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For Immediate Release: October 15, 2009
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NW: Questions about omega-3 in mussels, "best by" dates, weight and menopause symptoms

Week of November 9, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I’ve heard that mussels are good sources of omega-3 fat. How do I serve something so complicated?

A: Mussels are a rich source of omega-3 fat, and preparing them is actually quite easy. When you bring fresh mussels home in a plastic bag, make sure to leave it open enough for them to breathe, and store the mussels in the refrigerator for no more than two days. Keep only those with unbroken shells that are tightly closed or that snap shut when tapped. Just before cooking, put the mussels in a bowl of cold water to give the mussels time to expel sand in the shells. Use a brush to clean the shells as you rinse them. With a sharp knife, cut off the “beard” (the tough fibers coming out of the shell) and pull back toward the hinge where the shell sections join. There are lots of ways to cook mussels, but here’s a simple one that is quick and does not require a recipe or measuring. Sauté some regular or green onions with shallots, garlic and/or celery in a little oil until wilted but not browned. Add some canned tomatoes and a small amount of broth or red or white wine. After a couple of minutes, add the cleaned mussels and herbs like thyme or basil. Cook just until the mussels open, showing they are done, which takes only about five minutes. Serve over pasta or rice or with crusty bread to sop up the broth, accompanied by a simple salad. Or expand this idea by serving the mussels in a classic dish like bouillabaisse or paella, adding other seafood and vegetables. The key is to watch mussels carefully as they cook, since overcooking will make them tough.

Q: Are the dates on food packages important for food safety or just suggestions for best quality?

A: These dates – “best by,” “sell by” and “use by” – mean different things and often are not required by federal law to be on the package. Most dates you see on food packages are not related to food safety; they tell you how long the product stays at peak quality. Those foods are safe and useable beyond those dates. However, there are some important exceptions: Meat and poultry are labeled with “sell by” dates that are related to food safety. They should be cooked or frozen within two days after the sell-by date on the package. Eggs may or may not have a “sell by” date, depending on state laws. Buy eggs before the date limit and use them within 3 to 5 weeks of purchase. As long as you store them properly – in their original carton and in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not the door) – even if the “sell-by” date expires during that time, the eggs are quite safe. Infant formula and many baby foods are required to carry “use by” dates, which reflect quality as well as nutrient retention. For example, if stored too long, formula can separate and clog the nipple. Don’t buy or use baby formula or baby food after its “use-by” date. Of course, if foods are mishandled, bacteria can grow and cause foodborne illness regardless of the date on the package. For example, if cold cuts were left at room temperature more than two hours, they wouldn’t be safe even if the date had not expired.

Q: Is it true that a woman’s weight affects her tendency for hot flashes and night sweats during menopause?

A: The causes of night sweats and hot flashes in the years surrounding menopause are still not completely understood. Women who are more overweight seem to be more likely to have moderate or severe hot flashes, according to a few population studies. There’s also limited research linking weight gain and lower levels of physical activity to hot flashes. A study that followed 1,659 midlife women for four years showed that gains in body fat were associated with greater odds of hot flashes, even after adjusting for a variety of menopausal factors and hormone levels. Night sweats, however, were not related to body fat changes in this study. Considering that a landmark report on diet and cancer risk by the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that obesity increases risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, there’s plenty of reason to take action if you see increases on the scale, waist measure or pants size. You can usually stop weight gain with simple steps like reducing daily food and drink choices by 100- or 200-calories and adding an extra 15 or 20 minutes of walking or other moderate activity to your current average.

 

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