Does Gardening Really Count as Exercise?

When I was very young I loved to help with gardening. Squash, pumpkin and bean seeds were easily within my planting capability. I’m not sure I ever graduated to the manual dexterity needed for planting the tiny carrot seeds. I’d dash out to the garden several times a day to check if any tiny plants had appeared. I was a little disappointed that it took so long. But soon we had long rows of plants — and lots of weeds to remove.

By the time I was a teenager and the gardening novelty wore off a bit, all this planting, weeding and watering sometimes seemed like parental punishment.

Now I see the lessons that were learned. Besides learning about horticulture, children can learn life skills like patience and persistence from gardening. Eating vegetables was never an issue in our house. We helped grow the vegetables, so of course we wanted to taste them. And I also learned how to preserve the food to savor our efforts during the winter.

According to some recent research, gardening does more than provide healthful food. The act of gardening and landscaping can make you healthier by strengthening your heart and lungs and increasing your flexibility. Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days of the week, and most activities involved in gardening count toward this goal.

Researchers at Stanford and the Universities of South Carolina and Minnesota computed the metabolic equivalents (METs) of about 500 different activities, including planting, weeding and mowing. One MET is the amount of energy a body uses when it is at rest.

Planting and weeding are rated 4.5 METs, since you burn up 4.5 times the amount of energy you would burn at rest. Activities that rate from 3 to 6 METs are considered heart-healthy. For example, planting or weeding for 30 minutes burns up about 150 calories in a 150-pound person. A heavier person will expend more energy. Mowing the lawn with a push mower (a 5 MET activity) will burn about 200 calories every 30 minutes for a 150-pound person.

Sorry, mowing the lawn with a riding lawn mower (a 2.5 MET activity) doesn’t count as a heart-healthy activity.

Even if you only have time to rake grass clippings for 15 minutes in the afternoon and return to weed your garden for 15 minutes after dinner, you’ll still meet your goal as long as you work up a little sweat. Accumulating physical activity in 10- or 15-minute increments counts toward the overall 30-minute goal.

If you’ve been a couch potato all winter, it’s best to start slowly with any kind of activity. Don’t plow the “back 40″ by hand on the first day of spring. Take care of your back by bending at the knees. If your knees give you problems, consider using foam knee pads, or sit when possible.

Wear sunscreen and a hat to avoid sunburn. Bring your water bottle along with you and drink frequently, especially on a warm sunny day. When you’re thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated. Many experts recommend drinking about a half-cup of water every 15 minutes during physical activity.

Nearly 100 years ago, my Grandma Garden (yes, that was her name and note my “middle” name) planted a patch of rhubarb in the backyard of the house where I grew up. We still own the home, and the rhubarb faithfully comes up every year, producing tender red-green stalks.

Rhubarb, or “pie plant,” is technically a vegetable, but it is used as a fruit in pies, cakes, sauces, and jams. For best eating quality, choose firm, glossy stalks that aren’t overly large. Store fresh rhubarb in the vegetable crisper, wash carefully and use within a few days, or freeze. Here’s a tasty dessert recipe that’s easy to make.

Rhubarb Crunch

Ingredients:
4 c. rhubarb, cut up
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. orange peel, grated

Crumble Topping:
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. brown sugar
dash salt
1/4 c. butter or margarine

Sour Cream Topping:
1/2 c. dairy sour cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Procedure: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine rhubarb, sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and orange peel. Place in an 8-inch square pan. Prepare crumble topping by combining 3/4 cup flour with brown sugar, and salt. Cut in butter or margarine until crumbly. Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture. Bake 40-45 minutes. Right before serving, combine sour cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and drizzle over the top.

A serving (1/8 of the recipe) contains 250 calories and 9 grams of fat, which is much lower than a slice of double crust rhubarb pie but still a “treat.” Remember, too, that to burn up the energy from a 250-calorie dessert, you’ll need to weed for about 50 minutes.

Bees Are Busy Food Producers

Some of us claim to be pretty busy. But we’re all slackers compared to honey bees.

Imagine yourself as a bee. To make a pound of honey, you’d need to gather all your winged friends, fly more than 50,000 miles and collect nectar from a couple million flowers.

I don’t think you’d collect any frequent flyer miles in the process.

The use of honey for food dates back to ancient times. Through the years, honey has been used as a method of payment, as a component of cement and furniture polish and, of course, as a sweetener.

Nutritionally honey is fairly complex. It’s mainly made up of carbohydrates like glucose and fructose, but it also contains small amounts of B vitamins and minerals, including copper, iron, manganese, potassium and zinc. A tablespoon of honey has 64 calories and no fat.

We’re all born with a liking for sweet foods. Adults often enjoy honey in their tea and children may like the sweetness of honey in yogurt or fruit smoothies. Infants under age one, however, should never be fed honey because cases of infant botulism have been linked to the practice. Honey can contain inactive bacterial spores, which the infant’s immature digestive system cannot tolerate. Infant botulism could result in death without proper medical attention.

More than 300 unique kinds of honey are available. Depending on the bee’s choice of “floral restaurant,” the resulting honey will have a unique flavor. Some common honey varieties include clover, orange blossom and alfalfa honey. In general, darker honey is more strongly flavored than light-colored honey.

Honey comes in different forms. Most people are familiar with liquid honey, which is separated from the honey comb by straining or some other method. “Comb honey” is sold with its edible comb intact, while “cut honey” includes parts of the comb. “Whipped honey” or “spun honey” can be readily spread.

If you’d like to incorporate honey in cooking or baking, there are some modifications that may be needed in your recipes. It’s easiest to use recipes that were specifically designed for honey. If you choose to experiment with baked goods, liquid should be reduced by one-fourth cup for every cup of honey used in place of sugar and one-half teaspoon of baking soda should be added for every cup of honey used. The sugars in honey promote browning, so the oven temperature should be reduced by 25 degrees.

If you’ve ever stored honey in the refrigerator, you may have found a solid crystalline mass awaiting you. It’s best to store honey in the cupboard. You can rejuvenate honey in a microwave oven, stirring regularly, but be cautious about over-heating. Or you can place the container of honey in a container of warm water, stirring until the crystals dissolve.

Here’s a recipe just in time for the grilling season.

Honey Barbecue Sauce

1/2 c. minced onion 1 clove minced garlic 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 1 can tomato sauce 1/2 c. honey 2 Tbsp. vinegar 2 Tbsp. minced parsley 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 1/4 tsp. pepper 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Saute onion and garlic in oil until softened. Add remaining ingredients and bring mixture to boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Sauce can be used to marinate chicken, beef or pork or it can be brushed on during grilling.

Makes 1 cup or about 16 servings. Each 1 tablespoon serving contains 46 calories, 0.8 grams fat and 11 grams carbohydrates.

 

Bison Are at Home on the Range

Whenever I drive to Jamestown, N.D., I always peer off to the distant hill looking for the famous albino bison. It’s not a mythological creature. White Cloud really exists, and now the herd has an additional younger white bison.

Among Native Americans, bison, or buffalo, have long been considered sacred. Traditionally, every part of the buffalo was used for food, clothing or shelter. The hide was used for blankets, moccasins, shirts, winter robes and many other items. The blood was used for paints and food.

Tendons were used for bowstrings, arrow ties and glue preparation. Hooves were used to make containers, glue, spoons and wind chimes. Bones were used to make arrowheads, eating utensils, game dice, pipes, sleds and many other items. The beard and teeth were used as ornaments, and the fat was used to make soap and cosmetics. The meat was cooked immediately or made into pemmican, sausages or jerky for longer storage.

The plains buffalo and the wood buffalo are the two types of bison. The plains buffalo, which weigh up to 2,000 pounds, is smaller than the wood buffalo, which can grow to 2,500 pounds. While these animals do not appear swift, they can travel up to 35 miles an hour and burrow through snow banks, thanks to their muscled shoulder hump.

Bison meat is fairly low in fat, saturated fat and calories. It contributes iron, zinc and vitamins B-6 and B-12 to the diet. A 3-ounce serving of roasted bison contains about 125 calories, 1.7 grams of fat and 80 milligrams of cholesterol, making it comparable to lean beef, chicken and pork.

The flavor, composition and texture of meat will vary depending on what the animal eats. In a study conducted by retired professor Marty Marchello in the Department of Animal Sciences at North Dakota State University, taste panelists preferred grain-fed bison to grass-fed bison. Grain-finished bison roasts were rated equivalent to beef roasts. Grain-finished bison had more fat than grass-finished bison.

Here’s a recipe from the North Dakota Evening Stars Family and Community Educator Club. According to the cookbook, the recipe contributor’s son called home for this recipe after he moved away. That’s a supreme compliment for any mom.

Dakota Meat Rolls With Cheese Sauce

1 pound ground bison (or extra-lean ground beef)
2 c. all-purpose baking mix, such as Bisquick
1/2 c. water
2 Tbsp. shortening or butter 1/4 tsp. pepper

Brown meat. Stir baking mix, water and shortening to a soft dough. Gently smooth dough into a ball on a floured board. Knead. Roll dough into a rectangle. Spread browned ground beef over dough to within 1/2 inch of edge. Sprinkle with pepper. Roll up, beginning at narrow side. Cut into 1-inch slices. Place slices, cut-side down, in greased pan, 9 by 13 inches. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Serve hot cheese sauce over biscuits.

Cheese Sauce

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 Tbsp. baking mix, such as Bisquick
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 c. fat-free milk
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

To make cheese sauce, melt margarine over low heat in saucepan. Blend in baking mix and seasonings. Add milk. Cook over low heat, stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbly, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Stir in cheese. Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted.

Makes 12 servings (one Bison roll). Each serving has 230 calories, 15 g fat, 15 g carbohydrate, 11 g protein and 370 mg sodium.

What Are Your Summer Nutrition and Fitness Goals?

I recall a conversation I had with my son many years ago. He had just completed first grade. He and I were talking about scheduling some summer activities for him, and I was perusing the city’s summer recreation guide.

“What do you want to do this summer?” I asked him.

“I want to jump over turtles this summer,” he announced.

Because we do not have lots of turtles in the neighborhood, I didn’t think he’d be having much fun or getting a lot of exercise. I repeated my question.

He gave me the “my mom’s an alien” look and repeated his answer.

Trying to get me to understand, he said, “Mom, you run around a track and jump over turtles this high.” He held his hand about waist high. I finally got it.

He wasn’t talking about the giant turtles featured in public TV documentaries. He was talking about “hurdles.”

Yes, running and jumping over hurdles would be a good summer activity, as long as it’s not done in the living room.

Physical activity is very important for people of all ages. It goes hand in hand with healthy eating in helping lower our risk for certain diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Physical activity doesn’t have to be as strenuous as “turtle” jumping to be effective. Back in 1995, the U.S. surgeon general recommended that all adults aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as walking on five or more days of the week. That message remains 20 years later.

You can accumulate the minutes in shorter increments. Ten minutes of walking three times a day will fill the bill. Parking your car farther from your destination and taking the stairs instead of the elevator counts, too.

Many experts recommend that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis. Increasing physical activity among children could help reverse the worrisome trend of childhood obesity. Saying no to “super-size” portions and eating more fruits and vegetables also can help.

With hectic lives and many distractions, adults and children may find that meeting the recommendations is difficult. TV, videos and computer games can distract children from getting physical activity. Many TV food commercials are for sweetened beverages and high-fat snacks.

We all need to feed our bodies with a variety of healthy foods. Bones, in particular, need ample calcium, along with vitamin D and several other nutrients. Dairy products are good sources of calcium. A cup of milk, for example, contains about 300 milligrams of calcium. Calcium-fortified juice and cereal and broccoli are other sources of calcium.

In addition to food, weight-bearing physical activity can strengthen our bones. Setting limits on sedentary activities such as watching TV is a worthy goal. Children, especially teenagers, are building bone mass to carry them throughout life.

Walking, running and jumping rope are examples of activities that put pressure on bones, strengthening them in the process. Swimming and bike riding, although good for the heart, technically are not weight-bearing exercises because weight is being supported.

Here’s a refreshing and easy-to-make treat to enjoy after getting some physical activity.

Pudding Pops

2 c. cold low-fat or skim milk 1 (four-serving size) package instant pudding mix 6 paper cups (5-ounce size) 6 plastic spoons or Popsicle sticks

Beat pudding mix and milk together at least two minutes. Spoon into cups. Insert Popsicle stick or spoon in center of each cup. Freeze at least five hours. To remove pop from cup, place bottom of cup in warm water for 10 to 15 seconds.

Makes six pops. When made with nonfat milk, each pop contains 80 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 18 g carbohydrate, 3 g protein and 10 percent of the daily value for calcium.

Drink More Fluids, Eat More Fruits and Vegetables During Warmer Season

Remember when toddlers were the only ones carrying bottles? Carrying a bottle of water to class, to work, on shopping trips, on walks and in cars has become quite chic. That’s a fashion statement with health benefits.

How much do you know about the importance of water and other fluids in your diet? Try this quiz.

  1. Depending on age, size and gender, about what percent of an adult’s body weight consists of water?
  1. 10 to 25 percent
  2. 15 to 30 percent
  3. 25 to 50 percent
  4. 55 to 75 percent
  1. About how much water do adults lose daily through perspiration, breathing and normal elimination?
  1. 3 cups
  2. 6 cups
  3. 8 cups
  4. 10 cups
  1. A person who has lost ____ percent of his or her body water may experience muscle spasms, swollen tongue and wakefulness.
  1. 25 percent
  2. 20 percent
  3. 15 percent
  4. 10 percent
  1. On average, how many cups of water and other fluids should you consume each day through liquids and the foods in your diet?
  1. 2 cups
  2. 4 cups
  3. 6 cups
  4. 8 cups

How did you do? The answers are all choice No. 4.

The importance of water and other fluids to health often is overlooked. Water is a calorie-free beverage that supports the function of almost all body processes. For example, water helps transport nutrients about the body and carries wastes out of the body. It helps regulate body temperature. It helps cushion joints. When you feel “thirsty,” you’re already mildly dehydrated and have lost about 1 percent of your body water.

You need more water if you’re exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures. During intense exercise, dehydration can become an issue. Drink water before, during and after physical activity. Athletes, in particular, can see a decline in strength and performance with even mild dehydration.

Being sick, especially if you’re experiencing fever, vomiting or diarrhea, will increase fluid needs. Pregnant and nursing women need to increase their fluid intake, too. People who spend a lot of time in air travel often need extra fluids due to the dryness of the air.

Remember that food, especially fruits and vegetables, also contain a high percentage of water. About 90 percent of the weight of watermelon and tomatoes comes from water. Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and cola do count as fluids, but the caffeine can have a diuretic effect, leading to loss of water in the urine, so plain water is considered more hydrating.

So, drink – and eat – to your health. Keep fluids within easy reach. Carry a sippy cup filled with ice water with you in your car. Keep a glass of water on your desk or bed stand. Have soup more often as a first course. Eat plenty of high-water foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Here’s a tasty slush beverage that’s a special treat to enjoy at a summer cookout or summer celebration.

Summertime Slush

3-ounce package strawberry or raspberry gelatin (sugar-free)
1 c. boiling water
3 c. cold water
2 c. cranberry juice cocktail
1 (12-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 (12-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 quarts lemon-lime soda pop (diet or regular)

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water in small bowl. In a nonmetal freezer container (such as an ice cream bucket), combine dissolved gelatin with remaining ingredients except carbonated beverage; cover. Freeze about eight hours or until it reaches a slush consistency. To serve, allow to stand at room temperature about 30 minutes and spoon about 1/2 cup slush mixture into serving glass and fill with lemon-lime soda.

Makes about 20 servings.

When made with sugar-free gelatin and diet soda, a serving (about 1 cup) contains about 90 calories, 19 grams (g) of carbohydrate, no fat or protein and 60 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C. When made with “regular” products, each serving has 130 calories and 32 g of carbohydrate. The remaining nutrition facts stay the same.

‘Grazing’ Can Have Health Benefits

“He eats like a horse.”

I think I have described my son’s teenage years in those terms at some point. I have heard other parents of teenagers do the same.

Eating like a horse actually is a compliment in some ways. Horses graze, and research has shown that grazing, or snacking on minimeals throughout the day, makes a lot of sense nutritionally. In fact, several well-chosen snacks paced throughout the day can be just as nutritious as three square meals.

One research study found that dividing your daily food intake into 17 minimeals can lower blood cholesterol, particularly the LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels. Even the most faithful eaters, however, would have trouble eating 17 times daily.

Other researchers have reported that grazing on six small meals daily offers some benefits in weight control. Each time we eat food, our metabolic activity increases, kind of like starting your vehicle. Starting your “internal combustion engine” six times daily may burn some additional calories as long as those six snacks are not the size of complete meals.

Diabetics, in particular, need to eat regularly, so the pattern of six smaller meals daily can help with blood glucose control. Children need snacks to meet their nutritional needs as they grow. Elderly people also benefit from smaller meals because some experience a reduction in appetite. Smaller meals often are tolerated better than larger ones.

With today’s faster pace of life, many people find themselves eating on the run. The snack food industry offers all sorts of tempting products that aren’t necessarily high in nutrients, but many are high in fat, sugar and sodium. Healthy snacking takes a little planning. Keep your refrigerator and cupboard stocked with healthful foods, and use snacks as a way to fill in nutrient gaps.

If you struggle to meet the daily recommendation for vegetables and fruits, put some fresh fruits and vegetables in a plastic bag to munch in the car or at your desk. Go beyond baby carrots and snack on broccoli, cauliflower, jicama, zucchini, bell peppers, snow peas and other veggies.

Many types of fruits and vegetables provide vitamins A and C, as well as needed fluids. Dried fruit has less fluid, but it is easily portable and can be stored much longer, but dried fruits have more calories per the same weight.

To help meet your calcium needs, consume at least two to three servings from the dairy group daily. How about snacking on lower-fat cheeses such as mozzarella or farmer cheese cut into cubes? Retailers have made yogurt very portable these days by repackaging the same item in easy-to-eat plastic tubes.

Enjoy some whole-grain crackers from the grain group. Or fill a plastic bag with whole-grain cereal for a quick pick-me-up that is much less expensive than visiting the vending machine.

To add protein to your minimeals, try hummus, a dip made from chickpeas. Nuts are high-protein, portable snacks, but if weight loss is a goal, remember they also are fairly high in calories. Beef jerky is a portable snack that’s a good source of iron, but pay attention to the sodium content, especially if you have been told by a health-care provider to watch your sodium intake.

Here’s a snack that is quick to fix and very nutritious. Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for more recipes and information about nutrition, food safety and health.

Homemade Chips and Fresh Salsa

Chip ingredients 6 corn tortillas Salt (optional)

Procedure Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tortillas into small wedges, similar to cutting up a pie. Place on baking sheet. If salt is desired, spray tortillas lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake approximately 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

Makes four servings of chips. Without salt, each serving has 90 calories, 1.5 grams (g) fat, 2 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 0 milligrams (mg) sodium.

Salsa ingredients 2 large ripe tomatoes 2 tsp. chili peppers, finely chopped 3 Tbsp. onions, chopped 1/4 tsp ground coriander (or 2 tsp. chopped cilantro) 1 Tbsp. sugar

Procedure Chop ingredients by hand or use a food processor. Chill or serve immediately. Note: You can alter the heat in your salsa based on your choice of pepper.

Makes four servings of salsa. Each serving has 30 calories, 0 g fat, 1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber and 15 mg sodium.

 

Add Some Culture to Your Menu

My family members always enjoyed some fairly unusual foods. As a kid, I’d eat just about anything, with a few exceptions.

Liver sausage and lutefisk only briefly touched my plate before being transferred stealthily to a distracted parent’s plate. I usually left the kitchen when the tightly covered jar of the highly aromatic Limburger cheese came out of the refrigerator.

I usually went looking for the air freshener.

When I went off to college, I took a liking to yogurt. I even bought a yogurt maker, and I brought it home to treat my parents to home-made yogurt. They wrinkled their noses and said, “I just can’t eat that.” Oh, they might have eaten a teaspoon of it to be polite.

That’s more lutefisk than I tried.

Yogurt has been around for thousands of years. It’s made by mixing milk, or in some cases cream, with active bacterial cultures that ferment the milk and change its consistency. In recent years, research has shown some health benefits associated with eating yogurt because of the “friendly bacteria” it contains.

Most dairy foods contain the milk sugar known as lactose. People with lactose intolerance often suffer intestinal distress when they drink milk because they are deficient in an enzyme, lactase, which breaks down milk sugar. However, most people with lactose intolerance can enjoy calcium-rich yogurt without the consequences because the bacterial cultures break down lactose into a digestible form.

Yogurt and other fermented foods contain live bacteria and are termed “probiotics,” meaning “for life.” While bacteria may be inactivated in the acidic environment of the stomach, some probiotics can survive and compete with disease-causing microorganisms in the small and large intestines.

The small and large intestines contain an estimated 100 trillion bacteria of 400 different types. Some are neutral, some are probiotics and some have the potential to cause disease. Researchers are studying the role that probiotics may play in boosting the immune system to fight disease. Probiotics also may compete with disease-causing organisms for nutrients in the stomach.

In the U.S., two different bacterial strains are used to produce yogurt: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. To be sure you are getting live cultures in your yogurt, look for these phrases on the yogurt container: “with active yogurt cultures,” “with living yogurt cultures” or “contains active cultures.”

Eat yogurt within a week of the “sell by” date on the container to take advantage of the live cultures, which can decrease through time.

Yogurt is available in many forms and flavors. You can buy whipped yogurt, custard yogurt, fruit-on-the bottom yogurt, drinkable yogurt and yogurt in kid-friendly squeezable plastic tubes. Here’s a recipe for a tasty dip that’s low in calories and high in nutrients.

Creamy Spinach and Yogurt Dip

1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (squeeze out excess liquid) 2 c. plain yogurt, drained for 20 minutes

1/2 c. low-fat ricotta cheese 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 c. minced scallions 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (optional) salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well, cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers or fresh vegetables.

Makes 30 servings, 2 tablespoons per serving. Each serving contains 25 calories, 1 gram (g) fat, 2 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein and 60 milligrams calcium.

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 www.porkandhealth.org/. 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 www.ag.ndsu.edu/food 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.