contain:
·       Hydrogenated oils
·       High-fructose corn syrup
·       Monosodium glutamate
·       Artificial sweeteners
·       Preservatives


Friday, August 21, 2015

Recyle Misconception

A Common Misconception
Did you know that the arrows chasing arrows symbol with a number on the bottom of your water bottle, detergent container, carton of juice, etc. is called a resin code.  This symbol does not determine if an item is recyclable.  It is a symbol manufactures use to tell us what kind of plastic the material is.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Canning Tomatoes

Canning Tomatoes
Tons of tomatoes? You may want help finding reliable methods to preserve them safely and in the highest quality. Here are tips for Sorting Out Tomato Canning Directions, and be sure to follow these recommendations for Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products provided by the National Home Food Preservation Center at the University of Georgia. 
Here are some tips for successfully canning tomatoes.
·       A number of factors affect the acidity of canned tomatoes and juices.  To address this issue, use 1 tablespoon per pint and two tablespoons per quart of lemon juice or ½ teaspoon citric acid per quart or ¼ teaspoon per pint.
·       Do not add a thickening agent to tomato products before canning.  These products can be thickened before serving.
·       The type of pack – whole, quartered, hot or raw and packing liquid – tomato juice or water affect process times as do other ingredients, canning method and jar sizes.  Use up-to-date tested recipes. These are available from your county extension office.
·       Open-kettle canning of tomatoes, tomato juice or other tomato products is very unsafe.  Microwave canning and oven canning are also unsafe.
·       Paste tomatoes work well for making salsa as they are meatier than slicing tomatoes.      


Monday, August 17, 2015

Tips for Choosing Summer Produce

Tips for Choosing Summer Produce
This is a wonderful time of year to enjoy summer produce.  Below are some tips for choosing some favorites.

Watermelon. When choosing a watermelon, look for one that feels heavy for its size.  When you tap it with your knuckles, it should give a resounding know and feel firm.  Also, find the round spot where the melon rested on the ground. The spot should be yellow rather than white. A white spot may mean a melon was picked too soon.
Sweet Corn.  Look for ears with husks that are still green and slightly moist.  The threads coming out of the top of the husk should be slightly sticky.  Pull back the husk a little and slice into one kernel with a thumbnail.  Some milky liquid should flow out.

Tomatoes.   Select tomatoes that are deeply colored and firm, with a little give. Sniff all tomatoes if you can. If they’re missing that sweet, woody smell, leave them behind. Check grape tomatoes for wrinkles, a sign of age.
Cantaloupe.  Begin by smelling the cantaloupe. Ripe cantaloupes give off a sweet, cantaloupe smell . A ripe cantaloupe with be golden/orange in color underneath and within the outer rind. An unripe cantaloupe will be green underneath. Also make sure the cantaloupe is not too soft, a classic sign of being overripe.

Peaches. When selecting peaches, begin by smelling the fruit. The peach is a member of the rose family and should have a pleasingly sweet fragrance .Look for a creamy gold to yellow under color. The red or "blush" of a peach is an indication of variety, not ripeness. Peaches should be soft to the touch but not mushy. Don't squeeze peaches; they bruise easily. Place firm peaches on the counter at room temperature and they will ripen within a few days. Promptly refrigerate ripe peaches, and eat them within a week of purchase.
Plums.  When selecting plums, look for plums that show good color for their variety with a slight firmness, but plums with a little give to the touch are fine too.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Preserving Peppers

Preserving Peppers
Peppers have grown in popularity in recent years. Native to the Americas, most varieties belong to the belong to the Capsicum annuum  species.  Peppers range in pungency from the sweet bell to the fiery habanero.  The chemical substance that makes some peppers hot is capsaicin. 

It is a common misconception that the hotter the pepper, the acidic it is. The hotness of a pepper depends on the amount of capsaicin it contains and not the level of acidity.  All peppers are classified as low-acid foods and have a pH of 4.8 to 6.0 depending on maturity and variety.
There are many ways to preserve peppers, including drying pepper rings, freezing sweet bell peppers or hot peppers, or pickling peppers (bell peppers, hot peppers, jalapeño rings, or yellow pepper rings).  These recipes are provided by the National Home Food Preservation Center. 

To store fresh peppers, the ideal storage temperature is 45 degrees F, but they will last about one week in a typical home refrigerator (which should be kept at 40 degrees F.) Fresh, whole peppers will last longer if they are kept dry.
Like most fruits and vegetables, peppers should be washed just prior to consuming or preserving.  To wash, rinse well under clean, cold water, gently rubbing to remove dirt or soil.  Cut or chop on a clean surface using a clean knife.  Any cut fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator if not used within two hours.     

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's Time for Pickling

It’s Time for Pickling
Pickling isn’t just for cucumbers! Try one of the many other zesty vegetable pickles you can make and can this summer, like Pickled Dilled Beans and Pickled Okra.  These recipes are part of a larger group of tested food preservation recipes on the National Home Food Preservation Center at the University of Georgia.
 Making pickled foods is fun and usually easy.  Here are some tips to ensure your products turn out great.
·       Use the exact amount of salt called for in the recipe.  Canning salt is recommended for use in pickling processes.
·       Select fresh, firm, high quality vegetables and fruits for pickling. For best quality, pickle fruits or vegetables within 24 hours of harvest.
·       If using cucumbers in a recipe, make sure they are pickling cucumbers.  The wax coated cucumbers sold in the grocery store are not suitable for pickling because the pickling solution cannot penetrate the wax coating.
·       Use a vinegar that is a 5 percent acetic acid. Apple cider vinegar can be a good choice for many pickles.  Its mellow, fruity taste blends well with other flavors.
·       Remove all blossoms and cut a 1/16th inch slice from the blossom end of vegetables and discard. The blossoms contain enzymes that can cause softening and result in an unacceptable product.
·       Softened water is recommended for making pickles and relishes.
Happy pickling! 


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Hype on Coconut Oil

The Hype on Coconut Oil
Many claims tout the health benefits of coconut oil, including weight loss, cancer prevention, and Alzheimer’s disease. So far the scientific evidence does not support these claims. The three types of coconut oil—virgin, refined, and partially hydrogenated—are all high in saturated fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, tends to raise the level of cholesterol in the blood, and comes mainly from animal food products. Some examples of saturated fats are butter, lard, meat fat, solid shortening, palm oil, and coconut oil.

The two main types of coconut oil used in cooking and baking are “virgin” coconut oil and “refined” coconut oil. Virgin is considered to be unrefined. Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut pulp that is often chemically bleached and deodorized. Since coconuts are a plant and virgin coconut oil has some antioxidant properties, some individuals may view it as healthy. However, virgin coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a type of fatty acid that can raise both good and bad cholesterol levels. Manufacturers may also use another form of coconut oil that has further processing— “partially hydrogenated” coconut oil, which would contain trans fat. Some research suggests coconut oil intake may be associated with a neutral, if not beneficial, effect on cholesterol levels.

Tips for using coconut oil:
• Use “virgin” or unrefined coconut oil.
 • Use it in moderation.
• Limit foods made with partially hydrogenated coconut oil like baked goods, biscuits, salty snacks, and some cereals.

Allergy Alert: Coconut is considered a tree nut. Individuals with tree nut allergies should talk with their health care provider before using or eating foods containing coconut oil.

Source: Jody Gatewood, MS, RD, LD, Assistant State Nutrition Program Specialist, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


Friday, August 7, 2015

The Summer Vegetable with "Ears" - Corn!

The Summer Vegetable with “Ears” – Corn!
Corn has a long history as it was domesticated in Mexico at least 7,000 years ago.  It was then spread to the rest of the world by Spanish explorers. 

In addition to providing fiber, corn is a good source of thiamine, folate, and vitamin C.  The kernels also provide a number of phytochemicals and antioxidants.
When selecting fresh corn, choose ears that boast green leaves and are slightly moist, never dry.  Threads coming out of the top of the husk should be slightly sticky. The kernels should be plump and if you pop open a kernel some milky liquid should flow out.  Ears with shriveled husks that contain dark spots or brownish-colored tassels should not be used.  Store corn in it shuck, uncovered, in the refrigerator and consume within a few days of purchase. 

To prepare corn, remove husks and silk and cook in boiling water for six minutes.  The corn can then be eaten. 
If the corn kernels will be frozen, cook ears for four minutes in boiling water and then place ears in cold water.  Once ears are cool, remove kernels from the ear with a knife. Kernels can be placed in a freeze plastic bag or freezer container and frozen.    If corn-on-the-cob will be frozen, blanch small ears (1 ¼ inches in diameter) seven minutes, medium ears (1 1/4 to 1 ½ inches in diameter) nine minutes and large ears (over 1 ½ inches in diameter) 11 minutes.  Cool promptly and completely to prevent a “cobby” taste. Drain, package and store.    

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Making Pickles-What is the Difference Between Cucumber Picklers and Slicers?

Making Pickles – What is the Difference between Cucumber Picklers and Slicers?
I am going to start some dill pickles this week in preparation for a food preservation class on making pickles scheduled for early August.  I found a local farming operation with a produce stand not far from our office who is selling pickling cucumbers.  So what is the difference between a pickling cucumber and a slicing cucumber?
 Pickling cucumbers are usually shorter, thicker and have bumpy skin with small prickly spines.  They are not waxed, so the brine will penetrate more easily.  Most pickling varieties are picked at 1 ½ inches for gerkins and 4 inches for dills.  If the pickling cucumbers grow too large, they can still be used for bread and butter pickles. 

Slicers are generally longer, smoother and more uniform in color.  The skin is also tougher and if you purchase them at the grocery store, they usually have a wax on them to keep them from drying out.  If you purchase slicers at a farmers market or produce stand or are part of a CSA, often they are not waxed.  Typically slicers are eaten fresh in salads and sandwiches. 

Whether the cucumbers are going to be used for pickling or eating, be sure to wash them well before consuming.




Monday, August 3, 2015

Adding More Fruit to Your Diet

Adding More Fruit to Your Diet
With the wonderful selection of fruit in grocery stores, at farmers markets, produce stands and in our gardens, it is a great time to think about eating more fruit.

Fruits are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemical. They are also low in fat and sodium.  Fruit is also a good source of fiber. Fruit intake is linked to health benefits including reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Suggested fruit intake is 1 ½ cups per day for women and 2 cups for men each day.   
Here are some tips for increasing your fruit intake.
·       A study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab shows that slicing fruit for students in elementary schools can increase fruit sales by 71%! According to interviews conducted with students, there are two main reasons that students prefer cut fruit: 1) Braces and missing teeth make it difficult to bite into whole fruits. 2) Older girls reported that it was unattractive to bite into whole fruit. Cutting fruit not only increases sales but also increases consumption and decreases waste! The study found that the number of students that ate over half of their pre-sliced apple increased by 73%!
·       Drink your fruit in a smoothie rather than juice.  Juice tends to lack fiber.  Smoothies typically contain fruit and yogurt so getting needed calcium is another benefit.
·       Add fruits to summer salads.  Greens, fresh berries, and cooked chicken with a raspberry or poppy seed salad dressing make a tasty, healthy entrée.
·       Add fruits to quick breads, muffins, cooked oatmeal and yogurt. Berries make a great topping for pancakes or waffles.
Source: Katie Baildon, Assistant to the Director, eXtension CoP Healthy Food Choices in Schools, Assistant to the Director of Communications, Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Cornell University    

Friday, July 31, 2015

Iced Tea-A Great Summer Beverage

Iced Tea – A Great Summer Beverage
While Northeast Wisconsin has enjoyed temperatures in the upper 80’s for the past week, other parts of the country have experience warmer temperatures.  To trying to keep cool, it is important to stay hydrated.  In the United States, 85 percent of tea that is drunk is iced, making it a great beverage to enjoy on these hot summer days.

Drinking tea may reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease and gastrointestinal cancers.   Whether you drink hot tea or cold tea the health benefits are the same.

If you enjoy sweetened tea, remember that the added sugar will result in an increase of calories.  Sweetened tea would best be drunk as a treat rather than a daily beverage. 
When shopping for tea, remember that a serving is eight ounces. Many of the bottled teas contain more than eight ounces.  Since people usually finish the bottle by themselves, it leads to multiple servings being consumer at one time. 

Read the ingredient listing to make sure genuine tea is listed as one of the first ingredients.  Otherwise you may end up with a tea-flavored drink.

It is easy to make your own iced tea.  Add one bag of your favorite tea to a cup of hot water, steep for five minutes then pour over ice.