Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Myth: It’s hard to offer healthy choices at Thanksgiving when my family just wants the favorites, some of which aren't healthy at all.

Answer: You’re right, but let’s bust the myth that comfort foods can't be made healthier!

Thanksgiving feast
Lighter and healthier holiday meals don’t have to mean no flavor or enjoyment. Yes, Virginia, you CAN prepare comfort foods so that they taste good but have less calories and fat. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Add low calorie but high fiber to your stuffing. Why high fiber? It fills you up. Veggies like carrots, celery and mushrooms fill you up without a lot of calories. You can also get some tasty sweetness with not a lot of calories by adding apples and butternut squash to your stuffing.

  • Sweet potatoes with marshmallows and maple syrup – the ultimate comfort food! Another way to prepare sweet potatoes that still provides that sweet taste is to cube the potatoes, spray with vegetable cooking spray and sprinkle with brown sugar and black pepper (or other spices like cinnamon). Roast at 350-400 degrees until lightly browned. I enjoy this treat throughout the winter even if it’s not a holiday. Makes a healthy and filling snack when I want a ‘sweet treat.’

  • Is pumpkin pie your holiday tradition? Consider making it without a crust. You cut calories and fat by preparing it this way but you still get the goodness of the pumpkin pie.

  • Mashed potatoes a family favorite? Some recipes suggest pureeing cooked cauliflower and adding garlic and chicken broth for flavoring. Not that adventurous? Try making half mashed potatoes and half pureed cauliflower.

And if you really can’t give up any of your holiday comfort foods, then remember to get back to healthy eating and being active the day AFTER Thanksgiving! Happy holiday!

For more ways to make your holiday recipes healthier (but still delicious), see the Makeover Your Holiday Meals with MyPlate! series on the USDA blog or on the MyPlate Facebook page. You’ll find recipes and other tips in this 8-week series.

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Myth: You should always rinse a turkey before cooking it.

Answer: BUSTED!

Roasted turkey
For many Americans such as myself, Thanksgiving would not be the same without eating a delicious turkey! Therefore, we all want to make sure that the turkey is prepared as safely as possible and will not make anyone sick.

For some people, their attempt to make the turkey safer includes washing it before cooking. However, research shows that washing the turkey (or chicken or any other raw meat) before cooking does not improve safety at all, and actually can increase risk of foodborne illness! Any bacteria that is present on the surface of the turkey would be easily killed by cooking it (to the proper minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F).

The risk of foodborne illness is increased by rinsing the bird because when water hits the surface of the turkey, it will pick up any bacteria present and much of it will bounce off and end up on your kitchen counter and anything else that is surrounding your sink. Many times, we have various utensils and bowls, and maybe even foods sitting around the sink, which will also be contaminated with that water. Further, your sink, which you may use later to rinse raw produce or wash dishes, would be contaminated with the bacteria from the turkey as well.

This myth likely originated when most people were preparing turkey that was slaughtered in someone’s backyard and may not have had all the pin feathers removed from the surface. Rinsing was a good way to get rid of those feathers. Today, almost all commercially processed turkey will have all the feathers removed and even if your bird is slaughtered in a backyard somewhere, the pin feathers are likely gone.

More information, including a bacteria simulation, videos and other resources on how bacteria can spread when washing poultry before cooking is available from:

Other Thanksgiving food safety tips are available from or

Contributor: Londa Nwadike, PhD, Extension Food Safety Specialist,, 816-655-6258

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Myth: Trans fats have already been taken out of our foods.

Answer: BUSTED, kind of...

"Total fat" section of a nutrition label under a magnifying glass
Trans fat allows foods to have a longer shelf life. Partially hydrogenated oil is a source of trans fat in our diet and it is found in many processed foods including desserts, microwave popcorn and crackers. Trans fat raises your bad cholesterol, lowers your good cholesterol and increases your chances of getting heart disease. Because of these health risks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing that all trans fats be removed from foods.

The reason people think trans fats have already been taken out of the food we eat is because, in 2006, the FDA required food labels to list how much trans fat was in a packaged product. This focus on trans fat caused many manufacturers to start changing their products so that their products were trans-fat free or almost trans-fat free. In 2007, New York City banned trans fats in restaurants. Since that time, 15 states and other places have banned trans fat and more than 10 fast food restaurants have eliminated trans fat entirely.

However, current FDA regulations allow manufacturers to label a food trans-fat free if the food has 1/2 gram of trans fat per serving. So, many foods may still have a small amount of trans fat in them. Although 1/2 gram may seem like a very small amount, if you eat several foods with that amount during the day, it starts to add up. The American Heart Association recommends that people should eat less than 2 grams of trans fats a day. The Institute of Medicine recommends keeping the amount of trans fat in your diet as low as possible.

The FDA proposal is the beginning of a long process. There will be a 60 day comment period. After this, the actual process to implement this change will occur gradually to give food manufacturers time to find alternative ingredients for their products and change food labels. This proposal will affect the way that many of our foods are made.

In the meantime, the best advice to avoid trans fat is this: Focus on choosing foods like fruits and vegetables, lean meat and dairy, and whole grain breads and cereals. Read the ingredient list on packaged foods to see if it includes partially hydrogenated oils.

For more information about healthy food choices, visit

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

Myth: It’s hard to find information or reviews of nutrition and health apps.

smartphone with app icons floating above it
Answer: BUSTED!

There ARE thousands of nutrition and health apps. Which one is right for you? The University of Missouri Extension has a new publication to help you: “Apps to Know from the Nutrition and Health Pros” (free to download). This publication lists apps with several healthy behaviors in mind. Looking for a general food and nutrition app that you can use to track your food intake and physical activity? This publication provides a suggestion for you. Want to find healthy recipes? Two apps are summarized and reviewed for you. Want to manage your diabetes, track your workouts or reduce your stress? Suggested apps are provided. All apps listed on the publication were evaluated by University of Missouri Extension Nutrition and Health Education Specialists.

In addition to the reviews of apps, each app category provides a tip to help consumers as they look to change their health behaviors. University of Missouri Extension programs of interest are included in the publication, including Stay Strong, Stay Healthy (a strength training program for middle-aged and older adults) and Taking Care of You (a program to help deal with stress).

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