What are Empty Calories?

MyPlate.gov., a division of the Dept. of Agriculture offers the following information about foods we eat, and really enjoy, that really don’t give us the nutrients we need but do give us what are referred to as “empty calories.”

caloriesMany of the foods and beverages Americans eat and drink contain empty calories –- calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no nutrients. For this reason, the calories from solid fats and added sugars in a food are often called empty calories. Learning more about solid fats and added sugars can help you make better food and drink choices.

Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter, beef fat, and shortening. Some solid fats are found naturally in foods. They can also be added when foods are processed by food companies or when they are prepared. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added when foods or beverages are processed or prepared.
Solid fats and added sugars can make a food or beverage more appealing, but they also can add a lot of calories. The foods and beverages that provide the most empty calories for Americans are:

  • Cakes, cookies, pastries, and donuts (contain both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit drinks (contain added sugars)
  • Cheese (contains solid fat)
  • Pizza (contains solid fat)
  • Ice cream (contains both solid fat and added sugars)
  • Sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs (contain solid fat)

These foods and beverages are the major sources of empty calories, but many can be found in forms with less or no solid fat or added sugars. For example, low-fat cheese and low-fat hot dogs can be purchased. You can choose water, milk, or sugar-free soda instead of drinks with sugar. Check that the calories in these products are less than in the regular product.

In some foods, like most candies and sodas, all the calories are empty calories. These foods are often called “empty calorie foods.” However, empty calories from solid fats and added sugars can also be found in some other foods that contain important nutrients. Some examples of foods that provide nutrients, shown in forms with and without empty calories are:

 

Food with some empty calories Food with few or no empty calories
Sweetened applesauce (contains added sugars) Unsweetened applesauce
Regular ground beef (75% lean) (contains solid fats) Extra lean ground beef (96% or more lean)
Fried chicken (contains solid fats from frying and skin) Baked chicken breast without skin
Sugar-sweetened cereals (contain added sugars) Unsweetened cereals
Whole milk (contains solid fats) Fat-free milk

Making better choices, like unsweetened applesauce or extra lean ground beef, can help keep your intake of added sugars and solid fats low.

A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy.

It is important to limit empty calories to the amount that fits your calorie and nutrient needs. You can lower your intake by eating and drinking foods and beverages containing empty calories less often or by decreasing the amount you eat or drink.

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USDA Offers Summer Food Safety Tips In Advance of Memorial Day Weekend

foodWarmer temperatures call for extra attention to food safety when cooking and eating outdoors.

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, and many Americans will celebrate with cookouts, camping, road trips and other activities that involve food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is reminding families to take extra care not to let foodborne bacteria, which grows more quickly in hot weather, ruin the fun.

“This Memorial Day weekend and all summer long, I encourage families to get outside and enjoy our natural resources, national parks and forests, and the variety of food America’s farmers are able to provide,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “It’s important to remember that bacteria grow faster in the same warm temperatures that people enjoy, so extra care needs to be taken to prevent food poisoning when preparing meals away from home. USDA reminds everyone to use a food thermometer, and take advantage of resources like our FoodKeeper app to help with any food handling questions.”

The USDA recently launched its FoodKeeper mobile app, which contains specific guidance on more than 400 food and beverage items, including safe cooking recommendations for meat, poultry and seafood products.

The app provides information on how to store food and beverages to maximize their freshness and quality. This will help keep products fresh longer than if they were stored improperly, which can happen more often during hot summer days. The application is available for free on Android and Apple devices.

Due to a variety of factors, including warmer temperatures, foodborne illness increases in summer. To help Americans stay healthy and safe, USDA offers the following food safety recommendations.

Bringing food to a picnic or cookout:
• Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Frozen food can also be used as a cold source.
• Foods that need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry, and seafood; deli and luncheon meats or sandwiches; summer salads (tuna, chicken, egg, pasta, or seafood); cut up fruit and vegetables; and perishable dairy products.
• A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than a partially filled one. When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter.
• Avoid opening the cooler repeatedly so that your food stays colder longer.
Cooking on the grill:
• Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
• Keep perishable food cold until it is ready to cook.
• Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures
• Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time
• Ground meats: 160 °F
• Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °F
• Always use a fresh, clean plate and tongs for serving cooked food. Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry to serve the food once it is cooked.
Serving food outdoors:
• Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours. In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should NEVER sit out for more than one hour.
• Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler. After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served – at 140 °F or warmer.
• Keep hot food hot by setting it to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook.

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Reducing Sodium in Restaurant Foods

 The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shares the following press release reminding us to consider how much sodium we may be consuming when we eat out.

Americans eat out at fast food or dine-in restaurants four or five times a week. Just one of those meals might contain more than an entire day’s recommended amount of sodium.  CDC has strategies for health departments and restaurants to work together to offer healthier choices for consumers who want to lower their sodium intake. The report, “From Menu to Mouth: Opportunities for Sodium Reduction in Restaurants,” is published in the CDC’s journal, Preventing Chronic Disease.

sodiumOn average, foods from fast food restaurants contain 1,848 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories and foods from dine-in restaurants contain 2,090 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories.

The U. S. Dietary Guidelines recommend the general population limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day. Too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke.

“The bottom line is that it’s both possible and life-saving to reduce sodium, and this can be done by reducing, replacing and reformulating,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “When restaurants rethink how they prepare food and the ingredients they choose to use, healthier options become routine for customers.”

The report outlines several ways health departments and restaurants have worked together to offer lower-sodium choices:

  • Health department dietitians help restaurants analyze the sodium content of their foods and recommend lower-sodium ingredients.
  • Restaurants clearly post nutrition information, including sodium content, at the order counter and on menus or offer lower-sodium items at lower cost.
  • Health departments and restaurants explain to food service staff why lower sodium foods are healthier and how to prepare them.

The report also features examples of sodium reduction successes.  In Philadelphia, the health department worked with 206 restaurants to create the “Philadelphia Healthy Chinese Take-out Initiative.”  After evaluating menus for sodium content, participating restaurants began choosing lower sodium ingredients and creating lower sodium recipes. After nine months, analyses of two popular dishes offered by 20 of the restaurants showed sodium was reduced by 20 percent.

“The story in Philadelphia shows what can be done,” Dr. Frieden said. “It’s not about giving up the food you love, but providing lower sodium options that taste great.”

To learn more about sodium and how it affects health, visit www.cdc.gov/salt.  Reducing sodium is one way that Million Hearts, a national public-private initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017, is working with communities to keep people healthier and less likely to need health care www.millionhearts.hhs.gov.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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Food Safety and Power Outages

food

When severe storms or heat waves cause power outages the big food questions are…what to save and when to throw out?

No one wants to lose a freezer and a refrigerator full of food, but spoiled food can cause serious illness.

According to the USDA Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency you need to adhere to the following guidelines:

Frozen Food

  1. A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full).
  2. If the power is going to be out for a long time, buy dry or block ice.
  3. Thawed or partially thawed food in the freezer may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is at 40 °F or below. Partial thawing and refreezing may affect the quality of some food, but the food will be safe to eat.
  4. If you keep an appliance thermometer in your freezer, it’s easy to tell whether food is safe. When the power comes back on, check the thermometer. If it reads 40 °F or below, the food is safe and can be refrozen.

 Refrigerated Food

  Keep the fridge closed. It will keep food cold for about 4 hours. Throw away any foods that have been above 40 degrees for longer than two hours.

Words of Caution:

  • Never taste food to determine its safety! You can’t rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe.

  • Always discard any items in the refrigerator and freezer that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  • Remember, when in doubt, throw it out!

Another caution-be careful when grocery shopping after a power outage. Freezers and refrigerated foods may also have been affected.

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After School Food Safety

foodThe kitchen, for food, is often the first place children go when they get home from school, but it’s not always the safest place. Millions of children become ill from the food they eat.

Here are some food safety recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to share with children to help keep them safe after school. When coming home after school, kids can help prevent illnesses by following these recommendations:

  1. Place books, bags, and sporting equipment on the floor, not on eating counters or the kitchen table where germs could be transferred.
  2. Clean out lunch boxes and throw away perishable sandwiches or other “refrigerator type” foods, such as yogurt tubes or cheese sticks, left over from lunch.
  3. Wash your hands before you make or eat a snack. Hands carry lots of germs, and not washing hands is a top cause of foodborne illness.
  4. Always use clean spoons, forks, and plates.
  5. Wash fruits and vegetables with running tap water before you eat them.
  6. Do not eat bread, cheese, or soft fruits or vegetables that are bruised or have spots of mold.
  7. Do not eat unbaked cookie dough because it may contain raw eggs that can have Salmonella bacteria.
  8. Do not leave cold items, like milk, lunchmeat, hard cooked eggs, or yogurt, out on the counter at room temperature. Put these foods back in the refrigerator as soon as you’ve fixed your snack.
  9. Don’t eat any perishable food left out of the refrigerator, such as pizza — even if it isn’t topped with meat. Food should not be left in the temperature “Danger Zone” of 40 to 140 °F for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is 90 °F or higher).

Heating or cooking foods in microwave ovens can present food safety and personal safety challenges. Some foods do not heat evenly to destroy all bacteria that could be present. Keep these tips in mind:

  1. Read package directions carefully. An adult needs to tell children whether to use the minimum or maximum cooking time on food package directions.
  2. Use only microwave-safe cookware. Don’t put metal or foil-wrapped foods in the microwave. Never microwave food in cold storage containers, such as margarine tubs, cottage cheese cartons, or bowls from frozen whipped topping. The containers can melt and transfer harmful chemicals into the food.
  3. For more even cooking and to better destroy bacteria, cover a dish of food with a lid, plastic wrap, or wax paper. Turn up one corner to let excess steam escape while food is microwaving.
  4. Halfway through cooking, rotate food packages and dishes or stir food during microwaving — even if the oven has a turntable. This helps the food cook more evenly and safely.

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