By Guest Blogger Becka Levin, GIC
This week we will have some fun eating spaghetti squash. Now just from the name, you may be thinking, how can a food be a vegetable and made from a grain at the same time? Well, the sneaky spaghetti squash is really not a grain at all – it’s actually a cousin of the winter squash but most often prepared so that it looks like spaghetti. Best of all, it even tastes like spaghetti, making it a great, healthy substitute in your favorite pasta dish.
Why is spaghetti squash so healthy anyway?
Just like regular squash (and last week’s healthy ingredient, avocado), spaghetti squash contains fiber. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer, can aid in regularity, and help prevent certain cancers, especially those of the intestinal tract. Spaghetti squash is chock full of the antioxidants vitamin A, which helps maintain healthy eyesight, and C, which aids the immune system. This delicious vegetable contains no saturated fat and has a very low calorie count when compared to regular spaghetti.
Luckily, spaghetti squash is incredibly easy to prepare. You can simply place your spaghetti squash on a baking tray, whole or cut in half (it will cook faster if cut in half, although it is not very easy to cut raw). Set your oven to 350⁰, and cook until you can easily put a fork into it. If your squash is already cut in half, wait for it cool down and use a fork to scrape out the insides, which you can serve however you would like.
Since the act of cooking a spaghetti squash does take some time, it may be easier to cook some when you have time and store it in your fridge so you can whip up a recipe on a busy weeknight.
(Feel free to make substitutions to your liking-these don’t have to be set in stone!)
Simple “Spaghetti” and Veggies
1 spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1½ cups chopped tomatoes
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons sliced black olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2. Place spaghetti squash cut sides down on the prepared baking sheet, and bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a sharp knife can be inserted with only a little resistance. Remove squash from oven, and set aside to cool enough to be easily handled.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion in oil until tender. Add garlic and continue sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, and cook only until tomatoes are warm.
4. Use a large spoon to scoop the stringy pulp from the squash, and place in a medium bowl. Toss with the sautéed vegetables, feta cheese, olives, and basil. Serve warm.
Italian Sausage and Peppers with “Spaghetti”
1 package sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups sliced fresh fennel
½ cup diced green onion
½ cup diced sweet red pepper
½ cup diced green pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
6 tablespoons cooking sherry, cognac, or apple juice – whatever is on hand
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups cooked spaghetti squash
1. In a large skillet, cook and crumble sausage until no longer pink; drain and set aside.
2. In the same skillet, saute the fennel, green onion, red and green peppers and garlic until tender. Add the tomatoes, sausage and 3 tablespoons sherry; cook and stir until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, stir in remaining sherry.
4. Serve hot over spaghetti squash.
Spaghetti Squash with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce
1 spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
½ stick of butter
1 shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ (14.5 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Place the squash halves cut-side down onto the prepared baking sheet.
3. Bake in the preheated oven until the squash skin is easily pierced with a fork, 40 to 45 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, shred squash flesh from rind using a fork; set aside in a large bowl.
5. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat; cook and stir the shallot and garlic in the hot butter until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the pumpkin puree, Greek yogurt, and Parmesan cheese with the shallot and garlic until well combined; cook until hot. Remove from heat and scrape the sauce into the bowl with the squash. Drizzle with the truffle oil; season with salt and pepper.
YOUR TURN TO GET CREATIVE!
What’s your favorite way to typically enjoy spaghetti? With marinara sauce and meatballs? With pesto and sautéed vegetables? In shrimp scampi? Try preparing your favorite pasta dish and simply substitute cooked spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti. It’s an easy way to “healthify” something you already like – your body and your taste buds will thank you.
With Halloween a week away, it’s easy to find yourself thinking about candy. Maybe you have to buy a few (or more) bags to give to your neighborhood’s trick-or-treaters. Or you’re wondering how much of it your children will be coming home with. The fact is, candy is everywhere this time of year, and for some people, the thought of it can be downright frightening. Candy is easy to overeat and can derail even the most steadfast dieters – with so many tempting options, it’s hard to stick to just one piece. Fortunately, I’m here to tell you that Halloween candy doesn’t have to be so scary. It’s easy to avoid overloading on fun size treats if you follow a few simple rules:
- Every diet should allow for 200 expendable, or “treat” calories each day. If Halloween candy is your treat of choice this time of year, make sure you limit yourself to 200 calories worth, and don’t indulge in any other treats (cookies, donuts) on the days you eat candy.
- Put extra candy in the fridge or freezer. You won’t be tempted by the smell of it out on the counter, and you’ll be less likely to impulsively reach for something that might break your teeth!
- Stick to “fun size” treats, with about 100 calories per serving. Sometimes a small burst of sugar is all it takes to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Choose candy with some sort of nutritional value. You’ll feel more satisfied eating something with a little bit of fiber or protein than just eating pure sugar (pixie sticks, licorice, Skittles, Starburst). Some of the “best” candy choices include:
Anyone who’s been to a nutrition Lunch ‘n Learn knows that Peanut M&Ms are one of the healthiest vending machine snacks. They’re a healthy Halloween candy choice for the same reasons – they keep you feeling full due to their fiber and protein content (thanks to the peanuts), and are overall lower in sugar and sodium than most other candies. M&Ms are a good choice for volume eaters – their small size means you can eat a lot of them in one serving (as opposed to just eating a single candy bar that’s gone in a few seconds). For an even healthier option, look for the dark chocolate variety.
A Snickers bar has similar properties to Peanut M&Ms – it’s full of peanuts, which contain fiber and protein to keep you feeling full throughout the day. Snickers are slightly higher in sugar, due to the caramel they contain, but are an overall more satisfying choice than candy bars that don’t contain hunger-satisfying peanuts.
York Peppermint Patties are a good choice for several reasons. They are made from dark chocolate, which contains antioxidants that help with aging and immunity and is lower in sugar and higher in fiber than milk chocolate. And they contain a mint filling – mint is a strong flavor, and research has shown that strong flavors can help you feel full in small quantities. So you may need onlyone Peppermint Pattie – not the whole bag – to feel satisfied.
Hershey’s Special Dark Bar
Dark chocolate, as mentioned above, is high in fiber and antioxidants, and fairly low in sugar, as far as chocolate is concerned. A dark chocolate Hershey bar will keep your blood sugar more stable than its milk chocolate counterparts, and it will provide you with some of the nutrients needed for positive aging and immunity.
I hope that your Halloween is filled with more treats than tricks, and that you can enjoy the candy that comes along with the season – in moderation, of course!
By Guest Blogger Becka Levin, GIC
Every Monday for the next few weeks, we’ll spotlight a different healthy ingredient. We’ll include information on its health value and share some unique ways for cooking with it.
This week we will highlight avocado. While the bright green color may discourage some picky eaters (I know I was too scared to try avocados until college), your taste buds and body will appreciate the addition of this nutritious and delicious food.
Why are avocados healthy anyways?
Avocados are considered “superfoods” by some: they contain over 20 essential nutrients to help our bodies function. As an incredibly nutrient-dense food, avocados pack a large number of nutrients for a relatively small amount of calories. They contain fiber, which helps you feel full, and 13 vitamins that your body needs to function. Avocados are full of healthy unsaturated fats that can lower blood cholesterol levels, which helps decrease your risk of heart disease. The creamy taste of avocados can make you think you are getting away with something!
Avocados are grown mostly in Mexico and California (where the popular Hass avocados are from). They are ripe when soft.
Serve with whole grain tortilla chips for a little extra fiber.
½ cup finely chopped white onion
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
½ tsp. salt, or to taste
2 ripe Avocados, halved
½ cup coarsely chopped tomato
1. Combine half the onion, and half the cilantro in a bowl.
2. Add salt, then grind into a smooth paste. Transfer to a serving bowl.
3. Make crosshatch incisions in avocado pulp with a knife.
4. Scoop pulp out with a spoon; combine with onion mixture. Mix well.
5. Stir in remaining onion (and cilantro if used); gently mix in tomatoes.
6. Adjust seasoning with salt and serve immediately.
Artichoke, Avocado, and Chicken Salad
This easy salad recipe is comprised of only four ingredients! It also falls into the Mediterranean Diet, a “diet” that copies the eating and food preparation methods of the Italians and the Greeks. This diet is consistently ranked in the top 5 for Best Diets by US News and World Reports.
1 (14-oz.) can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
10 oz. cooked chicken, shredded
1 (10-oz.) bag chopped romaine lettuce
2 ripe Avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped
Dressing of choice (consider using olive oil and lemon or a light version of your favorite)
1. Gently toss a small amount of the dressing with each of the artichoke hearts, olives, chicken. Reserve remaining dressing.
2. Place lettuce in a large flat serving bowl. Toss with half of the dressing.
3. Top lettuce with the artichoke hearts, olives, chicken and avocados.
4. Serve immediately and pass remaining dressing on the side.
Easy Turkey Sandwich
Try this variation of a turkey sandwich for lunch, or add slices of avocado to your favorite sandwich.
2 slices whole wheat bread
2 lettuce leaves
1 tomato, sliced
1 avocado, sliced
3 slices sliced turkey breast
1. Toast bread (optional, but definitely adds to flavor and texture).
2. On one slice, layer lettuce leaves, sliced tomato, and sliced turkey.
3. On the other slice, place your sliced avocado or spread into a paste.
4. Place the slice with avocado on top of the turkey.
California Avocado Scramble
Start your day with a filling, healthy breakfast!
Handful spinach leaves
2 tomato slices – diced
1 oz. red onion – diced
⅓ avocado, diced
1 oz. Bell pepper mix
1 oz. shredded jack cheese
1. Sauté vegetables (except avocado) in frying pan, with a drizzle of olive oil.
2. Whisk eggs and pour on top of vegetables, then scramble eggs with vegetables.
3. Cook until done, sprinkle with cheese and top with avocado.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with an extra healthy kick from avocado.
1 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
¼ cup low fat milk
1 ripe avocado, peeled and halved
1 ⅓ cups frozen strawberries
1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Put yogurt, milk, avocado, and strawberries into blender.
2. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
3. Pour into tall serving glass.
Information and recipe ideas from avocado.org
November 15 marks the 37th anniversary of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. Smokers are encouraged to use this day to make an action plan to quit smoking, or to plan ahead and actually quit smoking on November 15. Quitting smoking is no easy feat, so it helps to do some research on the best quitting method for you and to have a support system in place to make the transition to becoming a non-smoker much easier. The Massachusetts Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program within the Department of Public Health has a wealth of resources on smoking cessation, and all GIC health plans have benefits related to smoking cessation methods and programs.
If you’ve decided to use the Great American Smokeout as the impetus to quit, your body will certainly thank you, as the health benefits of quitting smoking are many. Some benefits are immediate, and others occur after you’ve been a non-smoker for awhile, but all of them are reasons worth considering quitting tobacco for good:
- After 12 hours: The carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal
- After 24 hours: Your chance of having a heart attack decreases
- After 2-3 months: Your circulation improves and lung function increases
- After 1 to 9 months: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease
- After 1 year: Your excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s
- After 10 years: You risk of lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s
- After 15 years: Your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker’s
If you are thinking about giving up smoking, I encourage you to join the ranks of smokers across the nation who plan on doing so on November 15.
Post by Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC
After looking at my food budget the other day it was obvious I’ve been spending way too much on takeout. Time for some home cooking. Sigh. Grocery shopping is a chore, probably because stocking the fridge and pantry involves making a shopping list, which means having a menu. My repertoire of healthy recipes that actually taste good is limited. And I don’t like complicated recipes that call for a lot of ingredients. Luckily a friend shared his recipe for sofrito, a simple, tasty combination that can be the base for different dishes.
To make Hector’s sofrito you need olive oil, onions or garlic, fresh tomatoes, and a pinch of salt or Mrs. Dash seasoning. Sautee the onions or garlic in olive oil, add chopped tomatoes, and cook for 15-20 minutes until it’s a thick, spreadable sauce.
Toss sofrito with whole grain pasta and freshly grated cheese for a quick and easy dinner. Stir it into broth with carrots, potatoes, cooked chicken, and your favorite herbs to make soup you can take to work for lunch. Tastes even better the next day. Mornings, spread sofrito on toast with a fried egg on top – breakfast pizza!
Tomatoes get their color from lycopene, an antioxidant that can help prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. And unlike other nutrients, lycopene is actually intensified by cooking.
Tomatoes are the taste of summer when you get them fresh from the grower. I don’t bother with pale, no-flavor tomatoes that were wrapped in plastic for a long trip to market – even if they are cheap, tasteless tomatoes are no bargain. Plenty of markets now carry locally grown tomatoes and it’s worth tracking down who carries the best tomatoes. You can find local tomatoes for a price at a Whole Foods market, priced a little lower at a Johnny’s Foodmaster or a farmers market (most are open through October or November), or for really low prices try braving the crowds at the Haymarket or a Market Basket. In some neighborhoods there are small groceries that carry fresh vegetables – have you ever been to Rosebud Farms in Malden, Salumeria Italiana in the North End, Going Bananas in the South End, or Snap Top Market in Back Bay?
Much as I love sofrito, tomato season is almost at an end, and I’m looking for some tasty and simple recipes for fall vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts, beets, and potatoes. Any suggestions? All you cooks across Massachusetts, we’d love to hear from you and share recipes or favorite produce resources.
Last week, I was challenged by Wellness Champion Eileen Weber of the DMH Northeast-Suburban Area office in Westborough to add some slides about healthy choices at area fast food restaurants to my nutrition Lunch ‘n Learn seminar. I learned a lot doing research for these slides, and thought the information would be useful to share here. In general, you want to watch portion sizes and avoid fried foods, but it helps to know what your best bets are when dining out. Below are some tips for a few popular lunchtime choices. If you’d like me to research and write about your favorite eating establishment, send me an email.
If you like Chipotle:
If you like McDonalds:
•Hold the cheese to save 50 calories
Are you looking for a way to fit exercise into your day without taking time away from your busy schedule? If so, you may want to try following the lead of a group of intrepid employees at the Attorney General’s Office by biking to work.
Every day, over half a dozen AGO employees get to their offices in Boston’s Saltonstall Building by biking. Their commutes range from 2-11 miles, and all agree that biking is their preferred method of transportation for several reasons: it’s cost-effective (no need to pay for parking or public transportation), often faster than driving or taking the T, a great way to de-stress before and after work, and most importantly, it kills two birds with one stone by fitting exercise into a necessary part of their day – getting to work. Many of the riders are working parents who find it hard to fit physical activity into their already busy schedules, so biking to work is the most efficient way to get a workout in. The bikers can also feel free to work up as much of a sweat as they want during their commute, as the Saltonstall Building is a green building with men’s and women’s locker rooms complete with showers. The building also has an indoor bike room, so riders can store their bikes in a safe, warm place.
When asked how their biking group got started, all riders immediately pointed to Assistant Attorney General Tom O’Brien. Tom has been an avid biker for years, and encouraged his coworkers to join him in biking to work each day. Almost every division of the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau has staff members who commute to work by bike – one of whom was actually scheduled to give birth yesterday, and is still actively biking! Several riders have challenged each other to see if they can keep biking to work throughout the winter, proving that exercise knows no season.
As the employees of the Attorney General’s Office prove, biking to work can be an easy way to fit exercise into your busy day. I encourage you to choose biking or another alternative way (like walking) to commute to work, at least one day a week. Who knows – you may enjoy it so much that you’ll make it part of your daily routine!
At almost every lunch ‘n learn on nutrition and weight loss, I have received the same, very good question: Should I take a multivitamin? My standard answer? Yes. Multivitamins have received a bad reputation in several recent studies, which link them to an increased risk of death. The fact is that for almost every study that comes up with a certain result, there is going to be another study that gives the exact opposite result. Overall, there are more studies that support the use of a daily multivitamin than recommend against doing so.
The truth is, no matter how hard you try, it’s virtually impossible to receive all of the nutrients you need each day, while still staying under the amount of calories you need to maintain or lose weight. I like to think of a multivitamin as an insurance policy to cover any nutrients you may not be getting the full recommended daily allowance (RDA) of on a given day. Multivitamins should not be used as an excuse to eat unhealthfully; rather, they should be a supplement to a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables. Remember, your body is going to absorb nutrients best in their natural form – i.e. when they are contained in real foods – so it is very important to eat a nutritious diet.
Some people worry that they may be going well over the RDA for certain vitamins and minerals if they combine a healthy diet with a multivitamin, but there are two main reasons why this usually does not occur: for most vitamins and minerals, your body can only absorb so much at a given time – any extra gets excreted out; and, even though a food or supplement may claim to contain a certain percentage of the RDA for a nutrient, your body will probably not absorb 100% of the nutrient, which means it’s important to obtain nutrients from a variety of different sources all throughout the day.
So what should you look for when it comes to choosing a multivitamin? If you are in overall good health, my recommendation is to choose a vitamin that contains close to 100% of the RDA for most nutrients, and never (with the exception of vitamin D) any more than 100%. Generally, the one-a-day varieties are pretty spot-on when it comes to nutrient content, so those are always a good bet. Women should also look for vitamins with added calcium and vitamin D, and women of childbearing age should make sure their multivitamin contains folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects in unborn children. I normally don’t recommend adult gummy vitamins, as they often contain either too high or too low percentages of most nutrients, and they may not be absorbed as well as vitamins you swallow. Finally, if you are concerned about taking a multivitamin or have specific questions about what nutrients you need, talk with your doctor or pharmacist – vitamins can only be beneficial if they’re used properly and you’re taking one that contains the right nutrients for you.
Yesterday, I, along with over twenty WellMASS Wellness Champions, had the opportunity to participate in another round of tours of the Ashburton Cafe. As usual, the cafe’s nutritionist, Carole Grandon Harris, provided an abundance of useful and eye-opening information, and I believe every participant – myself included – left the tour thinking about food and our eating habits in a slightly different way. During one of the tours, Carole mentioned an initiative with which I was not familiar – but wanted to learn more about – called Food Day. This “holiday,” which occurs every year on October 24, was created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to strengthen the food community and our nation’s food policies by encouraging more people to start thinking about the health value and sustainability of the foods they eat. One of the priorities of Food Day is to promote safe, healthier diets, and this year, the Department of Public Health is encouraging people and communities throughout Massachusetts to participate in this day in celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.
DPH has put out a flyer to encourage Mass in Motion communities to participate in this day, and some of the suggestions the flyer provides can be replicated at your agency/worksite or in your everyday life. They include:
- Work with a local store or restaurant to provide healthy cooking demonstrations or food tastings – Arranging for a chef or vendor to come into your worksite may not be an easy task, but it’s certainly possible to eat lunch at a local restaurant that serves fresh, healthy food.
- Spotlight local farmers’ markets and the fresh, local, healthy goods they sell – Find a nearby farmers’ market and buy your weekly produce there, instead of at the supermarket.
- Combine resources with other nearby entities that also promote healthy eating – Find a few coworkers who also share your passion for healthy eating, and arrange a healthy potluck lunch.
Whether or not you choose one of the above suggestions to celebrate Food Day, I hope the day at least gets you thinking about eating healthfully – on October 24, and for many days after!
Fall is here, and it’s a great time of year to get outside and experience all of the natural resources Massachusetts has to offer. I am looking forward to taking advantage of the Fall weather by going on hikes, and I was surprised to see that there are plenty of state-run hiking trails – over 80 in all! – located throughout Massachusetts. No matter what part of the state you are in, you’re sure to never be far from a trail, so there is no excuse not to hop in your car and drive to the nearest trail to hike for a few hours. Hiking, like walking, is something that almost anyone can participate in and experience health benefits from. The Department of Conservation and Recreation has designated almost 20 trails as being “accessible” (either paved or made from stonedust and roughly 1/4 – 3/4 miles in length) or “assessed” (actual dirt trails that offer a more ‘rugged’ experience for adventure-seekers), so that even people with mobility limitations can still fully experience the trails.
I encourage you to check out the DCR’s hiking webpages and pick a trail that suits your activity level; according to Pacific Standard magazine and the American Hiking Association, your body will thank you, as the health benefits of hiking are many:
- Both uphill and downhill hiking have been shown to decrease LDL (or “bad cholesterol” ) levels, while uphill hiking also decreases triglyceride levels
- Downhill hiking has also been shown to improve glucose tolerance and reduce blood sugar levels
- Hiking has been shown to decrease feelings of depression, while walking around a mall may actually increase depressed feelings!
- Hiking burns about 100 calories a mile, so if you were to hike at a 3-mile-per-hour pace, you’d burn 300 calories in an hour
For those of you tracking your steps as part of the Step It Up! walking campaign, hiking can be a fun and challenging way to add more steps to your day and experience nature at its best. I hope you will join me in taking advantage of the perfect Fall weather to take a hike!