Friday, October 28, 2011

Myth: There's no way to make Halloween healthier for my children.

Answer: BUSTED!

YES, you can make Halloween a healthier holiday for your kids! Here are some ideas to consider:
  • Inject physical activity into trick or treating. The longer your children walk during the trick or treating, the more exercise they get. Go along with them to make it a fun family activity.
  • Have your children eat a meal or snack before they go trick or treating. They will be less likely to stuff themselves with candy when they return.
  • Keep the daily candy treats your children eat to a minimum. Small fun-size candy bars are a good alternative to larger candy portions. They have less calories, sugar and fat.
  • After a period of time, say a couple of weeks, consider removing the treats from the home. What to do with these treats? You might think about donating them to a work colleague who could use them as treats for an upcoming meeting.

Want to make Halloween healthier for neighborhood children? Offer healthier treats like popcorn, fruit and trail mix. Consider offering alternatives to treats like small toys, stickers, bracelets or small school supplies that you can find at the dollar store. You might also consider having a neighborhood party where you can offer treats and activities that are fun, ghoulish and healthy.

small Halloween toys as an alternative to candy
Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Myth: I can use front-of-package labels to make healthier food choices.

Answer: BUSTED! (for now)...

woman comparing food labelsIf you’ve looked closely at food packages recently, you’ve seen that many products now have additional nutrition information on the front. Some food companies have been voluntarily using different nutrition labels on food packages based on different criteria. The lack of a consistent approach leads to confusion and makes it difficult for a consumer to compare products using the labels.

The government has stepped into the fray. The IOM (Institute of Medicine) issued a report last week calling for a standardized point system that would use levels of saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar to evaluate foods. These front-of-package labels would also include calories. Why only calories, saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar? They are most closely tied to disease. This labeling would be much like the Energy Star® system that identifies products that meet certain standards.

One system will be used by all companies. It will be a rating system that will interpret the nutrition information of a product using symbols to represent each level of the rating system. These symbols will become easily recognized by consumers after a period of time and will act as a quick reference guide to help consumers compare products and make the best decision. When you consider that the average consumer spends less than 30 seconds making choices in the grocery store you can see that a rating system like the one recommended would be helpful.

What are the drawbacks? The recommended rating system wouldn’t include other information about food like the vitamin, mineral or fiber content. Likely, this information would continue to be available on the Nutrition Facts label found elsewhere on a food package. (FDA is working to update and improve the Nutrition Facts label required on food packages.) Additionally, it is possible that some foods that aren’t “best” choices could get high ratings. As with any system, it would not be perfect.

Don’t expect to see what the IOM has recommended on packages just yet. If such a rating system is approved (rules have to be developed and there is a period of public comment), the system would need to be developed and tested first.

For more information, check out the 4-page brief of the IOM report's recommendations.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Friday, October 21, 2011

Myth: Sports drinks are the best choice when I'm working out.

guy rehydrating with water after workout
Answer: BUSTED!

Sports drinks have become very popular in the United States and many people assume that they are the best drink during a workout. In reality, sports drinks are only best for endurance athletes working out longer than one hour or during a competition.

Sports drinks replace electrolytes to ensure that endurance athletes are properly rehydrated. They also contain 6-8% carbohydrate to supply the athlete with energy. The carbohydrates are what give the drink calories which are beneficial for an athlete but counteractive for someone exercising to lose or maintain weight.

If it is the taste of sports drinks that you crave, try a zero calorie water substitute. These drinks come in many flavors and usually have added vitamins.

Ultimately, water is the best beverage choice when exercising. Water is one of the most essential nutrients our bodies need and even just slight dehydration can negatively impact performance. An easy way to monitor hydration is by urine color, which should be pale yellow in color.

For more information, see Be wary of energy drinks on the MissouriFamilies website.

Contributors: Jenna Silverthorne, Dietetic Intern, KU Med; Denise Schmitz, M.A., R.D., Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 816-482-5854

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Myth: A sandwich doesn't fit with the new MyPlate symbol so I just won’t count it.

Answer: BUSTED!

The new MyPlate symbol shows you how to choose foods to make a healthy plate. But how does a sandwich fit with MyPlate? How do you know how much of each ingredient on your plate contributes to the recommended amounts for each food group? You could take each sandwich ingredient and estimate how much of each ingredient is in the sandwich. Or, you can use MyFoodaPedia. This nifty website from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can tell you what your meal is providing. Enter “sandwich” in the food name area and you will get a drop down menu with various sandwich choices. If you click on roast beef, for example, you will see on the left side of the screen the recommended daily total amounts for each food group for a 2000 calorie diet. On the right you will see how the ingredients in the roast beef sandwich contributes to the recommended amounts for each food group. You can also see how many calories the extras (added sugar, fat and, in some cases, alcohol) like ketchup or mayonnaise add to the sandwich. (No, adding ketchup doesn’t mean you have contributed to the daily recommended amount from the vegetable group!) Here is a screenshot of the roast beef sandwich information:
screenshot of roast beef sandwich nutrition information on MyFoodaPedia website

Want to compare a roast beef sandwich to another sandwich choice? Click on “Compare two foods” and it tells you to enter another food in the box or click on one of the choices in the drop-down menu. You can then compare how the two choices contribute to the recommended daily total amounts for each food group as well as the calories they have and the calories from extras in the two choices. Here is a screenshot comparing the roast beef sandwich to a ham sandwich with mayo:
screenshot comparing nutrition information of roast beef sandwich and ham sandwich with mayo on MyFoodaPedia website

Find a mobile app version of this website at

For more nutrition and health information go to

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Myth: Children shouldn’t use microwaves.

Answer: BUSTED!

Your child can use a microwave safely, but some important tips need to be taught first.

Some foods don’t heat evenly in the microwave, which means that harmful bacteria can be present and may make your child sick. Follow these steps to ensure that food is cooked properly:
  1. Read package directions carefully. Know the wattage of your microwave oven. Help your child know whether to use the minimum or maximum cooking time on food package directions.
  2. Use microwave-safe cookware. What not to put in microwaves: metal or foil-wrapped foods; 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 dishes with a lid, plastic wrap or wax paper. Turn up one corner to let steam escape while food is microwaving.
  4. Halfway through cooking, rotate food packages and dishes or stir food, even if the oven has a turntable. This helps the food cook more evenly and safely.
  5. Allow food heated in a microwave to stand for at least 2 minutes. This helps the heat to be transferred throughout the food for thorough heating.

Other tips to ensure safety:
  1. Use pot holders to remove dishes from the microwave.
  2. Steam can burn. Be careful when removing container lids or plastic wrap.
  3. When reheating leftovers or packaged food, use a food thermometer to make sure food has reached 165° F, a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria.
  4. Stir all hot drinks, soups and other similar foods before drinking or eating to prevent burning the mouth.

Adapted from: Food Safety After School, FSIS, accessed 10/6/2011 at

For more food safety information go to

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Friday, October 7, 2011

Myth: There’s not much my kids can do to prevent foodborne illness when preparing their after-school snacks.

Answer: BUSTED!

Young children are at higher risk of getting ill from not handling food properly because their immune system is not as developed as an adult’s. Symptoms of foodborne illness may occur in minutes or weeks after eating contaminated food. Flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or fever may be an indication of foodborne illness.

young boy making wraps for after-school snackTo help them avoid foodborne illness here’s what they can do when preparing food after school:
  1. Put books, bookbags and sports equipment on the floor. Don’t put on eating counters or the kitchen table because these items can transfer germs to food.
  2. Clean out lunch boxes and throw out leftovers from lunch, especially perishable sandwiches and foods that require refrigeration such as yogurt tubes or cheese sticks.
  3. Wash hands before making or eating a snack. Hands carry germs. Not washing hands is one of the primary causes of foodborne illness.
  4. Use clean utensils and dishes when preparing and eating the food.
  5. Wash fruits and vegetables with running water before eating them.
  6. Don’t eat bread, cheese, soft fruits or vegetables with bruises or spots of mold.
  7. Don’t eat unbaked cookie dough. The raw eggs in the dough may have Salmonella bacteria which can make you sick.
  8. Don’t leave cold foods, like milk, lunch meat, hardcooked eggs or yogurt, out on the counter at room temperature. Put them in the refrigerator immediately after making the snack.
  9. Don't eat any perishable food left out of the refrigerator, such as pizza — even if it’s not topped with meat. Food shouldn’t be left in the "Danger Zone" of 40 to 140° F for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is 90° F or higher).

Adapted from: Food Safety After School, FSIS, accessed 10/6/2011 at

For more information, see the Food Safety feature articles on

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Myth: Now that it’s fall, I have limited options for making salads.

Answer: BUSTED!

Fall is a great time to try new ways to get more fruits and vegetables on your plate. The new USDA symbol, MyPlate, reminds us to make half our plate fruits and vegetables. Fruits or sweet-tasting veggies are a great way to kick up the taste quotient in salads.

mixed greens salad with apples, roasted red peppers, feta & pine nuts
Why eat salad? People who eat vegetables as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases like heart disease. Most vegetables (fruits too!) are low in calories and they help ward off cancer because they are loaded with antioxidants – substances in plants that fight off disease and keep you healthy. Vegetables and fruits also have fiber which may reduce your risk of getting heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. When choosing vegetables, go for the dark green, red/orange ones – they are high in vitamins A and C and potassium. Potassium can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Some new salad combinations you might not have tried:
  • Dark greens, pears and beets – add a dash of balsamic vinegar and you have a great combination of “bite” that is sweet and tart. Some nuts would add nice crunch to this.
  • Dark greens, roasted butternut squash and red pepper – roasting caramelizes the squash adding a nice sweet flavor. Balsamic vinegar really sings with this salad combination.
  • Dark greens, whole wheat couscous, onions and roasted butternut squash – add a curry yogurt dressing for a different flavor.

You can add cooked or grilled chicken to any of the salads above to make them more tasty and satisfying.

Find other seasonal fruit and vegetable recipes in MU Extension's Seasonal and Simple guide.

For more info about healthy salads, go to

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933