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!
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
Leafy green vegetables (lettuce, spinach)
Store These Fruits and Veggies on the Counter
Apples that you will consume within 7 day
Store These Fruits and Veggies in a Cool, Dry Place
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!
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
- Cut cucumber into 1-inch pieces.
- In a bowl, combine cucumber and honeydew pieces, yogurt, mint leaves, and lime juice.
- 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.
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.
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
- 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.
- Add the greens and stock. Cover and cook until the greens are wilted and just tender but still a little firm, about 5 minutes.
- 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
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?
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
- 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.
- In a small bowl, combine mangos, lime juice, cilantro, and avocado. Reserve half of mixture for topping.
- Fill warmed tortillas with ¼ bean mixture and ¼ mango mixture.
- 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
Summer brings with it lots of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, and the benefits that come along with doing so. Being active outside can do wonders for your mental and physical health, and sunlight is a crucial component in helping your body produce Vitamin D. However, continuous sun exposure in the absence of sunscreen can put you at risk for developing skin cancer, especially melanoma, the deadliest form. While I’ve already discussed ways to protect your skin from the sun, it’s also important to note that skin cancer can still occur even after taking all the recommended precautions (although protecting yourself – early and often – greatly reduces your risk). For this reason, dermatologists recommend doing a monthly skin self-exam to check for new or suspicious moles which could be precursors to melanoma. It’s also a good idea to have your skin checked out by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist once a year. In the meantime, take a close look at the moles on your body and be on the lookout for any of the following characteristics:
Asymmetry: one half does not match the other.
Border: edges are irregular or blurred.
Color: variable in shades or colors.
Diameter: larger than a pencil eraser.
Evolving: has changed over time.
Funny-Looking: different than any other moles on your body.
The good news about skin cancer is that it’s highly curable if caught early enough, so if you notice any of the above signs of atypical moles, which have a greater chance of being, or turning into, melanoma, you should call your doctor immediately to rule out any abnormalities.
Bulgur, a variety of wheat known for its short cooking time, is an excellent source of fiber and a good source of protein, iron, and magnesium. Although it’s not gluten-free, it is often considered a good gateway for those who dislike or are new to consuming whole grains, due to its mild taste and versatility. Bulgur is probably best-known for its inclusion in the Middle Eastern salad tabbouleh, but its uses extend to many other types of cuisines.
Cinnamon Banana Crunch Bowl
¼ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
Dash of cinnamon
½ cup cooked bulgur
1 tablespoon chopped toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
⅓ cup fresh banana slices
Additional cinnamon, to taste (optional)
- Combine yogurt, honey, and a dash of cinnamon in a small bowl.
- Toss bulgur with walnuts and brown sugar. Top with banana slices.
- Dollop yogurt mixture over bulgur mixture. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon, if desired.
Recipe from Cooking Light, January 2013
½ cup fine bulgur
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup boiling-hot water
2 cups finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (from 3 bunches)\
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
2 medium tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch pieces
½ seedless cucumber, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Stir together bulgur and 1 tablespoon oil in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over, then cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. Drain in a sieve, pressing on bulgur to remove any excess liquid.
- Transfer bulgur to a bowl and toss with remaining ingredients, including 2 tablespoons oil, until combined well. Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
Recipe from Gourmet, June 2002
Loyal readers of this blog know that the WellMASS Health Questionnaire, which is available to GIC-insured employees of the Executive and Legislative branches and Constitutional Offices, is a great resource that helps participants take charge of their health. The Questionnaire is free, 100% confidential, takes around 10 minutes to fill out, and can be accessed any time on the WellMASS portal at https://wellmass.staywell.com – up until June 30. The Questionnaire will close at the end of this month, so if you have not taken yours this program year (which began on September 15, 2014), you only have a few more days to do so.
Taking the Health Questionnaire will provide you with a great snapshot of your current health status and, if you’ve taken it in the past, a comparison of how your health has improved from year-to-year. Your HQ results may also qualify you for free telephonic health coaching, which connects you with a health coach who can provide you with personalized, one-on-one guidance and recommendations to get you on the road to practicing healthy behaviors. Additionally, anyone who takes the HQ before it closes on June 30 will receive a deluxe WellMASS gym bag.
If you haven’t gotten around to taking your HQ yet this year, there’s no better time than now to do so. And while you’re at it, feel free to take advantage of the other great tools and resources available on the WellMASS portal. All it takes is a few minutes to become more aware and proactive about your health.