Sugars, Sodium and Fats – 3 Factors in Healthy Diets

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You’ve all heard the advice, “cut down sugars and sodium and trim the fat”. You say: I know sugar when I see it”, but do you know you’re eating sugar when any of these ingredients appear on the food label?
corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, honey, molasses, syrup, lactose, mannitol

Any of the following ingredients indicate the food product contains sodium:
salt, baking soda, baking powder, monosodium glutamate, sodium caseinate, sodium nitrate, sodium saccharin, bouillon, meat tenderizer, and any of the flavored salts such as onion, garlic, celery.

Fats in food have received a great deal of press. “What are the good fats and the bad fats” we want to know. What about saturated and unsaturated fat? Very confusing.

Fat in food is composed of two major types of fatty acids: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fatty acids are further classified as either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Foods contain combinations of the three types of fat. However, most foods contain a majority of one type.

Here is a list of saturated fats, which are said to be the least heart healthy as they raise the blood cholesterol more than anything else in the diet:
lard, butter, cream, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, poultry fat, bacon fat and other meat fat.

Polyunsaturated oils are: safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil.

Monounsaturated fats include: canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil.

I like to reduce or eliminate my intake of nearly all vegetable oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, canola, sesame oil, soybean oil, and related products such as margarine and vegetable shortening.

The two best oils I believe are high-quality virgin coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Although coconut oil is a saturated oil, I feel it’s good points of being derived from a healthful food, helping regulate blood sugar, causing the body to burn up more calories,  and its stability under high heat tend to outweigh its saturation concerns.

Avoid products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil. This means that the oil has been heated to such a high temperature that the structure of the molecules have been changed to make it more stable at room temperature. This, however, makes it more harmful for the body.

Despite all the criticism of fat, it is an important nutrient and serves important functions in the body. It is a source of energy, helps protect important body organs and is necessary for growth and body maintenance.

Diets in our country are high in animal products, fat, salt and sugar and low in vegetables, fruits and fiber. Cutting down, or eliminating the big three: sugar, sodium and fats –  is a real challenge. It is worth the effort because our health depends on it.

To your good health and that of your family’s,

Lee Jackson
Health and Nutrition Advocate

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Choose Wisely When Food Shopping on a Budget

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With a little planning and effort, choosing foods at the grocery store can be simplified while still saving money and keeping nutritional values up.

Food for the week (or more) depends on how wisely you choose at the grocery store. The first step is planning nutritious menus before you go to the store. Make sure you keep in mind store specials and any coupons you use. Decide on the amount of money to spend based on your budget or food plan.

Then the next step is shopping carefully to assure that what you will have at home is nutritious, tasty, and stays within your allowance – this is no small task.

  • Try to shop only once a week or less frequently. The more you go to the store the more you will likely spend on food and other products.
  • Don’t go to the store hungry. You will probably buy much more than you need. Try to leave young children in the care of others while you shop.
  • Compare the cost of small and large containers of the same product. In most cases the larger size will be more economical. However, it will be more expensive if you won’t use it or don’t have room for it.
  • Consider the cost of convenience foods, that is, foods that are already prepared versus those you have to prepare yourself. For example, can you season the rice at home rather than buying packaged herb rice?  On the other hand, some foods such as cake mixes may be cheaper when found on special than making a cake from scratch. However, look at the ingredients and see whether any food coloring or additives are included, which are less desirable.
  • You gain a great deal of information by reading labels. The ingredient list will give you information about a product’s sugar, sodium, and fat content. Ingredients on labels are listed in descending order according to weight. Therefore, if sugar is the first item on the list, you know it is high in sugar.
  • Choose whole-grain bread and cereal products over white bleached flour products.
  • If you are buying canned fruits, buy those in their own juice rather than those with sweetened juice.
  • Make sure fruit juices are 100 per cent juice. Fruit drink and punches have too much sugar added.
  • Many canned soups, sauce mixes and packaged entrees have high sodium. Do you really need them?
  • Nobody needs pop or soda or cola, or whatever the regional dialect calls it – too much sugar!
  • Encourage the drinking of water. Flavor it, if necessary, with lemon or other fruits.
  • Choose a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. They are usually less expensive in season and are higher in quality. If you can’t choose these fresh, then buy them canned or frozen. If possible, compare the cost of fresh, frozen, canned, and dried forms of the same food.
  • Many snack foods are high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium.  See whether you can find lighter versions that contain less of these components. Or, just eliminate them from your shopping. If they are not in the house, they won’t be a temptation.
  • Try the “Meatless Monday” schedule for awhile. This promotes healthier eating by emphasizing fruits, vegetables and alternative sources of protein such as beans and lentils that are free from saturated fats. Reducing meat consumption has been shown to provide many benefits, including limiting cancer risk, reducing risk of heart disease, as well as helping to fight obesity and curb diabetes. Chances are, you will not miss having meat at your meals for one day. Besides, meats are usually the most costly foods in a meal and make a huge ecological imprint on our planet.

When you shop for food you have lots of important decisions to make. Wise shopping is not just a matter of spending as little as you can. It means getting the most value for your money while keeping the health benefits of foods at  center stage.

To your good health and that of your family,

Lee Jackson, CFCS
Food and Nutrition Specialist

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Obesity Prevention $4.9 Million Grant for Research Development of Programs for Head Start

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The $4.9 million grant received by the University of Michigan will try to figure out how to eliminate behaviors leading to obesity before a set pattern begins. The funds will be used for research and obesity prevention programs in Head Start. This federally funded program focuses on school readiness for low-income children ages 3 to 6.

This is a huge amount of money to spend on this project. If it, indeed, helps children control their weight, it will be priceless. We know that an obese young person is much more likely to be an obese adult. And people who are overweight are more likely to have more medical problems.

My hope is that the results of this project will be concerned with the health and nutrition of children and not used to develop drugs, supplements, and other products for the benefit of the food industry and pharmaceutical industry. This must be child/family based.

Reducing calorie intake and increasing exercise and activity are the main ways of staying in shape. It’s the “doing” and/or “not doing” part of this equation that causes the problems. Let’s hope the grant will shed some light on this as well.

Many studies have indicated the solution to losing weight and keeping it off is to have a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet combined with a reasonable amount of exercise. This lifestyle is consistent with weight loss and long-term health.

What we eat does make a difference.

To you and your family’s health,

Lee Jackson, CFCS

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5+ Reasons to Eat Fruit

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It tastes so good…plus

Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruit sources of potassium include bananas, prunes and prune juice, dried peaches and apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and orange juice.

Dietary fiber from fruits helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for regularity. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Whole or cut-up fruits are sources of dietary fiber while fruit juices contain little or no fiber.

Vitamin C is important for growth and repair of all body tissues, helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy.

Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy should consume adequate folate, including folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of problems during fetal development.

  • Fruit contains large quantities of water. The human body consists of 80% water. It’s just logical to eat food that contains lots of water.
  • Fruits helps stimulate your brain power. They contains natural sugars that help you think faster and more clearly.
  • Fruit can help with weight control. Eating foods such as fruits that are low in calories per cup instead of some other higher-calorie food may be useful in helping lower calorie intake, thereby helping take off weight. In addition, fiber-containing fruits help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
  • Fruit is readily available. Enjoy the color, texture, and the taste of the wide variety of fruits on the market.

Now, what’s in your refrigerator? or on the counter? apples? bananas? oranges? oh,my.

To your health and the health of your family,

Lee Jackson, CFCS
Author: From the Apple Orchard – Recipes for Apple Lovers
Apples, Apples, Everywhere – Favorite Recipes From America’s Orchards

Careers in Focus: Family and Consumer Sciences
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Vegetable Garden Benefits

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Everyone would benefit from growing a vegetable garden. Vegetables, especially those grown above ground, should provide one of the main staples of our daily food pattern.

We are blessed and very fortunate to have such a wide variety of food available to us. Yet many people do not choose foods wisely. Too often the sweets and fats take center stage and too few plant based foods and healthy proteins are included in our diets.

Vegetables are excellent providers of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavonoids, as well as the good carbohydrates everyone needs. Flavonoids are a class of antioxidants.

Vegetables also contain many other essental macronutrients that cannot be replicated in any pills or any other type of food. Their nutrients build and repair cells, organs and tissues and are rich in fiber, which aids in digestion.

The vegetables with the brightest colors are generally the ones richest in nutrients. For example, red onions, versus yellow or white onions. Bright green of spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce, versus the light green iceberg lettuce, which has almost no nutritional value. There are exceptions to this, too. Cauliflower, a generally white vegetable, as well as cabbage are very rich in nutrients, particularly vitamin C.

Those vegetables grown below the ground such as carrots, beets and potatoes are higher in carbohydrates and are called starchy foods. Potatoes can almost be considered a grain, as they are high in simple carbohydrates and act on the body the same as sugars and grains.

To gain the most nutrients from vegetables, eating them raw is the preferred way. Organic vegetables are usually much higher in nutrients and often taste better, too. It is good to buy vegetables locally from garden farmers or produce growers, if you can’t grow your own.

There is no doubt about it, vegetables are packed full of health-giving nutrients. Would that we could all grow vegetables in our very own vegetable garden.

To your health,

Lee Jackson, CFCS
For more information about healthy eating, sign up here on the right
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To find vegetable recipes, order Amy Houts’ latest children’s book,
Cooking Around the Country With Kids: USA Regional Recipes and Fun Activities

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Kids and Food Connections

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Help kids connect food to what they value – what is important to them.

For example, if they are athletes concerned about doing well in sports, you can tell them about protein foods needed for  building and repairing tissues, enabling them to become better athletes.

If they are concerned about their hair, skin or general appearance, you can tell them about the fruits and vegetables that contain valuable antioxidants for help  in these area. Antioxidants are chemicals that reduce or prevent oxidation, thus preventing cell and tissue damage from free radicals in the body.

If they want to grow up to be big and strong, remember to tell them about Popeye and his love of spinach, which does have credence.

Children may not always listen to their parents but it is interesting to see how much information stays with them.

Keep offering nutritious foods and thinking healthy.

Lee Jackson, CFCS

Sign up right here on this site for my Free Report
on timely issues of interest to kids (and parents), too.

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Cantaloupe – Another Summer Fruit Favorite

North American "cantaloupes"
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All summer long I have different “favorite” fruits – right now it’s cantaloupe. Although cantaloupes are available all year around, their peak growing and harvesting season is June through August. The western states are major producers but I bought a luscious one at the Farmers Market here in northern Missouri last week-end.

This is one fruit that is good for those watching their diet, or not, because it is low in calories and is a good source of Vitamin A and C, potassium and some minerals. Its sweet and juicy flavor spells summer all over. It is another food I sometimes tend to eat “over the sink”.

When I was much younger, a favorite dish to serve was to cut a small cantaloupe in half and fill it with ice cream. It was a dessert to die for! I have not seen mention of this for many years, nor have I eaten it this way recently. It combined two of my very best tasting foods and I loved it!

After buying a cantaloupe, it’s best to wash it in warm soapy water, as this gets rid of any dirt and impurities on the rind before cutting into it. There are a number of ways to cut it – from wedges, cubes, to quarters and halves or making into melon balls.

Some like to make cantaloupe into soup, others sorbets and other dishes. For me, if I can’t fill it with ice cream, I like it straight.

How do you like yours?

Lee Jackson
Home and Family Living Educator

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Help Children with Their Sugar Problem

Helping children cut down or eliminate sugar from their life seems to be a never-ending task. I admit that sugar has been very hard for me to cut down, too. I believe the culture of life is different now than when I was growing up, though. Then the long-term effects of what we eat were not as well publicized. Now, most persons are aware of the excesses of sugar and the problems it can cause.

But, do we do anything about it?

I just read a blog with great information about a method worth trying to help get over the sugar craving. This blog by Connie Bennett is at

Connie has lots of other good ideas on her blog and in her book, Sugar Shock!

I must try her method, and it sounds like a good method of helping children and others cut down, too.

Here’s to better health,

Lee Jackson

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“Fast Food” for Your Family

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Before you go grocery shopping, think of foods your family would like for quick “pick-me-up” snacks. This could be your family’s “fast food”.

Raw fruits and vegetables are great to include. You might consider fruit such as grapes, apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries or other berries. Add some veggies like carrots, cut up cauliflower, celery stick and others. And you might want to have on hand non-sweetened cereals, granola bars, yogurt, dried fruits, cheese, whole grain crackers, and nuts.

Especially now when children are home from school for the summer, it’s good to have nutritious grab-and-go foods available.

Here’s to happy and healthy snacking.

Lee Jackson

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National Nutrition Month Suggestions

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As we are winding down the month of March, National Nutrition Month, I wanted to summarize six “good health” ideas that can get powerful results. For your well-being, these are suggestions for everyday living that can boost health and energy.

1. Focus on fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of fruit. Try to include 2 a day. Berries and citrus fruits are especially good choices.

2. Vary your veggies. Eat more yellow and dark green vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli and dark leafy vegetables. Tomatoes, onions, pepper, celery, mushrooms, cabbage and cauliflower are other good selections.

3. Eat whole grains in moderation. This could include whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, rice and pasta.

4. Choose lean meats and use healthy cooking methods like baking, braising and broiling. Proteins are the building blocks of growth. Protein foods include beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Salmon and fish, as long as they are shown to be safe from mercury and other toxins, are also good protein sources.

5. Young children need whole milk or 2 percent for calcium. Yogurt and cheese are also rich in calcium.

6. Choose foods low in saturated fats and no transfats. Healthy fats and oils include butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts.

7. Spare the sugar. Sugar is not an essential nutrient. Our taste buds have become acclimated to the sweet taste. However, we can live very easily, and sometimes, better, without sugar.

This is the guide the Chef uses to maintain vigor and good health.

Best to you,


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