Where to Look for Credible Wellness Information

Last week, I presented a series of questions you should ask yourself whenever you review a new piece of wellness information to determine if that information is in fact credible.  If you’d like an even easier way to find reputable information, all you need to do is search for it in one of the following places:

Finding credible wellness-related information doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming, as long as you know where to look and what to look for.  The next time you need to search for information, or encounter an article or website about which you have questions, use the guide provided last week and the resources you see here to ensure that you’re getting the most accurate information possible.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Pineapple

Pineapples, which are currently in season (although you can usually find them in supermarkets year-round), are a great way to add sweetness and nutrition to meals and snacks.  Pineapples are a good source of fiber and an excellent source of Vitamin C.  They’re also a natural source of bromelain, an enzyme that helps with the digestion of protein.  Their intensely sweet taste makes them a great way to flavor desserts without the use of added sugars.  Although they’re sweet, and a fruit, pineapples are also great added to savory dishes for an unexpected flavor twist.

Thyme, Pork Chop, and Pineapple Skillet Supper

Ingredients
3 tablespoons pineapple or apricot preserves or jam or orange marmalade
3 tablespoons orange juice, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons stone-ground or Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon curry powder
4 fresh or canned pineapple rings (½-inch thick), cut in half, any juice reserved
2 teaspoons butter
4, 4- to 5-ounce boneless pork loin chops (½-inch thick), trimmed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

Instructions

  1. If the preserves are chunky, chop any large pieces. Combine preserves (or jam or marmalade), 3 tablespoons orange juice, mustard, ginger, and curry powder in a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Pour pineapple juice into a measuring cup; if necessary, add enough orange juice to equal ⅓ cup total. Set aside.
  3. Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork chops, sprinkle with ½ tablespoon thyme and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Immediately turn them over and sprinkle with another ½ tablespoon thyme and the remaining pepper.
  4. Cook the chops, turning occasionally and adjusting the heat as necessary, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes.
  5. Add the reserved juice to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until the chops are cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.
  6. Add pineapple, the reserved sauce and the remaining 1 tablespoon thyme to the pan. Cook, stirring, until hot and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. To serve, spoon the sauce onto the chops and pineapple.

 

Recipe from Eating Well, July/August 2011 

Sources of Wellness Information – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As a reader of the WellMASS blog, you can rest assured that the information presented here is evidence-based, meaning it has sound scientific research to back it up.  However, you probably also get wellness information from other places, not all of which may be as credible as you think.  It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether or not the information you read on the internet or hear from a friend has been scientifically proven or is just an opinion.  Fortunately, with a little detective work and some careful searching and evaluating, it is entirely possible to sort out the good wellness information from the not-so-good.  The next time you read a wellness article or hear a wellness tip, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you easily see who sponsors the source? It should be clear where the information you’re reading is coming from, and the ‘sponsor’ should be a reputable organization, such as the ones below.
  • Is the sponsor a government agency, a medical school, or a reliable health-related organization, or is it affiliated with one of these? These organizations are often at the forefront of wellness-related research, and they are held accountable for the information they put out.
  • Is the author’s contact information listed? If there is no contact information listed for the author of an article or website, it might mean they don’t want you to get in touch with them to question the information they provided.
  • Can you tell when the information was written? Health and wellness recommendations change constantly, thanks to new and ongoing research developments.  You’ll want to look for information that has been updated in the past two years, as older information might be outdated.  In general, the more recently an article or website was updated or reviewed, the more accurate information it should contain.
  • Is your privacy protected? All credible websites contain privacy statements.  If a site doesn’t, you have no way of knowing how any information you provide, including your search history within the site, is used.
  • Does the source make claims that seem too good to be true? Are quick, miraculous cures promised? Any claim that seems too good to be true probably is, especially if there isn’t any evidence-based research to back it up.  Remember, there is no magic bullet for good health.

If you answered ‘yes’ to the first five questions, and ‘no’ to the last one, chances are that you’re getting your wellness information from a credible source.  If your source now appears less-than-credible, there are several places you can search for new information that are guaranteed to provide you with the evidence-based facts you need.  Stay tuned next week for a list of these sources.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Parsley

Although parsley is commonly used in cooking as a garnish, it’s actually an ideal candidate to incorporate into dishes due to its high nutritional value.  Parsley is high in antioxidant flavonoids, a good source of Vitamins C and A, and an excellent source of Vitamin K (one tablespoon contains over ¾ of the Recommended Daily Allowance!).  Here, it’s the star of the show in a lettuce-free salad.

Parsley Salad

Ingredients
4 ounces (about 2 quarts) Italian parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon zest
6 tablespoons walnut oil
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

1.  Wash and dry the parsley. Pick the leaves, and set aside. Discard the stems.In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, walnut oil, sesame oil, honey, and pepper, to taste.
2.  Add the parsley and sesame seeds and toss to combine
3.  Allow the salad to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving so that flavors meld.

 

Recipe from the Food Network 

Take a Walk to Stabilize Blood Sugar

If you have diabetes, you know how important it is to manage your blood sugar.  Even if you’re not a diabetic, you’ve probably experienced at least one episode in which your blood sugar got a little too low or a little too high and caused unstable hunger, energy, and mood levels.  In many cases, blood sugar levels are directly affected by the food and beverages you do (or don’t) consume, but food isn’t the only factor that can have an effect on how high or low your blood sugar gets.

Engaging in regular physical activity helps your body’s cells become more efficient at using insulin, resulting in better blood sugar control and lower A1C levels.  If you have type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend you get 150 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise, which should be spread out over at least three days of the week.  However, if working out at even a moderate intensity proves to be too challenging, there is good news on the horizon.  New research is showing that exercise, even if it’s of the low-impact variety (e.g., walking), can help reduce blood sugar levels for an extended period of time.  A 2013 study found that walking for 15 minutes after each meal can decrease blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours.  This study also found that these quick post-meal walks, if done after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, were more effective at reducing blood sugar than taking one 45-minute walk a day.

This study brings great news for diabetics and non-diabetics alike, as it proves that all it takes is a little movement to reduce and stabilize blood sugar levels.  No matter the type or intensity of activity you choose to perform, know that getting moving – after meals or at any point during the day – can have beneficial effects on your blood sugar levels for hours and days after your workout is over.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Sunflower Seeds

Sunflower seeds are fun to munch on – and they’re a much healthier alternative to other crunchy snacks like chips and pretzels.  Sunflower kernels, the edible portions of the seeds, are excellent sources of Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, thiamin, and magnesium, and good sources of fiber, protein, and iron.  A handful of sunflower seed kernels can make for a satisfying snack, but why limit your consumption solely to snack time?  Try topping salads, cereal, or oatmeal with the kernels, or incorporate them into a main dish, like the one below.

Linguini with Blue Cheese and Sunflower Seeds

Ingredients
10 ounces whole grain linguini
1 shallot or 3 green onions
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 ounces blue cheese
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1¾ cup Greek yogurt
½ teaspoon white pepper
⅓ cup roasted sunflower kernels
Chopped parsley, to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook linguini according to package directions.
  2. Peel shallot or onions and cut into small pieces.
  3. Sauté shallot or onions in canola oil. Add yogurt. Heat until sauce thickens.
  4. Crumble blue cheese with a fork, add to yogurt mixture, and heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Season with white pepper.
  5. Add ¼ cup sunflower kernels to the blue cheese sauce.
  6. Serve the sauce over the hot, cooked noodles and top with chopped parsley and remaining sunflower kernels. Serves 4.

 Recipe adapted from the National Sunflower Association 

Seek Support to Manage Stress

One of the most effective ways to manage stress is to develop resiliency, or the ability to bounce back from stressful situations. A key attribute of resilient people is that they are positive. Part of this positivity stems from surrounding themselves with positive people who provide an all-around sense of support. All it takes is one positive and supportive person in your life to help make your stressors feel more manageable. After reading these few sentences, you may be able to easily identify who that person is, or you may struggle to think about to whom you turn to most for support.

If you don’t have a support network currently in place, there are many people and resources from which you can pull to help add more positivity and support to your life. Support can take many forms – emotional, informational, companionship, or advocacy, to name a few – and it can come from a variety of people and places, including your family, friends, coworkers, online communities and chatrooms, places of worship, or professionals like your primary care doctor or a psychologist. It doesn’t matter to whom you turn for support – it just matters that you have someone with whom you can share your feelings.

It can be difficult to ask for help when you need it the most – you may be afraid, embarrassed, or concerned about burdening someone else – but you’ll be glad you did, as talking about your stressors and emotions can instantly make them seem more manageable. Without realizing it, you may also be helping your support person at the same time, as they will likely look to you as a source of support whenever they’re under stress.

In addition to the familiar sources of support discussed above, you may also want to consider taking advantage of other resources available to you, including your Employee Assistance Program (check with your health plan or www.mass.gov/gic for more information), the WellMASS portal, or books on stress management available at your local library. Whichever way you seek out information and support, know that it will help you on your journey to resiliency and more effective stress management.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Olives

We all know that olive oil is good for us – it contains the antioxidant Vitamin E and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.  What we often forget, however, is that olive oil is made from olives, which have similar nutritional benefits.  Unlike olive oil, many brands of jarred and canned olives are full of sodium, so be sure to eat or cook with olives in moderation, and if possible, rinse them before using to remove some of the sodium.  Olives come in many varieties – black, green, Kalamata – each with its own unique flavor profile.  If you’re not fond of the types of olives used in the recipes below, feel free to substitute your favorite variety for a different twist on the dish.

Olive Tapenade

Ingredients
20 pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon rinsed, drained, and chopped capers
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine Kalamata olives, capers, lemon juice, olive oil, anchovy paste (if desired), and pepper. Mix well.
  2. Refrigerate and use within two weeks. Use as a spread for sandwiches like panini and muffaletta or as a condiment.  Makes about 1 cup.

Recipe from About.com

 

Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Black Olives

Ingredients
Vinaigrette:
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mustard
½ cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Quinoa Salad:
4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 cups uncooked quinoa
16 spears asparagus, trimmed
Olive oil, for brushing
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup pitted nicoise olives
4 ounces aged goat cheese, shaved
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves

 

Instructions

  1. For the vinaigrette: Combine the vinegar, honey and mustard in a blender and blend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil and blend until emulsified. Add pepper to taste and pulse a few times to incorporate.
  2. For the quinoa salad: Bring the vegetable stock to a boil and add the thyme. Stir in the quinoa, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
  3. Preheat the grill. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season with pepper. Grill on all sides until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and cut into ½-inch pieces.
  4. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl, fold in the asparagus, olives, goat cheese, basil and parsley. Add just enough vinaigrette to moisten the salad; don’t make it too wet. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with more of the vinaigrette. 

Recipe from Food Network 

How Often Should You Weigh Yourself?

When it comes to judging the success of a weight loss plan, the number on the scale says a lot – but it doesn’t paint the whole picture, and it shouldn’t be taken as the gold standard for measuring success.  When you’ve set a goal to lose pounds, it’s easy think you need to constantly check to see how you’re progressing by stepping on the scale once a day.  However, this practice can be harmful – not helpful – for a number of reasons.  Daily weigh-ins can lead to developing an unhealthy obsession with your weight – it’s easy to become overly conscious of every calorie you consume and think that depriving yourself of food for a day can help offset the pound or two you seemed to have gained overnight.  What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that our weight can easily fluctuate by 1-2 pounds from one day to the next, and even from the morning to the evening, depending on what we eat and drink.  Eating a heavy, sodium-filled meal for dinner can cause water retention, and as a result, extra pounds when you step on the scale the next morning, although this overnight weight gain is usually lost during the next few days as long as eating habits return to normal.   So in general, weight gained from one day to the next is typically not something over which to stress – or obsess.

A more realistic way to gauge your weight loss success is to step on the scale once a week, on the same day, at the same time of day, and wearing a similar amount of clothing each week.  This will give you the most accurate picture of how much weight you have gained or lost, and it may help you feel more at ease with your progress.

If you prefer to keep tabs on your progress more frequently, a better way to track success is to think about how you feel every day.  Although losing pounds is important, if you feel good enough about yourself, then the number on the scale does not matter as much.  Other healthy, accurate ways to keep tabs on your weight loss progress include keeping track of inches lost (from your waist, arms, etc.) and becoming aware of how your clothes fit.  Losing inches from the right places, and going down a few pant sizes, are surefire signs that whatever you’re doing to lose weight is working.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Anise

Anise, a plant closely related to fennel and licorice, is used to flavor everything from Italian cookies to black jelly beans.  While anise extract imparts a nice flavor to sweets, anise seeds are a much better choice, nutrition-wise.  Anise seeds are a good source of iron and a low-calorie way to add instant flavor and crunch to everything from baked goods to savory main dishes.

Grilled Pork Chops with Anise Seed Rub and Mango Mojo

Ingredients
For mango mojo:
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 large garlic clove
1 tablespoon chopped fresh jalapeño (including seeds)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
For anise-seed rub:
1 tablespoon anise seeds
¾ teaspoon black peppercorns
1½ teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 (¾-inch-thick) loin pork chops, trimmed

Instructions

  1. Heat grill.
  2. Make mojo: Purée mango, lime juice, garlic, and jalapeño in a blender, then stir in cilantro.
  3. Make rub: Finely grind anise seeds and peppercorns in an electric coffee/spice grinder with sugar. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and stir in oil.
  4. Grill pork: Brush both sides of pork with spice rub. Grill pork on an oiled rack set 5 to 6 inches over glowing coals 2 minutes on each side. Move pork off to side of grill (not directly over coals; moderately low heat for gas grills) and cook pork, covered, turning once, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes more on each side.
  5. Transfer to a platter and let stand, loosely covered, 5 minutes. Serve pork with mojo. 

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

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