Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Spelt

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

Ingredients
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

Instructions
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.

Recipe from Cooking Light magazine, January 2007

Bread Machine Spelt Bread

Ingredients
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

Instructions
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

The WellMASS Health Questionnaire Is Here – Take Yours Today!

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!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Yogurt

Yogurt, whether it’s Greek or “regular,” has a host of nutritional benefits. For starters, it’s high in calcium, protein, and Vitamin B12. It’s also a good source of potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure. Where yogurt stands apart from many other foods, however, is the fact that it contains probiotics, or live and active cultures made up of “good bacteria” that help regulate the digestive tract. Almost all yogurt contains these probiotics, often in the form of acidophilus, so there’s no need to buy a specialty brand that makes claims about improving digestion. It also doesn’t matter if the yogurt is Greek or not – it will still contain these healthy bacteria.   Greek and regular yogurt do differ in a few ways, though: Greek yogurt is often higher in protein and lower in sugar, while regular yogurt is higher in calcium. Either way, you’re making a smart choice by choosing to incorporate yogurt into your meals and snacks.

Green Goddess Dressing

Ingredients
1 cup chopped avocado (about 1 avocado)
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup nonfat Greek yogurt
¼ cup firmly packed basil, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to reach desired consistency)

Instructions
1. Add the avocado, garlic, scallions, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, and Greek yogurt to a food processor or blender; process until relatively smooth.
2. Add the basil, parsley, and tarragon; process until smooth. If too thick, thin it out with a drizzle of olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. Makes 1 ½ cups.

Recipe adapted from FitSugar

Overnight Y’Oats

Ingredients
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
½ cup unsweetened almond milk (plain or vanilla)
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Instructions
1. In a resealable jar, add oats, Greek yogurt, almondmilk and chia seeds. Stir, then seal the jar with a lid.
2. Place in refrigerator 6 hours or overnight.
3. Once oats have softened and are ready to eat, garnish with desired toppings such as cinnamon, fruit preserves, almonds, granola, raspberries, and honey. Serve cold.

Recipe adapted from Trader Joe’s

Healthy Pasta Swaps

I love pasta (who doesn’t?), but I don’t love how quickly the calories in it can add up. The standard serving size of pasta is ½ cup – cooked – although we often tend to serve ourselves 4 times more than that during a typical meal. Given that a ½ cup serving of pasta, without sauce, normally contains around 100 calories, if you’re not careful of how much pasta you eat and what you serve that pasta with, you could easily be looking at consuming over 500 calories worth of pasta in a single sitting. This is a scary statistic, especially for those who consider themselves “volume eaters.” However, there’s an easy and healthy way to get your pasta fix by swapping out your typical caloric pasta for one of these sneaky swaps:

Spaghetti Squash

On the outside, spaghetti squash looks like any other member of the squash family. What’s on the inside, however, is a completely different story. Spaghetti squash gets its name for the spaghetti-like strands it produces after it’s been cooked. To turn your spaghetti squash into, well, spaghetti, cut it in half, place it on a sheet pan, and bake it in a 375° oven for around an hour. After you’ve let it cool for a few minutes, flake it with a fork to create spaghetti-like strands. One cup of spaghetti squash contains just 42 calories, or five times less than an equivalent amount of pasta.

Zucchini

Zucchini makes a surprisingly good – and easy – pasta swap. While it doesn’t have spaghetti-like fibers inside of it, it can be made to look like pasta with the aid of a vegetable peeler. Just peel the zucchini into strips (bonus points if you want to turn it as you’re peeling to create a spiral effect) and either boil it for 2-3 minutes or sauté it in a little bit of olive oil for 4-5 minutes, and you’ll end up with something that looks and feels like pasta but only contains 20 calories per one-cup serving.

Whole Wheat Pasta

Although it contains a similar calorie count as regular white pasta, 100% whole wheat pasta is much healthier, and much more filling, due to its high fiber and protein content. By swapping out your regular white pasta for the whole wheat kind, you’ll be adding an extra 3 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein, which will help you feel full while eating less.

No matter which pasta swap you choose, make sure to keep the calories low and nutrition high by steering clear from sauces that are high in calories, fat, and sodium, such as pesto and alfredo, and by loading up your dish with healthy extras like even more veggies, beans, or a handful of nuts.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Basil

Although basil, an herb, is often used in small quantities in cooking and baking, it surprisingly adds a lot of nutrition to any dish in which it’s featured.   Basil contains several different polyphenols, a type of antioxidant known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects. Basil is also a good source of Vitamin A and an excellent source of Vitamin K (just two tablespoons of basil leaves contain over a quarter of the Recommended Daily Allowance!). While basil is commonly featured whole in Italian and Indian dishes, it also tastes delicious pureed into chimichurri sauce, a traditional Argentinean condiment.

Chimichurri

Ingredients
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup parsley leaves
½ cup cilantro leaves
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped, or ¼ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt

Instructions
1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.

Recipe from Food & Nutrition magazine, July/August 2014

Knowing Your Barriers is Key to Quitting Smoking

Smoking, like other unhealthy habits, can be tough to quit if you feel like there are a lot of barriers standing in your way. Barriers to quitting vary from person to person, so that’s why it’s important to identify your own unique challenges in order to come up with your own unique plan to conquer them. Barriers to quitting smoking often take the form of triggers, or situations, environments, or feelings you associate with smoking.   It can be hard to escape these everyday occurrences, which may include:

  • Working under pressure
  • Feeling blue
  • Playing cards
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Watching TV
  • Driving your car
  • Drinking coffee
  • Feeling bored
  • Going out with friends
  • Seeing someone else smoke

Taking a minute to think about your triggers is a great first step to overcoming them. If you know what your barriers to quitting are, you can avoid, work around, or at the very least, be prepared for them.

Besides identifying triggers, another way to overcome barriers is to give yourself a visual reminder of them. You can make a list of everything you think is a barrier to your success, or you can think about your barriers in a different way by making lists of pros and cons. Focus on the pros and cons of smoking, by thinking about what you like and don’t like about it. Then, think about the pros and cons of quitting – what do you think you will like about it, and what do you think you will dislike about it? You’ll know you’re ready to quit if your list of “Cons” of smoking is much longer than your list of “Pros,” and your list of “Pros” to quitting is much longer than your list of “Cons.”

Quitting smoking is not an easy or quick process, but being aware of your barriers will make you much more prepared for all that the process entails.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Milk

We’ve all seen the ads and know that milk is good for our bones – it’s an excellent source of calcium (in fact, it happens to be one of the best-available and best-absorbed sources of calcium there is), phosphorus, and, thanks to fortification, Vitamin D – three nutrients that are essential to bone health. The health benefits of milk don’t stop there, however. Milk is also high in protein, which helps build, maintain, and repair your muscles and all other tissues in your body. In addition, the protein in milk, and foods made from it, will keep you feeling full for hours, making it a good choice to include in meals and snacks. Milk can also help regulate blood pressure levels, thanks to its potassium content. The potassium found in milk and other dairy products helps your body flush out excess sodium, which can lead to increased blood pressure control.

Milk and dairy products sometimes get a bad reputation for multiple reasons, one of which is that they tend to be high in saturated fat. When choosing milk or milk products, make sure you stick with low-fat or fat-free varieties (a.k.a. 1 percent and skim) to keep saturated fat content to a minimum.  There is no reason to avoid milk because of its fat content if you choose wisely.

Very Berry Pops

Ingredients
1 cup 1% milk
2 cups whole blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries

Instructions
1. In a blender, combine berries and milk for about 60 seconds, or until mixture is smooth.
2. Fill 6 popsicle molds, or 6 5-ounce paper cups with mixture and freeze until partially frozen.
3. Remove from freezer, insert popsicle sticks, and return to freezer until completely frozen.

Green Burst Smoothie

Ingredients
2 cups 1% milk
1 ¾ cups green grapes
½ ripe Bartlett pear, seeded and halved
½ avocado, pitted and peeled
¼ cup coarsely chopped broccoli
½ cup spinach
¼ cup ice cubes
1 tablespoon honey

Instructions
1. Place all ingredients into a blender and slowly increase speed to high, blending for 30-45 seconds or until mixture is smooth.
2. Pour into glasses and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Recipes from Got Milk

When it Comes to Your Health, There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question

Prevention is a topic about which I feel very strongly – we all owe it to ourselves to be proactive about our health, since catching medical issues early, before they have a chance to turn into serious problems, can save us time and money and confer a host of intangible benefits in the long run. Prevention really begins with a yearly physical exam, and it’s important you make the most out of yours in order to help prevent return visits to your doctor’s office throughout the year.

It’s important to come prepared to your physical exam (and any other doctor’s appointment, for that matter).   Before you head to your doctor’s office, especially if it’s your first time there, make sure you have a list of essential information in hand:

  • Your family health history
  • ALL medications and supplements you currently take (including over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, vitamins and herbal remedies, in addition to your prescription medications)
  • All of your allergies (food, environmental, medications)
  • Any past medical treatments, surgeries, or hospitalizations
  • Your previous immunizations
  • Results of previous medical tests or diagnostic procedures
  • Any symptoms you may be experiencing or health concerns you have

It helps to bring a notepad with you – you can jot down your essential information on it, as well as any questions you have beforehand or come up with during your visit. When it comes to questions, you should feel comfortable asking anything and everything that comes to mind, but at the very least, the National Patient Safety Foundation suggests you should be asking three key ones any time your doctor discusses tests, treatments, or any other next steps:

 

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?  

While your doctor is answering these questions, and any others you might have, make sure you take detailed notes so you can ask follow-up questions and have a visual reminder of everything that was discussed during your visit. By coming prepared, asking questions, and taking notes, you’ll ensure that you make the most out of your physical exam, and each and every doctor’s visit.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Seaweed

Upon seeing this week’s healthy ingredient, you might be thinking, “Is seaweed even edible?” That’s a common question to ask, since we most often associate seaweed with being at the beach, where it usually looks less-than appetizing. However, seaweed is totally edible; it happens to be a staple of Asian cuisine, and it’s becoming increasingly popular in America. Edible seaweed comes in many varieties, most notably dulse, spirulina, and kelp. Whichever variety you select, you’re making a good choice, nutrition-wise: seaweed is an excellent source of iron and B vitamins and a good source of potassium, magnesium, and Vitamins K and E. Most varieties of seaweed also happen to contain extremely high levels of iodine (a trace mineral essential for thyroid health), making seaweed a much better choice than iodized table salt for ensuring your thyroid functions properly. Although summer unofficially comes to an end next week, the following recipe will remind you of the beach all year long.

Seaweed Salad

Ingredients
1 ounce dried seaweed
1 teaspoon of dried red chili flakes
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
½ teaspoon white sesame seeds

Instructions
1.  Heat up a pot of water and bring it to boil.
2.  Boil the dried seaweed for about 3 minutes or until it turns soft.
3.  Drain the water and squeeze the excess water out of the seaweed. Set aside and let cool.
4.  Add all seasonings and ingredients into the seaweed and toss well. Chill in the fridge and serve cold.

 

Recipe from Rasa Malaysia

Be a Smart Snacker

Whenever I mention the word “snack” at one of my nutrition-related Lunch ‘n Learns, I make sure to look around the room to gauge participant’s reactions. Through my unofficial observations, I’ve determined that most people’s definitions of the term fall into one of three categories: 

  1. Cookies, candy, chips, crackers – anything that comes in a package and tastes good.
  2. Something to avoid at all costs if you want to lose weight or maintain a recent weight loss.
  3. A small portion of something healthy that helps you stay full in between meals.

While you are welcome to think of the word “snack” in any way you like, only one of the above definitions is nutritionally correct. If you think a snack is a small portion of something healthy that helps you stay full in between meals, you have the right idea. Snacks, from a nutritionist’s perspective, are portion-controlled foods that serve a purpose – namely, to help stabilize your blood sugar and therefore give you energy and keep you feeling full in between breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner. In order to serve this purpose, the ideal snack has the following characteristics:

 

  • It’s eaten in between meals to ensure that you’re not going longer than 4-6 hours without eating something
  • It contains 200 calories or less (anything more than that and you’re looking at what I consider to be a small meal)
  • It contains a mix of fiber and protein, which both take awhile to digest and help you feel full
  • It’s minimally-processed and low in added sugar, salt, and saturated fat
  • Ideally, it contains a fruit or vegetable

 

The best snacks are the ones you pack yourself and always have on hand when hunger strikes. Good snack choices include:

 

  • 1 medium apple and 1 tablespoons natural peanut or almond butter
  • 1 cup sliced veggies and 2 tablespoons hummus
  • Homemade trail mix: 2 tablespoons almonds, 1 tablespoon raisins, 1 teaspoon semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 15 Wheat Thins crackers and 1 Laughing Cow cheese wedge
  • 1 Kashi granola bar and 15 grapes
  • 1 string cheese and ½ cup sliced cantaloupe
  • 1 low-fat fruit-on-the-bottom Greek yogurt and 1 teaspoon slivered almonds

 

While the snacks listed above may not fit some people’s typical definition of the term, they’re sure to taste good and power you through until your next meal. Snacking is really an important part of weight loss and weight maintenance, as it can help prevent you from getting too hungry in between meals and overdoing it when it finally comes time to eat.   If your body tells you it needs food in between your regularly-scheduled meals, it’s perfectly okay to reach for a healthy snack – as long as it fits the requirements listed above, it shouldn’t sabotage your weight loss or healthy eating plan.

 

Now, what about the foods that many people consider “snacks” – cookies, chips, candy, crackers, and most other goodies that come in a box? By my definition, these aren’t snacks at all; rather, I consider them “treats.” Treats contain little nutritional value and normally don’t help stabilize your blood sugar or keep you feeling full in between meals. Treats are not what you want to reach for when mid-afternoon hunger strikes. There is some good news about treats, however – they can be a regular part of your daily routine, as long as you consume them in moderation. Almost any healthy diet has room for 200 “treat calories” each day, which means you can enjoy your daily candy bar or bag of potato chips – just as long as you don’t eat more than 200 calories’ worth of these items in any given day, and you save them for times when you want something to eat. Stick to the healthier selections above when you feel that you need food – your body will thank you for making the right choice!

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