Food and physical activity are two of my favorite things, and it’s a lot easier than you’d think to combine the two, thanks to a weekly walk to Haymarket organized by the GIC’s very own Yvette Fernandes. Every Friday at noon, Yvette leads a group of GIC employees on a walk to the Haymarket, where they load up on a week’s worth of fresh fruits and veggies. As an added bonus, Yvette sends out a weekly reminder about the walks which spotlights seasonal ingredients that can all be found at the market through a handful of tasty recipes. I really enjoy Yvette’s weekly recipes for a few reasons: they get me thinking about different ways to use fresh, in-season ingredients; they are cost-conscious, due to the presence of seasonal ingredients than can be purchased for quite a discount at the market; and they often encourage eating in moderation and enjoying a high-quality dish, rather than sacrificing flavor just for the sake of eating healthy. As Yvette puts it:
“Not every recipe is healthy – I just really like the idea of people paying attention to ingredients and new food, then the healthier choices should naturally follow. Heck, I’ve even used bourbon in some of those recipes and championed butter over margarine with the idea that moderation and slowing down lets you enjoy “taboo” stuff. Going to Haymarket leads to healthy choices, (it’s all fruits and veggies) and encourages cheap healthy eating. For example, I bought 3 artichokes for $1; Stop&Shop Hingham had 2 artichokes for $5.”
If you work in Boston and would like to join Yvette’s weekly walks, or work elsewhere and would just like to receive her great recipes, send her an email. And, for a sample of what you’ve been missing, here is a recipe from one of her weekly emails:
Creamed Asparagus with Mushrooms
4 pounds asparagus spears
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
1 tablespoon bottled minced garlic (6 cloves)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
¼ cup dry sherry or dry white wine
¼ cup reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
12 oz assorted sliced fresh mushrooms, such as white button, shiitake, cremini, or oyster mushrooms
1-½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme or ¼ t dried thyme, crushed
Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Cut spears into 2-inch pieces. Cook asparagus in the boiling water for 4 to 6 minutes or just until crisp-tender. Drain asparagus. Plunge asparagus into the ice water; let stand until cooled. Remove asparagus; pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, salt, and pepper; cook until softened. Stir in broth, sherry, and cream cheese; bring to boiling. Add mushrooms; cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until mushrooms are softened and sauce thickens slightly. Stir in Parmesan cheese and thyme. Add the cooked asparagus; heat through, stirring to coat.
Employees at agencies all throughout the state worked hard for six weeks to lose weight as part of the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge, but ultimately, only one agency could come out on top. That honor went to the Department of Public Health’s Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain, whose 27 participating employees ended up winning the state-wide weight loss competition by losing a high average percent body weight and earning two extra points toward their weight loss total by having all eligible employees complete their online Health Assessment. State Lab employees beat out 28 other agencies to earn the title of “Biggest Losers,” and they were rewarded for their efforts with a certificate of achievement and a healthy catered lunch.
When I met with the State Lab’s Weight Loss Challenge participants, they all looked healthy and happy to have embarked on a weight loss journey. Many participants are still following the eating and exercise habits they adopted during the challenge, including participating in the three weekly exercises classes offered at their worksite. Wellness Champion Jacki Dooley is one such participant:
“The Challenge gave me the incentive to go back to Weight Watchers and really work hard at it this time. I am also exercising more than I ever have!” – Jacki
Since the group was so successful in losing weight, I asked them to share some of their weight loss tips. Below are some helpful strategies to help you become a successful “loser.”
“Tips: Plan and be on track! Be accountable (to the group, to yourself). Measure. I was surprised how off I was on estimates of portion sizes.” – Deb
“After watching the documentary Forks Over Knives, I switched to a non-dairy, mostly vegetarian diet, which I think helped me to jump-start my weight loss. I expect this will be the way I’ll continue eating.” – Denise D
“My tip is juicing! It’s a wonderful, healthy way to cleanse your body of nasty toxins while at the same time replenishing it with loads of vitamins and minerals.” – Trisha
“Lots of veggies!” – Cyndi
“I love water bottles, and have fine on my desk to prove it. I have Weight Watchers, sports, and bubble bottles, and a diamond purple drinking glass. Instead of drinking sodas, I drink water with and without Crystal Light. I have changed from eating out to bringing my lunch every day, and therefore I know what I am putting in my mouth. I get up from my desk and walk on good days and bad.” – Sadie
Although the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge may be over, that does not mean your attempts at weight loss have to end. Our Challenge toolkit can be used any time you or your agency would like some motivation and ideas to help you lose weight. As the Hinton State Laboratory employees have proven, weight loss does not have to be difficult or time-consuming; small changes, many of which can seem like fun, are all it takes to safely and successfully work toward your weight loss goals.
Maple syrup is typically used as a topping for pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast treats, and can sometimes seem anything but healthy. But I’m here to tell you that, when used in moderation, and with the right combination of other nutritious ingredients, it can be a part of any healthy diet. Maple syrup contains the polyphenol quebecol, a type of antioxidant that can help protect against inflammation. It’s also an excellent source of manganese and contains other vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc. The darker grades of maple syrup have been shown to have the highest antioxidant concentration, so choose Grade A dark or Grade B to maximize nutritional value. Also, be sure to note the difference between pure maple syrup and its less expensive imitations: Anything that says “syrup” without the words “100% pure maple” in front of it is probably just a combination of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavoring.
I went to Vermont a few weekends ago, at the very end of peak maple season, and indulged in quite a few maple-flavored foods. I also picked up a maple syrup cookbook while I was there, and found the following recipe quite interesting. Maple syrup is used to replace most of the sugar in this recipe, and it’s not hard to make a similar swap in most other recipes that call for sugar. You can generally use ¾ cup syrup for 1 cup sugar; since the syrup is liquid, you should also decrease the amount of other liquids called for in the recipe by 2-4 tablespoons per cup of syrup used, add ¼ – ½ teaspoon baking soda to decrease acidity, and lower the over temperature by 25°.
Maple Shredded Wheat Bread
2 large shredded wheat biscuits, crumbled
2 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup maple syrup
⅓ cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 package yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
3 ½ cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1. Crumble shredded wheat biscuits and cover with boiling water.
2. Add butter, maple syrup, sugar, and salt, stirring to melt butter. Cool to lukewarm.
3. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water and stir into shredded wheat mixture.
4. Gradually stir in sifted flour to make a stiff dough, kneading until smooth.
5. Place dough in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size.
6. Punch down, knead again, and shape into two loaves.
7. Place in two greased bread pans, cover, and let rise again until nearly doubled.
8. Preheat oven to 375°. Bake for 45 minutes. Cook before slicing. Yields 2 loaves.
Adapted from The Official Vermont Maple Cookbook, Second Edition.
It’s easy to think that the best way to lose weight is to increase the frequency and intensity of cardio activities like running or aerobics. However, a little-known secret among successful weight “losers” is that cardio activity is most effective when it’s combined with 2-3 sessions a week of strength training exercises. Strength training helps build muscle, which burns more calories than fat, so it’s essential to develop your muscles in order to increase your calorie-burning potential. Additionally, strength training can keep your muscles, and the joints they help support, in top shape as you age. The aging process can be scary for a number of reasons, one of them being the loss of muscle mass, and the loss of strength and independence that comes with it. Studies have shown that the majority of women and the elderly, those most at risk for problems related to low muscle mass, do not meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans twice-weekly goal of strength training exercises.
Strength training doesn’t have to be too difficult or time-consuming, if you follow a few simple tips:
- Warm up and cool down before strength training. Walking is a good way to warm your muscles up, and stretching is effective for both warm-ups and cool-downs.
- Stretching regularly can also help your strength training routine by improving muscle development, increasing range of motion, and reducing the risk of injury.
- Weight does not matter as much as form does. Make sure you keep your body aligned and focus on slow, controlled movements. Increase the amount of weight you lift only when you feel comfortable doing so.
- Choose 8-10 different strength training exercises, and do 8-12 reps of each. You should find it difficult, but not impossible, to do the last 2 reps of each set – this means your muscles are being properly challenged.
- Give your muscles time to rest. Don’t do strength training workouts on consecutive days; it’s best to allow at least 48 hours in between sessions.
If you’ve tried changing your eating habits and increasing cardio activity, and are still in a weight loss rut, I’d encourage you to try incorporating strength training into your weekly routine. Not only will you increase your muscle mass to help prevent problems as you age, but you’ll be increasing your metabolism, and burning more calories without feeling like you’re doing too much extra work, at the same time.
Not only is garlic good for keeping vampires away, it’s also good for your health. Garlic is a great source of folic acid and the antioxidant Vitamins C and A. Besides being a tasty, and healthy, addition to meals, garlic has been used for centuries as medicine. It gets its medicinal properties from a compound called allicin, which also gives the herb its distinctive odor. Garlic is often used to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and other cardiovascular conditions. It may also be effective in preventing certain forms of cancer. The verdict is still out on a lot of garlic’s medicinal properties, but you’ll still get all of its flavor and nutrients by incorporating it into meals like this one, which is one of my personal favorite chicken dishes.
Slow Cooker Twenty Garlic Chicken
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 to 3 1/2 lb cut-up chicken breasts
1 large onion, sliced
1 medium bulb garlic (about 20 cloves)
1. In small bowl, mix paprika, pepper, and oil to form paste; spread evenly over each piece of chicken.
2. In 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, place onion slices. Arrange chicken over onion. Separate garlic into cloves; do not peel cloves. Place garlic cloves around chicken.
3. Cover; cook on Low setting for 5 hours.
4. With slotted spoon, remove chicken, onion and garlic from slow cooker; place on serving platter. Squeeze garlic cloves to use cooked garlic on mashed potatoes, vegetables or bread.
Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker
Since WellMASS has only been around for a little over a year, we’re still a growing program looking for innovative ideas to engage state agencies in wellness activities. I often look to the Department of Correction as a model agency when it comes to wellness, as they have had a successful structure in place for quite some time, and employees are always eager and willing to participate in Lunch ‘n Learn seminars and other onsite activities. The employees of MCI Norfolk are no exception, and they have truly raised the bar when it comes to innovative wellness programs with their 2013 Employee Cook-off.
I was very excited when Wellness Champion Captain Arnie Larson invited me to be a guest judge at this year’s cook-off, which was held during lunchtime last Monday. I knew I would be in for a fun-filled afternoon of healthy eating, but I had no idea how many tasty, nutritious foods I’d have the privilege of judging. Over a dozen employees prepared healthy dishes, from salads and appetizers to main courses and desserts, and all of them were delicious. I, along with my fellow judges Superintendents Gary Roden, Donald Levesque, James Saba, Michael Thompson, and ADC Michael Grant, had a very hard time picking a winner, but we ultimately decided that Captain Andrew Rego’s pulled pork deserved top honors. I usually associate pulled pork with a heavy, fatty meal at a BBQ restaurant, but Captain Rego’s dish was anything but. He served up a lean cut of pork with a fat-free, low-calorie barbeque sauce that had everyone’s mouth watering. Besides the fact that Captain Rego transformed a normally less-than-nutritious dish into something fairly healthy, I also voted for him because he made me actually like pork, which I haven’t eaten, or enjoyed, in years.
Captain Rego’s pulled pork was not the only noteworthy dish – top honors also went to Captain Larson’s Mex Bites, CPO A/B Eileen Yelle’s noodle kugel, and Sgt. Maryann Lewis’ chocolate truffle. I left the cook-off well-fed and with new ideas for healthy recipes (some of which will appear on this blog in upcoming weeks). If your agency is looking for a unique way to get employees excited about wellness, I recommend you consider following MCI Norfolk’s lead and hosting a healthy cook-off.
As I’ve mentioned before, nuts often get a bad reputation for being high in calories and fat. But most nuts, pistachios included, are often high in heart-healthy unsaturated fat, as well as other beneficial nutrients. Pistachios are one of the lowest-calorie nuts and are full of fiber, protein, potassium, and Vitamin B6. For built-in portion control, choose pistachios with the shell on – they take longer to eat, so your brain will have time to register that you’re full from eating just a handful. The recipe below puts a different spin on guacamole by combining pistachios with another great source of heart-healthy fat – avocado.
2 cups shelled pistachio nuts
2 ripe avocados
¼ white onion: finely diced
1 Serrano chile: stemmed, seeded & minced
½ cup cilantro sprigs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1. Lightly toast the pistachio nuts. Finely chop or process in a food processor.
2. Seed and peel the avocado. Dice the avocado.
3. Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. With a spoon, stir the mixture while lightly mashing the avocado. Do not over process – the mixture should have a slightly coarse texture.
4. Transfer the Pistachiomolé to a serving dish. Serve with tortilla chips.
Recipe from the American Pistachio Growers
I have to admit, the only time I eat radishes is when they are shredded and put on top of a salad. That’s a shame, because radishes are extremely low in calories, have a high water content, and are good sources of calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. They’re in season right now, so I’m going to make a point to incorporate them into my diet by making them the star of a dish, like the one below.
3 cups diced mango, (about 2 large)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced radishes, (about 1 bunch)
1. Toss mangoes, cilantro, lime juice and salt in a bowl.
2. Stir in radishes just before serving.
Recipe from Eating Well
Tomatoes are technically a fruit, but we often think of them as a vegetable due to their savory taste. Most vegetables lose some of their nutrient content when they’re cooked, but tomatoes are unique in that the process of cooking actually makes them more nutritious. Cooking tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) that can be absorbed by the body. A Cornell University study showed that lycopene levels were highest after 15 minutes of cooking. Both of these recipes involve cooking tomatoes, which means you’ll be getting a good dose of lycopene, as well as Vitamins A and C and fiber.
Rustic Tomato and Vegetable Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 medium onions, sliced
2 medium carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
2 28-ounce cans low-sodium diced tomatoes in juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
1. Put olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat.
2. Add garlic and onions and sauté until translucent.
3. Add grated carrots and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add diced tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add salt and pepper, then sugar. Serve immediately. Serves four.
From the publication Vitality Magazine. February 6, 2006.
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups small diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups medium diced eggplant, skin on
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 cup diced green bell peppers
1 cup diced red bell peppers
1 cup diced zucchini squash
1 cup diced yellow squash
1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Set a large 12-inch saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil.
2. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan.
3. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add the eggplant and thyme to the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.
5. Add the green and red peppers, zucchini, and squash and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
6. Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for a final 5 minutes.
7. Stir well to blend and serve either hot or at room temperature.
Recipe from Food Network
By Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC
The WellMASS weight loss challenge was a good start toward changing some bad eating habits. Now it’s clearly time to exercise more. So beginning this month, I’ll be biking or walking all or part of my commute and logging in those healthier miles as part of the Green Streets Initiative 2013 Walk/Ride Challenge.
What is the Walk/Ride Challenge? The Green Streets Initiative promotes Walk/Ride Days to encourage people to choose walking, bicycling, and public transit for their travel to and from work, school, and other destinations. Walk/Ride goals are to improve personal and environmental health by cutting back on individual car use and increasing physical activity. The Group Insurance Commission participated in the Walk/Ride challenge last year and, thanks to some dedicated walkers and bikers, won for participation rates in our category (public agency, under 100 employees).
The GIC is participating in the Walk/Ride Challenge again this year and we encourage other state agencies to participate, too. You say you don’t live close enough to your office to walk or bike in? Neither do half the people at the GIC – yet many of my coworkers who usually drive or take the train to work made small changes like parking further away from the office or getting off public transportation a stop early to walk a couple of blocks. Extra steps add up – and we salute everyone who made these changes!
The GIC’s Executive Director, Dolores Mitchell, says “We have been very happy to collaborate with The Green Streets Initiative. It very nicely complements our own Wellness Initiative, and since cultural changes are more achievable when many players and many organizations support the same goal, we’re happy to be part of this effort to get Americans moving under their own power.”
You have until April 19 to register for the 2013 Walk/Ride challenge at http://gogreenstreets.org/register-2013-walkride-day-corporate-challenge.
Let employees in your office know that whether they walk, even part-way, or ride a bicycle, bus, or train – those car-free miles count. Carpool miles count too. Each participant logs in commuter miles on the last Friday of the month and becomes eligible for a monthly raffle prize and retail rewards like a free yoga class, discounts on exercise gear, home improvements, restaurants, and more. Check out all the rewards details here.
I’m looking forward to getting back on my bike to commute to the office during the warm weather months. How will you change your travel habits? Let us know if your office plans to participate in the Walk/Ride Challenge and what changes you will make.