What You Need to Know about Pork

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If visions of mistreated animals injected with a continuous supply of hormones and antibiotics leave you feeling confused and terrified about your food choices—this post is for you. I’m cutting through many myths about how pork is produced, so you can rest assured you are making the right choices. For this post I interviewed Wanda Patsche, a pig farmer from Minnesota.

Aren’t big farms owned by big agriculture companies?
Wanda: Family farmers own 97% of pig farms. Some farms are big some are small.

What are the greatest misperceptions consumers have about pigs?
Wanda: Many people think modern farms are less humane compared to small farms; niche farms, pasture raised. Actually, the opposite is true. With modern farms barns are designed so you can handle the pigs better; pigs have a social hierarchy where they fight with each other. Modern farms are specifically created to easily control this fighting by having pigs in individual pens. This means less stress for the pigs, plus the buildings are temperature controlled with fresh air. Pigs are given clean water and clean feed. The barns are pressure washed and sanitized between groups of pigs (when pigs move out and prior to new pigs coming in). Plus, pig farmers work closely with their veterinarians. Farms that have more pigs mean the famers continually grind feed because they have more mouths to feed. Continually grinding feed means the pigs get fresh feed. Their diets are designed for health and growth.

What you need to know about porkIs hormone-free pork better?
Wanda: No pigs are given hormones. Farmers are not allowed to give pigs hormones. Therefore, any pork labeled “hormone-free” has been given this label to try and make customers think it is better than other pork. However, there is no difference, all pork is free from added hormones.

Are there any antibiotics in my pork?
Wanda: Antibiotic-free is another labeling term to try to persuade customers to choose chose a specific pork product. All meat is free of antibiotics. If a pig is given an antibiotic, all traces of the antibiotic must leave the body—called the withdrawal period—before the pig is sent to off for pork production.

What do you think is driving these perceptions?
Wanda: In the U.S., less than 2% of people are farmers. Many people don’t know farmers, and they are 2 – 4 generations removed from farmers. If you’ve never been to a farm or know people who farm it is easier to believe the myths that circulate on the internet.

Tell us a little more about advances in pork production and the safeguards in place to ensure pork is safe.
Wanda: Forty years ago, pigs were all outside. They had clean air but many hazards including sunburn and the greater likelihood of getting worms (and therefore the vets would have to treat them with medicine for worms). Now, with the introduction of indoor facilities and individual pins, pigs are less stressed which keeps them healthier. Stress = greater likelihood of sickness.

In addition, antibiotics are used less, and there is a comprehensive vaccination program in place to keep pigs healthy. On farms that do not use antibiotics to treat animals when sick, the animals must be pulled away from the other pigs to prevent the illness from spreading.

Animal scientists are currently conducting studies examining ways to keep animals healthy including the use of essential oils, probiotics, and enzymes. Healthier pigs mean even fewer antibiotics are used.

Antibiotics are the last resort and only used when necessary.

Pigs are grouped together based on age. This is helpful as immune system functioning differs by age. This is just another step to keep pigs as healthy as possible.

Aren’t farms more concerned about quantity vs. quality?
Wanda: No. Every day I wake up and think, “what can I do to ensure my pigs are as healthy as possible?” Pig farmers get more money for higher quality meat. So, every pig farmer has an added incentive to produce healthy, high quality pigs. Lower quality pork goes to a secondary market for ground pork, pepperoni and similar process products. Farmers get considerably less money for lower quality pork.

Are there any concerns that consumers should have about pork?
Wanda: The biggest concern for consumers is how pork is handled and cooked. According to the USDA pork should be cooked to 145°F internally. Ground pork should be cooked to 160°F. It can be pink in the middle as long as these internal temperatures are reached.

What are the best cuts of pork?
Wanda: pork is 16% leaner than it was 20 years ago due to the way animals are fed and genetics. Pork tenderloin is just as lean as chicken breast. An easy way to remember this: loin = lean.

This post was sponsored by USFRA, all views are mine and Wanda’s.

 

Get Your Kids Cooking & Win Cabot Cheese & a Subscription to ChopChop Magazine

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cabot give away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find out how you can end food struggles with your child and enter to win $25 of Cabot cheese and a subscription to ChopChop Magazine (learn more about both below)!

Help! My Child only Eats French Fries & Chicken Nuggets!

Parents often tell me say their kids will only eat French fries and chicken nuggets. Or, their children stare at their plate because they don’t like what you served (hello! that was me!). If your child is a picky eater, I have 3 tips that will help eliminate food struggles and get your children on the path to healthy eating.

Take Your Kids Food Shopping

When we were kids my father did all of the food shopping in our family. And, he often took all three of us with him. We became very familiar with the grocery store and different types of foods within each section. As a parent, get your child involved by taking them to the grocery store or farmers market and let them be active participants. Give your children the power of choice. For instance, in the produce isle, let them choose which new fruit they want packed in their school lunch. Also, if you have a little one who is fearful of new foods, have them try a familiar food in a different form. So for instance, in the pasta isle, encourage them to pick different shapes of pasta, whole grain pasta, higher protein pasta, orzo or rice pilaf. This is a very non-threatening way to open their minds to new foods.

Teach Basic Nutrition

Teach easy nutrition facts in relatable terms. So for instance, if your 4 year old loves to color but hates most veggies you put on the table, get a coloring book about farming. ChopChop Magazine, endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is my go-to for fun cooking. ChopChop Magazine includes great tasting, budget conscious, easy to prepare recipes, fun food facts and pages full of beautiful pictures that will get kids interested in nutrition and cooking. ChopChop Magazine is perfect for children ages 5 to 12 and anyone new to cooking.

ChopChop

Let Them Play With Their Food

Encourage your child’s creativity during cooking and food preparation by letting them play with their food. Give them a few choices on how to prepare the food and what to combine it with. Do they want to eat their carrots raw, steamed, or in a casserole? Also,  let them make fun shapes out of their food (I love doing this!).
Kids will love making Cabot Cheddar mice from crackers, Cabot Cheddar Cheese, a cut strawberry,  mini chocolate chips, and pretzel sticks.

Cabot cheddar mice

 

Get excited about nutritious food. Kids will model your healthy eating behaviors but and pick up on your perception of different foods. Don’t apologize or say things like “you’ll have to eat your peas if you want dessert” because then your little one will relate peas with something that they shouldn’t enjoy eating.

Win a 1-year subscription to ChopChop Magazine AND a $25 Cabot Cheese gift box!

Cabot Cooperative Creamery  is a family farmer owned Creamery  that produces world-class cheddar cheese,  dips, sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese, and butter.

ChopChopKids is an innovative non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and teach kids to cook healthy food with their families. They believe that cooking and eating together as a family is a vital step in resolving the obesity and hunger epidemics. ChopChop Magazine reaches more than 2 million families each year and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, was named publication of the year by the James Beard Foundation, and is a two-time winner of the Parent’s Choice Award.

They have a free ChopChop Cooking club – their national healthy cooking campaign to invite every family to join and pledge to cook dinner together once a month for 6 months.

Check out their websites:
www.chopchopmag.org
www.ChopChopCookingClub.org

To enter this contest for your chance to win, tweet your favorite way to get your kids cooking with Cabot Cheddar & tag @cabotcheese & @chopchopmagazine in your tweet. Or, “Like” ChopChop Magazine & Cabot Cooperative Creamery on Facebook and comment on both Facebook pages with your favorite way to  get kids cooking with Cabot Cheddar cheese. All entries will be blinded and the winner chosen by a 13 year old chef at 4 pm today (Oct. 30th).

Your Cooking Oil is Harming Your Health and Aging You

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Bottle of Olive Oil with Wooden Spoon --- Image by © Radius Images/Corbis
Bottle of Olive Oil with Wooden Spoon — Image by © Radius Images/Corbis

If you open a bottle of cooking oil and take months to finish it, heat, light and air start to break down the oil, making it rancid. At best, it smells and tastes different. At worse – potentially toxic compounds are produced in the oil. In this article, I’ll share how to prevent the introduction of bad compounds, how to choose the right product and store it properly and discuss the difference between regular vs. extra virgin olive oil.

Choose the Right Oil for Cooking & Throw Out Your Deep Fat Fryer

For high heat cooking, choose an oil with a high smoke point. When an oil hits it’s smoke point it breaks down and becomes rancid. Rancid oils may smell or taste bad (though sadly some people are accustomed to this taste as “normal”) and may contain toxic compounds, some of which are believe to contribute to cell aging (1, 2, 3). In general, refined oils have a higher smoke point than those that are unrefined. Refer to the usage instructions on the bottle to find out if it be used for high heat cooking.

Use Type of Oil Smoke Point (3) Greater likelihood of Oxidation (> 50 PUFA %) (4) 
Baking
Cooking
Stir Frying
Almond
Avocado
Canola
Grapeseed
Hazelnut
Peanut
Olive
Palm
Pecan
Safflower
Sunflower
High Almond
Grapeseed
Hazelnut
Safflower
Sunflower
Light sautéing
Sauces
Low-heat baking
Coconut
Corn
Hempseed
Macadamia nut, refined
Sesame, refined
Soybean
Walnut – refrigerate after opening
Medium Corn
Flaxseed
Hempseed
Soybean
Walnut
Dressings
Dips
Sauces
*Refrigerate these after opening
Flaxseed
Pumpkin seed
Wheat Germ
Low

In addition to using the right oil for what you are cooking or baking, throw out your deep fat fryer and quit eating fried foods (or at the very least, throw out the oil after each use). Food manufacturers and restaurants re-use oils over and over for frying. After several days they finally throw it out and replace it with fresh oil (5). Each time the oil is used it loses some of its integrity and the smoke point lowers. And though it may take several uses before it becomes rancid (depending on the type used, frying time, heat and other factors), frying decreases the amount of antioxidants in the oil (greater frying time = fewer antioxidants), changes it’s chemical structure and produces trans fatty acids (repeated heating of oil, prolonged heating and heating in an iron container all increase the formation of trans fatty acids) and volatile compounds (such as aldehydes, triacylglycerol oxidation products including alkoxy, epoxy, keto monomeric compounds, and higher molecular weight oxidation products) (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Store it Properly

Store your oil in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight (some oils should be refrigerated – as noted above). When possible, buy oil in dark glass containers. When monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fatty acids in oil react with oxygen they become oxidized and form a variety of chemicals, several of which are toxic (aldehydes, ketones, alkenals). The production of these compounds speeds up when the oil is exposed to heat and light or metals are present. More polyunsaturated fat = greater likelihood of oxidation so check your oil’s PUFA content above and if its high, buy smaller quantities of this oil and smell-check it frequently. If it smells different than when you bought it, toss it in the trash.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Olive Oil?

U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the oil resulting from the first pressing of olives and is suitable for human consumption without further processing. It has “excellent flavor and odor” (smell).

U.S. Virgin Olive Oil is olive oil obtained by picking and processing olives, or blends of virgin refined olive oil. It has “reasonably good flavor and odor.”

U.S. Olive Oil is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils.

Refined Olive Oil is sold as “Olive oil” or “Pure olive oil” and is the oil obtained from subsequent pressings (after the first pressing) and suitable for human consumption by refining processes which neutralize the acidity or remove particulate. Heating, neutralizing, bleaching and deodorizing may be used (10, 11).

“‘Light olive oil refers only to the flavor and is determined by the amount of extra virgin olive oil added to the refined olive oil.” (12)

Choose an olive oil in a dark glass bottle. California Olive Ranch is a good brand, as are the ones on this list. Or, if you want amazing authentic olive oil from trees that are 2,000 – 3,000 years old, order olive oil from this Masseria in the Puglia region of Italy.

Is Canola Oil Harmful?

If you’ve heard that canola oil is harmful, read this post for a good explanation of oil processing techniques.

There are plenty of oil choices depending on your desire for taste and a temperature you are using.

References
1 J Oleo Sci. 2008;57(3):153-60.
2 Toxicol Mech Methods 2006;16(5):267-74.
3 Deep Fat Frying and Food Safety. USDA.
4 Food Nutr Res. 2011;55:10.5
5 Nahrung 2002;46(6):420-6.
6 Food Chem 2007;104(4):1740–1749.
7 Eur J Lipid Sci Tech 2002;104(12):785–791.
8 J Food Sci Technol 2014;51(6):1076-84.
9 Chem Phys Lipids 2012;165(6):662-81.
10 J Sci Food Agric 2012;92(11):2227-33.
10 Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide (12. Appendix D: Qualified Health Claims). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
11 United States Standards for Grades of Olive and Olive-PomaceEffective October 25, 2010. USDA.
12 Grading Manual for Olive and Olive-Pomace. USDA. Effective May 2012.

 

Lighten Up Over the Holidays: Healthier Holiday Eating

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Gisselle Marie Rosa, UGA M.S. student

With the holiday season here, many Americans are faced with a very difficult decision: should I dive into that second serving of glazed ham and mashed potatoes delicately covered with a blanket of gravy or put the rest away for later? At this time of year, family and friends often gather together around the dinner table, sharing comfort food and stories while celebrating the holidays. But, let’s face the facts, many holiday foods aren’t the healthiest options. According to a recently published study, most Americans gain 0.5 kilograms, or about 1 pound, of weight during the holiday season.Overweight and obese individuals gain more than than those who are healthy weight.

But, if it’s only 1 measly pound over the holidays, then what’s the big deal?

While it seems that gaining 1 pound isn’t a big deal, the same study showed that most individuals don’t shed that pound over the next year. So over time those measly pounds tend to add up, increasing the individual’s risk for becoming overweight or obese.

Does this mean that you can’t eat your favorite holiday dishes?

Absolutely not! This is a special time and it is OK to enjoy the foods you love. However, there are some ways that you can modify your favorite dishes to make them more nutritious but still keep the familiar flavor that you love. Here are some tips to lighten up your holiday favorites:

  1. Appetizers/Dipping Sauces
    1. Chips, creamy dips, fried cheese sticks, potato skins, buffalo chicken poppers, you name it. These tasty snacks are one of the biggest calorie-packing culprits during the holidays. If appetizers are on the menu, opt for fresh vegetables dipped in a light ranch sauce or whole wheat pita chips dipped in a low-fat yogurt dip. Plenty of flavor, fewer calories.
  2. Mashed Potatoes
    1. This creamy dish is the quintessential holiday companion to any entrée, but many people make mashed potatoes with cheese, heavy cream, and plenty of butter. Try substituting the heavy cream for skim milk and chicken broth or roasted garlic for extra flavor while keeping the creamy texture of the potatoes.
  3. Latkes
    1. Potato Latkes are an essential part of every Hanukkah celebration, but these fried pillows of potatoes can really add a lot of fat to the holiday meal. Try mixing white and sweet potatoes to add extra vitamins and minerals to your dish. Also, make sure to use healthy oils such as olive oil to sauté the latkes instead of butter!
  4. Vegetable Casseroles
    1. While delicious, these creamy concoctions are typically filled with extra cheese, creamy condensed soups, and overcooked vegetables. Upgrade your favorite vegetable casseroles by substituting canned vegetables with frozen vegetables to decrease the sodium. Additionally, substituting some of the fried onions with slivered almonds keeps the familiar crunch while switching to low-fat cheese cuts out some of the fat and calories (or use less of a more flavorful cheese).
  5. Baked Goods
    1. Dessert during the holidays is definitely a must! A great way to cut the fat and the calories from your favorite baked goods is by substituting the oil with applesauce. Applesauce adds lots of moisture and becomes almost flavorless, making it a versatile ingredient.

Making healthy choices during the holidays may seem like a sacrifice, but it does not have to be! Done right, you can enjoy your favorite holiday comfort foods without packing on the calories or the pounds.

References

Schoeller DA. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiology and Behavior 2014;134:66-69.

Is Processed Food Evil?

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As a dietitian, I can’t count the number of times people have come up to me telling me all about their new found nutrition miracle knowledge. From fad diets to fat burning pills, I have heard everything that can fit into a category I call “Hope in a Bottle or Book.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in food and the efficacious use of dietary supplements for disease prevention (not to mention of course athletic performance and just feeling better) but, come to me with some scientific evidence and correctly defined nutrition terms and I’ll listen (vs. just giving a head nod in hopes the subject changes sooner rather than later).

So the topic I keep seeing lately is a misunderstood category called “processed food.” In fact, twitter is a tweet lately with dire warnings about what processed foods can do to your body, both inside and out. So, let’s first define processed foods and then take a look at whether or not you need to make a mad dash to the doctor after realizing you’ve consumed copious quantities of processed foods all these years (oh but wait, if only you could sprint, I bet those processed foods are weighing you down!).

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a processed food “means any food other than a raw agricultural commodity and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling.” There you have it folks, unless you are on a Raw Food Diet, you eat processed food every single day! Even if you eat a “clean diet” (that’s a topic for another blog post), if you cook your meat or tofu or freeze your vegetables or mill your own flaxseed, you have just *gasp* processed food yourself!

So is processing bad? Processing itself is not only not bad but it is oftentimes essential for good health.  Here are just a few examples:

  • cooking meat kills potential bacteria preventing food born illness
  • many agricultural products cannot be consumed until processed – grains for instance
  • canning and freezing are methods that keep food longer until consumption
And, there are many foods that are better processed. Take tomatoes – the antioxidant lycopene is more bioavailable in cooked vs. raw tomatoes and cooking eggs prevents a protein in egg whites, avidin, from binding the B vitamin biotin (cooking also kills salmonella bacteria). In addition, there are a plethora of functional foods out there that are developed specifically for improving health, helping people maintain weight, improving sports performance and more. I could go on and on with examples but as you can see food processing is an essential part of healthy dining and our vast world of food and nutrition. So, don’t be swayed by people who speak evil when it comes to processed foods. If you are looking for sound nutrition advice, make sure the person you are listening to has a RD or MD after their name or at least a degree in nutrition, nutrition biochemistry, endocrinology or something along the lines of the advice you are looking for (i.e.  muscle physiology for information on building muscle). After all, you wouldn’t go to an architect for physical therapy advice would you? For more information on processed foods, check out this tool kit created by the International Food Information Council Foundation. And, for a list of nutrition blogs by category, check out the Nutrition Blog Network my colleague Janet Helm, MS, RD, put together.