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Regulating Salt Intake for a Healthy Lifestyle

Choosing to eat smart with a balanced diet is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and lose weight.  One of the most overlooked ways to do this is to reduce your sodium intake.

Sheree Taylor, an Alabama Extension regional  agent in Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, said the average American adult consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, which exceeds the recommendations to have no more than 2,300 mgs. Additionally, those who have hypertension and diabetes are recommended to consume no more than 1,500 mgs per day.

What’s so Bad About it?

Consuming excessive amounts of sodium can cause your body to hold onto excess water. Taylor said it can lead to increased blood pressure. The American Heart Association says that excess levels of sodium can put people at increased risk for heart failure, stroke, stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney disease.

Step Away From the Processed Food Aisle 

One of the main sources of excess sodium is processed food which use it to enhance flavor.  “Most of the foods high in sodium are processed foods, fast foods and ready to eat foods. They usually come in cans, boxes, packages and jars,” said Taylor.  She recommends making a shift to preparing meals at home using more whole foods, such as fresh or frozen vegetables, and no salt added canned goods if you do use canned vegetables.” She said that when you prepare food at home, you have the ability to control the amount of sodium you take in, unlike when you eat out.

Fake Healthy

A common misconception is that diet focused frozen meals are a healthy alternative.

“On the food label, you will find these provide more than the salt recommendation per serving. This is usually due to reducing the amount of fat in foods. Fat provides flavor in our foods, so when you remove the fat, you have to get it from another source, such as salt or sugar.”  As a result of reducing the fat content, companies may raise the sodium levels, thus making your healthy option merely a less fatty option, Taylor added.

What Can You Do?

The most efficient ways to reduce sodium intake are to avoid eating processed foods, to reduce how often you eat out and to cook at home using whole foods.

Taylor suggests for those people wanting to reduce their sodium intake, “Learn to read food labels. To be low in sodium, a food should be 140 mgs or 5 percent or less per serving. Learn to cook more meals, increase fruit and vegetable intake, do not eat after 7:00 p.m., and consume more whole foods and less processed quick foods.”

Source: Extension Daily

Healthy Fast Food, is this a Myth?

It’s Tuesday at 6 p.m. you just got off work, you  are hungry, tired and don’t feel like cooking and you are looking for healthy fast food. On your way home you see a McDonald’s. You’re trying to eat healthy. Instead of going home and eating you tell yourself you will order the grilled chicken sandwich, which is healthier, right? Are restaurants that claim to serve healthy and nutritious food actually good for you?

What do the experts say

“Yes, many fast food restaurants offer grilled meat items, fruits, salads and other healthier food choices,” said Dr. Onikia Brown, Extension specialist and assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics. “Variety and moderation are important when making food choices on the go.”

Fast food can be healthy for you. It is not about where you get your food, or how fast you get it, it is about the ingredients in the food. One fast food restaurant is not better or worse for you, it all depends on what you order.

“The worst thing for you to eat are the foods that contain high fats, sugar and salts,” says Dr. Michael Greene, director of Auburn University’s metabolic phenotyping laboratory. “A combination of all of these things is unhealthy. Try to avoid them and foods with refined ingredients.”

When it comes to fast food, people don’t usually consider it to be healthy at all. There are ways to eat a nutritious, well-balanced meal at a fast food restaurant but the unhealthy options are usually more appealing and desirable to eat.

It’s all about the ingredients

Eating a nutritious meal is all about the ingredients and are well-balance between protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. Most fast food restaurants don’t serve many vegetable options. The most common vegetable served at fast food restaurants is a potato served as french fries. There is no problem with eating fast food. The issue is they don’t offer many vegetable options.

“Salads are one of the healthiest options for you,” said Greene. “ You should eat not only lettuce but more leafy greens such as spinach or kale.”

The healthier options at fast food restaurants are soups, wraps, salads and grilled meat. These food items generally contain more nutrients and lower calories. All foods contain nutrients, however, eating food in moderation is they key to a well-balanced diet. Consuming too much of certain foods can be unhealthy. Moderation and variation are essential to a balanced diet.

“Eating lower calories helps, but over all, lower calorie foods might not give the proper nutrition,” said Greene. “Given the choice between which food item to choose, fewer calories is better, but it’s all about the ingredients.”

Not all fast food is bad for you. Today, more fast food restaurants are creating healthier options. You don’t have to feel mislead by a healthy option because it’s offered at a fast food restaurant. There is always a way to customize your order and choose a specific item that is healthy for you.

“Claims of healthy foods are based on caloric specifications. Fast food restaurants may offer a low-calorie salad or wrap, but what the consumer does to it once purchased may change the caloric content,” said Brown. “ If you frequently eat at fast food restaurants, drink water instead of sodas and teas.”

“When eating at a fast food restaurant, try to consume more fruits and vegetables,” said Greene. “Consuming more fruits and vegetables is the best way to eat. You don’t necessarily need to avoid a certain types of food but, by eating fruits and vegetables you will essentially eat less of other foods.”

Eating healthy on a budget

If the primary reason for eating fast foods is because of a low budget, there are many more ways to eat healthy than limiting yourself to fast food restaurants.

“For your source of protein, stay away from meats. Instead, eat more grains, beans and lentils,” said Greene. “ Don’t waste money on sodas and high sugary drinks, instead, buy fruit.”

Eating healthy on a budget requires more thought. Stay away from high processed foods with a lot of fat and sodium.

Moderation and variation are essential to a balanced diet. Wherever you eat, you can find a healthy option. Stick to fruits, vegetables and foods with high protein. Next time you order at a fast food restaurant, read the nutritional information carefully, skip the salty, fatty foods and avoid sugary drinks.

Source: Healthy Fast Food, is this a Myth? – Extension Daily

March is National Nutrition Month – Extension Daily

Source: March is National Nutrition Month 

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” which acts as a reminder that each bite counts. Making just small shifts in your food choices can add up over time. Start with small changes in your eating habits – one fork at a time –to make healthier lasting changes you can enjoy.

Whether you are planning meals to prepare at home or making selections when eating out, put your best fork forward to help find your healthy eating style.

Key messages

Some of the key messages for National Nutrition Month include:

  1. Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
  2. Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  3. How much you eat is as important as what you eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages you to do.
  4. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  5. Manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist. RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.

Alabama Extension has nutrition professionals that serve every county in the state. If you have a nutrition question, contact your county Extension office.


Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of both men and women. February is Heart Health awareness month, a time to get your checkups and make small changes to your lifestyle to prevent Heart disease. It is very important to know your family history, your own health numbers, and the risk factors that you can and cannot control.

Risk Factors You Can Control:

  • Lack of Physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet, high in salt & cholesterol
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much Alcohol
  • Overweight and Obesity
  • Sleep Apnea

Risk Factors Outside Your Control:

  • Family history
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race


High blood pressure, also called Hypertension, is the “silent killer” because you do not always have warning signs. One thing that we commonly have done on is blood pressure checks. This is something you can do at home or at your local pharmacies just to keep a check on yourself. It is important to know what those numbers mean and when you should be alarmed. So what is normal?

Blood Pressure Category Top Number SYSTOLIC Bottom Number DIASTOLIC
Normal Less than 120 Less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
Hypertension (stage 1) 140-159 90-99
Hypertension (stage 2) 160 or higher 100 or higher
Hypertensive crisis (911) Higher than 180 Higher than 110
  • 120 (the top number represents the pressure while the heart is beating)
  • 80   (the bottom number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats)

Feel free to contact Sheree Taylor at 256-499-7146 or snr0010@auburn.edu for an educational program in relation to the Heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, & obesity in your community.

Cozy Space Heaters Can Cause Home Fires

When it is very cold outside, we tend to turn up the heat inside.  Many people choose to use space heaters to offer additional warmth, whether it is to heat up a small room or just remove the chill off ones toes.   But as cozy as they can be, space heaters are the type of heating equipment most often involved in home heating fires.

Many home heating fires occur in December, January and February.   According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), heating equipment continues to be the second leading cause of home fires behind cooking and the second leading cause of home fire deaths behind smoking.  The leading factor contributing to space heater fires in general was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding.   While only 32% of home heating fires involve space heaters, they are involved in 79 % of home heating fire deaths.  That’s too many and can be prevented.

The NFPA suggest following these safety tips:


  • Have a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
  • Supervise children when a fireplace, fire pit, or other space heater is being used. Use a sturdy, metal screen to prevent contact burns, which are even more common than flame burns.
  • All heaters need space. Keep things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
  • Use heating equipment that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Never use your oven for heating.
  • Install stationary space heating equipment, water heaters or central heating equipment, according to the local codes and manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Have a qualified professional install the equipment.
    • Make sure all fuel-burning vented equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. CO is created when fuels burn incompletely. CO poisoning can cause illness and even death. Make sure the venting for exhaust is kept clear and unobstructed. This includes removal of snow and ice around the outlet to the outside.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms to avoid risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional.

Portable electric space heaters

  • Turn heaters off when you go to bed or leave the room.
  • Use and purchase portable space heaters with an automatic shut off so if they’re tipped over they will shut off.
  • Place space heater on solid, flat surface.
  • Plug power cords directly into outlets and never into an extension cord.
  • Inspect for cracked or damaged, broken plugs or loose connections. Replace before using.

Fuel burning space heaters

  • Always use the proper fuel as specified by the manufacturer.
  • When refueling, allow the appliance to cool and refuel outside or in a well-ventilated area.
  • When using the heater, open a window to ensure proper ventilation.
  • In portable kerosene or other liquid-fueled space heaters, always use the proper grade of the proper fuel.
  • All new unvented gas-fired space heaters have an oxygen depletion sensor that detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is operating and shuts off the heater before a hazardous level of carbon monoxide accumulates. If you have an older heater without this feature, replace it.
  • If the pilot light of your gas heater goes out, allow 5 minutes or more for the gas to go away before trying again, do not allow gas to accumulate, and light the match before you turn on the gas to the pilot to avoid risk of flashback.
  • If you smell gas in your gas heater, do not attempt to light the appliance. Turn off all the controls and open doors and window. Call a gas service person.

Wood burning stoves

  • Install the stove, chimney connectors and chimneys following manufacturer’s instructions or have a professional do the installation.
  • Wood stoves should bear the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • In wood stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
  • Start the fire with newspaper or kindling, never with a flammable liquid, such as lighter fluid, kerosene or gasoline.
  • Keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless loading or stoking the live fire.
  • Allow ashes to cool before disposing. Dispose of ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from the home and any other nearby buildings. Douse and saturate with water.
  • Chimneys and vents need to be cleaned and inspected at least once a year.

Other information can be found at  http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/H/HE-0827/HE-0827.pdf

Source: NFPA’s “Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment” report by Richard Campbell, April 2016.

Preparing the Home for Cold Weather

Cold weather is slowly making its way to the South and it’s time for residents to prepare their homes.

Wil Golden, Alabama Extension coordinator for Macon County, said there are many steps homeowners should take each fall when planning for cold weather.

“Homes here aren’t made the same as they are in the North because of climate differences,” Golden said. “The weather here changes so much; it can be 80 degrees during the day and freezing at night.”

Prepare for freezing water

If water freezes in outside systems, it can damage those lines and even cause breaks.“You never know if you’ll get a freeze,” Golden said.

To avoid freezes in outside water lines, drain sprinkler systems and cut off outside faucets. Insulators can be used to seal outdoor faucets.

Indoor pipes are also subject to damage and breaks in freezing weather.

“Protect your pipes – that’s a big thing,” Golden said. If freezing weather hits with short notice, leaving faucets at a drip can prevent freezing. Opening cabinets to allow for warm air circulation closer to pipes will also help.

Insulate pipes when you have enough notice that especially cold weather is coming.


read more: Preparing the home for cold weather 

Holiday Recipes Featured in our 2016 Extension Cookbook

holiday cookbook

Our 2016 Holiday Extension Cookbook is now available online or by request at our office. Click below for the complete cookbook:


Here is a sample found in the Cookbook:

Holiday Fruit Cookies

1 stick butter

1 egg

1 3/4 cups self-rising flour

1 cup green and red candied cherries

1 cup coconut

1 cup chopped nutsginger-bread-boy

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup chopped dates

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream sugar and butter together.  Add egg and vanilla.  Add flour, milk and spices.  Stir in fruit and nuts.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes.  Makes 5—6 dozen cookies.

Scale Back Alabama Ruturns January 9th

Limbering up before exercise

Obesity is a problem in Alabama. In fact, Alabama has the sixth highest rate of adult obesity of any state in the nation.

In its 11th year, Scale Back Alabama, a free statewide weight-loss competitive program, targets these adults. Sign up date begins January 9th.

“One of Alabama Extension’s planned programs is Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan, so it is a perfect fit for Extension agents in Human Nutrition, Diet and Health and nutrition educators in the Extension Food and Nutrition Education Program and the Nutrition Education Program to participate in Scale Back Alabama,” said Dr. Barbara Struempler, Extension state leader for nutrition programs.

The SBA challenge is meant to not only encourage participants to lose 10 pounds in a 10-week period, but also to encourage adults to use the challenge as a launching point to make lifestyle changes and become healthier in 2017 and for a lifetime.

The Tallapoosa County Extension office is serving as a weigh-in and weigh-out site. Sue Pemberton with the Nutrition Education Program will be available for any diet and health questions you may have.

2017 Dates

  • Kick-Off: January 9
  • Weigh-In Week: January 11-18
  • Weigh-Out Week: March 15-22
  • Final Event: April 5

Since the first competition in 2007, Alabamians participating in the program have lost 1.2 million pounds.

A participating team consists of two people. Each team member is encouraged to lose 10 pounds in a 10-week period. Teams who lose 10 pounds per member are entered into a statewide drawing for cash prizes.

Scale Back Alabama sponsors include Alabama Hospital Association, Alabama Department of Public Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

Contact us if you would like to participate or have any questions.

Follow These Basics of Holiday Food Safety

food safety

You are about to pull off a miracle, balancing your full time job with all the demands of holiday entertaining — or so it seems.

You’ve carefully laid all the plans for a lavish holiday party for out-of-town family and guests, replete with all of those things that make the holidays so special — baked turkey, ham and finger foods.

Congratulations. But before you get too carried away commending yourself on this awesome feat, answer this question: Have you taken adequate precautions against foodborne illness?

Millions of Americans, in their haste to keep pace with all the demands of the holiday season, are likely to overlook basic hygienic practices around the kitchen. The fact that only one drop of juice from a contaminated turkey or chicken is enough to cause food poisoning is a strong incentive to follow the following practices carefully.

Wash Your Hands

Mom’s constant admonishment to wash your hands is the cornerstone of safe food handling and preparation. Hands should be washed a full 20 seconds before and after handling raw products.

Kitchen sinks should be used only for hand washing associated with food preparation. Hand washing related to other household chores, such as gardening, should be confined to bathroom sinks.

Bar soaps should be kept clean and left on a soap dish that allows water to drain. Otherwise, the soap is liable to become contaminated with germs like any other kitchen item. Pump-action liquid soap dispensers provide strong protection against contamination.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when germs from one food are passed to another. This most often occurs when raw meat, poultry or seafood touch uncooked foods such as salads and fruits. Cross-contamination also can occur when these foods come in contact with unwashed hands, utensils or countertops that have previously been used with raw meat products. This is why raw meat products should be stored on a plate or tray to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.

Cutting boards for raw meat products should not be used for salads and other uncooked foods unless they have first been thoroughly sanitized. As an added precaution, finish preparing raw meat products and return them to the refrigerator or place them in the oven. Then, clean and sanitize your kitchen before starting work on other foods.

Dirty sponges, dishcloths and towels are breeding grounds for legions of harmful pathogens. Always use paper towels or freshly cleaned cloths with soap and hot water to wipe kitchen surfaces.

 Cook Safely

The first rule of thumb when cooking a turkey is to allow sufficient time — up to four days, in some cases — for it to defrost in the refrigerator. Be sure to place the bird on a dish or tray on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to ensure none of the drippings come in contact with other foods while it defrosts.
The bird should be cooked within a day of defrosting. Before cooking, insert a meat thermometer into the turkey’s inner thigh closest to the breast to monitor its internal temperature. Whole turkeys should reach an internal temperature of between 160 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Stuffing typically should be cooked separately from the turkey because by the time the temperature inside the turkey reaches a temperature hot enough to cook stuffing the turkey itself would be dried out.  Stuffing needs to reach 165 degrees which would take a long time inside the turkey.

Never use recipes that call for raw eggs. All egg dishes should be cooked until they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

During microwaving, make sure there are no cold spots in foods. For best results, cover, stir and rotate food for even cooking.

Sauces, soups and gravies should be brought to a boil before serving.

Leftovers should be heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.

Follow the Two-Hour Rule

Potluck dinners are especially popular during the holidays, but there is a big risk if the food is left out for more than a couple of hours. All perishables should be returned to the refrigerator after two hours. Be sure to divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator. Also, avoid stuffing the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate for the food to remain safe.

As an added precaution, make sure the refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and zero degrees Fahrenheit or below in the freezer. Occasionally verify these temperatures with an appliance thermometer.  For questions on this article or anything related to food safety and quality, contact your local County Extension Office.

by Patti West, Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety and Quality