life is good for pigs born on pork farms

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: A Trip to a Pig Farm

This post is about a sponsored trip paid for the National Pork Board. All opinions expressed are my own and I did not receive any compensation to write or share this blog.

I get to do many challenging, interesting and even fun things in my job as a registered dietitian nutritionist and consultant to the food and beverage industry. But this June I got to do something that so exceeded all my expectations I can’t help but share it. And in in keeping with the writing assignments of my childhood each September, I am titling this one, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

A Day at a Pig Farm

My day on the Brenneman Pork farm in Washington County Iowa began with a shower. Not a shower in the comfort of my hotel room, but in the locker rooms at the farm. Everyone who enters the gestation buildings – whether farm workers, Brenneman family members or visitors like me and the nine other dietitians on this excursion – must shower and wash their hair before they can enter. We were provided toiletry kits with the soaps and shampoos we could use and were asked not to apply anything else to our bodies after drying ourselves with the towels they provided. That’s right, no moisturizer, no makeup, no deodorant. We then put on the undergarments and jumpsuits they issued to us, surgical caps to cover our damp hair and colorful rubber boots perfect for puddles!

Ready top greet the pigs

Ready to greet the pigs – covered from head scarfs to rubber boots!

Now that we were clean enough to meet the birthing sows, we entered a barn housing hundreds of them. The air temperature was maintained at constant 70 degrees to keep it comfortable for mothers and babies alike (but a bit warm for the workers and guests) and the air quality was continuously filtered to remove any foreign particles that might harm the pigs.  We all did our best not to sneeze or cough.

Each sow had her own birthing pen equipped with a food and water supply so she could eat on demand. If she had already started to give birth, low-hanging heat lamps were turned on to both dry the newborns and keep them warm as they adjusted to life outside the womb.

A clipboard at the end of each pen was used to record the time of each birth and other pertinent details about the new arrivals. These sows were capable of delivering 14-20 piglets and every one of them was an important part of the success of the Brenneman farm. After all, they were in the pork business.

Giving New Meaning to “Pulled Pork”

The highlight of my trip came when I got to “assist” in the births of two piglets. It can take the sow up to 20 minutes to complete each delivery, and she must continue to nurse the piglets that have already been born throughout the delivery process, so a little help is welcomed.

The job required slipping a long plastic sleeve with a glove at the end over my entire arm. Then I had to get down on my knees and up close to the back end of my sow. Next, a generous squirt of a lubricant was applied to my covered hand so I could work it up the birth canal in pursuit of the next piglet making its way down.

Delivering pigs takes a long arm

Putting on the arm sleeve and glove needed to assist in delivery of a piglet

I felt strong, muscular contractions up the entire length of my arm as I maneuvered my hand deeper into the sow in search of a tennis ball-sized orb that would be a head. I was stunned by how hot it was in there. I imagined this is what it would feel like if I were plunging my arm into bubbling quicksand.  But when I reached my goal, all my thoughts zeroed in on the carefully explained instructions I had received before beginning this important job.  “Wrap two fingers around the head, toward the neck, so you have a firm grip and gently pull the piglet down towards you.” Slowly my arm exited the sow’s body and when my hand emerged there was a 3-4 pound piglet in it. This is what they call “pulling pork” on a pig farm and the experience was absolutely amazing!

Pulling pork requires a long arm

A sow can use a little help when delivering her piglets

Making Bacon Takes a Village

The care and well-being of the piglets was now the focus of everyone on the farm so these animals could reach their full potential and be ready for market in four to five months. Farm workers monitored what they ate, where they slept, and who they played with, among other things, and were vigilant in their efforts to make sure each pig was free of illness and neglect. The pigs I saw looked, smelled and sounded healthy and happy, and I’m convinced that is reflected in the quality of the pork chops, spare ribs and bacon they produce.  I don’t know what more a pig could want out of life?

healthy, happy pigs

Happy, curious juvenile pigs in their playpen

My biggest take-away from the trip was the first-hand knowledge that raising pigs isn’t an easy job. It takes many dedicated people working many demanding hours to produce the best pork possible. It takes a village. Whether you eat pork or not, it’s nice to know the animals are raised with such care and compassion. I only wish all children received the same.

how can you tell what products are really natural?

What Does “Natural” Mean?

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

What one word do you think sells the most food in the U.S. when used on a food label? Here’s a hint: It’s not organic, healthy or protein. If you guessed “natural” you are correct! The food industry sold nearly $41 billion worth of food last year labeled with the word natural. Only claims about fat content were higher, but more terms were included in that category.

What exactly does “natural” mean when we see it on a food label? The dictionary says it means “existing in nature” or “not man-made,” but I see it printed across brightly colored boxes, bags and cans of food in the middle of the store containing products that you’ll never see “growing spontaneously, without being planted or tended by human hands,” which is another definition of natural!

As it turns out, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not come up with an official definition for what “natural” means other than objecting to its use on foods with “added colors, artificial flavors and synthetic substances.” That is why you can find it on so many foods that are highly processed and full of salt, sugar and fat – they all make the grade as “natural” ingredients.

Are Food Additives Natural?

Another term whose meaning is a bit ambiguous is “food additive.” Most people have a negative impression of the term when they hear it or believe a food is not “natural” if it contains food additives, but that simply isn’t true.

The FDA considers any substance that becomes a part of a food during processing or the making of the food to be a food additive. These substances can be derived from animal, vegetable, or manmade sources. For example, the vitamin D added to milk and vinegar used to pickle cucumbers are food additives. So are any ingredients used to prevent spoilage, maintain the desired consistency, or improve the appearance of a food. If you want to see them all, there are over 3000 food additives listed in the database directory Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS) on FDA.gov.

Are Low-Calorie Sweeteners Food Additives?

The FDA uses the terms “high-intensity sweeteners” and “nonnutritive sweeteners” for what I call low-calorie sweeteners and others commonly refer to as sugar substitutes. No matter what you call them, the FDA either categorizes them as food additives or generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients.

Of the eight low-calorie sweeteners currently on the market in the U.S., only stevia and monk fruit extract are GRAS, while acesulfame potassium, advantame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose are food additives.

Either way, all of these ingredients must satisfy FDA’s rigorous safety standards to become part of our diets. You can find a helpful infographic illustrating how the two approval processes work here.

If you’d like to know more about how ingredients like sucralose (the sweetening ingredient in SPLENDA®Sweeteners) are approved, be sure to check my other posts on the subject: How are Low-Calorie Sweetener Ingredients Approved? and Is SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (Sucralose) Safe? Authorities We Can Trust.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

For more information, visit:

Get to know a farmer to really apprecitae what it takes to have a healthy diet

Who’s Growing Your Food?

GET TO KNOW A FARMER BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

Family farms feed the nation

Family farms provide the bulk of the food we eat.

I met a dirt farmer last week. He was in his 80’s and told me he was thinking about retiring. That’s right; he was still working his land, but said he might be ready to stop soon if he can find someone to take over his job. His story is worth knowing if you care about where your food comes from.

This man’s parents were Spanish immigrants who ended up in Central Valley, CA where more than 230 crops are grown on less than 1 percent of US farmland. Although the fertile soil provided them with a livelihood, they didn’t want their children to be farmers. So when Tony was born his parents decided he should be a dentist!

Tony did work the land while attending school and found he enjoyed the hard labor and long hours it demanded. Then while in college a farmer he had worked for was in an accident and asked Tony if he would bring his crop to market. Without hesitating, Tony left school to help the man. When the farmer realized he would never be able to run his farm again, he and his wife offered it to Tony since they had no children. Again, without hesitating, Tony accepted their offer.

Tony’s parents were furious that he quit school to become a farmer. They offered him no support and predicted he would soon be penniless. In one way they were right. In less than 10 years, at the age of 30, Tony and his young wife had $1,000,000 in mortgages on the land they bought to expand their farm. Tony turned the 50 acres he inherited into 1500 acres and grew everything from potatoes to peas to plums. And he eventually had 4 children to help him out.

One year, right after the last of their melon crop was harvested, boxed and loaded onto trucks to go to market, Tony and his wife decided to take a trip to Boston to visit one of their sons in college there. They got a flight east the next day. On their first morning in the city they took a walk through a nearby farmer’s market. Much to their surprise they found a table stacked with cantaloupes from their farm. The boxes beneath the stand were all the proof they needed that the melons were indeed theirs.

Tony told me it was like a miracle to see those melons in Boston that morning knowing they had been in the ground on his farm just two days earlier. He said that was when he was really able to appreciate what all the hard work was for, and why it was worth it.

Now Tony is ready to stop tilling his land, but his children have all chosen other paths for their lives. His grandchildren, too. So he’s looking for someone to take over for him, someone to mentor. He’s hoping there might be another pre-dental student out there who’d be willing to help him out.

For more information on the future of farming in this country see Family Farms in the United States.

Disclosure: I was visiting Sacramento, CA for an event sponsored by Sunsweet® and Tony is a member of the Sunsweet grower’s cooperative.

creating chocolate flavored milk in a laboratory

Debate Over Ingredients in Milk Served at Schools

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

FLAVORED MILK IS A POPULAR DRINK FOR CHILDREN, BUT SOME PARENTS ARE NOT HAPPY WITH PROPOSED CHANGES IN ITS INGREDIENTS

Misinformation about the labeling of flavored milk has been in the news lately, and that’s not good. There are always people ready to attack the food industry no matter what they do, but if they suspect a drink for children is being altered in some way – especially the ingredients in milk – it really gets them up in arms.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had to count to ten and wait for the facts to seep in before we reacted to headline news?

Who Decides What’s in Our Food?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a “standard of identity” for 300 “common and usual” foods and beverages. These are legal definitions that specify the minimum and maximum ingredient requirements for any product sold under a specific name, such as “strawberry jam,” the optional ingredients that may be used in that food and those that are prohibited, as well as processing specifications.

These standards were developed to protect consumers from the problem of inconsistent quality when different food items are sold under the same name. With standards of identity in place, all manufacturers must include a certain amount of strawberries, by weight, in their strawberry jam or call it something else.

The standards also provide a means of penalizing companies that try to sell adulterated products, and they protect us from the economic fraud that can occur when strawberry jam is made with more strawberry gelatin than strawberries.

These standards have even been used to help improve the nutritional value of foods.

So far so good.

What Are the Ingredient’s in Milk?

The standard of identity for “milk” defines the percent solids it must contain (8 ¼ ) and fat (not less than 3 ¼ for whole milk), the amount of vitamins A and D that can be added, and that it must be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized.

The optional ingredients include natural and artificial flavoring, color additives, emulsifiers, stabilizers and nutritive sweeteners. The list of allowed nutritive sweeteners is long, but includes beet or cane sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar (in paste or sirup form), molasses (other than blackstrap), high fructose corn sirup, fructose, fructose sirup, maltose, dried malt extract, honey and maple sugar.

When one of those optional sweeteners is used in “flavored milk,” it does not have to be named on the front label. Consumers must check the ingredient list to see which one was used. That is, if they realize flavored milk is sweetened.

The uproar over the possible use of sugar substitutes in flavored milk suggests many consumers don’t realize this popular drink for children already contains added sugar.

The Proposed Change in Labeling Flavored Milk

Sugar substitutes are not on the list of allowed optional ingredients in the standard of identity for milk, so their use would require a front of package declaration. The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation want to change that. They proposed an amendment to the standard of identity for milk that would allow the use low calorie sugar substitutes in place of the added sugars in flavored milk without having to identify the milk as “reduced calorie” or “lower sugar.”

The dairy industry believes this would make a lower calorie option available to children without having the stigma of a “diet” claim on the front of the container, which seems to matter to kids on the lunch line. They also claim it will help deal with the problem of overweight and obesity in kids, which now affects 30 percent of them.

All sweeteners would still be named on the ingredient list, and all would be FDA approved sweeteners that are safe for children and adults alike.

Facts About Flavored Milk Now Served in Schools

  • Contains the same 9 essential nutrients as white milk
  • Provides only 3% of the added sugars in the diets of children
  • Contains an average of 39 more calories than white milk
  • Contributes to better quality diets in school-aged children without increasing the total fat or added sugar in their diets
  • Increases milk consumption at school

Do you think the problem of childhood obesity can be helped by offering more lower calorie products on school menus?

Add these best canned food products to your healthy food list

12 Canned Food Products On My Healthy Foods List

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can see the post here.

ADD THESE BEST CANNED FOOD PRODUCTS TO YOUR HEALTHY FOOD LIST

February is National Canned Foods Month, so I checked my pantry to see what canned food products would make my healthy foods list. The features they all share are that they have a long shelf life, so are a convenient and inexpensive way to have nutritious foods all year round. They can be more nutritious than fresh foods that are not used right away or prepared properly, and there’s no waste. The availability of some key nutrients is actually enhanced by the canning processing over fresh or frozen forms, while fiber content is unchanged. There are more low sodium options to choose from today than ever before and canned beans can be made lower in sodium just by rinsing. The best canned food feature of all is that the container is completely recyclable!

paste.3

Tomato Paste – Best Canned Food Products

Enrich the flavor of your tomato sauce, goulash or chili with this concentrated form of tomatoes. It has no added salt and is naturally low in sodium, so you control the seasoning.

sardines

Sardines – Best Canned Food Products

I love them on crackers as a quick lunch option, but they can be featured in many parts of your menu. Try topping a salad or pizza with them or flavoring a tomato sauce.

baked beans

Vegetarian Baked Beans- Best Canned Food Products

As good as they are right from the can, I love to personalize them by heating them up with sautéed onion and garlic and mixing in other rinsed canned beans.

pineapple

 

Pineapple Chunks – Best Canned Food Products

Whether added to a sweet and sour stir fry, a winter fruit salad or to top a slice of pound cake, the many forms of juice-packed pineapple can elevate any dish to something special.

kraut

Sauerkraut – Best Canned Food Products

Just like the cabbage it’s made from, canned sauerkraut is full of vitamins C, K, and folate and the minerals iron, manganese and potassium. It’s also very low in calories and fat free and a perfect partner for fresh pork.

pumpkin

Pumpkin – Best Canned Food Products

It’s not just for delicious desserts! Canned pumpkin makes great smoothies, quick breads and soups and adds a super dose of Vitamin A and fiber to everything it’s added to.

chick peas

Peas and Beans – Best Canned Food Products

All of the many different colored and shaped canned beans and peas are included in this category. I keep a huge variety on hand at all times and continually discover new ways to use them in my meals.

milk

Evaporated Milk – Best Canned Food Products

There’s no need to use fresh milk in cooking and baking when canned evaporated milk will do. It saves money and another trip to the store for more milk, while increasing the protein and calcium if used a full strength.

Black-Olives

Olives – Best Canned Food Products

Open a can and turn an uninspired dish into a Mediterranean specialty. Whole, sliced or chopped, they can be added to rice, orzo, or tomato sauce and blended into cream cheese or hummus for a savoring spread.

tuna

Tuna – Best Canned Food Products

Always a life saver whether called into action for lunch or dinner. I keep a jar of pickle relish in the refrigerator so I can make a great tuna salad even if I don’t have fresh celery or onion on hand.

mandarins

Mandarin Oranges – Best Canned Food Products

These are a personal favorite because they add a nice touch of sweetness to a tossed salad or grain dish without overpowering it. Their bright color really stands out against salad greens and brown grains.

diced tomatoes

Diced Tomatoes – Best Canned Food Products

Fresh tomatoes are naturally rich in lycopenes, but they’re more bioavailable in the canned varieties due to the effects of heat processing. Even when fresh tomatoes are in season, I like to cook with canned and save the fresh for salads and sandwiches

Cheap diet solutions for safe weight loss if trying to diet on a budget

10 Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013 but you can view the original blog here.

Trying to diet on a budget can seem impossible when you see the price tags on the latest gluten-free foods and shiny new gym equipment that promise safe weight loss for those with fat wallets. As a challenge, i took a walk through the nearest discount dollar store to identify cheap diet solutions for those with good intentions, but modest means. I wasn’t disappointed. Here are ten items you can buy for ten dollars that will help you eat right and get in shape so you can lose and save at the same time!

Blank Notebook: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

The most valuable part of any healthy makeover is a blank book. Use it to record your goals, weight, measurements, and daily food intake and physical activity. If you faithfully and honestly fill the pages each and every day, you’ll soon discover the book was the most effective weight loss program you ever tried.

146474520

Tape Measure: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

Stepping on a scale is not the only way to measure your progress, or the best. A simple cloth tape measure can be used to get some baseline measurements that will help you see the loss of inches in places where it really counts. Be sure to include: waist and hip circumference, thigh, calf, upper arm and chest.

200327121-001

Index Cards: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

It may seem old school to write recipes on index cards, but not if you use them for a collection of your favorite fool-proof, quick, easy, and tasty dishes that are diet-friendly. Take the time to try new recipes and be selective about which ones you allow into your collection. If you just find one new recipe a week there will be 52 winners in the box by this time next year.

86437425

Measuring Cups: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

Like it or not, all food contains calories and the serving size of the food you eat determines how many calories it contains – no matter how nutritious the food may be. Using measuring cups to both prepare your food and portion it at home will help you stick to your calorie budget and train your eye for the meals eaten away from home when you have to guesstimate.

85652876

Measuring Spoons: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

Just like the foods measured in measuring cups, there are calories in the smaller things we eat that are measured with measuring spoons, like cooking oils, salad dressing, and soft spreads. It isn’t easy to free-pour one tablespoon of olive oil into a skillet, so it pays to measure it since each additional tablespoon adds another 110 calories.

103350256

Food Storage Containers: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

One of the biggest challenges to healthy eating is eating out regularly. By having a complete set of food storage containers you can take your breakfast, lunch and snacks with you to work with you, if needed. It’s a great way to use the leftovers from all those meals you’ll be preparing at home, too.

120337352

Insulated Lunch Sack: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

Now that you’ve got a set of food storage containers, you need and insulated sack to carry them in when filled with food. These sacks come in enough different styles you’ll never have to guess which lunch is yours in the office refrigerator, and they’re flexible enough to slip into your shoulder-strap bag or back pack for hands-free travel.

130899823

Freezer Packs: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

Keep an assortment of these freezer packs in different sizes in the freezer so they’re ready to add to your lunch sack. Remember, there’s nothing healthy about food that hasn’t been kept at the proper temperature.

freezer-block-ice-packs-pack-of-3

Egg Timer: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

No matter how many features you have on your smart phone, they can only help you if you know how to use them. A simple kitchen timer is a no-brainer way to build short bursts of activity into your day. Set it to ring once every hour then, then get up and stand, walk, or stretch for 5 minutes.

89585554

Handheld Mirror: Cheap Diet Solutions for Safe Weight Loss

Give yourself some words of encouragement each and every day, you’re worth it!

128894802

Fears of pesticides in produce may keep people from eating recommended servings of fruits and vegetables

Do You Worry About Pesticides in Produce?

FEARS OF PESTICIDES IN PRODUCE MAY KEEP PEOPLE FROM EATING RECOMMENDED SERVINGS OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

Am I the only one who found it odd that the 2012 report on Pesticides in Produce was released this week, right in the middle of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month? Stranger still, the report arrived just one day before the start of summer when many people across the country look forward to shopping at their local farm markets.

Talk about taking the spin out of your salad…

Why All the Fuss About Produce?

I do my best to encourage clients and readers to fill up on fruits and vegetables every day of the year, not just in June. The Dietary Guidelines recommend from 5 to 10 servings a day for those with caloric intakes between 1200 and 2400. Yet a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found less than a third of Americans consume even the minimum of five servings a day.

The reasons people don’t reach those goals are as varied as the salad dressings lining their refrigerator doors. Now we have to contend with the latest release of the Dirty Dozen in the produce aisles. That’s a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

As a consolation prize, they also identify a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residues, known as the Clean 15™.

What’s Wrong With the Pesticides in Produce™ Report?

I have two big issues with these lists. First, they undermine the more important objective of getting Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables. There is no single dietary change that can produce more health benefits than reaching that goal. And while the report does encourage people to keep eating produce, that message is lost in the sensationalized coverage of the dangers of the Dirty Dozen™.

My second issue with those lists is that they use measurements of pesticide residue as a sign of a problem without providing any evidence that they pose a risk to our health. Sure, it sounds alarming, but what would be the quality, quantity, and cost of our produce if no pesticides were used?

If you think the answer lies in buying only organically grown produce, you’re in for a surprise. They are not 100% pesticide free, either.

So what can you do? Here’s my check list to help you with your produce purchases.

Getting the Best Value From the Fruits and Vegetables You Buy

[ ] Buy produce in all forms: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice

[ ] Change the variety of the fresh produce you buy with the seasons

[ ] Wash everything you buy, even things with a skin or peel you discard

[ ] Limit the use of imported produce since pesticide regulations are different outside the US

[ ] Use organically grown if you are juicing large amounts for daily consumption

What would make it easier for you to eat 5 or more servings of produce each day?

Follow these guidelines to enjoy grilled meats safely

Is It OK to Eat Grilled Meats?

This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.

FOLLOW THESE GUIDELINES TO ENJOY GRILLED MEATS SAFELY

Now that another barbecue season is about to begin, are you worried about the dangers of eating grilled meats? Should you panic if you mindlessly eat that severely burned hot dog the kids wouldn’t touch? Is the risk of ordering a well-done burger worse than making yours extra rare?

Like most health alerts, the issues surrounding meat cooked on the grill are a long story that has been reduced to sensationalized headlines. There is no reason to abandon this summertime ritual, but there are some things you need to know to make your cookouts healthier for everyone.

What Happens When You Grill Meat?

Protein-rich foods, like meat muscle, contain amino acids, creatine and some sugars that can react under certain conditions. Depending on the type of meat (it could be beef, pork, poultry or fish) and the cooking time (longer is more problematic), temperature (usually over 300 degrees F) and method being used (grill or stove-top frying pan), a chemical reaction can occur that causes the formation of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

Other compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in the flames that flare up when fats and juices from meats being cooked over an open grill drip into the fire. These PAHs can adhere to the surface of the foods being cooked above the flames. They are also formed during food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats, and are found in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.

What Does the Research Say About Eating Grilled Meats?

Now here comes the troubling part. Research found laboratory animals exposed to large amounts of HCAs and PAHs developed cancer. In the studies rodent diets were supplemented with very high levels to HCAs and PAHs – thousands of times greater than a person would consume in a normal diet. Also worth noting is the lab animals were not actually fed grilled meats because it is too difficult to measure the exact amount of these compounds in them. The rat chow was fortified with the stuff.

No population studies – the kind that look at a group of individuals who share common traits – have established a definitive link between exposure to HCAs and PAHs from cooked meats and cancer in humans. However, epidemiological studies have found an association. These studies gather information from large groups of people who have nothing in common and look for common traits. What they found was the people who reported eating the most well-done, fried or barbecued meats had the greatest risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. That is not evidence of causation. Many other factors could have increased their risk, including environmental exposure to PAHs from air pollution.

What Are the Guidelines for Eating Grilled Meats?

The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research issued a report in 2007 that recommended limiting the consumption of red and processed meats, including smoked meats, but made no recommendations about the HCA and PAH levels in meat. There are currently no federal guidelines on the consumption of grilled meats or HCAs and PAHs.

Advice for Grilling Meats

  • Raise the grill rack away from the heat source
  • Wait until flames die down so they won’t burn meat surfaces
  • Place aluminum foil on the grill to reduce exposure to flames
  • Cut meat into smaller pieces and skewer so it cooks faster
  • Select thinner steaks and chops that will cook faster
  • Buy leaner cuts of meat so there is less fat to cause flare ups
  • Precook meats to reduce the cooking time on the grill
  • Marinate to help lower HCA production
  • Turn meat frequently so surfaces don’t char
  • Scrape off charred areas
One of the best values in the frozen food section of your grocery store is the vegetables.

It’s Frozen Food Month: Got Vegetables?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

ONE OF THE BEST VALUES IN THE FROZEN FOOD SECTION OF YOUR GROCERY STORE IS THE VEGETABLES.

What’s the one frozen food I always have on hand? Frozen vegetables! They are my go-to staple that allow me to prepare nutritious and varied meals no matter how sparse the rest of my pantry. Right now I have cubed butternut squash, petite peas, broccoli florets, edamame in the pod, and baby lima beans.

I was first introduced to frozen vegetables as a child when my parents bought a chest freezer. Every three months a delivery of frozen food arrived on our back porch. The carefully labeled brown corrugated boxes packed in dry ice were filled with every cut of beef imaginable, cylinders of frozen orange juice concentrate, and tidy square boxes of frozen vegetables.

My sisters and I had the privilege of taking turns to pick out what vegetable our family would have for dinner each night. Thus began my exposure to an international assortment of frozen vegetables that included everything from French cut green beans Brussels sprouts!

What’s new in the frozen food aisle?

If you think Americans don’t like frozen vegetables, think again. The freezer cases in grocery stores now devote as much space to vegetables as they do ice cream!

Frozen vegetables are now available in single-serving containers and family-sized bags as well as those same tidy 10 ounce boxes. As if it weren’t convenient enough not having to clean, peel, or chop frozen vegetables, you can now also steam them right in the bag or box in your microwave oven.

The assortment of individual vegetables has expanded beyond the classic green beans, carrots, peas, and corn, and so have the medleys. They come with embellishments, too, to win over the fussiest eaters. You can find frozen vegetables with butter, cheese, or teriyaki sauce, and creamed. Some are combined with rice, potatoes, or pasta while others just need the addition of chicken, beef or shrimp to make a complete meal.

Why pick a frozen food over fresh?

When it comes to vegetables, buying them frozen insures you are getting the best quality at the best price all year round. The varieties grown are selected for their flavor, not their durability, and can be harvested at their nutritional peak since they don’t have to withstand the long shipping and storage times necessary for fresh vegetables. And remember, the longer a fresh vegetable spends in your refrigerator, the less nutritious it is by the time you eat it.

What frozen vegetables do you have in your freezer?

All chocolate does not have the same health benefits

Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?

The health benefits of chocolate depend on more than just its color.

With Halloween sneaking up on us, it seems a good time to say a few words about the health benefits of chocolate. First a disclaimer: I love dark chocolate and eat it regularly. But I am not going to defend my habit by making up facts. The science stands on its own: Chocolate has many health benefits!

But like any other plant food rich in nutrients, the health benefits are only there if the food is grown and prepared properly. And that’s what’s missing from all the stories about the health benefits of chocolate. How is the chocolate made?

Here’s a little primer.

Chocolate comes from seeds found within the fruit of the cacao tree. Once the seeds, or cocoa beans, are harvested from the pod, they are fermented, dried, and roasted. Next the shells are removed and the beans are cracked into pieces called chocolate nibs. Some nibs are sold for cooking and baking, but most are ground into a paste known as chocolate liquor.

Chocolate liquor is processed to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter. The cocoa solids are more commonly known as cocoa powder, a bitter tasting, low fat baking ingredient. Cocoa butter is a pale-yellow, solid vegetable fat with a mild flavor. It is used to make toiletries, such as body lotion, and pharmaceuticals in addition to chocolate candy we know and love.

To make dark chocolate, the cocoa powder and butter are recombined in various ratios along with sugar, the emulsifier lecithin and sometimes vanilla. Milk solids are added to make milk chocolate. That mixture is then conched, or mechanically mixed, at various temperatures for up to 78 hours to develop the taste, texture and creamy consistency. A final melting and cooling process called tempering insures the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the chocolate.

At this point, those nutrient rich cacao beans – assuming they were grown under ideal conditions and harvested at their peak of ripeness – have been fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, cracked, mashed, liquefied, separated, recombined with other ingredients, refined, conched and tempered.

Do you get my point?

Cocoa beans are rich source of cocoa flavanols, naturally occurring compounds that have been shown to improve circulation, heart function and cognition among other things. But when used to make chocolate, those cocoa beans are put through a lot.

At present there is no way to know the flavanol content of the chocolate you buy, no matter what percent cocoa it contains. Consequently it is not possible to make any recommendations about how much chocolate you should eat to get certain health benefits. And it is unlikely chocolate will ever be “prescribed” in that way. percent cocoa

So my advice is this: Whenever you eat chocolate, be sure you pick the one that tastes best to you!