sealPurdue Holiday Story Ideas

December 2000

Demystifying fruitcake

References to fruitcake date back to Roman times, and some comedians have claimed they still have a slice of that proto-cake. James Daniel, associate professor of food chemistry at Purdue, says several staple ingredients in the cake may contribute to its lasting power. "Usually these cakes contain a lot of sugar, which means that water activity will be low, which keeps the mold at bay and makes the cake last a long time. The spices and fruit in the cake also contain antioxidants, and a high antioxidant content will help extend the shelf-life of the fruitcake," he says. What exactly is the shelf-life? Daniel's response: "I don't know, and I personally wouldn't eat a cake that was more than a few months old, but if the cake has no signs of mold growth, it may be edible for some time." Reports that a high alcohol content in the cake will extend its shelf-life are wrong, he says. "It may have a small effect, but a lot of the alcohol is lost during the baking process, and the rest may be lost over time." The fruit and fiber in fruitcake also make it a more nutritious gift than some other holiday foods, he says. CONTACT: Daniel, (765) 494-8247;

Holiday hints for those watching their weight

Pumpkin pie, peanut brittle and Grandma's famous fudge are tempting delights. However, the next few weeks do not have to be torture for those trying to maintain a healthy weight if they plan ahead, says a Purdue nutrition expert. Olivia Bennett Wood, associate professor of foods and nutrition, says if you plan to allow yourself to gain several pounds during the holidays, gain only the amount you know you can lose. She suggests keeping the indulgence in check so the amount gained can be shed within one month. Avoiding weight gain also can be as easy as adding 10 minutes to your regular exercise routine or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, she says. The abundance of food at many holiday parties can lead to over-indulgence. Wood suggests eating a small, nutritious snack before going to a party or eating small portions to keep from consuming large amounts of calories and fat-filled foods. And remember, alcoholic drinks often have lots of calories: At parties, drink water, tea or coffee instead. CONTACT: Wood, (765) 494-8238;

Don't take a holiday from your medications

Holiday celebrations and travel can upset daily routines, making it difficult to stick to a medication regimen. Purdue Professor Nicholas Popovich says it's especially important at this time of year that people know how and when they are to take their medication. Popovich, professor of pharmacy practice, says people should know if their medication is to be taken with or without food, or if they must avoid alcohol. "It becomes important at this time of year when they may be exposed to alcohol at different times of the day, and exposed to more food." He suggests that patients who aren't sure contact their pharmacist for complete information on how the medication is to be taken. People also must use caution in mixing alcohol with over-the-counter remedies, he says. CONTACT: Popovich, (765) 494-5966;

Holidays bring hazards for pets

Chocolate, tinsel and poinsettias are holiday staples, but Purdue Professor Alan Beck urges pet owners to keep festive items away from animals. He says some items are toxic and even life-threatening. "Fatty foods, salty foods, animal bones and alcohol all can cause big problems for your pet's digestive tract," Beck says. "Gifts that contain sweets, especially chocolate, can be toxic, and alcohol, in large amounts, can be life-threatening. In addition, tinsel, string and ribbon can put animals in a lot of pain if ingested. Electric shock can occur if pets chew through light cords, while holiday plants have leaves and berries that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and suppress an animal's central nervous system." He also encourages pet owners to tell guests if pets live outside. "During this cold weather, animals have a tendency to crawl under or into cars for warmth," he says. "Ask your visitors to bang on the hood of the car and even honk the horn to waken any sleeping animals before starting the engine." Beck is a professor of animal ecology and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond. CONTACT: Beck, (765) 494-0854;

Pets experience holiday stress, too

Holidays can be bad news for pets: lots of activity, new people, and changes in routine. Alan M. Beck, an authority on the bond between people and animals, suggests that pet owners watch for stressors such as lots of new people and activity. "Some pets are more sociable than others. Consider keeping cats and birds in a separate room. Give dogs an escape from activities, and do not allow young visitors to bother dogs trying to escape or wanting to be alone." Cold weather also can be hard on pets, he says. "Consider postponing activities such as housebreaking or transporting animals until after the holidays. Also, watch for antifreeze leaking from cars. This is very poisonous. Go to a vet immediately if your pet has consumed antifreeze." CONTACT: Beck, (765) 494-0854;

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