Monthly Archives: March, 2013

Sodium is Everywhere – But it Doesn’t Have to be a Major Part of Your Diet

We have all heard that we need to cut back on sodium; the Recommended Daily Intake for most Americans is less than 2,300 mg a day, but most of us consume upwards of 3,400 mg!  The RDI for sodium is roughly equivalent to one teaspoon of table salt, but most of our dietary sodium doesn’t come from table salt – it comes from processed and convenience foods.  Studies have shown that the majority of a typical American’s diet comes from processed foods, so it’s no surprise that sodium intakes are so high in this country.  Not only can consuming too much sodium cause visible signs like fluid retention and bloating, but it can lead to high blood pressure and the serious health consequences (like an increased risk of heart attack and stroke) that come along with it. 

It can seem difficult to control your sodium intake given the high sodium counts in foods we consume every day.  The most common sources of dietary sodium are:

  • breads and rolls
  • chicken and chicken dishes
  • pizza
  • egg dishes
  • pasta dishes

All of these foods can still be enjoyed in moderation, especially if you take steps to look for lower-sodium alternatives.  Read labels and look for lower-sodium varieties of your favorite products:

  • Sodium-free = less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
  • Very-low-sodium = 35 mg or less of sodium per serving
  • Low-sodium = 140 mg or less of sodium per serving
  • Reduced or less sodium = sodium at least 25% less per serving than the regular version of that food
  • Light or light in sodium = sodium at least 50% less per serving than the regular version of that food
  • No salt added = no salt is added during the processing in a food that usually had salt added

A good rule of thumb is that products containing less than 5% of the RDI for sodium are low-sodium and good choices, while those containing more than 25% of the RDI are high-sodium and poor choices. 

When preparing meals at home, try  lowering their sodium content by substituting spices for salt, limiting condiments and sauces (which tend to be very high in sodium), and rinsing canned veggies or beans before consuming (you’ll get rid of around half of the sodium this way).  Additionally, try to consume as many high-potassium foods as possible – potassium helps clear sodium from your body.  Good sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, mushrooms, oranges, bananas, and low-fat and fat-free milk and yogurt.


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Eggs

Eggs have, unfairly, gotten a negative reputation in recent years, due to their high cholesterol content.  It’s true that eggs are higher in cholesterol per serving than many other foods (although one egg has only seventy calories, it contains around 185 mg, or 60% of the recommended daily intake for cholesterol), but the good news is that most of the cholesterol found in our bodies is made by our liver; we only absorb a small amount from food.  In reality, eggs are nutritional powerhouses that don’t have to just be hardboiled and dyed this time of year – as long as they are consumed in moderation, eggs can be a part of any healthy diet, several times a week. 600px-Bg-easter-eggs Not only are eggs an extremely high-quality source of protein, but they are a good source of many B vitamins, as well as Vitamins A and D.  Most of an egg’s nutrients are found in the yolk, so a whole egg is going to have a higher nutritional content than just egg whites alone; the yolk also contains all of the egg’s cholesterol, however, so it’s probably best to stick to one whole egg at a time.  If you’re making an omelet or scrambled eggs, try using one whole egg and two egg whites to ensure you’re getting all of the egg’s nutritional value without too much cholesterol.

Although eggs are most commonly served at breakfast, they taste delicious any time of the day.  The following recipe, courtesy of the American Egg Board  is a perfect addition to both breakfast and dinner.

Italian Vegetable Custard

4 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups coarsely shredded yellow summer squash
1 cup coarsely shredded zucchini
1 can (2.25 oz.) sliced ripe olives, drained, DIVIDED
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
6 very thin tomato slices
1 small onion, thinly sliced, separated into rings
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (2 oz.)

1.  Heat oven to 450°F.
2.  Beat eggs and flour in medium bowl until smooth. Add yellow squash, zucchini, and 1/4 cup olives; mix well.
3.  Spread in greased 8-inch square baking pan.
4.  Bake in center of 450°F oven just until custard is set, about 10 minutes.
5.  Mix Parmesan cheese, basil and garlic salt; sprinkle over custard.
6.  Top evenly with tomato, remaining olives, onion, and Jack cheese.
7.  Bake until cheese is melted, about 4 minutes.  Serves 4.

Get Fit For Summer at the State Transportation Building

Summer will be here before we know it, which means that now is the time to start getting in shape for bathing suit season.  With our busy work and life schedules, it may seem difficult to make time to exercise, especially when the weather outside is anything but summer-like.  Fortunately, the Boston area has a wealth of indoor exercise options, many of them taking place during the lunch hour.  If you work in the State Transportation Building, you’re in luck – professional fitness trainers Bill Hoover and Steve Nobile hold a low-impact 45-minute power fitness class in your building every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12:10 pm. 

Bill and Steve’s class combines Body Pump, Pilates, and calisthenics to give you a total-body workout that will challenge you without leaving you too tired or sweaty to go back to work.  If you have never worked out before, or are just hoping to get back into the swing of things, now is as good of a time as any to start.  It takes a little work to become a regular exerciser, so here are some motivational tips from Bill to get you started:

•        Identify what motivates you to exercise.  If the camaraderie of a group helps get you on your feet, join an aerobic, dance, or karate class, or else find co-workers to walk or run with.  If you prefer the pleasure of being alone with your thoughts, try walking on a treadmill, cycling, or swimming laps in a local pool.

 •        Set definite, attainable fitness goals. A short-term goal like wanting to cycle 10 miles this week is more likely to motivate you than thinking, “I really should get more exercise this week.”  Keep in mind that unrealistic goals for exercise (such as excessive weight loss of more than 2 pounds a week) may leave you discouraged.  Instead, try to focus on how you feel.

 •        Look at exercise as a reprieve from your daily responsibilities, rather than an obligation.  If you think of working out as drudgery, you may grow to hate it – only to revert to your former sedentary lifestyle. Try getting your day off to a healthy start by walking, stretching, or doing calisthenics in the morning. This will help you avoid the excuses that mount during the day.

 •        Add variety.  Try swimming laps one day and riding a bike the next. When walking or running outdoors, change your course often. If you perform the same routine every day, you may become bored very quickly.

 •        Expect set-backs.  Despite your best efforts, there will be times when you’re too tired or too busy to fit in a workout. Feel guilty and just get back to your exercise routine as soon as you can.

 •        Pace yourself and do not over exert yourself.  Maintain a healthy level of activity 3-5 times a week for thirty or more minutes, but don’t push so hard that you hurt yourself. It’s much better to start out slowly and then gradually increase the duration and then the intensity of the exercise session.  

If you’re fully motivated to start working out, I encourage you to try an accessible exercise class such as this one.  Just like a building walking group, this class is a great opportunity to be active, lose weight, and make new friends in the process.  DOT employee Annmarie Conway agrees:

I have been a part of this group since 2007. The class is held three times a week for 40-45 minutes during the lunch hour (12:00 -1:00), which makes it very convenient. Classes consist of low- to-medium-impact exercises. This includes low-impact aerobics, floor work for the legs and abs, as well as Pilates and weight training. Mats and body bars are provided and participants bring their own weights. As for myself, I find this class is enough to maintain, not lose, weight; however, the instructors always give us the option to modify to our own level. It’s great that I’ve done a workout for the day and I don’t have to worry about hitting the gym when I get home.

The class is open to all building employees for a fee of $40/month (which is a bargain considering you don’t even have to step outside to meet your recommended 45-minutes-a-day of exercise).   Contact Bill at to reserve your spot today!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Strawberries

Like asparagus, strawberries are abundant this time of year.  Also like asparagus, they are a nutritional powerhouse, packing a lot of nutrients into a small, low-calorie package.  Strawberries are one of the best sources of antioxidants, which protect against cell damage and illness.  They contain high amounts of potent antioxidants called polyphenols and are also packed with vitamin C.  Additionally, strawberries are good sources of potassium (which can help lower blood pressure), manganese, and fiber.  The best strawberries are deep red, plump, firm, and free of bruises or white spots.  They are also available in your supermarket’s freezer section so they can be enjoyed all year round (make sure your bag of frozen strawberries contains just strawberries – some frozen varieties are sold pre-sweetened in a sugary syrup).

When I think of strawberries, I think of them as a fresh and healthy addition to dessert.  However, strawberries are just as tasty when featured in savory dishes, like the two below from Martha Stewart.

Arugula Salad with Strawberries

1/2 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and quartered
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 bunches arugula, washed, dried, and trimmed
1/2 cup toasted pecan halves

1.  In a large bowl, toss strawberries with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar; let sit 5 to 10 minutes.
2.  In a small bowl, whisk together remaining tablespoon balsamic vinegar with the olive oil and salt and pepper.
3.  To the strawberries, add vinaigrette, arugula, and toasted pecan halves. Toss to combine, and serve.

Strawberry Gazpacho

2 pounds strawberries, hulled and lightly crushed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 (5-ounce) English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1.  In a large bowl, mix together strawberries, onion, bell pepper, cucumber, garlic, tarragon, vinegar, and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, gently crush mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator. Let chill overnight.
2.  Transfer strawberry mixture to the jar of a blender; blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If mixture seems too thick, add a little water to thin out. Transfer to refrigerator to chill.  
3.  Serve cold.  Serves 6.

Take Advantage of the Freshest Seasonal Produce – Join a Farm Share!

By Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC

Want to know where your food comes from?  Head over to the Farm Share Fair in Cambridge on March 14 (The fair will be held at Cambridge College from 5:30 – 8:30 pm; for directions click here).  There you’ll meet Massachusetts farmers and find out how you can sign up for farm shares. 

Mindy Harris kindly let us reblog her explanation of the FARM SHARE program (otherwise known as a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture).  A Farm Share is a weekly distribution of products during the growing season. A Farm Share box is also referred to as a CSA box; which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Customers pay money up front at the beginning of the season, and then get a box of goods throughout the season. The box is delivered weekly to a convenient pickup location in your area. You can compare the programs yourself and decide which farm you’d like to buy from. Some farms offer veggies, some offer a combo of fruit and veggies, some offer flowers, meat, eggs, cheese, and other items. You can pick the program that is the best for you and your family.

Prices for farm shares vary depending on which season you sign up for.  Most farms prefer payment up front, but some offer installment plans.  If a box of food a week sounds like too much for your household, consider sharing the cost and the produce with other people near you.

Here are a few of the many Massachusetts CSA farms that bring fresh produce to greater Boston:

9 Central St., Suite 402, Lowell, MA 01852
Phone: (978) 654-6745

The World PEAS Coop includes farmers enrolled with the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project ( World PEAS farmers hail from Africa, Asia, North America, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean, using sustainable techniques to cultivate over 70 vegetables for a CSA that is as diverse as the farmers that produce it.
Product categories offered: Vegetables, Fruit
Pickup location(s): Andover, Bedford, Burlington, Cambridge, Dracut, Lexington, Lowell (multiple), Tufts Medford, East Boston, Tufts Chinatown, Winchester

Stillman’s Greenhouses & Farmstand
1415 Lancaster Avenue, Lunenburg, MA 01462
Phone: (978) 537-3342

Family farm, proud not only for conscientiously grown crops, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, but also our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs across the state. Take pride in selling only what we grow ourselves. Garden Roots Festival in May. Wander through our corn maze and pat this year’s sheep and pigs. You are sure to find Stillman’s a nice experience for the whole family.
Product categories offered: Vegetables, Fruit
Pickup location(s): Jamaica Plain, Southboro, Framingham, New Braintree, Lunenburg, Brookline, Quincy

ReVision Urban Farm
965 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA 02118
Phone: (617) 541-0222

Victory Program’s ReVision Urban Farm in Dorchester and the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm in Lincoln are partners in the ReVision Urban Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. This collaboration creates an urban-suburban agricultural link, increasing our farms’ capacity to distribute fresh, locally grown, organic produce to individuals living throughout the greater Boston area. We are committed to providing high quality, nutritious vegetables to all, regardless of one’s ability to pay.
Product categories offered: Vegetables, Fruit
Pickup location(s): Davis Square, Porter Square, Milton, Jamaica Plain

Weir River Farm
141 Turkey Hill Lane, Hingham, MA 02018
Phone: (781) 740-7233

Small diversified farm on the South Shore. Farm property of The Trustees of Reservations, offers self-guided hiking trails, visiting and volunteer opportunities, educational programs, vegetable CSA, and retail meat and egg sales.
Product categories offered: Vegetables
Pickup location: On Farm

Enterprise Farm
75 River Road, Deerfield, MA 01373
Phone: (413) 665-8608

Our year-round program provides a weekly share of veggies from our certified organic farm, plus organic fruits and veggies from partner farms in our neighborhood, and up and down the East Coast, all year long. Featuring year-round and seasonal options, two sizes to choose from, and flexible payment plans.
Product categories offered: Vegetables, Fruit
Pickup location(s): On Farm, Somerville, Jamaica Plain, Dedham, Arlington, Downtown Boston (Newton coming soon)

There are many more Massachusetts CSA farms in Massachusetts – check them out at – you’ll want to visit them all!  (If you go quick you might just catch the end of sugaring season at a farm where they boil sap to make maple syrup.) 


Challenge Yourself to Kick Your Habit

November is often the month during which smoking cessation is most heavily promoted – the Great American Smokeout, held annually on the third Thursday of that month, challenges smokers to use that day to quit, or at least set a quit date.  November has come and gone, and many smokers are still trying to quit.  There is nothing wrong with picking a random day to kick your habit, so why not choose a day in March?  If you choose to quit smoking, or other bad habits such as drinking too much, challenge yourself to take smalls steps toward doing so.  Small, realistic goals are easier to keep and stick with, so you’re less likely to feel defeated and give up your quest to quit if you choose something that’s easily achievable.  Try and complete at least one of these goals every day this month, and you may find that you’ve become a successful “quitter” before April 1:

  • I left my lighter or matches at home.
  • I drank a full, 8-ounce glass of water in between each cocktail.
  • I called a cab at the end of an event to get a safe ride home.
  • I had juice, soda, water, or coffee instead of alcohol at an event.
  • I wore or brought and used my NRT product today.
  • I chose to only consume the legal limit of alcohol and no more.
  • I made sure my cocktail was served on ice, had no more than 1 shot of liquor in it, and was mixed with a juice, water, or soda.
  • I only drank 1 or 2 low-alcohol beers (3.2% or less) instead of regular beer. 
  • I made sure to eat a full meal before I started drinking. 
  • I kept myself busy by talking or dancing to be less tempted to drink or use tobacco products.
  • I put my tobacco products in the trunk to make it more difficult to use them at an event or in my vehicle.
  • I appointed a designated driver who was responsible. 
  • I brought and chewed gum when tempted to use tobacco. 
  • I kept my hands busy by playing cards or eating a healthy snack instead of picking up a cocktail or cigarette.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Asparagus

Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time to take advantage of the many varieties of produce that come into season as the weather starts to get warmer.  Buying in-season fruits and vegetables is a smart choice for two reasons:  produce is generally less expensive when it’s in season and abundant, and it has a higher nutrient content when it’s in-season than when it’s out of season (so although you can eat many varieties of fresh produce, like this week’s healthy ingredient, asparagus, out of season, they will be slightly less nutritious than when they are at their seasonal peak). 

Whether fresh and at its peak or canned, frozen, or out-of-season, asparagus is packed with nutrients – but not with calories.  One serving, or five stalks, contains just 25 calories and is an excellent source of vitamins B6, C, and K (which help improve energy levels, immunity, and the blood clotting process, respectively).  Asparagus also has strong cancer-fighting properties; of all the foods tested by the National Cancer Institute, asparagus has been shown to have the highest concentration of glutathione, one of the body’s most powerful cancer fighters.  Asparagus can be a nutritious, filling, low-calorie addition to any meal or side dish.  According to the California Asparagus Commission, it can also be used as a substitute for other produce in sweet dishes like zucchini bread – save the green ends (the part you snap or cut off when using it in recipes such as the one below) and use them instead of zucchini in your favorite bread recipe.

Sweet and Spicy Szechuan Asparagus

This recipe, adapted from the California Asparagus Commission, makes for an extra filling side dish.  It combines the fiber and high water content of asparagus with strong and spicy Szechuan flavors to leave you feeling satisfied long after your meal is over.

2 lbs. fresh asparagus, ends discarded
1/4 cup soy sauce, low sodium
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

1.  Cut asparagus into 3 inch pieces on the diagonal.
2.  In a small bowl whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, chili flakes and pepper. Set aside.
3.  Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add 1/2 cup water and asparagus. Cover and cook until asparagus is still crisp to the bite, about 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and pour off any remaining water.
4.  Add oil, garlic and ginger to the pan with asparagus. Sauté until lightly browned.
5.  Add soy sauce mixture. Bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce coats the asparagus. Sprinkle in toasted sesame seeds.
6.  Transfer to a serving platter. Serve immediately.  Serves 6.

The Mediterranean Diet – Good for your Waistline, Good for your Heart

I’ve already mentioned that the Mediterranean Diet, based off of the eating and lifestyle habits of Greeks and Italians, is consistently ranked one of the best diets for weight loss.   A new study, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds new support for this way of eating by suggesting that it also protects against heart attacks and strokes.  The study tracked 7,500 Spanish participants ages 55-80 over the course of five years.  One-third of the study group ate a standard low-fat diet; one-third ate a Mediterranean-style diet with extra servings of nuts (mostly walnuts); and one-third ate a Mediterranean-style diet with extra servings of olive oil.  The groups eating the Mediterranean diets had a 30% lower risk of suffering major cardiovascular problems than the low-fat group, lending further evidence in support of the Mediterranean diet’s heart-healthy properties. 

While this study may be the strongest evidence to date of the effects of the Mediterranean diet on heart health, it is by no means 100% conclusive.  However, adopting some pillars of this diet would certainly be a good idea not only for people watching their weight, but for those who are concerned about their heart health.  The basics behind this way of eating include:

  • Limited intake of processed foods; eating mostly whole foods (those as close to their natural state as possible)
  • Plenty of heart-healthy fats (in the form of olive oil and nuts)
  • Lots of fruits and veggies
  • Fish at least twice a week
  • A limited amount of red meat and added sugar

The Mediterranean Diet is fairly easy to follow (the Boston-based food think tank Oldways has some great information on their website), and is one of the tastier healthy-eating options, in my opinion.  By focusing on eating smaller portions of unprocessed food, not only will your waistline thank you, but now your heart will as well.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Quinoa

Quinoa is a true superfood.  Most people consider it a grain, like rice or oatmeal, but in actuality it’s a protein – and a very high-quality one at that.  Not only is quinoa high in protein, but it is also high in fiber, so it has nutritional properties similar to many whole grains.  This makes it a smart choice for both vegetarians and vegans (since it’s one of the only two plant-based complete proteins – the other being soy – that contain all 9 essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own and must obtain from food sources) and those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity (since it is naturally gluten-free).  Quinoa is also a good source of iron, calcium, and phosphorus, making it a nutrient-packed part of a healthy, balanced diet.  Quinoa comes in many different colors and can be cooked in a variety of ways – its versatility allows it to substitute for grains like rice, couscous, and oats. 

A few months ago, my sister made me a delicious soup that spotlighted quinoa as its main ingredient, and I thought this recipe was too good not to share.

Quinoa Coconut Soupphoto

1 cup red quinoa
2 cans light coconut milk
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon Creole or jerk salt-free seasoning
1 can low-sodium beans (such as black, kidney, or black eyed peas)
salt, to taste
1-1 ½ cups frozen mixed vegetables (such as California mix with broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots)

1.  Cook quinoa according to directions on package.  If preferred, cook in vegetable broth for added flavor.
2.  In separate pot, simmer beans in coconut milk, allspice, seasoning, and salt until tender.
3.  Once quinoa is cooked, drain and add to pot with beans.
4.  Bring to a light boil then add frozen mixed vegetables.  Simmer until vegetables are tender but still full of color. Add more spices to taste as needed.  (Total cook time:  30-45 minutes.)
5.  Ladle in bowl and serve with a multigrain roll or small salad.