Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Families Living Well is moving! http://extension.psu.edu/healthy-lifestyles

Thank you for your interest in the Families Living Well blog. We have enjoyed bringing you this blog for more than 4 years and hope that it has been a source of reliable, research-based information for you and your family.  Our team of Penn State Extension Family and Consumer Sciences blog contributors has grown over the years. With this growth comes the need to expand the technical capabilities of this service. Therefore, the Families Living Well blog will change formats and join the Penn State Extension Nutrition, Diet and Health website. This site will offer the same up-to-date, family focused information as this original blog, but at a more extensive site. Please follow this link to the Penn State Extension Nutrition, Diet and Health website: http://extension.psu.edu/healthy-lifestyles.

At this new site you will find information from the current Families Living Well blog contributors, in addition to a host of new authors covering an even wider range of nutrition and wellness related topics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Expanding Nutritious Choices for the Holidays

The holidays offer many opportunities for eating with friends and family:  parties, restaurant get-togethers, fast food pick-ups and more! Here are ideas to expand culinary options without expanding waistlines! Guess the test below for calories saved using these eating tips!

1. Pre-Party or Meal: Have a serving of fresh fruit or vegetables before leaving or to eat en route to the party to take the edge off your hunger. You will get a good dose of nutrition, as well, which may be in short supply! How many calories saved by eating an apple in place of 3 additional hot wings?

2. Appetizer: Eat two veggie choices for every appetizer hitting your plate. The veggies will help fill you up and slow you down.  Don’t think there will be any veggies? Then pick up a package of hummus dip and bags of fresh baby carrots and fresh sugar snap peas to plate out your contribution to the table! Calories saved by eating 6 baby carrots, 6 pea pods and 1 Tablespoons hummus instead of 3 extra meatballs?

3. Main Dish: If you prepare it, dilute the calories and fat by adding veggies to the dish.  Adding fiber, vitamins and healthy plant chemicals is a great way to push down the calories, fat and sodium.  Add zucchini, carrots, broccoli, or spinach to pasta dishes to expand the volume while decreasing calories per portion.  Add extra veggies to pasta salads, casseroles, soups, chicken or tuna salads and pizza toppings.  The number of calories saved per portion by adding 2 cups mixed veggies to a quart of tuna casserole?

4. The Bread Basket: Be aware of the magically refilling basket full of French bread, cheddar biscuits, or tortilla chips. Order a side salad with light dressing or a broth-based soup to consume your attention.  Calories saved by having a cup of vegetable soup in place of 20 tortilla chips?

5. Carry-out: Arm yourself with a lunch pack of healthy snacks as you head out on shopping trips – light yogurt, reduced fat cheese sticks, whole grain crackers, roasted almonds, a sectioned orange or other fruit – nourishing treats that will slip into your purse or pack easily as you shop – a truly refreshing break from the starchy, sugary items that rob you of energy. What saved from 2 mozzarella sticks and 2 tablespoons almonds instead of a kiosk cinnamon pretzel?

6.  Dessert: Fill your plate from the buffet with fruits, leaving only enough space for a small serving of your favorite dessert cake or pie.  You will be giving your body what it needs, and reducing empty calories.  How about 10 grapes, ½ cup fresh pineapple, and 6 luscious strawberries with ½ slice apple pie?  Compare it to a whole slice of apple pie, 2 chocolate mini-brownies, with 3/4 cup of soft serve?  How many calories saved?

Calories Saved:  157 calories saved in the pre-party option.  Appetizer strategy saves 107 calories. Main dish method saves 75 calories per portion and Bread Basket substitution cuts 140 calories. Carry-out snack tastes great and cuts 224 calories, while the dessert option saves 422 calories and allows you to continue shopping for your bargains with renewed energy! Use smaller plates and bowls for portion control – studies show we feel satisfied when we have consumed what we consider to be a portion, whether that portion is standard or extra-generous. Cook foods in healthy ways, and be sure to include vegetable side dishes to complete your meals.  With all your calorie savings, you will feel energetic and trim as you sail through the holidays!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Confused When Purchasing Fresh Fish?

I enjoy eating and cooking fish but often have questions about what to buy when I shop at my grocery or seafood store. My grocery store doesn’t carry much variety in types of fish - salmon, flounder, tilapia and a few others but decisions about wild-caught or farm raised, fresh or previously frozen, organic and place of origin can be confusing. Restaurants and seafood stores may carry other varieties of fish whose names are unfamiliar to land lubbers and choosing what to eat requires some education.

The average American eats about 3.5 ounces per week of seafood. “Seafood” is a term that also includes shellfish. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we increase our seafood intake to 8 ounces/week. Research has shown that consumption of an average of 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is associated with reduced cardiac deaths among individuals with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

Because of the high demand for fish, some fish populations have been depleted. Large scale fish farming took off in the 70’s and tripled in size between 1995 and 2007 to address the demand for more fish at reasonable prices. Farmed fish are raised in controlled conditions in pens and fed pellets of food. This ensures year round availability of fish and lowers the cost. Wild fish are seasonal and may cost two to three times more. Wild fish often have a stronger flavor and can be firmer and less fatty due to diet variations and the need to swim in open waters.

How about contaminants? Wild ocean-dwelling fish are not likely to contain antibiotics like farmed fish and may contain fewer pesticides and environmental pollutants, but fish farming can control the water quality which may result in less pollution. Mercury is found in all fish. Certain large fish like shark, king mackerel, tilefish, ahi tuna and swordfish have higher levels and intake should be limited, especially by children and pregnant women. Mercury is a heavy metal that can affect fetal development and healthy growth in children. Mercury can also wreck havoc in adults.

By federal law, grocery and big box stores must include on the label whether a fish has been previously frozen or is fresh and its country of origin. For wild fish in the U.S. market, most come from the Pacific Ocean with fish from Alaska being greatly prized. Interestingly, Alaska salmon is often wild whereas Atlantic salmon is always farm raised. It is recommended to choose American farm raised fish which may be regulated more closely than farm raised fish from outside the U.S.

U.S. fish labels must also disclose whether color has been added to the fish. Wild salmon naturally develop a reddish-pink color from their diet. Farmed salmon are pale so farmers add carotenoids (a group of colorful antioxidants) to their fish pellets which gives the salmon color. The law requires that this fish is labeled “color added”.

Beware of an “organic” label on fish. There are no federal standards for organic seafood.

Seafood is a popular selection in restaurants and some specialize in carrying local wild fish. Some states require noting whether a fish is wild and the state of origin. No mention is usually made of whether a fish is farm raised. Ask your waiter about unfamiliar varieties of fish. Like produce, fish are seasonal and if you live near fresh or salt water, getting to know local fish may increase your appreciation of this aquaculture.

For most of us, adding more fish to our diet can improve our health. Fish can be found canned, frozen, dried or fresh and it all contributes to a healthy heart. After researching this article, I am feeling more confident about my fresh fish choices. I hope that it helps you too!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving

What do you do when your grad student stepdaughter calls to announce that she’s bringing a friend home for Thanksgiving dinner and by the way, he’s vegetarian and doesn’t eat meat?

First, don’t panic. Then, take a breath and ask: does he eat dairy products? (yes) and eggs? (also yes). Okay, this is good news. After all, this is only one meal, right? You can easily incorporate vegetarian dishes into a traditional Thanksgiving meal, even with roast turkey on the table.

Vegetarian diets can be quite varied, but most center on plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes (dried beans), pulses (dried split peas), along with whole grains and nuts and seeds. According to the USDA, vegetarian diets typically fall into three primary categories of eating patterns: “vegan: excludes all meat and animal products; lacto-vegetarian: includes plant foods plus dairy products, and lacto-ovo vegetarian: includes both dairy products and eggs” 

It is possible to follow a vegetarian diet and obtain the basic necessary nutrients. “The key,” says the USDA,” is to consume a variety of foods and the right amount of foods to meet your calorie and nutrient needs.” Take a look at USDA’s “10 Tips Healthy Eating for Vegetarians” http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/DGTipsheet8HealthyEatingForVegetarians.pdf
For anyone considering a vegetarian diet, a wise option is to consult your physician, healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the eating plan that best meets your individual needs.

Now, on to our Thanksgiving vegetarian menu. Baked halved acorn or sweet dumpling squash, filled with a mixture of brown rice or other whole grain such as cooked wheat berries, quinoa or whole barley,that has been simmered in vegetable broth with diced onion, carrot and celery, seasoned with your favorite herbs such as thyme, dill or marjoram and a handful of dried, sweetened cranberries makes a colorful presentation for any autumn table.

Here is a recipe for Brown Rice Pilaf with Sage, Walnuts and Dried Fruit, from the American Institute for Cancer Research.  I had some pistachios in the cupboard, which I substituted for the walnuts.

Canola cooking spray
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, ends trimmed and chopped
2 cups uncooked brown rice
2  1/2 cups water
2 cups reduced sodium, fat-free vegetable broth
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Spray large skillet with canola oil cooking spray.  Heat skillet over medium heat.  Sauté onion and celery until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add brown rice, and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add water, broth, raisins and apricots; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 50 minutes. Stir in walnuts if desired, sage, salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish. Garnish with fresh sage and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 213 calories, 1 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 45 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 150 mg sodium.
Turkey gravy aside, most traditional Thanksgiving side dishes are vegetarian-friendly.  There are exceptions of course, for dishes such as stuffing or dressing which often call for chicken broth in the recipe; vegetable broth or stock is a quick and easy substitute. Be sure to read the list of recipe ingredients before heading to the grocery store.

Along with the stuffed squash entrée, you might serve mashed potatoes with turnips or rutabaga, some pan-fried Brussels sprouts doused with a splash of apple cider or balsamic vinegar and perhaps a tossed green salad sprinkled with shredded cheese. And don’t forget the whole grain dinner rolls or cornbread.

For a refreshing cranberry relish that requires no cooking, in a food processor, combine one package of rinsed fresh cranberries, one peeled orange cut into sections and one cored, firm Anjou or Bosc pear or Granny Smith apple. Pulse lightly just until ingredients are finely minced. Sweeten to taste with maple syrup or agave syrup. Cover and refrigerate before serving.

As for dessert, share some pumpkin pie and fresh fruit such as grapes and sliced local apples.

So, relax and enjoy a delicious holiday meal. Pass those vegetarian dishes around the Thanksgiving table for everyone to sample. It will make your special guest feel right at home.

Additional resources: http://snap.nal.usda.gov/professional-development-tools/hot-topics-z/vegetariannutrition; http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/tips-for-vegetarian.html; http://www.vrg.org/; http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Safe is Your Holdiay Fare ? Ask the Expert.

Have you ever encountered any of these situations? Extension Educators receive countless questions during the Holidays. Here is just a sampling.

Q. "I just discovered I cooked the turkey with the package of giblets still inside the cavity. Are the turkey and giblets safe to eat?"

A. If giblets were left in the cavity during roasting, even though this is not recommended, the turkey and giblets are probably safe to use. However, if the packaging containing the giblets has changed shape or melted in any way during cooking, do not use the giblets or the turkey because harmful chemicals from the packaging may have penetrated the surrounding meat.

Q. "This morning, I discovered the pork roast was left out all night. I took it out of the freezer to thaw for awhile last night and forgot to put it back in the fridge before I went to bed. The roast is completely thawed and warm to the touch. If I cook it, will it be safe?"

A. Unfortunately, this roast should not be eaten. It has been out of refrigeration too long. At room temperature, bacteria that may be present multiply very rapidly and some types of bacteria will produce toxins which are not destroyed by cooking and can possibly cause illness. Never thaw frozen food on the kitchen counter. Refrigerator thawing is much safer. You may also thaw foods in cold running water or in the microwave. These foods must be cooked immediately to a safe minimum internal temperature before refrigerating.

Q. "I received a gift of a smoked pheasant from a mail order company. It was packed in a box with no dry ice or frozen gel packs. It wasn't cold even though the label said "keep refrigerated." Because it is smoked, will that make it safe?"

A. Poultry and hams are smoked for flavor, not preservation. The only exceptions are country hams and dry sausages which are safe at room temperature because of their high salt content and dryness. If a product is labeled "keep refrigerated," that's a warning that it must be kept cold to be safe. Don't eat the product. If perishable food arrives warm—above 40 °F as measured with a food thermometer—notify the company. It's the shipper's responsibility to deliver the product on time, properly packaged and handled safely; the customer's responsibility is to have someone at home to receive it and refrigerate it immediately.

Q. “What should I do? I put a 20 lb turkey in a 200 °F oven before I went to bed last night, and the pop-up timer says it's already done at 7:30 this morning. We won't be eating until 3 p.m."

A. You have two problems here. First, overnight cooking of meat at a low temperature isn't a safe method so we don't recommend eating this turkey. It's not safe to cook any meat or poultry in an oven set lower than 325 °F. At 200 °F, meat remains in the "Danger Zone" too long (between 41 and 135 °F) where bacteria multiply rapidly and can form toxins.
Secondly, holding a safely cooked turkey at a safe internal temperature of 140 °F or above for this amount of time can dry it out and affect the quality. If a safely cooked turkey must be held from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., for optimal safety and quality it should be carved and refrigerated in covered shallow containers and served cold or reheated to an internal temperature of 165 °F. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.

Q. I baked some pumpkin pies over the weekend to serve tomorrow on Thanksgiving. They've just been sitting on the counter. Should I have refrigerated them?"

A. Yes. Foods made with eggs and milk such as pumpkin pie, custard pie and cheesecake must first be safely baked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F. Then, they must be refrigerated after baking. Eggs and milk have high protein and moisture content and when these baked products are left at room temperature, conditions are ripe for bacteria to multiply. It's not necessary to refrigerate most other cakes, cookies or breads unless they have a perishable filling or frosting.

I am hopeful that this information will help keep you and your family safe so you can truly enjoy the Holidays.

For more information, podcasts, videos, recipes, activities for children, etc. please go to http://holidayfoodsafety.org/

Source: FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) USDA