DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is it safe to put raw chicken in a slow cooker and cook it on low for 8 hours or so? My husband thinks it is, but I am very hesitant and afraid it will be full of bad bacteria. -- S.G., San Diego
DEAR S.G.: Assuming your slow cooker (also known by the brand name Crock-Pot) is working properly, it should be cooking foods between 170 and 280 degrees F, which is sufficient to bake bacteria out of existence. It is best that the meat be fully defrosted before it goes in, and the cooking chamber should be between half and two-thirds full. Cut the larger pieces of chicken into small chunks to assure thorough cooking. This will also help with flavor penetration. Finally, steam helps the process, so be sure to keep the lid in place. If you are going to be home, cook the chicken at the higher temperature setting for the first hour, then lower the temperature for the remaining time called for in the recipe.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: You have written that herring is a good source of the healthful omega-3 fats. My question has to do with the fact that I like to buy herring in wine sauce, but then I soak it in water to remove the salt and other additives. When I do this, will it affect the level of omega-3s? -- M.M., Madison, Wis.
DEAR M.M.: Herring is indeed a rich source of omega-3 fats, and the fatty acids will still be there after their salt-removal swim. To give you some perspective on the quality of this as a source, a study in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that the sought-after EPA and DHA omega-3s represent more than 12 percent of the fatty acids in herring. Pacific herring levels were found to be slightly higher than those of herring swimming in the Atlantic, but both types were higher than the level of essential omega-3s in sardines, salmon, tuna and trout. An article in the July 2004 issue of the journal American Family Physician contains an excellent summary of research findings on these fats, together with a convenient table that lists the various levels and how much of each type of fish would be needed to supply one gram of the omega-3 fatty acids. This article can be accessed at tinyurl.com/pv47y.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: You had written that regular vinegar can help slow sugar absorption of carbs, and I'm wondering if balsamic vinegar would have the same effect. I use balsamic most nights when I make my salad dressing and I now wonder if this might be affecting my blood sugar in a positive way. -- C.M., via email
DEAR C.M.: The evidence points to acetic acid as the responsible substance. As long as your vinegar has an acidity of at least 3 percent -- most balsamic vinegars tend to be higher -- you are getting the right stuff.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.