The first time I had edamame, I didn’t know what to think of it. It looks like a vegetable but is actually a legume – more specifically, a soybean. Like other soy products, edamame is an excellent source of high-quality protein. It’s also low in calories and high in fiber, potassium, magnesium, and iron, which means it’s both healthy and filling. Edamame is sold both in the pod and shelled; while the pods are fun to pop open, make sure you don’t eat them, as they may leave you with an upset stomach. Since it’s what’s inside the pods that really matters, here are a few ways to incorporate edamame into your next snack or meal.
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 (1-pound) bag frozen edamame, in the pod
1. Heat the salt, chili powder, and pepper flakes in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring until hot and aromatic, about 3 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat and crumble in the oregano.
3. Boil the edamame pods in water until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain in a colander and pat dry.
4. Toss the edamame pods with the chili-salt and serve warm.
Recipe adapted from Food Network
Edamame Succotash with Shrimp
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions, sliced, or 1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 10-ounce package frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1 10-ounce package frozen corn, (about 2 cups), thawed
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound raw shrimp, (26-30 per pound), peeled and deveined
¼ teaspoon lemon pepper
1. Add oil to a large nonstick skillet. Add scallions (or onion), bell pepper, garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in edamame, corn, broth, vinegar and salt. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, sprinkle shrimp on both sides with lemon pepper.
4. Scatter the shrimp on top of the vegetables, cover and cook until the shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Recipe adapted from EatingWell
Have you ever thought about the foods you eat when you’re stressed? There’s a good chance your eating habits are different when you’re under stress as opposed to when you’re relaxed and calm. If you notice that stress triggers cravings for comfort foods that are high in sugar, salt, or fat, you’re not alone – and there is science to back up why you eat the foods you do.
Stress causes an increase in the production of cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone.” Cortisol sends signals to our brains that tell us we need three types of foods in order to feel better: foods that contain sugar, foods that contain salt, and foods that contain fat – in other words, junk foods. These cravings are hard to resist, and oftentimes we easily give into them in the hopes of reducing our stress levels, or at least feeling better temporarily. If you’re constantly under stress, you may notice that your eating habits are not the only aspect of your life that’s changing – these new, unhealthy food choices, along with other cortisol-induced mechanisms that are beyond your control, can lead to unwanted weight gain.
It goes without saying that eating too much junk food that’s high in (empty) calories can cause you to gain weight. It’s rare to see someone eat healthier when their stress levels are high, so many people under constant stress gain weight due to their poor eating habits alone. However, even if you’re able to control your cravings under stress, the excess cortisol in your bloodstream may still cause you to gain (or have a hard time losing) weight. Cortisol has been shown to slow metabolism, so even if you’re eating the same things you were before you were stressed, thanks to cortisol, you won’t be burning calories as efficiently as you used to. You may be surprised if you gain weight without changing your eating habits, but you can probably blame stress, and cortisol, for the unwanted extra pounds.
Cortisol is a sneaky hormone – not only does it change our metabolism, but it changes where excess fat and weight are accumulated. Studies show that cortisol leads to an increase in abdominal fat by diverting any extra pounds we gain to our midsections. Abdominal fat is bad news – having excess weight around your waistline puts you more at risk for developing heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes, regardless of how much you weigh. Women with a waist size greater than 35 inches, and men with a waist size greater than 40 inches are considered “high risk;” having too much stress in your life may make it difficult to meet these cutoffs.
So can you do anything to prevent stress-related weight gain? Yes you can, by practicing healthy diet and exercise habits. You can still give into your stress-related food cravings in a healthy way by choosing natural sources of sugar (low-fat dairy, fruits, veggies); eating salty foods in small quantities; and sticking to heart-healthy unsaturated fats (avocados, most nuts, peanut butter, oily fish). You can help speed up your metabolism by exercising regularly. Although exercise may seem like the last thing on your mind when you’re under stress, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself. Exercising for as little as ten minutes of a time (walking counts!) helps your body produce endorphins, feel-good hormones that directly counteract the effects of cortisol. Exercise also burns calories, so the more you move, the better.
Stress in life may be inevitable, but stress-related weight gain doesn’t have to be!
Grapes come in many different colors, each having a different set of nutritional characteristics. I love black grapes, but they can be hard to find, so I’m going to focus on a much more readily-available variety: the red grape. Red grapes are antioxidant powerhouses; they contain powerful polyphenols like flavonoids and resveratrol, the latter of which has been linked to heart health. Red grapes are also high in Vitamin C (a known antioxidant) and Vitamin K (which is thought to have antioxidant properties, although more research needs to be done in this area), making them a tasty choice for all-around health!
Farro Salad with Oven-Roasted Grapes
3 cups seedless red grapes (about 1 pound), halved crosswise
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup 100% Concord grape juice
8 ounces uncooked farro (about 1 ½ cups)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 small red onions, sliced into ½ inch-thick rounds
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
4 cups mixed small greens such as baby kale, baby Swiss chard, and baby spinach
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. Arrange red grapes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until grapes have shrunk to about half their size but are still juicy, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Let cool.
3. Meanwhile, combine farro and 1 tablespoon rosemary in a medium saucepan; cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a simmer, and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a bowl.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onions and remaining tablespoon rosemary for 2 minutes.
5. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until onions are golden brown, about 2 minutes more.
6. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Cook, flipping onions, flipping until they are tender and browned on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes more.
7. Remove from heat. Stir in vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Pour mixture over farro; toss. Season with some pepper. Stir in red grapes. Let stand for 20 minutes.
8. Gently stir in greens and drizzle with Concord grape juice just before serving.
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
One of the perks of taking your WellMASS Health Questionnaire is that your results may qualify you for FREE telephonic or mail-based health coaching. If your HQ results show that you are high-risk in at least one wellness category, you will be invited to opt into a personalized coaching program.
In order to determine if you are eligible for coaching, after completing your Questionnaire, click on the Programs tab and click the Health Coaching box to see the list of programs you can choose. Health Coaching programs are available for eight different topics:
- Back care
- Blood pressure
- Weight Management
Once you’ve chosen the program in which you’d like to enroll, click the Let’s Go! button next to that program or call the StayWell Helpline at 1-800-926-5455. If you select a mail-based coaching program, information on your topic of choice will be sent to your home address. If you’d like a more personalized approach, you can choose to enroll in telephonic coaching, where you’ll be able to specify the days and times that work best to talk to a coach. Your coach will call you on a regular basis to help you develop an action plan to meet your wellness goals and check in to see how you’re progressing.
One of the key areas on which your coach will ask you to focus is goal-setting. In order to have the greatest chance of achieving your goals, no matter what they are, you will need to come up with a SMART plan to which you can hold yourself accountable. If you’re interested in participating in health coaching, or you’re about to begin a coaching program, it’s never too early to start thinking about your goals in SMART terms. Creating a smart goal or plan is easy! You’ll want to make your goal:
Your health coach will help you begin your journey toward setting and achieving SMART goals. If one of your general goals is to improve your overall health and well-being, don’t delay – take your Health Questionnaire and see if you qualify for health coaching!
Swiss chard is a cool-looking vegetable. It has full green leaves and its stalks can be red, white, green, or yellow (I like the red ones the best). Looks aren’t everything with this veggie, however, as it’s also a nutritional powerhouse. Like other green, leafy vegetables, Swiss chard is extremely high in Vitamin K (one cup chopped contains over 300% of the Recommended Daily Allowance!). It’s also an excellent source of Vitamins A and C and high in iron, potassium, magnesium, and dietary fiber. It takes a little bit of work to prep Swiss chard (you’ll need to separate the leaves from the stems and center ribs), but the results are certainly worth it, both taste- and nutrition-wise.
Garlicky Swiss Chard
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds Swiss chard, stems sliced crosswise ¼-inch thick, leaves sliced into ½-inch-wide strips
Black pepper, to taste
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil and garlic in Dutch oven over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes.
2. Stir in chard and pepper flakes. Increase heat to high and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until chard is wilted but still bright green, 2 to 4 minutes.
3. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until liquid evaporates, 4 to 6 minutes.
4. Add vinegar and remaining 1 teaspoon oil and toss to combine. Season with pepper to taste.
Recipe from Cooks Country
Lactose intolerance, or the inability to properly digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products, is a common ailment that becomes even more common as we age. As we get older, our bodies produce less and less lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose. People of certain ethnicities (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans) and with other digestive conditions (Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease) are also at an increased risk of developing lactose intolerance.
For people with lactose intolerance, consuming dairy products can be uncomfortable, but not life-threatening. The most common symptoms of lactose intolerance are bloating, gas, and an upset stomach after consuming dairy. The good news is that these symptoms are temporary, and, unlike in some other gastrointestinal disorders, no structural damage to the digestive tract occurs. Although lactose intolerance can be managed by avoiding dairy products altogether, this probably isn’t the best strategy, as dairy is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, and other essential nutrients. A more nutritious way to manage lactose intolerance doesn’t involve cutting out dairy at all; rather, it requires a little bit of record-keeping and planning to incorporate dairy products into your diet with minimal disturbance to your digestive tract by:
- Identifying your triggers. Trigger foods vary from person-to-person. Some people will experience symptoms when consuming cheese, others when drinking a glass of milk. Keep a food and symptom journal so you can identify which dairy products give you the most discomfort. Many people with lactose intolerance are able to identify a few foods that give them symptoms, and a few that they can consume without any problems.
- Choosing easier-to-digest dairy products. Hard cheeses and milk from animals other than cows (goats, sheep) tend to contain less lactose. Yogurt contains probiotics, which help improve digestion.
- Eating smaller portions. Many people with lactose intolerance are able to consume small portions of dairy (a sprinkle of cheese, 4 ounces of lowfat milk) without any symptoms.
- Combining dairy with other foods. Dairy tends to be digested easier if it’s consumed alongside other foods. Cereal with milk or a yogurt parfait with granola and fruit are good options to try.
- Buying “lactose-free” foods. Lactose-free products, like milk, aren’t really lactose-free; they contain the addition of the enzyme lactase to help digestion. This means that “lactose-free” milk has all the same nutrients as regular cow’s milk, but those who are lactose intolerant are able to digest it, thanks to the addition of lactase.
- Taking lactase enzymes. Lactase, commonly sold under the brand name Lactaid, is commercially available in tablets you can chew or swallow. Most people with lactose intolerance are able to consume dairy products when they take one or two Lactaid pills with their first bite or swallow of dairy. The lactase in the tablets instantly helps with digestion.
These strategies prove that it’s possible to enjoy dairy and all its nutritional benefits even if you suffer from lactose intolerance. If you choose to go dairy-free, however, pay attention to your calcium intake, and look for lower-calorie milk alternatives. Soymilk contains the closest nutrient profile to cow’s milk, so it can be a close substitute for the real thing. When choosing a soy or other non-dairy milk, make sure you buy the unsweetened variety, as anything else is going to be high in added sugar.
Lately I’ve noticed that whenever I talk about cooking with tofu, I’m usually met with a look of disgust. Tofu has unfairly gained a bad reputation in certain circles for one of a number of reasons – it’s slimy, it doesn’t taste like anything, it seems too healthy to taste good – the list goes on. I wanted to feature tofu as a Healthy Ingredient of the Week to dispel those myths and hopefully convince you to include tofu in one of your next meals or snacks.
Tofu is made from soybeans, which means it’s high in protein (and a complete source of protein, too!). It’s also low in calories and high in calcium and iron, making it a much healthier substitute for meat in many stir-fried or baked meals. The nice thing about tofu is that it takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with, so you have plenty of room for creative seasoning. Tofu is versatile in other ways, too, since it comes in several different textural varieties. Silken, or soft, tofu is perfect for incorporating into smoothies for an instant protein boost, while firm tofu works well for stir-frying. I challenge you to think outside the box and give tofu a try – you may be surprised by how easy it is to use and how much you actually like it.
Sweet and Sour Chili Tofu
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 14-16 ounce package firm tofu, cut into slabs
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Black pepper, to taste
1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except oil and tofu. Soak the tofu in the mixture and place on plate.
2. In a large pan over high heat, place the oil and fry the tofu evenly on each side. Serve with brown rice and veggies.
Recipe from Nasoya
¾ cup almond milk
½ cup silken tofu
½ medium banana preferably frozen, sliced into rounds
½ cup strawberries, frozen
1. Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth and frothy.
Recipe adapted from Joy Bauer
If you haven’t already taken the WellMASS Health Questionnaire (HQ), which launched last Monday, don’t delay – the sooner you take the HQ, the more incentives you’ll receive. Although the HQ will be open until June 30, 2015, the window to receive incentives for taking it is much shorter.
If you take the HQ before January 31, 2015, you will receive:
- Your choice of a $20 gift card or a deluxe gym bag. The gift card can be redeemed at one of over 300 different retailers, and the gym bag features multiple pockets for your water bottle, smelly sneakers, and more.
- Entry into a monthly raffle for an iPad. The raffles will take place from September – January, and you’ll be entered into the raffle each month beginning the month you take the HQ. So, if you take the HQ this month, you’ll be entered into the iPad raffle every month through January!
Additionally, the first 5,000 employees who complete the HQ before December 19, 2014 will also receive a six-month subscription to NutriSavings, an easy, fun and exciting nutrition-focused wellness program that helps you make healthy choices while shopping in the grocery store. Employees enroll online or from their smartphones, register their shopper loyalty cards and earn “cash back rewards” on the purchase of healthy foods in the grocery store! Easily accessed online or on your mobile device 24/7, NutriSavings also educates participants by providing a variety of healthy recipes and an array of articles and tips on good nutrition. Employees who qualify for this incentive will be eligible to log onto NutriSavings beginning January 1, 2015. I am so excited about the addition of NutriSavings to the WellMASS program that I’ll be handing over the reins of the blog to the NutriSavings team in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for more information about this great new incentive!
The WellMASS Health Questionnaire is designed to help you take charge of your health, and incentives for doing so certainly don’t hurt. Whatever your reason for taking the HQ, I encourage you to take it as soon as possible so you can start taking advantage of all the WellMASS program has to offer!
Spelt, a type of wheat, has been around for thousands of years, although it’s fairly new to North America (it just started being cultivated and sold here in the past century). Like some other newly popular grains, spelt is a main ingredient in animal feed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as delicious to humans. Like wheat, spelt can be ground into flour and used for baking. It can also be cooked and served as a side dish or in a salad like other grains such as rice and quinoa. Spelt is high in fiber and protein, and it’s also a good source of iron and magnesium. Since spelt is a type of wheat, it contains gluten, so it’s not suitable for people with Celiac disease. If you’re able to consume gluten-containing foods, and are looking for an alternative to regular wheat flour or your side dish staples of rice or quinoa, give spelt a try!
Spelt Salad with White Beans and Artichokes
1 ¼ cups uncooked spelt, rinsed and drained
2 ½ cups water
⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup minced red onion
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1. Combine spelt and 2 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil.
2. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until tender and liquid is absorbed.
3. Combine cooked spelt, mint, and the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well.
4. Cover and store in the refrigerator.
Bread Machine Spelt Bread
1 ¼ cups hot water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons honey
3 ½ cups spelt flour
1 ¾ teaspoons bread machine yeast
1. Pour water into bread machine loaf pan. Next, add salt, canola oil and honey.
2. Add the flour, in a mound shape, so some of it sticks up above the water.
3. With a spoon, make a small well in the center of the mound, then pour the yeast into that well.
4. Set bread maker to 1 ½-pound loaf (basic setting) with a medium crust or see your manufacturer’s instruction manual.
Recipe from About.com
This week marks the launch of the new and improved WellMASS Health Questionnaire. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing you with information about the Questionnaire and the exciting new features of the GIC’s WellMASS wellness program. To start, I’ll answer a question I often get asked: “What is the Health Questionnaire, and why should I take it?”
The Health Questionnaire, or HQ, is a 10-minute assessment that provides you with a snapshot of your current health status and resources to take charge of your own health and wellness. The Health Questionnaire asks you a series of questions related to health behaviors such as nutrition, stress, and physical activity and provides you with personalized recommendations based on your results. In addition to the incentives you can earn just by taking the HQ (more on those next week), you’ll benefit from taking it in the following ways:
- You’ll receive a wellness “score” and see how you rate nationally with others your same age and gender
- You’ll discover your top 3 wellness priorities
- You will be provided with health recommendations unique to you
- If you took the WellMASS Health Assessment in the past, you can take it again this year to see how you’ve improved from year-to-year
- Based on your results, you may qualify for free telephonic or mail-based health coaching
- You’ll have access to the other great information on the WellMASS portal, including online classrooms, a prescription drug database, and wellness-related tools and calculators
The WellMASS Health Questionnaire is available to GIC-insured employees of the Executive and Legislative Branches and Constitutional Offices. It can be accessed by going to https://wellmass.staywell.com on your computer or smartphone. Since it only takes 10 minutes, it’s easy to take anytime, anywhere, so why wait? Take yours today to take the first step toward better health!