Monthly Archives: July, 2013

Be Sun Smart This Summer – and Beyond

Summer may be halfway over, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to take steps to protect yourself from the sun.  The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be dangerous all year long, not just to your skin, but to your entire body.  There are two types of UV rays, both of which can have negative effects on your health.  UVA rays cause skin tanning and aging, while UVB rays cause sunburns and skin cancer.  Therefore, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that protects against both types of rays; such products are usually labeled “broad-spectrum.”

When choosing a sunscreen, aim for an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher, and be sure to apply it at least 30 minutes before heading outside.  Reapply it every 2 hours, or sooner if you get wet or are sweating a lot; just because a sunscreen is “waterproof,” that doesn’t mean that a single application of it will last all day.  You can also minimize your skin’s exposure to the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and ears, and avoiding direct sunlight between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Your skin is not the only part of your body at risk for sun damage, so take steps to protect other sensitive areas like your lips and eyes.  Wear a lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher, and follow the same rules for applying sunscreen.  Make sure your sunglasses are not just providing a cosmetic benefit; choose ones that feature an ANSI label that will let you know how much sun protection they’re providing.  ANSI, or the American National Standards Institute, divides sunglasses into three categories:

  • Cosmetic: Lightly tinted lenses, good for daily wear. Blocks 70% of UVB rays, 20% of UVA, and 60% of visible light.
  • General purpose: Medium to dark lenses, fine for most outdoor recreation. Blocks 95% of UVB, 60% of UVA, and 60% to 90% of visible light. Most sunglasses fall into this category.
  • Special purpose: Extremely dark lenses with UV blockers, recommended for places with very bright conditions such as beaches and ski slopes. Blocks 99% of UVB, 60% of UVA, and 97% of visible light.

If you’re outside most of the day, during the summer or any time of the year, make sure you’re wearing Special Purpose glasses and applying sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher.  By taking these simple steps, and performing monthly skin checks to look for new or changing moles, you’ll be reducing your risk of melanoma and leaving your skin looking healthier for years to come.


The Group Insurance Commission Celebrates Summer with a Healthy Cookoff

Instead of one Healthy Ingredient of the Week, today I am spotlighting a multitude of healthy recipes, courtesy of some very talented GIC employees.  Below is a summary of the GIC’s recent Healthy Potluck Cook-off, courtesy of one of the participants:

Ingredients for an indoor picnic:  start with good food, add good company, blend, enjoy.  The GIC held a cook-off challenge on July 18th based on the theme of healthy summer food.  Dishes were judged on presentation, nutritional value, creativity, and taste. 

We’re pretty sure a couple of people pulled their punches on the healthy theme while others pulled out all the stops to go healthy.  The dishes covered the full range of savory to sweet and the array of salads, entrées, and desserts made a perfect picnic. There was even homemade ice cream and sorbet! 

The food

The food

The full menu:

Garden tomatoes with mozzarella & balsamic dressing
Pasta salad with eggs, celery, & olives
California Roll salad with brown rice, seafood, avocado, cucumber, rice wine vinegar & soy dressing
Balsamic chicken with red & yellow peppers
Slow carb black bean brownies
Lemon squares
Honey dipped figs with goat cheese
Mango ice cream & basil sorbet

Hungry yet?   Click here to see the recipes! 

Hungry participants

Hungry participants

 Many thanks to the cooks who shared favorite recipes and experimented boldly with new ones:  Melodie Pharms, Roberta Ricci, Judy Settana, Yvette Fernandes, Karin Eddy, Dana Bushell, Liz Layton, and Kathy Glynn.  Thanks also to cook-off judges Leslie English, Leslie Seifried, Carole Harris, and Ashley Rasmussen, who tried each dish and voted for the honey dipped figs and cheese. 

The judges (l-r):  Leslie Seifried, Ashley Rasmussen, Carole Harris, Leslie English

The judges (clockwise from top left: Leslie Seifried, Ashley Rasmussen, Carole Harris, Leslie English

We invite you to try a cook-off in your agency or department – it’s a tasty way to enjoy your lunch break.

Skills for a Savvy City Cyclist

By Guest Blogger Catharine Hornby, GIC

Are you seeking the skills to be a savvy city cyclist this summer?  Read on!  The warm days and long evenings make summer the perfect opportunity to be active outdoors.  Many State employees bike to work or on recreational trips or to run errands around their neighborhood.  Biking in cities and town centers is more fun and less stressful if you learn a few urban biking skills.

Here’s a quiz:  Typically, trucks are: A. Tiny.  B. Large.  C. Small.  Answer?  Yes, you there with your hand up?  That’s right, B!  Trucks are impressively large.  Toddlers watching construction sites and long-time cyclists pay particular attention to trucks, but some inexperienced cyclists do not give enough thought to the nature and habits of trucks. 

Here are some facts to consider when developing your strategy for sharing the road with large vehicles: Trucks, especially semis, make wide right turns, meaning they pull slightly left before turning right, and when they do turn right, the body of the truck swings sideways.  Trucks also have blind spots to the right of the trailer where the driver cannot see other vehicles.  These blind spots overlap with the area where the trailer swings sideways as the truck turns right. 

Next quiz:  So what is a master cyclist to do when sharing space with a truck at an intersection?  A. Panic!  B.  Pull up to the right of a truck stopped at an intersection, but stay out of the driver’s sightline, then leap crazily onto the sidewalk if the truck starts to move.  C. Stay fully clear of a truck at an intersection, meaning stay entirely behind the truck, or pull far enough ahead of the truck that the driver can see you.

What’s the answer?  That’s right, C, Stay clear.  You say the truck was not signaling to turn…?  Not good enough.  Trucks, like all drivers, sometimes fail to signal. 

For those of you who chose “A, Panic!,” here’s an extra credit question.  In what state was the nation’s first 100-mile bike race staged, in 1882?  That’s right, Massachusetts!  Learn more at Mass Moments.

Finally, here are some bonus strategies:

  1. Stay clear of the “door zone” of parked cars – too many drivers do not look before they open their car doors. 
  2. Stop at red lights.  Running red lights is illegal and causes ill will among drivers.
  3. Drivers’ failure to yield while turning is a major cause of crashes involving bicycles.  When on your bicycle, pay attention to your surroundings.  And when you are driving?  Pay attention to bicycles around you.
  4. If you are not in the mood for dealing with motor vehicle traffic, Massachusetts has lots of off-road options, including the Paul Dudley White Charles River Bikepath along both sides of the Charles River from the Museum of Science in Boston to Watertown Square and beyond, and the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway from Alewife T Station to Bedford.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Watermelon

Summer and watermelon go hand in hand, and it’s no coincidence that watermelon is ubiquitous at cookouts and other celebrations this time of year.  Watermelon is at its peak in the summer; remember that produce has a higher nutritional value when it’s in season.  This means that summer watermelon are an especially good source of Vitamins B6, A, and C, and the antioxidant lycopene.  Watermelon is also the perfect summer food due to its high water content – one cup of watermelon has a 92% water content, making it the perfect food to stave off dehydration.  Watermelon, like many other Healthy Ingredients, can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.  Here, it’s used as a substitute to its distant food cousin, the tomato.

Grilled Chicken, Boursin, and Watermelon Sandwich

1 9- or 10-inch round herbed focaccia
5 oz. Boursin cheese
3 grilled skinless boneless chicken breast halves, sliced
4 thin slices seedless watermelon
¼ cup sesame seeds
3 oz. baby arugula

1.  Split the focaccia through the center as for a sandwich and spread the Boursin over the cut sides of the bread.
2.  Arrange the chicken over the Boursin on the bottom piece of bread.
3.  Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the watermelon and grill it quickly over hot coals just to warm.
4.  Arrange in an even layer over the chicken and top the watermelon with the arrugula.
5.  Place the top of the bread, Boursin side down, over the arrugula. Cut sandwich into halves or quarters.

Recipe from the National Watermelon Promotion Board

Support for Veterans and Military Families

State employees are fortunate to have a variety of wellness-related services available to them through the Group Insurance Commission and its providers, including discounts and resources on weight management, stress management, and smoking cessation programs, as well as a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program.  However, sometimes employees may feel they need additional assistance outside of these offerings, but don’t know where to turn.  This feeling can be especially common in veterans and their families, but quality, affordable help is available through a first-of-its-kind program called Home Base.

Founded in 2009 by the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital, Home Base provides clinical care for active service members and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) at its Boston outpatient clinic.  Home Base also believes that care does not have to stop at service members and veterans; family members can be just as affected by the “invisible wounds” of war, and they need support, too.   For this reason, Home Base offers counseling and stress management resources for military spouses, parents, grandparents, siblings, children, and significant others.  The program was brought to my attention by Faye Mong, an employee at the Division of Professional Licensure who has benefitted from Home Base’s family counseling services.  Faye now volunteers with the organization, and couldn’t be prouder to be associated with it:

“As a recipient of the guidance that Home Base provided, I found them to be the most knowledgeable and family/spouse-oriented military aid available. Everyone that helped me was an expert in their niche, whether it be neurological education, psychotherapeutic experience, or just logistical support. I never felt alone, and it was the first time I felt supported as a spouse of an enlisted member. 

As a volunteer, I can vouch for their expertise. The members that collaborate to aid each military member or family member come from an incredibly wide range of education and military experience; Home Base receives civilian participation as much as military support. Those that call in can speak to a military or retired military member directly. It’s the boots-on-the-ground approach to supporting the military after they get home. I’m proud to help.”

If you are a veteran or a member of a military family and would like additional assistance in dealing with the challenges of your situation, please visit the Home Base website, and their new online tool for promoting emotional health in children of military families, Staying Strong.  Appointments can also be made by calling 617-724-5202.  Thanks to Home Base, veterans and military families do not have to be alone in their journey toward recovery.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Peaches

Peaches are a summer staple, and a very healthy one at that.  Peaches are a good source of Vitamins A and C and potassium.  They are also low in calories, high in fiber,  and have a lower sugar content and glycemic index than many other fruits – this means that a fresh peach will keep you feeling full and satisfied for a long time, while keeping your blood sugar stable and your calorie count low.  These properties make peaches well-suited for both sweet and savory dishes; one of each is featured below.

Healthy Peach Cobbler

6 medium peaches, sliced                                
 ⅓ cup, plus 1 tablespoon, sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch                                  
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon                    
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder                     
½  teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons  butter, slightly softened
½  cup Skim milk

1.  Preheat oven to 375°F.
2.  In a large saucepan, combine peaches, ⅓ cup of the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and cinnamon; toss to coat peaches.
3.  Set pan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
4.  Cook until mixture thickens, about 1 minute.
5.  Remove from heat and transfer mixture to an 8-inch square baking pan.
6.  To make the topping:  in a large bowl, combine flour, remaining tablespoon of sugar, baking powder and salt.
7.  Work in butter with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
8.  Add milk and stir until flour mixture is evenly moistened.
9.  Drop 8 tablespoons of topping mixture onto peach mixture.
10.  Bake until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Meals Matter

Savory Peach Chicken

1 tablespoon canola oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, about 1 1/4 pounds
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 large firm-ripe peaches, cut into 1/4-inch slices, or 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen peaches, (about 4 1/2 cups)\
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

1.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper, add to the skillet and cook until browned, about 2 minutes per side. When the chicken is browned, transfer to a plate and set aside.
2.  Meanwhile combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar and orange juice in a small bowl and set aside.
3.  Add the ginger and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
4.  Add the chicken broth, the soy sauce mixture, and the peaches to the pan. Turn the heat up to high and cook, uncovered, for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce is nicely thickened and the peaches soften.
5.  Add the chicken back to the pan with the sauce, turn the heat down to moderate-low, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
6.  In the meantime, toast the almonds in a dry skillet over a medium-high heat stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
6.  Serve the chicken topped with the sauce and sprinkled with the toasted almonds.  Serves 4.

Recipe from Ellie Krieger

Exercising Safely in the Summer Heat

In order to reap the most benefits from physical activity, you should exercise frequently and year-round.   Neither winter snow nor summer heat should be deterrents to getting your recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.  When the mercury rises during summer heat waves, it’s usually safer to bring your workout indoors to minimize the risk of dangers like heat stroke and sunburn.  However, an outdoor workout can be just as safe and effective if you follow some simple rules for beating the heat:

  • Always wear sunscreen – and lipbalm – with an SPF of 15 or higher, even if it doesn’t look too sunny out (many sunburns occur on hazy days).
  • Avoid outdoor activity between the hours of 10:00 am and 6:00 pm.  The sun’s rays are strongest, and the temperatures are highest, during these hours.  Try and schedule outdoor runs and other activities for the early morning or evening.
  • Increase outdoor activities gradually.  Don’t jump right into training for a marathon on the hottest day of the year.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.  Although cotton is best for everyday activities, special wicking fabrics like polypropylene, COOLMAX®, and SUPPLEX® help draw moisture away from the skin during exercise.
  • Hydrate constantly.  Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, especially those with a high water content (zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, watermelon, apples, grapes).  Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, and make sure to drink at least 96 ounces of water on days when the temperature is greater than 90°.

Hydration is probably the most crucial aspect of safe summer exercise.  However, hydration is most effective when it’s done correctly.  You should abide by the following hydration schedule when exercising, especially in the summer heat:

  • 32 oz. of water 1-2 hours before exercise
  • 24 oz. of water 10-15 minutes before exercise
  • 4 oz. of water every 20 minutes during exercise

For activity that lasts less than an hour, plain old water is sufficient.  For any strenuous activity that lasts more than an hour, drinks containing electrolytes, such as sports drinks or coconut water, are best in order to ensure a proper fluid balance.  These beverages, however, are not necessary for short bursts of exercise and can actually add hundreds of extra (and unnecessary) calories to your diet, so they should only be consumed during long, intense workouts.

Make sure you drink enough water before, during, and after your workout, and listen to your body for clues:  if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated.  Your body can provide you with a lot of helpful insight as to when it’s time to rehydrate or head inside for cooler climates.  If you listen to your body and follow a few simple steps, you’ll be able to get the most benefit – and least risk – out of your workouts this summer.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Cabbage

Since trying to incorporate more vegetables into my diet, I’ve ended up eating two of my favorite veggies – broccoli and cauliflower – almost every day.  I do admit, however, that I need to branch out and explore more of what the vegetable world has to offer in order to maximize my intake of nutrients.  As part of my vegetable “world tour,” I’m planning on rediscovering a vegetable that I don’t normally eat – cabbage.  Cabbage is a member of the cruciferous family, like broccoli and cauliflower, and the two share some of the same nutritional benefits, such as being high in fiber and Vitamins C and K.  Unlike broccoli and cauliflower, it’s often easier to find different colors and varieties of cabbage, including red and purple varieties, both high in anthocyanins, a potent antioxidant.  The following recipe combines red cabbage with a variety of other healthy ingredients, including former Healthy Ingredient of the Week black beans, to create a nutritional powerhouse of a meal.

Southwestern Corn & Black Bean Salad

3 large ears of corn, husked
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
2 cups shredded red cabbage (can be purchased pre-shredded, in bags, at most grocery stores)
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 cup minced red onion

1.  Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a Dutch oven. Add corn, cover and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cobs using a sharp knife.
2.  Meanwhile, place pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
3.  Whisk lime juice, oil, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the corn, pine nuts, beans, cabbage, tomato, and onion; toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Recipe from Eating Well