- To sanitize, microwave damp sponge for one minute or put it in a dishwasher with a drying cycle. According to the USDA, these methods will kill more than 99% of bacteria, yeasts, and mold.
- Clean sponges after two or three uses.
- Avoid using sponges when wiping up meat juices and on countertops. Instead use a paper towel and a sanitizer or disinfectant wipes.
- Wring out a sponge after each use and store in a dry location.
- Once a sponge starts to smell, throw it out immediately.
- Finally, don’t forget about the dish towels and dish cloths. Launder them frequently in hot water and consider using a separate dish towel for hand and dish drying.
It’s that time of year when lots of food is made and enjoyed at holiday gatherings. However, sometimes too much food is made and then thrown away before it can be used. About 90 billion pounds of edible food goes uneaten each year in the United States. Yet 1 in 7 Americans struggles to get enough to eat. On average, $370 worth of food per person per year is thrown away. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) breaks this down by types of food:
Grains (bread, pasta): $22 per year
Fruits (apples, bananas, oranges): $45 per year
Proteins (beef, chicken, pork, fish): $140 per year
Vegetables (onions, lettuce, peppers): $66 per year
Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese): $60 per year
Added Fat and Sugar (chips, candy): $37 per year
Total: $370 per year
The main reason food is thrown away is because it spoils before it is eaten. The USDA has created a resource called Let’s Talk Trash. In it they offer tips on how you can put a stop to food waste in your home.
- Plan and Save: Plan your weekly menu. Then look in your pantry, freezer, and fridge to make a list of what you need to buy before grocery shopping. This can help you buy only the food you need and keep money in your pocket.
- Be Organized: Keep your food pantry and refrigerator organized so you can see what needs to be eaten first. Write the dates on food containers so you know what needs to be used first.
- Repurpose and Freeze Extra Food: Reuse leftovers in another recipe. Use leftover taco meat to make a taco pizza. If you chopped up vegetables for a salad, use leftover vegetables to make a vegetable soup. Make a smoothie with overripe fruit. Freeze extra food to enjoy at a later time.
For more tips on reducing food waste, visit Spend Smart. Eat Smart at www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings.
Source: Let’s Talk Trash, www.choosemyplate.gov/lets-talk-trash
There are many recipes on the internet that encourage putting frozen food directly into a slow cooker. This is not safe. The USDA does not recommend the direct from the freezer to slow cooker process because it provides an excellent opportunity for bacteria to grow as the food slowly makes its way through the temperature danger zone.
Instead, take the food out of the freezer at least one night before you want to prepare the meal and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. If you are thawing large pieces of meat, one overnight might not be enough, so plan ahead.
As you are getting ready in the morning, put the food in the slow cooker on high to give it a jump start. Turn it to low before you leave the house. If you forget to turn it on, you will need to throw the food away when you get home because bacteria have had all day to multiply to a level that could make you and your family sick.
USDA “Kitchen Companion” available at
Need a way to strengthen your core muscles? Try planks. They hit all major abdominal muscles while also working the muscles of your back, chest, shoulders, glutes, and quads. Planks help to improve posture, increase flexibility, and improve balance. They can be easily modified based on your fitness level and abilities.
- Lay stomach-down on the ground and press your chest up until your shoulders are directly over your elbows.
- Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Engage your core muscles to maintain this position.
Plank for beginners:
If you are new to exercise, try these modifications that will allow you to build up to achieving the traditional plank. Rather than placing your hands on the floor, you can hold on to a variety of objects, such as a bench or a platform. The further away your upper body is from the ground, the easier the exercise. Your elbows and shoulders should be in a line with each other. Make sure you engage your core to keep your hips and shoulders from dipping.
Plank for people who use a wheelchair:
Transfer onto a low bench, table, or platform. Your toes, knees, or hips can be supported by the bench depending on your level of function. This is called the pivot point. Your body should form a straight line from your head to the pivot point. Your shoulders should be directly over your elbows.
Source: Planks 101, National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability, http://www.nchpad.org/1391/6235/Planks~101
- Strive to provide half of the food served from a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruit makes a great dessert. Beans and legumes, such as black beans and chickpeas, are vegetable-based protein sources.
- Provide 100% whole-grain products in a variety of forms such as breads, rolls, crackers, or tortillas. Include whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and other whole grains as part of healthful salads, mixed dishes, and casseroles.
- Serve smaller portion sizes such as mini bagels, 6-oz. bottles or cartons of 100% juice, or 3 oz. of meat, fish, or poultry. For more information about portion sizes, visit https://store.extension.iastate.edu to download publication PM 3024, How Much Are You Eating?
- Limit availability of processed foods, which tend to be higher in sodium and added sugars. Instead choose less-processed snack options like raw or dry-roasted nuts, fresh fruit, whole-grain chips with healthier dips (e.g., salsa, guacamole, or bean dips), or whole-grain baked products.
- Go green; provide pitchers and cups for drinking water during the event. If needed, offer non- or low-calorie beverages (40 calories per 12-ounce serving). Try water infused with fresh fruit, vegetables, or herbs.
Tips for Offering Healthier Options and Physical Activity at Workplace Meetings and Events, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/downloads/tips-for-offering-healthier-options-and-pa-at-workplace.pdf
Sitting is the new smoking. Long periods of sitting, even if you get the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity in during the day, can be harmful to your health. If you have a sedentary desk job, you may find it difficult to move throughout the work day.
Try to “deskercise,” which refers to exercise that can be done during the workday right at your desk. The National Center for Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) has a deskercise poster you can download at no cost. Choose two exercises on the poster and do them twice a day. The exercises include cardio, strength, and flexibility. Challenge your coworkers as well to get active at their desks. Here is the link to download the poster: www.nchpad.org/fppics/deskercise%20poster_updated.pdf.
The internet can be a great information resource that is quick and easy to use. You can find breaking nutrition news, healthy recipes, and sound nutrition advice. Like other media outlets, however, the web can also be crowded with misinformation and poor nutrition guidance. Here are tips to help make you a whiz on the web in searching for credible nutrition and health information.
Perform an “advanced search” to help limit the search to be more specific to your needs. For instance, you can search within a specific site or domain. The three-letter suffix on a website address such as “.com” or “.edu” is the domain. Some domains may be more credible than others.
Remember, dependable sources often state where information is coming from, who funds the studies or organization, and what credentials and education qualify the writers on the topic. For more information, download the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication.
Survivor’s Guide to Healthy Web Surfing and Phone Apps (N 3418), store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/N3418
- Nourish Your Mind and Body With Accurate Health Information—How to Sort Fact From Fiction, North Dakota State University, Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, RD, LRD Food and Nutrition Specialist
- Choosing Reliable Nutrition Information, University of Illinois Extension
Exercise can boost brain health! A recent study by researchers at UC Davis Health System shows people who exercise have better mental fitness. Vigorous exercise increases the level of two brain chemicals: glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, known as GABA. These chemicals help defend against depression.
Richard Maddox, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, states, “Major depressive disorder is often characterized by depleted glutamate and GABA, which return to normal when mental health is restored. Our study shows that exercise activates the metabolic pathway that replenishes these neurotransmitters.”
Although results are preliminary, rigorous exercise may now become an important part of treating major depressive disorder and other mental illnesses because it naturally increases the level of these two chemicals. Maddox, the study’s lead author, calls the findings “very encouraging.”
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were recently released. They emphasize that a healthy eating pattern isn’t a rigid prescription, but is adaptable so that individuals can enjoy foods that meet their personal, cultural, and traditional preferences and fit within their budget. This edition of the Dietary Guidelines focuses on shifts to emphasize the need to make substitutions—choosing nutrient-dense foods and beverages in place of less healthy choices.
An eating pattern represents the totality of all foods and beverages consumed. All foods consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern fit together like a puzzle to meet nutritional needs without exceeding limits, such as those for saturated fats, added sugars, sodium, and total calories. All forms of foods—including fresh, canned, dried, and frozen—can be included in healthy eating patterns.
Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods. Foods in nutrient-dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less than recommended amounts.
Healthy eating patterns are adaptable. Individuals have more than one way to achieve a healthy eating pattern. Any eating pattern can be tailored to the individual’s socio-cultural and personal preferences.
Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns. New to this edition is a specified limit to help achieve a healthy pattern within calorie limits:
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars.
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats.
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day of sodium.
For more information on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, visit
Move aside coconut oil; avocado oil is taking center stage! According to Pinterest, avocado oil is projected to be their top food trend for 2016. You can expect this oil to not only pop up in your Pinterest feed, but also at farmers markets and specialty grocery stores.
Avocado oil is derived by running the avocado fruit through a press. The pulp of the fruit is mashed, then spun in a drum at high speeds to separate the pulp from the oil.
More is known about the health benefits of whole avocados than about avocado oil. Diets rich in avocados may lower blood pressure as well as cholesterol. The magnesium in whole avocados possesses blood pressure-lowering properties. Whole avocados also contain potassium, which lessens the effect of sodium on the body. It is unclear whether or not these same health benefits are transferrable to avocado oil.
Remember that your body needs some fat, but fat is high in calories. The fat in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which is considered a “healthy” fat; however, it is possible to get too much, even of the “good” kinds of fat. Adults should aim for 20–35 percent of their calories from fat, with more coming from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat than saturated and trans fat.
Avocado oil has a high smoke point (meaning the oil doesn’t start to break down and burn until a high temperature is reached), making it ideal for searing and browning, as well as on salads. Avocado oil can be more expensive than other oils on the shelf. If using avocado oil, stretch it by using equal parts avocado oil and canola oil in recipes.
Consuming whole avocados allows you to obtain all the nutritional benefits that you would receive from avocado oil. If you are uncertain about purchasing avocado oil, try topping your sandwich or salad with avocado slices.