Should Your Kids Still Drink Apple Juice?

Apple JuiceThat’s likely a question that a lot of moms (and dads) may ask today, since the Food and Drug Administration just announced it is proposing new “action limits” for arsenic in apple juice.

(Pause. Take a deep breath here, until racing heart beat slows.)

The short answer: Yes. Absolutely, it’s fine for kids to drink apple juice. (And for everyone else to have it, too.) But for reasons that have nothing to do with arsenic, you should probably drink apple and other juices in moderation.

A little history: Since the 1960s, the FDA has been monitoring four times a year for substances in our food that might pose harm. Called the Total Diet Study, this effort now looks for 280 substances, including pesticide residues and traces of heavy metals, including arsenic.

Here’s the deal: Arsenic is present everywhere—and has been for millions of years. The FDA reports that its own monitoring has always found low levels of arsenic in apple juice. In fact, lower than levels allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency in drinking water.

Then why the recent flap over arsenic in apple juice? In part, it’s because better testing makes detection possible of smaller amounts of substances than in the past. Consumer Reports also did their own testing and flagged a possible problem in 2011. FDA heard the concern and took a closer look at its own monitoring. The agency also tapped additional experts from the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies as well as outside experts to help with their scientific review.

They found that arsenic levels remain low in apple juice. They’re recommending new action limits so that our food will stay safe. Next step is a 60-day public comment period. Following that, this recommendation could become a regulation.

In short, the system worked, as it should. It stayed responsive, reasoned and science-based.

My children are grown and make their all their own food decisions on their own. But if they ever ask what they should do for their children, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them it’s fine to offer apple juice, in moderation, of course.

Here’s why: The bigger deal with juice is calories. That’s because fruit juice of all kinds has more calories than eating whole fruit. With the ongoing obesity epidemic, nutrition experts and pediatricians have long advised that juice should be limited. In fact, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that juice provide no more one third of the fruit we eat daily. (Baby Boomers may recall that your wise grandmother served juice in a cute, four-ounce glass, which was, in fact, a Perfect Portion. Sorry, but I couldn’t resist.)

Bottom line: This is just one more example of why moderation in all things is the best thing for eating well. Learn more from Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the FDA.

So what’s your take on apple juice? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave comments here or e-mail me at

Got a nutrition question you’d like me to research? I’m all ears. Send them to

Originally published on Perfect Portions at

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

There are many theme songs for summer, but The Garden Song should be on the list of  favorites. It’s been performed by a wide range of singers from Peter Seeger to John Denver. It was that song that played in my head when a friend invited me to the White House Spring Garden Tour earlier this year. The tour is free, but you must have a ticket. As you might imagine, they are hard to get. The tours only run for two days and are given just twice a year, in the spring and the fall.

Not surprisingly, the ground are beautiful. What I didn’t expect was bee hive, the playground set for Sasha and Malia or the trees labeled with a photo of the President or First Lady who planted them. It was a walk through living history. 

What I really wanted to see was the White House Kitchen Garden which has generated so much publicity in recent years. The neat rows of lettuce and the herb garden provided a hint of the bounty to come. Few of us will ever have a garden to match the White House, of course. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to grow a few things each year. It turns out that gardening’s benefits go far beyond producing flowers, fresh herbs or a succulent tomato.

Just last year, researchers from the Netherlands published the first evidence  to suggest that gardening can promote relief from acute stress–just the kind that most of us live with daily. And there’s “growing” evidence that gardening can help young and old with fitness and even mental acuity. So to borrow a line, I’m looking at growing my garden “inch by inch…” this year, even if it is just a small plot in the corner of our backyard. How about you?



Summer’s Candy

Berries are one of the joys of summer. Growing up in Connecticut, we had a wonderful raspberry bush in our front yard. It was huge and delivered succulent, but very tender raspberries, at the height of summer. They were so fragile that even gentle picking sometimes crushed them. No matter–they still tasted great.

These days, berries are available year-round. To my taste buds, the summer berry bounty is still the best  and a reminder of those front-yard harvests. Trouble is that even in season, berries are pricey. They also don’t last long and it is frustrating to find them covered with fuzz or mold before they can be eaten.

So I have experimented a little with ways to keep berries fresh longer. Mostly, it has involved using nature’s preservative: citrus fruit, rich in ascorbic acid–also known as vitamin C. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling showed that vitamin C has its own health benefits. (Find The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University offers a valuable micronutrient site, packed with information about vitamins, minerals and other healthy substances.)

In my tests, lime juice was often too tart; grapefruit a bit tangy. But the juice of a half lemon sweetened with a dab of honey seems just right. It has extended the shelf-life of berries by a few days—and stretched our food budget. That means we are eating more berries this summer—rather than throwing them out.

That’s a good thing. Berries are naturally low in calories and provide fiber—an ingredient that most of us fall short on eating, according to the US Department of Agriculture (which is also the source of the photo above.) More fiber helps foster feeling full after eating—a fact that can help cut calories consumed. Fiber also seems to help lower blood cholesterol levels—especially the most dangerous kind—and it may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Growing scientific evidence underscores why berries of all hues earn “super fruit” status.  Among the wide range of benefits: blueberries appear to reduce cognitive decline in older adults. They may also help muscles recover better after exercise. The anthocyanins found in blueberries, strawberries and raspberries appear to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Plus, they may be able to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Besides, they taste great. How can you beat all that?




Cook Once, Eat 20 Times

Cooking 20 servings takes no longer than cooking one. PHOTO by Sally Squires Copyright 2012 THE WILHELM GROUP, INC. All rights reserved.

Few things taste as good on a brisk winter morning as a steaming bowl of steel cut Irish oatmeal. This whole grain is not only hearty, but it also packs fiber, complex carbohydrates (which don’t raise blood sugar as high as simple carbs) and some protein.

Trouble is that few people have the half hour or so it takes to prepare this whole grain wonder on a busy weekday morning. So here’s how you can have your oatmeal–and eat it too: Make it ahead.

The secret? It takes no longer to cook a full pot of oatmeal than it takes to cook a single serving. On Saturday mornings when I am puttering around the house, I put on a full pot of oatmeal. We eat it for breakfast.

Once it cools, I measure the oatmeal into one cup servings.Each goes into sealable bag. The bags then go into a large plastic bag, which is put into the freezer, where they can remain for up to three months–although we always eat ours before that time.

One cup portions of steel-cut oatmeal ready-to-freeze PHOTO by Sally Squires Copyright 2012 THE WILHELM GROUP, INC. All rights reserved


Ready for the freezer PHOTO by Sally Squires Copyright 2012 THE WILHELM GROUP, INC. All rights reserved

It’s easy to take out one serving or several. On hurried days, I heat up my oatmeal in the microwave at work for about two minutes on high, then top with a little skim milk, slivered almonds and golden raisins. Yum! A half cup has 150 calories; a cup, 300 calories.

Some Lean Plate Club members say that they add a teaspoon or two of peanut butter for a nutty taste and more protein.Here are other methods to cook steel cut oatmeal.  How about you? What do you do to make a tasty, nutritious breakfast easier? 



Project Dinner: Blood Orange Chicken with Leeks

Cooking on a Friday night can feel like a drag. Or, it can be an opportunity to create and experiment, which is what I did recently after a busy week at work.

Blood oranges deliver great taste and nutrition PHOTO by Sally Squires Copyright 2012 THE WI:HELM GROUP, INC. All rights reserved


Rather than ordering takeout, we decided to make do with what was on hand.  SItting in the ‘fridge waiting to be used was a bag of blood oranges. If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating this fruit, you’re missing a lot. On the outside, they look like an orange. On the inside they are true to their name. Slice them open to find a bright red color that rivals the red of a pomegranate. Blood oranges are rich in anthocyanins–potent antioxidants also found in red wine. They also pack fiber and vitamin C.

Scientists are still sorting out the many health benefits of anthocyanins, which  may include protecting eye sight and prevention of such diseases as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Now the question was: how to incorporate blood oranges into dinner?

The answer came from the freezer. Inside were chicken thighs, chopped frozen leeks, frozen cubes of garlic and chopped cilantro (a great way to keep these ingredients on hand)  plus, containers of cooked wild rice.  Voila! The meal came together in a flash.

Step 1: Defrost the chicken thighs in the microwave.

Step 2: While they were thawing, I dropped the cubes of frozen cilantro and garlic into a nonstick pan along with a quick spray of virgin olive oil.

Frozen cubes of minced garlic and chopped cilantro

Step 3: Add the frozen leeks and let the mixture sautee on medium for about five minutes.

Leeks, cilantro and garlic Photo by Sally Squires Copyright 2012 THE WILHELM GROUP Inc. , All rights reserved

Not only do leeks and garlic taste great, but along with onions, chives and scallions, they are part of the group of allium vegetables, which research suggests may be helpful in cancer prevention. They also are low in calories and high in flavor–a great combination.

Step 4: Add the chicken thighs (about one per person) and some Greel Kalamata olives. Squeeze the juice from two blood oranges on the chicken. Simmer covered until the chicken is tender, adding more hand squeezed juice from the oranges as desired. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer about seven to 10 minutes.

Chicken thighs sautéing with garlic, leeks, cilantro Photo by Sally Squires All rights reserved

Step 6: Defrost the frozen, cooked wild rice in the microwave. (Whenever I cook rice, I make the whole bag and then freeze cooked portions for quick use later. )

So how did this experiment turn out? As the flavors filled the house, a family member who had planned on eating dinner out, stopped by the kitchen before a workout and said, “Wow, that smells really good. Is there enough for me to eat dinner too?”

Blood Orange Chicken Thighs with Leeks, Garlic, Cilantro and Kalamata Olives PHOTO by Sally Squires All rights reserved by THE WILHELM GROUP, INC

What are you cooking these days that is healthy and great tasting? How are you being creative in the kitchen? We’d love to hear all about it.

Eating On the Road…Again

Butternut Squash Soup copyright 2011 The Wilhelm Group, Inc. All rights reserved

Who says that you can’t eat healthfully when traveling? Wolfgang Puck offers this delicious butternut squash soup, which I savored this week at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. To round out the meal, I added a small Greek salad. Both were delicious and healthy.

Greek Salad at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, Chicago O'Hare Airport Copyright THE WILHELM GROUP, INC. All rights reserved

“Here’s your healthy food,” the waiter said when he delivered my meal. The guy next to me took one look and declared, “I’ll cancel that out easy. Give me a pizza!”

Ah well, what are your food warrior stories? Are you finding it easier–or harder–to get delicious, healthful food when you travel?

Snowy and Fresh Squeezed

The first winter storm of 2012 in Washington, DC

Last night, the first wintry mix of snow and ice for 2012 hit Washington, DC and the surrounding areas. This well-behaved storm crept in on a Saturday, when most people don’t have to fight rush hour  to get to work or transport kids to school.  It also provided the perfect excuse to sit by the fire (after shoveling, of course, although my husband gets all the credit for that today) and to dust off the electric hand juicer for some fresh squeezed orange juice.

Like many, I often think that life is too busy to do things like make fresh squeezed juice. So I timed how long it took to squeeze the juice out of a couple of oranges that my father sent from Florida for a Christmas present. How long did it take, you ask? About a minute from slicing the oranges to pouring the juice into a glass. (Gives new meaning to the term “minute made,” don’t you think?)  And was it delicious–well worth the 60 seconds of effort. Will this exercise be repeated on busy weekday mornings in our household?  Maybe not every day, but I’m going to try to repeat it for as long as the gift of Florida oranges holds out.

My "minute made" fresh squeezed orange juice

By the way, it takes about two medium oranges to provide about three to four ounces of fresh juice. Making fresh squeezed juice is a reminder of how super-sized our so-called “standard” portions have become. Did you know that a proper serving size of fruit juice is just half a cup? Test your knowledge with this interactive portion distortion quiz by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to  see firsthand how what we eat has grown larger.

Do you ever go retro and try old-fashioned ways of cooking or eating? Love to hear all about it!




Free-form Cooking

Cookbooks are wonderful. There are about 100 in a corner of my kitchen and oversized versions have a place on larger bookshelves elsewhere in our home.  But through the years, daily cooking has been less about the recipes and more about free-form cooking. It’s fun and a little risky, because there is the occasional flop. What I really like about free-form cooking is the opportunity to be creative

Sauteed Spinach with Almonds, Garlic, Golden Raisins and Diced Apples

and let the food take the lead. It’s creating a healthy, good tasting meal with whatever is in the ‘fridge, in the freezer or in the pantry.

Free-form Salad




What’s Cooking Uncle Sam?

How has Uncle Sam shaped our eating habits? PHOTO: Sally Squires Copyright 2011 The Wilhelm Group, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Eat less sugar. Go meatless on Mondays and provide nourishing school lunches for children.

Sound familiar?

What if I told you that was advice respectively of Uncle Sam during World War II, President Herbert Hoover and the original school lunch program launched in the 1940′s. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. If you want to know about the impact that Uncle Sam has had on what we eat, then check out the Website for What’s Cooking Uncle Sam, the wonderful exhibit at the National Archives that sadly ends today. So if you happen to be in Washington, DC, you still have today to see it. I highly recommend it.

Herbert Clark Hoover listening to a radio Deut...

President Herbert Hoover urged Americans to observe "Meatless Mondays" to help stretch precious food resources for US troops. Image via Wikipedifrom World War I, President Herbert Hoover and a World War II effort to ensure the health of children?

There’s a lot of debate these days about the size and role of government. What impact do you think that Uncle Sam has–or should have–on what we eat?


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In Between Leftovers

Christmas is behind us. New Year’s is ahead. We’re in that in between week of leftovers and pauses–a good moment to reflect and to plan.

The US Department of Agriculture has given us a present to help: The long-awaited SuperTracker, a new on-line tool that counts calories, food groups, physical activity and more for you. The USDA released the SuperTracker just before Christmas. It can also serve as your on-line personal coach to help you set goals, track your weight and keep a journal.

Need more motivation? Use your social networks to invite family and friends to participate with you on the SuperTracker. There’s also a tool to help you plan healthy meals on a budget as well as short videos with nutrition information. Check it all out at ChooseMyPlate.

Since two of every three American adults are now overweight or obese, it should come as no surprise that our dogs and cats reflect our tendencies to overeat and lead sedentary lives. The tricky question is how to find time to exercise ourselves and our four legged companions. Sure you can take your dog for a walk, but what about other ways to workout? WebMD has come to the rescue for dog (and cat) owners with a slide show and tips for new activities with your pet. My favorite: DOGA (Yes, yoga with your dog!)

How are you planning to instill healthy habits for 2012? We’d love to hear all about your tips and tricks for healthy eating and physical activity now and in the New Year. I’ve been making our daily dog walks a photo expedition which leads me to try new routes. Here are some of the sights we encountered recently in Washington, DC.

Walking the back roads of Washington, DC


Winter blossoms