Tuesday, June 15, 2021

What is BMI?

Do you ever leave the doctor’s office with more questions than answers? Or maybe you are familiar with a term or measurement the doctor used but need a refresher on what exactly it means or why it is important. Over my next few articles, I will discuss common assessments and terms that might come up at your next checkup. In addition to the focus of this article, Body Mass Index or BMI, look for articles exploring waist circumference, cholesterol types and levels, and blood sugar. 

Doctors and health care professionals use a variety of tools to make health evaluations; BMI is a common assessment tool you may have heard during your last visit. Developed in the mid-1800s, BMI is a simple way of assessing the general health of a person with an average fitness level. BMI was originally developed to evaluate overall populations, rather than an individual assessment, but due to ease of use, it has become a popular tool for health care providers. 

To calculate your BMI, divide your weight by your height squared, then multiply that result by 703. BMI is helpful to doctors because it categorizes patients into four categories (in the US): Underweight = <18.5, Normal weight = 18.5-24.9, Overweight = 25-29.9, and Obese = >30.  For example, if you weight 160 lbs. and you are 5’5” tall, to calculate your BMI you need to divide 160 (your weight in lbs.) by 4225 (height in inches squared or 65x65) and then multiply that by 703; (160/4225) x 703 = 26.6. Your BMI is 26.6 and this classifies you in the overweight category.

BMI is widely used as an overall measure of general health; however, it may provide a slightly skewed assessment for some. Due to the density of muscle vs. fat, an athlete or someone with a high muscle to fat ratio will have a higher BMI than someone of a similar shape and size with less muscle mass. If your calculation lands you in an undesirable category, you may need to address one or more aspects of your diet and/or activity level. Your healthcare provider will be happy to discuss your BMI and any associated actions needed.

In general, BMI is a useful tool. Even if you are not in the normal weight range, you can use the number to compare where you are to where you should be for health purposes. It is always important to remember that people come in all shapes and sizes and one assessment can only give a general idea of health. If you have questions regarding your BMI, talk to your health care provider. Before beginning any exercise, program or changing your physical activity patterns, you should always consult your health care provider. 

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Sarah.Latham@ag.tamu.edu. To view upcoming events or additional information please visit https://rains.agrilife.org/ or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Memorial Day Driving Safety

During the 2019 Memorial Day weekend in Texas, there were a total of 360 DUI-alcohol related traffic crashes, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), killing 16 people and seriously injuring another 34. One hundred percent of these accidents were preventable. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is teaming up with TxDOT to spread the message about the dangers of drunk driving. Even one drink can be one too many. 

As you head to the lake, beach, or host a BBQ, you may choose to drink alcohol or use impairing drugs. Texas law enforcement officers will be out in force looking for impaired drivers. For people that choose to drink and drive, their chance for being arrested for a DWI immensely increases. After the past year, we are all looking for a reason to celebrate and enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, but it is also crucial to impress upon everyone the importance of safe driving. If you choose to drink, make the right choice to find a sober driver to get you, and your friends, home safely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 10,142 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes in 2019. On average, more than ten thousand people are killed annually, or roughly one person every 52 minutes is killed in a drunk-driving accident. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension partners with NHTSA to remind drivers that drunk driving is not only illegal, but also a matter of life and death. Help AgriLife Extension and NHTSA spread the word this Memorial Day weekend: Buzzed Driving Is Drunk Driving.

Drunk drivers are a continuing problem on our nation’s roads, especially around Memorial Day weekend. People need to know that they can go out for a night of fun and return home safely by ensuring they have a sober driver to take them home. Do not be the reason someone, including yourself, does not make it home. 

If selected as the designated driver, make sure to keep that promise of safety to passengers. It can be a long day and even into the night, but people are counting on the designated driver. Not only does the designated driver help keep you safe, but they also help keep other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe too. If you are the designated driver, please take the role seriously, lives depend on it.

Before heading out this Memorial Day weekend, remember to plan ahead. Be honest about the possibility of consuming alcohol and follow these ideas to ensure that all partygoers stay safe. 

  • Remember: It is never OK to drink and drive. Even if only one alcoholic beverage was consumed, have a designated driver or plan to use public transportation or a ride service.
  • Impaired driving IS an emergency. Call 911 to report a suspected impaired driver.
  • If you have a friend who has been drinking and is about to drive, take their keys away and make arrangements to get them home safely or allow for them to stay the night.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Sarah.Latham@ag.tamu.edu. You to view additional information and upcoming events, please visit https://rains.agrilife.org/ or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Salty Situation

Do you ever wonder if you should work on reducing sodium or salt intake? We hear many different messages about reducing the amount of sodium, salt, and sodium containing ingredients in the foods we eat. Surprisingly, sodium is found more often in processed foods, such as casseroles, pizza, and cold cuts, than what you add from your saltshaker. Understanding how much sodium you need and knowing how to identify foods high in sodium can help you easily make changes in your diet.

Sodium chloride, more commonly known as salt, is roughly 40% sodium and 60% chloride; it is used to flavor food and is also often used as a binder and stabilizer. Salt is also commonly used as a food preservative since bacteria is unable to thrive in high amounts of salt. Sodium is not all bad, the human body requires a small amount of sodium (estimated to be about 500 mg) for vital functions such as conducting nerve impulses, contracting and relaxing muscles, and maintaining the proper balance of water and minerals. However, too much sodium in our diet can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Additionally, too much sodium in our diet may weaken bones by pulling calcium from them, which is something we need to avoid as we age.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams. Eating too much sodium may lead to high blood pressure, which may increase the risk for a heart attack and stroke. Most Americans consume far more sodium per day than we need; the average American is estimated to consume at least 3400 mg of sodium per day. Reducing sodium, which includes salt or other sodium containing ingredients, is beneficial in reducing risks for health-related conditions. 

Reading the nutrition facts label (found on most food containers) will help you identify foods low or high in sodium. The percent daily value (based on a 2000 calorie per day diet) listed on the nutrition facts label can help you quickly determine if a food is low or high in sodium. Pay close attention to the serving size listed on a food label and make sure the amount you eat matches the amount on the label. Information listed on the nutrition facts label is per serving (as described on the label) and most serving sizes are much smaller than what we think. For example, when you eat a bowl of soup, how many saltine crackers do you eat? The serving size for saltine crackers is 5 crackers. Five crackers roughly contain 135 mg or 6% of the recommended daily value. If you eat ten crackers with your soup, you need to double the numbers listed on the label, bringing your sodium intake up to 270 mg or 12% of the recommended daily value… and this is just the crackers, how much sodium is in the soup?

You may be shocked to learn how much sodium is in some of your favorite foods. Major sources of sodium include processed foods like canned products, breads, deli meats, snack foods, and mixed dishes. For healthier options, look for foods labeled as low or reduced sodium. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends adopting the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan to help reduce sodium intake and reduce the risk of high blood-pressure. Please contact the Rains County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office if you would like more information on the DASH eating plan.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Sarah.Latham@ag.tamu.edu. To view upcoming events or additional information please visit https://rains.agrilife.org/ or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Healthy Eating for an Active Life

Spring is here along with longer days and plenty of sunshine!  It is a great time of year to get outside and get moving with activities you enjoy, especially with your family. For youth and adults participating in physical activity like hiking, swimming, or various sports, healthy eating is essential for optimizing performance. Combining good nutrition and physical activity can lead to a healthier lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate website (www.choosemyplyate.gov) has great recipes and tips to combine good nutrition and physical activity to make the most of your summer.

First, maximize with nutrient-packed foods. Give your body the nutrients it needs by eating a variety of nutrient-packed food, including whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Eat fewer foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt).

Next, energize with grains. Your body’s quickest energy source comes from grain foods such as bread, pasta, oatmeal, cereals, and tortillas. Be sure to make at least half of your grain food choices whole-grain foods like whole-wheat bread, tortillas, pasta, and brown rice.

You do not want to forget to power up with protein. Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle.  Choose lean or low-fat cuts of beef and pork, and skinless chicken or turkey. Change things up a bit and choose seafood as your protein sources once or twice a week. Quality protein choices may come from plant-based foods, too. Beans and peas (kidney, pinto, black or white, beans, chickpeas, hummus), soy products (tofu, veggie burgers, tempeh), and unsalted nuts and seeds are great sources of protein and help variety in your diet.

We all know eating fruits and vegetables is an important part of a healthy diet. You can get the nutrients your body needs by eating a variety of colors; try blue, red, or black berries; red, green, or yellow peppers; and dark greens like spinach and kale. You do not have to limit yourself to fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen, low sodium canned, dried, and 100% juice are easy options, and they keep longer!

Dairy foods, such as fat-free and low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and fortified soy beverages (soymilk), help build and maintain strong bones needed for everyday activities. As we age, we often drink less milk or avoid cheese product, but remember to include dairy in your diet to achieve a balanced diet.

One of my favorite things to mention is hydration. Hydration is critical to our health and especially in the hot Texas summers. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary drinks. Try adding a lemon or orange slice for a change of flavor.

Remember, physical activity is essential for good health. Aim for at least 2 ½ hours of physical activity each week that requires moderate effort. A few examples include brisk walking, biking, swimming, and skating. Spread activities over the week but do that at least 10 minutes at a time.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact me, you may call (903) 473-4580 or email Sarah.Latham@ag.tamu.edu. To view additional information or upcoming events please visit https://rains.agrilife.org/ and follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Food Preservation through Canning: Water Bath vs. Pressure

In a recent post, I discussed the basic science behind proper canning and the importance of testing your pressure canner dial gauge annually. This post, I will provide an overview of the two most common methods of food preservation, water bath and pressure canning. Understanding the difference in the two methods and knowing which to use for the product you are preserving will help safeguard those consuming the finished product. While I will not discuss detailed instructions for each process, as that is best done in person in a hands-on learning environment, this introductory information can help you prepare as you explore food preservation through canning.

Water bath canning uses boiling water (212° at sea-level). to preserve food. If you plan on processing acidic foods, such as fruits (jellies, jams, preserves, marmalades, and butters) tomatoes, pickles, and relishes, water bath is the recommended method. Microorganisms that cause acidic foods to spoil are destroyed by the heat produced from the boiling water.

Pressure canning uses pressure to process foods at a higher temperature (usually 240°) than water bath canning. If you plan on preserving low acidic foods, you want to use the pressure canning method. Examples of low acidic foods are vegetables, meats, poultry, and fish. Pressure canning will provide enough heat to kill bacteria that cause botulism and other types of spoilage. Although botulism is considered rare, it very serious and can be fatal. When using a pressure canner to preserve foods, it is important to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

If canning in altitudes above 1000 feet, adjustments will need to be made as this changes the temperature at which water boils. Luckily, Rains and surrounding counties are far enough below 1000 feet to avoid this issue, but it is something to keep in mind if in another location. Additionally, each food has a specific processing time based on extensive research to determine food safety. Processing times must be followed exactly to avoid food safety and quality issues.

If you are interested in additional information on canning, please contact the Rains County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office. If you like to do your own research, I recommend reviewing a copy of So Easy to Preserve (Andress & Harrison, 2020), a University of Georgia Extension publication. First released 1984, this publication is one of the most complete resources available on canning. In addition to step-by-step instructions, in-depth information, and problem solving, the 388-page book offers more than 185 recipes tested by highly trained Extension faculty.

As a reminder, it is important to test your dial gauge annually. The Rains County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension provides free dial gauge testing (for most dials). Please call (903) 473-4580 or email sarah.latham@ag.tamu.edu to set up a test time. Following your dial gauge test, you will receive written test results with instructions to adjust the pounds of pressure for proper cooking as well as information on replacement parts, if needed. Additionally, gaskets and plugs will be inspected. Overtime, rubber seals may become worn or brittle and need replacing. If needed, information on replacement parts will be provided.

In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, please contact me, (903) 473-4580 or email Sarah.Latham@ag.tamu.edu. To view upcoming events or additional information please visit https://rains.agrilife.org/ or follow Rains County AgriLife on Facebook.


Andress, E. & Harrison, J. (2020). So easy to preserve (6th Edition). University of Georgia Extension.