Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Acorn Squash

Acorn squash, like its more famous cousin, butternut squash, is in season this time of year and worth giving a try.  It’s an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants, and a good source of Vitamin A and several B vitamins.  Acorn squash can be prepared similarly to other winter squashes; here, it’s roasted alongside several other seasonal ingredients for a flavorful side dish.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Pumpkin Seeds and Pomegranate

3 acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), raw or roasted
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
⅓ cup pomegranate seeds (arils; from ½ pomegranate)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Rub the cut sides of the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, then with the honey. Place the squash halves cut side up in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cinnamon; roast for 1 hour, until tender.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and thyme; cook, stirring, until the seeds are aromatic and toasted. Transfer to a plate to cool.
  4. Once the squash is done and cool enough to touch, transfer the liquid that accumulated in each half to a medium bowl.
  5. Cut each roasted squash half into 4 slices, and arrange them on a platter.
  6. Whisk the pomegranate molasses into the reserved juices in the bowl to form a dressing; drizzle it over the squash wedges. Sprinkle with the herbed pumpkin seeds and the pomegranate seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 8.

Recipe from the Washington Post

Maintain – Don’t Gain – This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving’s a week away, which marks the start of what I like to call “holiday eating season.”  If you’re like me, your days, nights, and weekends during the next six weeks will be filled with festivities that center around food.  While there are plenty of ways to take the focus off of food this holiday season, we all know that sometimes food-centric events are inevitable.  However, these events don’t have to mean the end of your healthy eating habits – nor should they be the beginning of a self-imposed regimen of deprivation.

A healthy way to look at all of the parties at work, home, or friends’ houses is as an opportunity to enjoy the season while challenging yourself to maintain your current weight.  This means you have room for regular indulgences, as long as you also incorporate time for regular exercise and balance out those indulgences with healthier options.  When you embrace the holiday season for all that it is – a time for socialization, good will, happiness, and all sorts of other positive emotions – you’re less likely to get hung up on the occasional “cheat day” and more likely to stick with healthy eating and activity patterns the rest of the time.

So how can you apply the concept of “maintain – don’t gain” during the next six weeks?  Here are some easy ways to enjoy the season without doing too much damage to all the healthy habits you follow the rest of the year:

  • Play favorites. When you first enter a party, scope out all of the food options available before filling your plate.  Once you have an idea of which foods you’d most like to eat, put them on your plate first, making sure to take large helpings of healthy options and smaller servings of less-healthy items.  Filling your plate with foods you know you’re going to enjoy helps prevent you from consuming excess calories from foods you threw on your plate “just because” that you feel you have to eat.
  • Health-ify it. Not-so-nutritious meals can be made healthier by adding healthy options alongside them.  Aim to include at least one (non-deep-fried) vegetable or fruit to every meal and snack.  Is pizza on the menu at your office party?  Make sure to accessorize your slices with a heaping helping of salad.  Tempted by your Grandmother’s famous pecan pie?  Have a small slice alongside a bowl of fresh fruit.  Not only will you get the beneficial vitamins and minerals your produce contains, you’ll also be adding a low-calorie, filling option to your plate, which will help prevent overindulging in higher-calorie foods.
  • Work it out. Use gatherings as an excuse to recruit other health-minded individuals to burn off those extra calories with you.  Go for a family walk before or after your meal or organize a friendly game of touch football.  If you’re having fun being active as part of a group, your calorie-burning activities won’t feel like a chore.  If group activity isn’t always an option, strike out on your own and incorporate brief walks whenever you can.  Take a lap around the office every few hours, get up and talk to your coworkers instead of calling or emailing them, or walk to errands close by instead of driving.  Little bouts of activity add up to increase calorie burn throughout the day.
  • Try the pie.  Let’s face it – most of us look forward to indulging in dessert at the end of a holiday meal.  If you want a slice of pie, or a cookie, or whatever else on the dessert table tickles your fancy, go for it.  Depriving yourself of a sought-after treat will only make you lose the willpower to make other healthy choices the rest of the day.  Remember, however, that you don’t need to eat the whole pie or plate of cookies:  It only takes three bites of any particular to feel satisfied, so stick to small portions of your favorite treats.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Honey

Honey has been popular for thousands of years, renowned for both its taste and medicinal properties.  Even when used in small amounts, honey contains antioxidants and several vitamins and minerals, including iron.  It can also be a good substitute for sugar, due to the fact that it has a lower glycemic index, meaning honey will keep blood sugar levels stable longer than table sugar will.  While it’s clear that honey is useful as a sweetener, the jury is still out as to how effective it is as a medicine.  Research shows that honey has antibacterial properties, aids in wound healing, helps relieve allergies, and can ease symptoms of the common cold, although no definitive studies on any of these claims exist yet.  If you’re looking for a way to add some sweetness to your coffee, meals, or snacks without experiencing the blood sugar spike you would with sugar, then honey is a great choice.  Just make sure to limit your intake to about a tablespoon at a time, and never give honey to children younger than one, as their immature digestive tracts are more susceptible to developing botulism from bacteria that may naturally find its way into the honey (honey is, however, perfectly safe for healthy adults to consume).

Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks with Honey-Pomegranate Glaze

2-3 pounds lamb shanks, cut into roughly 1-pound pieces
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup carrots, chopped
½ cup onions, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, bruised
½ cup canned low-sodium diced tomatoes, with juice
½ cup white or red wine vinegar
¼ cup honey, plus 2 tablespoons for glaze
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses


  1. With the tip of a sharp knife, make deep slits in the meaty parts of the lamb shanks. Rub the surfaces with paprika and pepper.
  2. Spray the slow cooker insert with nonstick cooking spray. Spread the carrot, onion and celery in the slow cooker. Place the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables.
  3. In a small bowl, stir the garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, honey, and 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses until blended. Pour over the lamb shanks.
  4. Cover and cook on low 5 hours or until the meat is coming away from the bone. Transfer the shanks to a side dish. Strain the juices through a strainer set over a heat-proof bowl or into a fat separator with a strainer insert. Reserve the broth and vegetables separately.
  5. Return the shanks to the slow cooker. Stir the remaining 2 tablespoons honey and remaining pomegranate molasses until blended and brush over the lamb shanks. Adjust heat to high. Cook, covered, 30 minutes. Turn the shanks and cook 30 minutes longer.
  6. Meanwhile, place the reserved vegetables in a blender. Skim the fat from the strained broth. Add the broth to the vegetables. Cool. Puree the vegetables and broth and transfer to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently until sauce is reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the lamb shanks from the slow cooker to a shallow serving bowl. Spoon out juices in the cooker and add to the reduced sauce. Spoon the sauce over the shanks.

Recipe adapted from the National Honey Board

The WellMASS Blog is Taking a Break

The WellMASS blog will be on hiatus until November.  Please feel free to check out our archive of Healthy Ingredients of the Week and other wellness-related posts!

Keep Your Produce Fresh with These Storage Guidelines

Summer is a great time to indulge in all of the delicious, nutritious produce the season has to offer.  However, it can be hard to convince yourself to choose fresh fruits or veggies over other options if all of the produce you have on hand is tasteless and soggy.  While produce does lose some of its nutritional value as it starts to ripen, it’s still possible to preserve nutrients – and taste – for days or weeks after you bring fruits and vegetables home from the grocery store, farmers’ market, or pick-your-own stand by following these simple guidelines:

Store These Fruits and Veggies in the Fridge
All cut fruits and veggies
Apples that you won’t consume within 7 days
Brussels sprouts
Green beans
Leafy green vegetables (lettuce, spinach)
Summer squash
Sweet corn

Store These Fruits and Veggies on the Counter
Apples that you will consume within 7 day
Citrus fruits

Store These Fruits and Veggies in a Cool, Dry Place
Sweet potatoes
Winter squash

Ripen These Fruits and Veggies on the Counter, Then Refrigerate

In order to prolong shelf life, store fruits and vegetables separately, as many fruits emit a gas called ethylene that speeds up the ripening process, making any vegetables in the surrounding area spoil quicker.  Locally-sourced produce will also keep longer in your refrigerator or on your countertop, as it will likely have been picked closer to the date you purchased it, giving it less time to ripen in transit.

No matter which fruits or vegetables you choose to enjoy this summer, make sure to store them correctly to get the most out of their taste and nutritional value!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Honeydew Melon

Honeydew melons, close relatives of cantaloupes and staples of fruit cups and platters, often get overshadowed by their other melon counterparts.  This is partially due to the fact that they’re served year-round, but only in-season during the summer months, when their flavor and sweetness are at their peak.  A fresh, ripe, in-season honeydew can rival even the sweetest, juiciest cantaloupe, and although the bright green honeydews may not be as popular as their orange-hued counterparts, they’re just as nutritious.  Honeydew is an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of potassium and several B vitamins.  Like other melons, it can be served in both sweet and savory dishes, or enjoyed on its own.


Chilled Minted Cucumber Honeydew Soup


1 English cucumber
2 cups honeydew pieces (from about ¼ medium melon)
8 ounces plain non-fat yogurt
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Black pepper, to taste


  1. Cut cucumber into 1-inch pieces.
  2. In a bowl, combine cucumber and honeydew pieces, yogurt, mint leaves, and lime juice.
  3. In a blender, purée mixture in batches for 30 seconds, pouring mixture as puréed through a sieve into a bowl, and season soup with pepper, to taste. Chill soup, covered, at least 2 hours and up to 6.

Recipe from Gourmet magazine, July 1997 

So Long, Trans Fats

On June 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered food manufacturers to phase out artificial trans fats from their products by June 2018 by finalizing a ruling that removes trans fats from the list of food additives that are “generally regarded as safe.”  Trans fats, listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils,” are vegetable oils that undergo a chemical alteration process to make them semi-solid at room temperature.  Food manufacturers like them because they’re a cheap way to prolong the shelf life of packaged foods; your body, on the other hand, isn’t so fond of trans fats, as they raise cholesterol levels more than any other type of fat you consume.  Due to mounting evidence about the negative health consequences associated with their consumption (unlike other types of fat, the government recommends you consume absolutely no trans fat – that’s 0.0 grams/day), manufacturers have slowly been phasing out trans fats from their products over the past few years.  Whereas partially hydrogenated oils were once found in large quantities in margarine, baked goods, and other packaged treats, they have now been replaced with other types of oils or appear in significantly lower amounts However, this doesn’t always mean that the reformulated product is healthier, as high-in-saturated-fat palm oil is often used as a substitute for partially hydrogenated oils, and trans fat, even when present in very small amounts, can still be detrimental to one’s health.

While the slow decline of trans fats was a small step in the right direction, the FDA’s ruling will all but ensure that the foods we eat will be completely free of these heart-unhealthy fats in a few short years.  Manufacturers have the right to ask for an exception to the ruling if they can prove that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm” from the trans fats used in their products, but it’s highly unlikely that many, if any, manufacturers will have their requests approved.  Until manufacturers are required to produce completely trans fat-free products, you will need to be proactive in phasing out trans fats on your own by reading ingredients lists carefully to make sure they don’t contain the words “partially hydrogenated oil.”  But three years from now, you won’t need to be a food detective when it comes to rooting out trans fats, as they – and the increased risk of high cholesterol and heart disease that comes with their consumption – will be ancient history.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Dandelion Greens

While you may be cursing all the dandelions springing up in your yard, know that there is more to this common weed than meets the eye.  The leaves of dandelions, called dandelion greens and sold in many grocery stores (from where you’ll probably want to purchase them, as it’s not recommended to eat the leaves of the weeds that grow in your yard), are a great alternative to other leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale.  Dandelion greens are an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, and K and a good source of calcium and iron.  Although they can be bitter, blanching them or sautéing them alongside other strong flavors takes a lot of the edge off and makes for an interesting alternative to your run-of-the-mill greens.

Dandelion Greens with Double Garlic

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup thinly sliced garlic (5 or 6 cloves), plus
1 teaspoon minced garlic, or more to taste
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound dandelion greens with stems, well-washed and roughly chopped
½ cup low-sodium vegetable stock
Lemon wedges for serving



  1. Put the olive oil in a large, deep saucepan with a lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sliced garlic, pepper flakes, and black pepper and cook for about 1 minute.
  2. Add the greens and stock. Cover and cook until the greens are wilted and just tender but still a little firm, about 5 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid has all but evaporated and the greens are quite tender, at least 5 minutes more. Taste for seasoning and add red or black pepper as needed; add the minced garlic, cook for 1 minute more, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with lemon wedges. 

Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman 

Have a Healthy Fourth of July with these Easy Cookout Swaps

Chances are, you’ll be hosting or attending a cookout this Fourth of July weekend.  While I’m all for enjoying your favorite summertime treats in moderation, I also think you can’t go wrong with making a few easy swaps to instantly make classic cookout fare a little bit healthier.  When planning your cookout (or scoping out the food table and planning what you’re going to put on your plate), try to employ at least one of the following strategies to boost the nutritional value of your meal:

  • Opt for grilled chicken, seafood, or Portobello mushroom caps instead of burgers and dogs. If you choose chicken or a mushroom cap, you’ll save at least 4g of saturated fat and between 35-150 calories (obviously, you’ll save the most by choosing the low-calorie Portobello).  You’re also likely to feel more satisfied by choosing one of these two options over a hamburger or hotdog.
  • Use whole grain buns for added fiber. The extra fiber in whole grain buns vs. white buns will make your meal seem more filling.
  • Avoid creamy condiments and salads. Anything containing mayonnaise or creamy sauces or dressings (whether they’re used on a burger or a potato, pasta, or green salad) is going to be high in empty calories.  Instead…
  • Choose lower-calorie condiments that give you the most bang for your buck. You can’t go wrong with including fresh vegetables on top of burgers or sandwiches, or almost anything else on your plate.  Mustard and ketchup (in low-sodium varieties if possible), salsa, and strong-flavored cheeses are also great ways to add a lot of flavor to your food without breaking the calorie bank.
  • Follow the MyPlate rule and fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean protein, and a quarter with whole grains. Fruits and veggies are great foods to have at a cookout, especially on a hot day, due to their high water content.  They’ll help keep you hydrated and fill you up thanks to their high fiber content.
  • Forgo unnecessary empty calories from beverages. The calories in soda, juice, lemonade, and alcohol can add up fast.  Smarter choices to help you stay hydrated include water, naturally-flavored seltzer, and unsweetened iced tea.  If you do choose to indulge in a higher-calorie beverage of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic variety, aim to alternate each one of these drinks with a glass of water.

As you can see, it’s certainly possible to enjoy all your favorite cookout foods while stealthily upping their nutritional value.  It’s easier than you think to make small changes toward improving your health, so why not give one or two of these swaps a try this holiday weekend?

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Mango

While researching this week’s healthy ingredient, I was surprised to learn that mangos are the most widely-consumed fruit in the world.  Their sweet smell and taste make them just as appealing as their high nutritional value – mangos are an excellent source of Vitamins C and A and a good source of fiber, Vitamin E, several B vitamins, and potassium.  If the thought of cutting up a whole mango doesn’t appeal to you (even though it’s a fairly simple process), defrosted frozen mango chunks can easily be substituted for fresh in most recipes.

Veggie Mango Bean Wrap

2 green or red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
2 mangos, chopped
1 lime, juiced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 avocado, peeled and diced
4 (10-inch) whole wheat flour tortillas, warmed in microwave or on stovetop


  1. In a nonstick pan, sauté bell peppers and onion for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add beans, stir well. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 5 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine mangos, lime juice, cilantro, and avocado. Reserve half of mixture for topping.
  3. Fill warmed tortillas with ¼ bean mixture and ¼ mango mixture.
  4. Fold ends of the tortillas over. Roll up to make wraps. Top veggie bean wraps with remaining mango mixture.

Recipe adapted from the United States Department of Agriculture 


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