Food & Health

Unfresh food: yucky or yummy?

JGH News, Summer 2013

We’ve all done it—come home late and checked the fridge to see what we can reheat to satisfy our hunger. Will it be the frozen chicken that’s starting to look more like a snowball than poultry? Or the rock-hard bagel that might be revived with a little heat and cream cheese? Tough choice—but the chicken it is! Then, as you pull it out of the freezer, you begin to wonder, “Is it still okay to eat?”

Let the expiration date be your guide, says Norma Ishayek, JGH Chief of Dietetics, “but if the food is past its date, use your best judgment and prepare it properly.” Here are her recommendations about the extended shelf lives of some items that you’ve probably got at home:

  • Frozen chicken: Be sure to freeze chicken in an air-tight freezer bag in single layers. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it. Frozen chicken should keep for up to six months.
  • Leftovers: We’ve all got them, but a day later, we give them a sniff and the doubts set in. Never fear. As long as leftovers are in the fridge, they should be good for a maximum of four days.
  • Coffee: To be sure your cuppa joe is fresh whenever you want it, store the coffee grounds or crystals in an air-tight container in a dark place. They’ll retain their optimal freshness for up to two weeks.
  • Bagels: Whether you’re a St. Viateur or Fairmount fan, you probably wish bagel could last indefinitely. Not so. They’ll keep in the freezer for a few months but it just takes a few weeks for bread products to lose their taste. So try to finish bagels within three weeks.

For more information on food safety, visit  Health Canada and search for “Food Handling”.

To get sack time, avoid snacktime

JGH News, Spring 2010 

Having trouble falling asleep? Maybe the culprit is what you’re eating—and it may even be contributing to weight gain, says Patricia Urrico, a nutritionist in the JGH Cardiovascular Prevention Centre. Ms. Urrico cites a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition that links short sleep duration with a greater risk of gaining weight, caused by excessive snacking in the evening.

So what can help you drift off to dreamland? Since caffeine enhances alertness and takes a while to leave the body, Ms. Urrico suggests you steer clear of caffeinated foods such as coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate in the evening. Early afternoon would be a good time for your last caffeinated item. Ditto for alcohol, which can disrupt sleep. Late-night sweets can also cause blood sugar to rise while adding undesirable pounds over time.

But let’s be practical: there are evenings when you just have to quell those hunger pangs. That’s when you can turn to that time-honoured remedy, warm milk. Dairy products contain tryptophan, an amino acid that causes the body to produce the serotonin that’s necessary for falling asleep. Foods with complex carbohydrates can help, too. So instead of counting sheep, go the healthy route by pairing one food from the tryptophan rich column with one from the complex-carbohydrate column. Sweet dreams!


  • 28 grams mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 55 grams sliced turkey breast
  • Handful of peanuts, cashews, or almonds
  • 2 tablespoons hummus

Complex carbohydrates

  • 6 whole grain crackers
  • 1 small bran muffin
  • ½ cup whole grain cereal
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread
  • ½ whole grain pita
  • ½ cup oatmeal

For more information, consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist. In the meantime, you can visit et

Sugar and salt may lurk in the unlikeliest foods

JGH News, Fall 2007

Watch out: The supposedly healthy snack that you’re about to enjoy may not be as good for you as you think. Many products are marketed as “healthy”, but closer examination reveals they leave a lot to be desired.

According to Patricia Urrico, nutritionist at the JGH's Cardiovascular Prevention Centre, two ingredients deserve special attention:

Sugar – Avoiding candy is a no brainer, but what about fruit juice? Ms. Urrico says a four to six ounce glass of juice could actually contain up to the equivalent of four sugar cubes—a possible cause of tooth decay and childhood obesity, as well as dehydration. So be vigilant when reading juice labels. If sugar is listed as the first or second ingredient, there’s too much of it. This is especially important if you’re watching your weight or if you have diabetes or high triglycerides. Here’s a better bet: Eat fresh fruit.

Sodium (salt) – It’s easy to steer clear of salty foods like potato chips, but sodium may be lurking where you least expect it. When dining out, many of us opt for sparkling water, not realizing how high its sodium content is. Instead, choose still water. Ironically, elevated levels of sodium are also found in many pre packaged diet meals, Ms. Urrico warns. Why be concerned? Because too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, weight gain and water retention. Over consuming it may cause puffy eyes and swollen ankles or knuckles.

Also, when you shop in a supermarket, it’s a good idea to stick with products that are placed along the store’s outer walls, Ms. Urrico says. That’s where you’ll generally find fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and meat, dairy products and eggs. Processed foods that contain excessive fat, sugar and sodium are usually found in aisles in the middle of the store.

So if you want to eat right, don’t make any hasty assumptions about food. Ms. Urrico suggests you get your information from a reliable source, such as a registered dietitian or nutritionist. You can also turn to dependable Internet sites such as,,, and

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