Do You Like to “Ham Up” Your Menus?

I’ve long been a fan of ham, and pork in general. Whenever I was able to influence the holiday menu at home or at a relatives’ home, I requested ham or pork roast. Sometimes I got my wish.

So, several years ago I was quite pleased to be asked to judge the ham curing contest that was part of an annual Little International livestock show at NDSU.

We judges examined more than 70 hams for external appearance, including shape and degree of trimming. After the initial judging, we rated the internal texture and appearance. Finally, we tasted small samples of the 15 hams that received the highest external scores. The top-scoring hams were auctioned to raise money for scholarships.

As a reward, I received a large ham. I must admit I had my fill of ham that week. My family stopped asking what was for dinner.

In the past, pork often was viewed as a high-fat meat, but not any longer. Hogs have slimmed down, and no treadmills were involved in the process. Through improved genetics and feeding practices, pork is much leaner today. In fact, pork is over 30 percent lower in fat and 29 percent lower in saturated fat today than 30 years ago.

To make pork and other meats even leaner, you can trim visible fat before cooking and use low-fat food preparation techniques like grilling, roasting on a rack, oven broiling or stir-frying. Marinating lean meat also adds extra flavor, but for food safety reasons it’s best to discard the leftover marinade that has been in contact with raw meat.

To keep pork tender and juicy, don’t overcook it. The safe internal temperature recommendation has changed through the years. In the past, pork was a potential source of the parasite trichinella, but infections in hogs are a rare event today, so internal temperature recommendations have decreased.

According to the latest research, pork chops and roasts should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees, as measured with a food thermometer. After the pork reaches 145 degrees, allow it to “rest” for at least 3 minutes. The temperature of the meat continues to rise as it rests.

Remember, too, that 145 degrees is the minimum temperature, so you can keep cooking beyond the minimum temperature to reach your preferred level of doneness.

Pork is a versatile, nutritious item on the menu. It provides protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B-12 and niacin, which helps the body produce energy from the food we eat.

If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, remember that any “cured” product such as ham or bacon will be higher in sodium because the curing agent is high in sodium. If sodium is a nutritional issue for you because of high blood pressure or other reasons, limit cured products in your diet or consider choosing reduced-sodium products in grocery stores.

Pork loses about one-fourth of its weight during cooking. As an easy rule of thumb, buy about a quarter-pound of raw boneless meat per person. For safety and quality, try to use fresh meat within a few days of purchase.

As we approach outdoor grilling season, here’s a tasty recipe to try from Try these marinated pork chops with blended wild rice, a tossed salad and fresh fruit with dip.

Favorite Pork Chops

4 pork chops, about 3/4 inch thick
3/4 c. Italian dressing
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Place all ingredients in a self-sealing bag; seal and place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to a few hours. Remove chops from bag, discarding marinade. Grill over a medium-hot fire for 10-15 minutes, turning once. The internal temperature should reach 160 F.

Makes four servings. Each serving contains 210 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 140 milligrams of sodium.

Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?

When my older daughter was about 18 months old, she broke her leg in an unfortunate indoor collision with an older child at day care. While her tiny hot-pink cast did make quite a fashion statement, the several weeks of healing and her lack of mobility made life a little difficult for her and the rest of the family. She re-learned how to walk with the cast and is fine today, but it made my family think about our bones a little more.

Bones, of course, primarily are composed of calcium. Without enough calcium in our bones, we literally wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 54 million Americans have low bone density or osteoporosis, Osteoporosis (porous bones) causes bones to become fragile and easily fractured. Even though women are more at risk for osteoporosis, males also can be affected.

Answering “yes” to any of the following questions could indicate you may be more at risk for developing osteoporosis:

  • Are you female?
  • Do you have a family history of osteoporosis?
  • Are you of Caucasian or Asian descent?
  • Are you over age 50?
  • If female, have you had your ovaries removed?
  • Do you smoke cigarettes?
  • Is your diet low in calcium (under 1,000 milligrams/day) and vitamin D?
  • Is your diet limited in fruits and vegetables?
  • Do you limit dairy foods or other calcium-rich foods?
  • Do you have a high intake of protein, sodium and caffeine?
  • Do you drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day?

Keeping our bones strong and healthy throughout life takes some effort. You can help protect yourself from developing osteoporosis by consuming plenty of calcium-rich foods throughout life and by getting enough weight-bearing physical activity, like walking. Calcium supplements are another option to consider with your health-care provider. Adequate vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium.

Calcium needs differ depending on age. The current calcium recommendations are: 500 milligrams (mg) daily for 1- to 3-year-olds, 800 mg for 4- to 8-year-olds, 1,300 mg for 9- to 18-year-olds, 1,000 mg for 19- to 50-year-olds and 1,200 mg for adults age 51 and older.

Dairy products such milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent calcium sources. A cup of milk, for example, contains about 300 mg of calcium. Some plant foods such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, almonds and dried beans naturally contain calcium. Certain types of orange juice, cereals and other items in the grocery store have been fortified with calcium, too.

To learn more about your calcium intake, read the “percent daily value” for calcium on the Nutrition Facts labels for different food products. Add a zero to this number to convert it to milligrams. For example, a serving of yogurt might contain 35 percent of the daily value for calcium, or 350 mg of calcium.

Here’s a calcium-rich recipe courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Council. It is ready to eat in about 30 minutes.

Baked Spinach Artichoke Yogurt Dip

1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained 1 container (8 ounces) plain low-fat yogurt 1 cup shredded low-moisture part-skim Mozzarella cheese 1/4 cup green onion, chopped  1 garlic clove, minced 2 tablespoons red pepper, chopped

Combine all ingredients except red pepper and mix well. Pour mixture into 1-quart casserole dish or 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 F for 20 to 25 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with red peppers.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 80 calories, 3 grams (g) fat, 7 g carbohydrate, 8 g protein and 220 mg sodium.

How Lucky Are You Related to Health?

“Uncle John lived to be 95, and he ate bacon, eggs, butter and cream every day and few fruits or vegetables.” “Aunt Jane never ate a vegetable in her life and she’s 89.” Do these quotes ring a bell? Do nutrition and physical activity really make a difference, or is good health a matter of luck?

Although “Uncle John” and “Aunt Jane” are not real people in this case, you may think that certain people defy the odds. They eat whatever they want, rarely exercise and appear fairly healthy.

Remember that our lifestyles have changed drastically in the last 100 years. The Uncle Johns of the world probably were engaged in labor-intense occupations and needed the energy from a high-calorie diet. Chances are, he didn’t have a cellphone, remote control or automatic garage door opener.

And who was monitoring Aunt Jane’s plate, anyway?

Good genes certainly play a role in good health, but it’s too late for any of us to change our biological parents. If “Cousin Bob” died of a heart attack at 45 and you happen to look just like him, is it time to give up when you turn 44?  Of course not.

As scientific research has shown again and again, lifestyle choices and good medical care play a major role in keeping us healthy. It’s never too late to make some changes. In recognition of March, National Nutrition Month, take this short quiz to see what you know about nutrition and physical activity.

  1. How many minutes of physical activity should you accumulate daily on most days of the week to help prevent chronic disease?
  1. 30
  2. 45
  3. 60
  4. 90
  1. What’s the minimum total amount of fruits and vegetables most adults should aim for each day?
  1. 3.5 cups
  2. 2.5 cups
  3. 1.5 cups
  4. 1 cup
  1. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron better. Which beverage would be the best choice with iron-fortified cereal?
  1. Orange juice
  2. Apple juice
  3. Grape juice
  4. Milk
  1. Weight-bearing exercises help keep our bones strong. Which of these is NOT a weight-bearing exercise?
  1. Swimming
  2. Walking
  3. Running
  4. Dancing
  1. Which type of fat is considered least “heart-healthy”?
  1. Trans fat
  2. Saturated fat
  3. Polyunsaturated fat
  4. Monounsaturated fat
  1. Which of these is a good source of the substance our bodies use to make vitamin A?
  1. Sweet potatoes
  2. Corn
  3. Radishes
  4. Hotdogs
  1. To lose a pound of body fat, how many calories do you have cut from your diet or use up through additional physical activity?
  1. 3,500
  2. 5,000
  3. 7,500
  4. 10,000

How did you do? If you answered “1” (first answer) to every question, you earned a perfect score. Lifestyle choices can make a difference. Visit for more information and a recipe database.

Not only is March National Nutrition Month, but it also brings to mind the “luck of the Irish” and St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s a lower-calorie version of a traditional Irish favorite, Colcannon. This mixture of potatoes and cabbage (or substitute kale) also is known as “Thump” or “Champ.”

Irish Colcannon – Lite

1 c. water

1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

1/4 tsp. salt

3 c. chopped cabbage

1/3 c. skim milk

1 c. instant mashed potato flakes

1 green onion, chopped

Combine water, margarine and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to boiling and add cabbage; return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer four to six minutes or until cabbage is tender. Remove from heat; stir in milk and potato flakes with fork. Stir in onion. Cover and let stand about three minutes. (Add additional warmed milk, if needed.)

Makes four servings, 1/2 cup each. Each serving has 90 calories, 3 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 180 milligrams sodium.

10 Snacks to Fill Nutrition Gaps

“Snacking” often conjures up images of guzzling soda pop, crunching on chips and munching on candy bars while cruising down the highway or lounging in front of a TV.

Snack foods are big sellers, and most of us enjoy some type of “between-meal mini-meal” every day.

Snacking on more nutritious foods, however, can be good for your health. Well-chosen snacks can fill in nutrition gaps and add variety to your diet. Nutritious snacks also can help with weight control and improve work or school performance by providing an energy boost. Smaller, more frequent meals can even help prevent heartburn.

Snacks can help you meet current nutrition recommendations, too. March, National Nutrition Month, is a good time to examine your diet.

Are you eating at least 3.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day? That’s the recommended amount for most people. Snacking on a crunchy apple or a handful of baby carrots will help you reach the recommendation.

Are you meeting the daily calcium recommendation (1,000 milligrams daily for most adults)? Snacking on a cup of low-fat yogurt or an ounce and a half of cheese will each add a serving to your day’s total.

Are you getting about 3 ounces of whole grain foods in your daily diet? Three to four whole grain crackers, one small whole grain muffin or an ounce of whole grain cereal each count as a one-ounce serving.

Too much of almost any food, however, can lead to weight gain. To help with weight management, it’s best to keep snacks at about 100 or 200 calories per snack and to eat smaller portions at main meals.

How much is 100 or 200 calories’ worth of food? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) provided this listing of nutritious snacks with calorie, fat and fiber content.

  • 1 medium banana and one tablespoon of peanut butter: 200 calories, 8.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber.
  • 1 medium apple with skin and one-ounce string cheese: 190 calories, 6.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber
  • One-quarter cup of raisins and one half cup plain yogurt: 170 calories, 0 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of fiber
  • Two-cups of popcorn, unbuttered sprinkled with cayenne pepper: 80 calories, 1 gram of fat, 2 grams of fiber
  • One-half cup of pretzels and mustard: 93 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0.5 grams of fiber
  • 10 regular tortilla chips and one-quarter cup salsa: 188 calories, 10 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber
  • One-cup of dry whole grain cereal and one cup of one percent milk: 200 calories, 3 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of fiber
  • Six-ounces of skim milk, one-half tablespoon cocoa, one half tablespoon sugar, dash cinnamon and vanilla extract: 102 calories, 5 grams of fat, 0 grams of fiber.
  • One small corn tortilla, one-half ounce grated reduced fat cheddar cheese, 1 chopped tomato, 1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper slices: 109 calories, 2 grams of fat, 2.7 grams of fiber
  • One slice of angel food cake with one-third cup of fresh berries: 100 calories, 0.2 grams of fat, 1.6 grams of fiber

This easy dip provides a variety of nutrients, which can be enhanced by the accompaniments you choose.

Easy Bean Dip

1 16-ounce can refried beans 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce 1 teaspoon chili powder

In a small saucepan, mix all three ingredients. Heat and stir until smooth. Store in refrigerator. Serve hot or cold with carrot sticks, celery sticks, cauliflower, broccoli, whole grain crackers or baked tortilla chips.

Makes 2 cups (8 servings). Each serving contains 85 calories, 0.6 g fat, 10.7 g carbohydrate, 0.5 g fiber and 175 mg sodium.

Do You Know How to “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle”?

March is designated National Nutrition Month by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and that’s a great time to take steps to develop a healthful eating plan as we move toward spring. Ask yourself these questions and give yourself these scores: 2 points for each “Yes” answer, 1 point for each “I’m trying” answer and no points for the “No” answers.

1. Do you make half your plate veggies and fruits?                   

Yes      I’m trying      No

Choose red, orange and dark green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli.

2. Do you include lean protein in your menus?              

Yes      I’m trying      No

Choose protein foods such as lean beef and pork, chicken, seafood, turkey, beans, lentils or tofu.

3. Do you make half your grains choices whole grains?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Look for the words “100 percent whole grain” or “100 percent whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, such as fiber, than refined grains.

4. Do you include dairy or other calcium-rich foods?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk. Low-fat and fat-free milk provide the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but they contain less fat and fewer calories.

5. Do you take your time when you dine?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel so you can stop before eating more than your body needs.

6. Do you try new foods?

Yes      I’m trying      No

Pick out new foods you’ve never tried, such as mangos, lentils or kale. You may find a new favorite. Trade fun and tasty recipes with friends or find them online.


10 or more points: Good job! Check out the resources listed below for more recipes and tips.

5 to 9 points: You are making progress toward a healthful diet. Keep trying!

4 or fewer points: Check out the items you marked “No” or “I’m trying” and consider setting some goals. Make small changes toward better health.

For more information and recipes, visit or or

Here’s a colorful recipe that kids can help prepare. They can help select the vegetables at the grocery store. Look for zucchini with skin that is shiny and free of soft spots. They can rinse/scrub vegetables at home. Older children can help make the veggie ribbons with a veggie peeler. Experiment with other types of summer squash, or try tossing with a little lemon juice before serving.

Vegetable Ribbons

1 medium zucchini (about 1½ cups after cutting)
1 large carrot (about 1½ cups after cutting)
1 tsp. olive or vegetable oil (or use cooking spray)
Salt, pepper (if desired)

  1. Wash hands.
  2. Rinse zucchini and carrot. Peel carrot and cut off ends. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini and carrot into ribbons by moving the peeler back and forth.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. (Or lightly coat pan with cooking spray.)
  4. Add the vegetable ribbons, stir, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for two to three minutes, or until vegetables are tender but not overcooked.
  5. Remove from heat, add pepper and salt, if desired, and serve immediately.
  6. Option: To make vegetable coins instead of ribbons, cut zucchini and carrot into thin slices. Add ¼ cup water to the pan; cover and cook five to eight minutes.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 35 calories, 1.5 grams (g) fat, 5 g carbohydrate, less than 1 gram protein and 35 milligrams of sodium.

Recipe reprinted from the Eat Smart. Spend Smart. program, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Menu Idea

Oven-roasted chicken, baked potatoes, Vegetable Ribbons, apple slices with cinnamon, low-fat or fat-free milk


How Do You Find the Truth in a World of Health and Appearance Ads?

If you’ve read popular magazines, surfed the Internet or watched an “infomercial” on TV lately, chances are you’ve seen some enticing health-related advertisements. According to the claims, improving your appearance is fairly effortless.

You can “melt fat” while you sleep and wake up slim and trim. You can reshape your body in less than five minutes a day. You can have wrinkle-free skin if you take XYZ dietary supplement.

Look closely. Most of these ads feature genetically blessed models.

As I perused a magazine, one ad promising a 15-pound weight loss in three days caught my attention. I actually lost 20 pounds in two days. But I had a 9-pound baby boy to take home with me from the hospital.

Billions of dollars are spent each year on health-related books and products, and unfortunately, the products and information often lack merit. In addition to wasting your money, some of the advice actually can be harmful.

Dietary supplements, for example, are not highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The supplement manufacturers don’t have to prove the products are effective or safe.

Certain herbal supplements in particular have been shown to be harmful, or even deadly in some cases. That’s why keeping your health-care provider informed of any product you are taking is so important. Some supplements interfere with medications.

How can you decipher fact from fiction? Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself before you open your pocketbook:

  • Does the product promise a quick fix? Complex issues rarely can be solved as quickly as the ads indicate.
  • Does the promise sound too good to be true? Trust your common sense.
  • Are simple conclusions drawn from complex studies? Scientific research is quite complicated. Sometimes stories about scientific studies are short on details.
  • Are the recommendations based on the results of a single study? When new studies come out, they often make the news, especially if they contradict other information. National recommendations, however, aren’t made on the basis of a single study.
  • Are doubts cast about reputable scientific organizations? This is a tactic often used to make consumers fear or mistrust science.
  • Are lists of “good” and “bad” foods given? Some foods may taste “good” or “bad,” but when consumed in moderation, these foods aren’t necessarily “bad” for you. All foods can fit into a healthful diet. It’s a matter of controlling how much and how often you eat foods that are high in calories and/or fat.
  • Is the evidence based on science or on testimonials? People who’ve experienced success with the product often are pictured and quoted. But sometimes the ads feature paid actors or models who never have used the product.
  • Are the recommendations based on studies of individuals or groups of people? You can’t draw valid conclusions and make recommendations based on a small study with only a few subjects.

In this information age, where can you go for reliable information about nutrition and health? Government agencies, scientific organizations, professional organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, accredited food and nutrition departments at universities, Extension Service offices, nutrition units of health-care centers and reliable industry groups are some sources of good information.

Visit the NDSU Extension Service website at and click on “Finding the Truth” for more resources about this topic. You might save some money as a result.

The old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has some merit. Apples are a good source of pectin, a soluble fiber that, in combination with a low-fat diet, has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Try this tasty, nutritious and quick-to-make recipe.

Honey Baked Apples

6 medium baking apples 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter 1/4 cup honey 1/4 cup granola-type cereal 1/4 cup raisins

Wash and core apples. Peel top half or slit peel horizontally around each apple about an inch from the top to allow steam to escape. Place in baking dish lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 F for 40 minutes. Combine butter, honey, cereal and raisins. Fill apples with mixture and bake 10 additional minutes. Makes six servings.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 3.5 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 45 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 0 milligrams sodium.



The Sweet History of Chocolate Will Tempt Your Palate


photo by rosvita courtesy of

If chocolate melts in your hands, you’re eating it too slowly,” according to a popular quote. That works for me.

Chocolate has tempted palates for hundreds of years. After his trip to America, Columbus brought cocoa beans to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, who weren’t overly impressed and didn’t imagine the possibilities.

Another Spanish explorer, Cortez, observed the Aztecs enjoying a bitter beverage made with cocoa beans. Ever the entrepreneurs, Cortez and other Spaniards tweaked the appeal of the chocolate beverage by adding cane sugar to suit the tastes of Europeans.

Spanish monks later developed a way to process cocoa beans, and when a cocoa press was invented in 1828, the supply increased, making it more accessible to everyone. The first chocolate factory was established in the United States in 1765 and the popularity of chocolate soared.

Going from cocoa beans to chocolate requires several steps. The beans are roasted and cooled, and the shells are removed. The shelled product then is crushed and separated into liquid chocolate and cocoa butter.

Making high-quality chocolate is a real science. Cocoa butter, sugar and unsweetened chocolate are blended to make a dough. Milk chocolate, as you’d suspect, contains milk and less unsweetened chocolate.

Next, the mixture passes through rollers that make its consistency very smooth, and then it goes through a procedure called “conching.” This kneading process is designed to improve the flavor. Sometimes another process, emulsifying, is done to break up sugar crystals and ensure the product is at its smoothest. The chocolate then is heated, cooled, reheated and finally molded into a variety of shapes and sizes.

Chocolate is a much-loved food that some may feel guilty about eating. Actually, chocolate may not be as unhealthy as you might imagine. Milk chocolate contains several different types of fatty acids, including oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that also is found in olive oil. Oleic acid is considered to be a “heart healthy” fat.

While research has shown a link between saturated fat intake and heart disease, one type of saturated fat in cocoa butter, stearic acid, seems to behave differently. A study conducted at Pennsylvania State University showed that even regularly eating 10 ounces of milk chocolate did not raise LDL (bad) cholesterol or total cholesterol. Do you suppose they had to turn away chocoholics who wanted to participate in the study?

Chocolate also is a good source of antioxidant nutrients known as polyphenols. Antioxidants protect cells and tissues from damage by “free radicals” that roam the body and promote cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. Some studies have shown that chocolate may contain more antioxidants than tea.

Based on these studies, should you turn to chocolate as the ultimate health food? Any food can fit into a healthful diet, but moderation, balance and variety remain the keys to healthful eating. The occasional chocolate bar, cup of cocoa or rich chocolate dessert easily can fit into a healthful diet.

If you’re trying to lose weight, remember that chocolate bars are energy-dense at 240 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per typical 1.6-ounce bar. Too many calories, regardless of the source, can lead to weight gain. If you have a chocolate craving, try a few chocolate kisses to quench your craving. Unwrapping each chocolate kiss takes time.

Here’s a chocolaty recipe that originally appeared on Mazola Margarine packages.

Cocoa Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup margarine (or butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 egg whites

Place paper liners in 18 muffin pan cups. Sift together dry ingredients. Place margarine in mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until soft. Add vanilla. Add sugar gradually while beating. On low speed, add flour mixture alternately with water. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form and gently fold into batter. Spoon into muffin cups and bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. When toothpick comes out clean, they are done. Cool in pans. Tops may be sprinkled with powdered sugar when cool.

Makes 18 cupcakes. Each cupcake has160 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 2 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 140 milligrams sodium.


The Weighty Issue of Maintaining a Healthy Weight


Scale by fiddler jan courtesy of

Some gifts are not necessarily appreciated by your significant other, particularly if she’s female. Several years ago, shortly after I placed him on a cholesterol-lowering diet, my husband bought “us” a present: a bathroom scale.

“It’s a good one. It’s digital and it glows in the dark,” he said.

Now when I have the burning need to know what I weigh in the middle of the night, within a half pound, I won’t need to turn on the bathroom light.

Maintaining a healthy weight is important, but excessive thinness isn’t necessarily healthy. Being overweight increases the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, cancer, arthritis and breathing problems. On the other hand, excessive dieting can lead to other problems, including eating disorders.

Determining a healthy weight “number” remains controversial, but there’s no denying that Americans, in general, are growing larger. Using “Body Mass Index” or “BMI” as a gauge, experts categorize nearly two of three American adults as overweight. BMI can be calculated by following these steps:

  1. Determine your height in inches.
  2. Multiply your height (in inches) by your height (in inches).
  3. Weigh yourself.
  4. Divide your weight (in pounds) by your answer to number 2.
  5. Multiply your answer to number 4 by 705.

Your answer is your BMI. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered “normal.” BMI values of 18 or lower are considered “underweight.” BMI values between 25 and 29.9 are considered “overweight” and values above 30 are considered “obese.” For example, a 5-foot-10-inch man who weighs 175 pounds would have a BMI of about 25, or 705 x (175 pounds ÷ (70 inches x 70 inches)).

BMI doesn’t work for everyone, though. Since BMI uses weight, it doesn’t necessarily provide information on relative proportions of muscle, bone, and fat. Athletes, for example, may have little body fat yet be “obese” according to BMI standards, because muscle weighs more than fat.

Talk to your healthcare provider or a dietitian about a healthy weight for you. Set a reasonable goal. If you need to lose a few pounds, do it slowly. The “miracle diets” and supplements that seem to surface almost daily can cause you to lose muscle and even bone, along with fat.

The healthiest approach is to aim for a weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds a week. Even losing a little weight can reduce blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels.

 What if everyone in your family is heavy? Are your genes your destiny? British researchers studied nearly 500 sets of healthy, middle-aged female twins. About one-third were overweight. Overall the active twin had less total fat and less abdominal fat, which is linked to diabetes and heart disease, than the inactive twin.

A healthy diet and physical activity go hand in hand in maintaining or improving our overall health. Do you meet the recommendation for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week?

Being physically active doesn’t necessarily mean participating in sports or working out at a health club. Even short increments of moderate physical activity can make a difference in overall energy and health. Here are some ways to get moving toward better health:

  • Take a walk around the block, around a mall or across the parking lot.
  • Wash your windows or car.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Join a dance class, or just use your radio and dance around the house.
  • Go biking in warm weather or cross-country skiing during snowy winter months.
  • Play with your children, grandchildren or the neighbor’s kids. Shoot some hoops, throw a frisbee, or play ball.
  • Take exercise breaks during TV commercials.
  • At work, take a walk instead of a snack break.

For more information about eating healthfully, visit and check out the Nourishing Boomers and Beyond site (, which has a wide range health-related information.

Here’s a tasty “smoothie” to enjoy after your exercise break. Smoothies are very popular with several national franchises offering them. The beverages vary greatly in nutrients, calories and fat. Smoothies usually contain milk, juice, and/or fruit, but some establishments offer extra vitamins, minerals and other additives. Making them yourself with your choice of fruit is not only less expensive, but it can also help you control the calorie and fat content.

Frozen Banana Shake

1 1/2 cups milk
1 frozen banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in blender. Blend. Serve in a tall glass. Makes two servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 9 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber and 110 milligrams of sodium.


Can This Recipe Ingredient Be Saved?

As most of us learned from our parents, be sure to check that you have your ingredients before you start cooking or baking. I’d like to add: Be sure the ingredients are in a usable form, too.

I recall a baking project I did with my then-5-year-old assistant chef. We discovered we were a little short on sugar, so I went to my storage area in the basement to retrieve some. I found a 5-pound bag that felt a little firm.

When I opened the bag of sugar in the kitchen, we discovered that if we’d had some mortar and more bags of sugar, we could have built a brick house.

My daughter thought it was quite comical seeing me pound the bag on the counter, and she giggled heartily at my efforts.

Could this sugar be saved?

Fortunately, I had just answered the “hard sugar” question at work, so I applied the technique at home. Pounding wasn’t the right answer. It wasn’t good for my countertop, either.

White sugar becomes hard when it absorbs moisture, so “reviving” it involves removing the extra moisture. To remove moisture, heat the oven to 200 degrees and place the big sugar lump in a pan. Break the sugar into smaller pieces with a fork every 15 minutes or so.

If the problem had been hard brown sugar, the opposite is true. Brown sugar that loses moisture becomes bricklike. It, too, can be revived. Just place a cut apple in the container and place it in the refrigerator until the sugar softens, then remove the apple.

Brown sugar can be revived quickly in a microwave oven, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension. Just place a microwave-safe cup of water in the microwave oven and run the oven at full power for three to five minutes until a steamy environment is created. Leave the cup of water in the microwave and place the hardened unwrapped brown sugar in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave the two items for one minute. Break up sugar and repeat until the sugar is soft. Repackage the sugar in an airtight container after it cools.

Sugar and other staples such as flour have a long shelf life. In fact, white sugar keeps indefinitely in airtight containers. Flour also has a long shelf life, but many experts recommend using it within 12 months for best quality. Whole-wheat flour keeps about three months at room temperature because of its higher fat content. To increase its shelf life, refrigerate or freeze it.

As you survey your cupboards, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always label foods with the date of purchase before putting them on your shelf. Monitor the expiration date, too. Products such as yeast won’t work as well if they’re used past their expiration date. Some products past their expiration date are not safe to eat.
  • Practice the rule used by foodservice establishments: FIFO or “first in, first out.”
  • If you’re tossing lots of foods with expired dates, buy smaller containers next time.

Check out these two publications on the NDSU Extension Service website:

Food Storage Guide (

Ingredient Substitutions (

Here’s a recipe adapted from a Kellogg’s Inc. recipe.

 Low-fat Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. softened butter
1/4 c. nonfat cream cheese, softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg (or 1/4 c. egg substitute)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. crispy rice cereal
4 oz. chocolate chips, reduced fat

In small mixing bowl, combine flour, soda and salt. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, beat together butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg substitute and vanilla. Beat well. Add flour mixture, mixing until combined. Stir in cereal and chocolate morsels. Drop by level measuring-tablespoon onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove immediately from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Store in airtight container.

 Makes 42 servings (one cookie per serving). Each serving has 70 calories, 2 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 50 milligrams sodium.

Your Freezer Questions Answered


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I field quite a few consumer calls in an average week. This week someone’s garage freezer stopped working due to the changes in temperature in the garage. Some of her food thawed. The food was still refrigerator-cold and had ice crystals. It was safe to use or freeze again.

In my home, we had the same issue with our freezer and got a “garage freezer kit” and it fixed our problem.

A while back someone called and asked what she might do with a “lot” of fresh vegetables she had received from a friend. I usually only receive these calls in the summer or fall, not the dead of winter.

I was imagining she had about 10 pounds of vegetables. She said she had over 50 pounds of vegetables, and she wanted to can them because they were starting to “go bad.” Of course my next question was, “Do you have a pressure canner?” She said, “No, but I thought I’d use a boiling water-bath canner.”

We talked about all the reasons why using a water-bath canner is not a safe plan for canning vegetables. “Do you have a dehydrator or a freezer?” I asked. “No, I just have the freezer above my refrigerator.” I could almost see the light bulb above her head. “We do have a giant freezer – outside.”

She had me there. Sometimes our outdoor temperatures are as cold as an ice factory. Other days, we have springlike weather.

So, we talked about blanching and packing vegetables with a little headspace to allow the food to expand during freezing. Granted, storing food outside is not my usual recommendation but she had her heart set on saving these vegetables and there was no neighbor with freezer space nearby. I’m hoping she’ll spring for a freezer soon.

Here are a couple other questions and answers about cold food storage I’ve received in the past:

“What causes freezer burn? Is it safe to eat freezer-burned food?”

“Freezer burn” is a form of dehydration usually caused by improper packaging. The surface moisture has evaporated, and the food may appear lighter in color and “dried out.” While the food is safe to eat, the quality is lower. It often has an “off-flavor.” To avoid freezer burn, package foods carefully in moisture or vapor-resistant packaging before freezing. Mark the packages with the date you placed them in the freezer, and “rotate your stock.” Use the “oldest” food first.

“I left a package of frozen ground beef on my counter overnight. It was pretty cool in the house. Is it safe to eat if I cook it really well?”

Even if it’s cool in your house, it’s not safe to “counter thaw” meat. Bacteria could grow to levels that could cause foodborne illness or produce toxins that cannot be inactivated by any amount of cooking. Meat and other high-protein foods should be thawed in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or lower, microwave oven (followed by immediate cooking) or under cool running water.

To access an on-line “Food Freezing Guide” or “Food Storage Guide” with recommendations for freezing and storing a wide variety of foods, visit this website and search for those titles:

Here’s a tasty beverage mix that stays safe in your cupboard and will warm a wintry day.
Hot Spiced Tea

2 c. orange instant breakfast drink mix (such as Tang)
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. instant tea, unsweetened
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 tsp. ground cloves

Mix well. Store in tightly closed container. Add 3 teaspoons to 1 cup hot water and enjoy.

Makes about 56 servings. Each serving has 45 calories, 11 grams carbohydrate, no fat, no protein and about 30 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.