Mother’s Day and Food Safety

Here comes Mother’s Day; a day for hosting a gathering for our mothers. For many of us, it is a time to serve convenience food, so we have more time to enjoy our company.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education wants you to know that to prevent food-related illness due to under-cooking frozen or other convenience foods follow these four simple tips:

1. Read and follow package cooking instructions.

2. Know when to use a microwave or conventional oven.

3. Know your microwave wattage before microwaving food.

4. Always use a food thermometer to ensure a safe internal temperature.

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service wants you to know the following about keeping party foods safe:

  • Make sure all food is cooked thoroughly before serving.
  • Store prepared foods in shallow pans so they cool quickly and evenly. Reheat and serve small amounts on platters while the remaining food stays hot in the oven.
  • Don’t let food stay at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Use chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers to keep foods hot.
  • Surround dishes of cold foods with ice.

Both government agencies are quick to remind us that taking precautions when preparing and serving food can spare us the misery of a food-induced illness.

All of us at “Can Do” Street know how important mothers and grandmothers are to children young and old. So…from all of us to all of you…

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Dietary Supplements Are Popular, but are They Safe?

supplementsThe NIH offers a look at dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, botanicals and more. 

When you reach for that bottle of vitamin C or fish oil pills, you might wonder how well they’ll work and if they’re safe. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you need them in the first place.

More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription and usually come in pill, powder or liquid form. Common supplements include vitamins, minerals and herbal products, also known as botanicals.

People take these supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements.

“It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take one,” says Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian and consultant to NIH. “But dietary supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet.”

Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups. So talk with your health care provider if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements.

“You should discuss with your doctor what supplements you’re taking so your care can be integrated and managed,” advises Dr. Craig Hopp, an expert in botanicals research at NIH.

Dietary supplements are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods, not as drugs. The label may claim certain health benefits. But unlike medicines, supplements can’t claim to cure, treat or prevent a disease.

“There’s little evidence that any supplement can reverse the course of any chronic disease,” says Hopp. “Don’t take supplements with that expectation.”

Evidence does suggest that some supplements can enhance health in different ways. The most popular nutrient supplements are multivitamins, calcium and vitamins B, C and D. Calcium supports bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants—molecules that prevent cell damage and help to maintain health.

Women need iron during pregnancy, and breastfed infants need vitamin D. Folic acid—400 micrograms daily, whether from supplements or fortified food—it is important for all women of childbearing age.

Vitamin B12 keeps nerve and blood cells healthy. “Vitamin B12 mostly comes from meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may consider taking a supplement to be sure to get enough of it,” Haggans says.

Research suggests that fish oil can promote heart health. Of the supplements not derived from vitamins and minerals, Hopp says, “Fish oil probably has the most scientific evidence to support its use.”

The health effects of some other common supplements need more study. These include glucosamine (for joint pain) and herbal supplements such as echinacea (immune health) and flaxseed oil (digestion).

Many supplements have mild effects with few risks. But use caution. Vitamin K, for example, will reduce the ability of blood thinners to work. Ginkgo can increase blood thinning. The herb St. John’s wort is sometimes used to ease depression, anxiety or nerve pain, but it can also speed the breakdown of many drugs—such as antidepressants and birth control pills—and make them less effective.

Just because a supplement is promoted as “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. The herbs comfrey and kava, for example, can seriously damage the liver.

“It’s important to know the chemical makeup, how it’s prepared, and how it works in the body—especially for herbs, but also for nutrients,” says Haggans. “Talk to a health care provider for advice on whether you need  supplements in the first place, the dosages and possible interactions with medicine you’re already taking.”

For vitamins and minerals, check the % Daily Value (DV) for each nutrient to make sure you’re not getting too much. “It’s important to consider the DV and upper limit,” says Haggans. Too much of certain supplements can be harmful.

Scientists still have much to learn even about common vitamins. One recent study found unexpected evidence about vitamin E. Earlier research suggested that men who took vitamin E supplements might have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. “But much to our surprise, a large NIH-funded clinical trial of more than 29,000 men found that taking supplements of vitamin E actually raised—not reduced—their risk of this disease,” says Dr. Paul M. Coates, director of NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. That’s why it’s important to conduct clinical studies of supplements to confirm their effects.

Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body. If a product is found to be unsafe after it reaches the market, the FDA can restrict or ban its use.

Manufacturers are also responsible for the product’s purity, and they must accurately list ingredients and their amounts. But there’s no regulatory agency that makes sure that labels match what’s in the bottles. You risk getting less, or sometimes more, of the listed ingredients. All of the ingredients may not even be listed.

A few independent organizations conduct quality tests of supplements and offer seals of approval. This doesn’t guarantee the product works or is safe; it just assures the product was properly made and contains the listed ingredients.

“Products sold nationally in the stores and online where you usually shop should be fine,” Coates says. “According to the FDA, supplement products most likely to be contaminated with pharmaceutical ingredients are herbal remedies promoted for weight loss and for sexual or athletic performance enhancement.”

To make it easy to find reliable information, NIH has fact sheets on dietary supplements at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/.  NIH also recently launched an online Dietary Supplement Label Database at www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov. This free database lets you look up the ingredients of thousands of dietary supplements. It includes information from the label on dosage, health claims and cautions.

“Deciding whether to take dietary supplements and which ones to take is a serious matter,” says Coates. “Learn about their potential benefits and any risks they may pose first. Speak to your health care providers about products of interest and decide together what might be best for you to take, if anything, for your overall health.

Safe Use of Supplements

  • Tell all of your health care providers about any dietary supplements you use. Some supplements can interact with medications or affect medical conditions.
  • Read the label instructions for use.
  • “Natural” doesn’t always mean safe. For up-to-date news about the safety of particular supplements, check http://nccam.nih.gov/news/alerts.
  • Too much might be harmful. Don’t take more than the recommended dose.

Source: NIH News in Health

NIH Office of Communications
and Public Liaison
Building 31, Room 5B64
Bethesda, MD 20892-2094
nihnewsinhealth@od.nih.gov
Tel: 301-402-7337

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Choosing from the Protein Foods Group

The United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) issued the following information sheet as an aid for shopping and preparing foods from the Protein Foods Group.

image of foods from protein foods group

 Go Lean with Your Protein Foods Group Choices:

    • Start with a lean protein choice:
      • The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (eye of round, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
      • The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.
      • Choose extra lean ground beef. The label should say at least “90% lean.” You may be able to find ground beef that is 93% or 95% lean.
      • Buy skinless chicken parts, or take off the skin before cooking.
      • Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choices.
      • Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat luncheon meats for sandwiches instead of luncheon/deli meats with more fat, such as regular bologna or salami.
    • Keep your protein lean:
      • Trim away all of the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.
      • Broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat, poultry, or fish instead of frying.
      • Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.
      • Skip or limit the breading on meat, poultry, or fish. Breading adds calories. It will also cause the food to soak up more fat during frying.
      • Prepare beans and peas without added fats.
      • Choose and prepare foods without high fat sauces or gravies.

Vary Your Protein Foods Group Choices:

    • Choose seafood at least twice a week as the main protein food. Look for seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring. Some ideas are:
      • Salmon steak or filet
      • Salmon loaf
      • Grilled or baked trout
    • Choose beans, peas, or soy products as a main dish or part of a protein fortified meal often. Some choices are:
      • Chili with kidney or pinto beans
      • Stir- fried tofu
      • Split pea, lentil, minestrone, or white bean soups
      • Baked beans
      • Black bean enchiladas
      • Garbanzo or kidney beans on a chef’s salad
      • Rice and beans
      • Veggie burgers
      • Hummus (chickpeas) spread on pita bread
    • Choose unsalted nuts as a snack, on salads, or in main dishes as your protein. Use nuts to replace meat or poultry, not in addition to these items:
      • Use pine nuts in pesto sauce for pasta.
      • Add slivered almonds to steamed vegetables.
      • Add toasted peanuts or cashews to a vegetable stir fry instead of meat.
      • Sprinkle a few nuts on top of low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt.
      • Add walnuts or pecans to a green salad instead of cheese or meat.

What to Look for on Your Choices from Protein Foods Group:

    • Check the Nutrition Facts label for the saturated fat, Trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium content of packaged foods.
      • Processed meats such as hams, sausages, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the ingredient and Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake.
      • Fresh chicken, turkey, and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium. Check the product label for statements such as “self-basting” or “contains up to __% of __.”
      • Lower fat versions of many processed meats are available. Look on the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less fat and saturated fat.

Keep It Safe to Eat:

    • Separate raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods.
    • Do not wash or rinse meat or poultry.
    • Wash cutting boards, knives, utensils and counter tops in hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next one.
    • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator so juices don’t drip onto other foods.
    • Cook foods to a safe temperature to kill microorganisms. Use a meat thermometer, which measures the internal temperature of cooked meat and poultry, to make sure that the meat is cooked all the way through.
    • Chill (refrigerate) perishable food promptly and defrost foods properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours.
    • Plan ahead to defrost foods. Never defrost food on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Thaw food by placing it in the refrigerator, submerging air-tight packaged food in cold tap water (change water every 30 minutes), or defrosting on a plate in the microwave.
    • Avoid raw or partially cooked eggs or foods containing raw eggs and raw or undercooked meat and poultry.

Source: USDA, ChooseMyPlate.gov

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A Low Carbohydrate-High Protein Diet: Is it Safe?

It seems that we are always being bombarded with news about the ever-expanding American waistline. There is often a new diet rage to follow. While others go to extremes, many of us, in an effort to lose weight quickly, embrace a low carbohydrate-high protein diet.

Low carbohydrate-high protein diet

The low carb-high protein diet has become popular because of the short-term effects on weight control, but concerns have been raised about the potential cardiovascular effects over the long term. Studies exploring the issue have given mixed results, but three European studies showed a greater risk of cardiovascular mortality with such a diet.

Findings about a Low Carbohydrate-High Protein Diet

If you are on one, or thinking about going on one, please consider the findings of a study that followed young Swedish women over 15+years that was reported online in BMJ (an open-access peer-reviewed medical journal).

  • Consuming a low carbohydrate-high protein diet, like the Atkins diet, may be associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease in women.
  • A low carbohydrate diet implies low consumption of whole-grain foods, fruits, and starchy vegetables. and consequently reduced intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A high protein diet may indicate higher intake of red and processed meat and thus higher intake of iron, cholesterol, and saturated fat. These single factors have previously been linked to a higher risk of major chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
  • A healthy diet plan for you needs to be a diet that considers your current health and medical conditions. The place to begin is with a visit to your physician, a physical, and a discussion about an eating plan and exercise tailored to your needs and health.
  • When it comes to loosing weight and keeping it off. there are really no quick fixes.  Denying your body the nutrients it needs. over long periods of time will only damage your health.

 

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Empty Calories Taste Good but Have No Nutrients

Empty calories are calories that don’t give us the nutrients we need. Here is what MyPlate.gov. a division of the Dept. of Agriculture, has to say about foods that taste good, but contain empty calories.

picture of sweet treats that have empty caloriesMany of the foods and beverages Americans eat and drink contain empty calories. These are calories that come 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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