Monthly Archives: August, 2013

Fitness Tips for Busy College Students – and Busy State Employees

Although your college years may be well behind you, you may, like many other state employees, have children who are about to head back to school. These children may need motivation to help them avoid the dreaded Freshman 15 or the additional pounds they are likely to pack on during their other three years as an undergraduate, as it’s very easy to gain weight due to competing demands that make it hard to find time to exercise and easy to choose readily-available unhealthy foods. Adults, however, are often faced with these same temptations, and the below graphic, sent to me by one of its creators, Susan Martin, is a really useful illustration of how to fit exercise into a busy schedule. If you plan on using some of these tips for yourself, pretend your office is a dorm room and try them out during the work day. Despite what we often lead ourselves to believe, we’re never too busy to fit in some form of exercise – all we need is a little inspiration and motivation.

The Best Regimen for College Fitness


Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Eggplant

Eggplant – like previous Healthy Ingredients zucchini and tomatoes, is actually a fruit.  However, eggplant is mainly known for its presence in savory recipes like eggplant parmesan, one of my personal favorites.  Due to its bitter taste, many people prefer eggplant drowned in sauce and cheese, but doing so downplays eggplant’s nutritional value.  The fruit is low in calories and high in antioxidant flavonoids such as chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. It’s also a good source of fiber, potassium, and folate.  Try serving eggplant without ingredients that mask its flavor and health value; the following recipe seems indulgent but is filled with healthy ingredients – the star of which is eggplant itself.

Eggplant Caviar

4 pounds eggplant, halved
Olive oil, for brushing, plus enough to coat the pan
2 shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Whole wheat pita wedges, as an accompaniment

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Brush eggplant with olive oil and roast eggplants at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until soft.
3.  Saute the garlic and shallots in olive oil over low heat until they are translucent and aromatic.
4.  After the eggplant has cooled, remove the pulp from the skins, and place in a food processor and process until smooth.
5.  Place mixture in a bowl and add remaining ingredients along with garlic and shallots.
6.  Season, to taste, with salt and pepper, and serve with pita wedges

Recipe adapted from Food Network

Enhance Your Digestive Health with Probiotics

Dietary supplements seem to be a hot topic these days, and I often get asked whether or not it’s necessary to take a daily multivitamin or any other supplement.  I have already expressed my opinion on multivitamins, but I believe that they are not the only supplement that is safe to take on a daily basis.  One of the only other supplements I recommend for daily use is a probiotic, which helps improve digestive health and may increase immunity and decrease inflammation.   Probiotics contain live and active cultures of “good” bacteria that can help outweigh the effects of “bad” bacteria in our bodies, especially our digestive tract.

A lot of us are familiar with probiotics’ role in digestive health thanks to clever marketing from yogurt companies.  Yogurt is a natural source of probiotics, although some brands lead consumers to believe that the ingredients in their yogurt have magical powers to transform the way a person’s digestive tract functions.  The truth is, the only difference between these specially-marketed yogurts and “regular” yogurt is the strain of bacteria present.   There is no need to pay more money for yogurt that’s advertised as being good for digestive health – any yogurt whose label states that it  “contains live and active cultures,” (and almost all yogurts do) is good for digestive health!

The strain of bacteria found in most yogurts, Lactobacillus acidophilus, is also a strain commonly found in supplement form (and the one I recommend, due to its effectiveness, low risk of side effects, and budget-friendly price tag) .  Since yogurt would need to be consumed at least once a day, every day, to reap its maximum probiotic benefits, supplementation is often a good idea for anyone looking to improve their digestive health.  Acidophilus can help regulate the digestive tract, has minimal side effects (gas and bloating may occur during the first few days of use, but they almost always subside once your body gets used to the supplement), and 100 capsules of the CVS brand only cost around $6.  As with most other supplements, price and quality vary by brand (since supplements are not regulated by the FDA), so stick to brands you know and trust, and don’t fall into the trap of believing that a higher price automatically equals higher quality.

With regular use, probiotics can help achieve intestinal regularity and reduce digestive disturbances by counteracting the effects of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract.  As an added bonus, regulation of the digestive tract may lead to weight loss and a smaller midsection, as these problems are sometimes caused by an inefficient digestive system.  If any of the above issues apply to you, I would recommend talking to your doctor about taking a probiotic supplement – it’s a safe, cost-effective step toward a healthier digestive tract.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Cherries

Cherries (one of my favorite summer fruits) are in season now and bursting with flavor – and nutrition.  Besides having a high water content (which will help you feel full and stay hydrated on hot summer days), cherries are an antioxidant powerhouse thanks to the presence of Vitamin C, beta carotene, anthocyanins, and quercetin (the riper – and darker- the cherry, the better when it comes to antioxidant content); when tart, are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone; are high in potassium; and are a good source of fiber.  Frozen cherries can be substituted for fresh when it’s not peak season, and dried cherries still provide many of the same nutritional benefits, although they should be consumed in moderation due to their higher concentration of sugar. 

Chocolate-Cherry Smoothie

1 cup almond milk
½ cup cherries (fresh or frozen, unsweetened)
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1.  Blend all ingredients together.  Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Fitness magazine.  May 2012.

Southwestern-Style Cherry Slaw

4 cups shredded green cabbage
3 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 cups torn fresh spinach leaves
1 cup shredded jicama (optional)
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 avocado, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons frozen lime juice concentrate, thawed
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 teaspoon each chili powder, ground cumin, and salt

1,  In large serving bowl, combine ingredients for Slaw.
2.  In small saucepan, combine Dressing ingredients; heat to boil.
3.  Pour over salad and toss gently to coat.

Recipe adapted from Northwest Cherries

Stay Hydrated with Fruits and Veggies

Although summer may be winding down, it’s likely that there will be at least one more very hot day before the year is through.  Even if there isn’t, the odds are good that there will be days when you will need to consume more than the recommended 64 ounces of water – humid days, days when you’re very active, or days that involve a trip on an airplane (as airplanes can be very dehydrating).  When those days occur, it’s easier than you think to stay adequately hydrated with the help of fruits and vegetables.

As the More Matters Challenge attests, the benefits of fruits and vegetables are numerous – and it’s not difficult to meet your Recommended Daily Intake of both types of produce with a little effort.  Why not use a serving of fruit or vegetables to get you one step closer to meeting your Recommended Daily Intake and keep you hydrated?  Many fruits and vegetables have a high water content, which means that not only do they keep you hydrated, but they help you feel full without consuming too many calories.  The next time hunger – and thirst – strike, reach for one of the following fruits or vegetables:

  • Cucumber – 96% water
  • Lettuce – 95% water
  • Celery – 95% water
  • Zucchini- 95% water
  • Tomato – 94% water
  • Spinach – 92% water
  • Watermelon – 92% water
  • Strawberries – 92% water
  • Broccoli – 91% water
  • Grapefruit – 91% water
  • Cantaloupe – 90% water
  • Peach – 88% water
  • Carrots – 87% water
  • Pineapple – 87% water
  • Raspberries- 87% water
  • Apricot – 86% water
  • Blueberries- 85% water
  • Apple – 84% water
  • Cherries – 81% water
  • Banana – 74% water

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Farro

I love whole grains, and I am always looking to expand my dinnertime side dish options outside of whole wheat bread, brown rice, or whole wheat cous cous.  A few weeks ago, I was in Trader Joe’s and noticed that they had small bags of several grains I’ve never tried before.  I figured I might as well try something new, and picked up a bag of farro, since it looked like the most interesting choice.  Besides being interesting-looking (dried farro looks a lot like the very unhealthy Smacks cereal), farro also has a long history, as it’s the oldest grain known to man, the one from which all others are derived.  Since farro has been around so long, there are an abundance of recipes that use it, although I am happy just simmering it and eating it plain.  However you prepare it, farro is an excellent source of fiber (a ½ cup serving contains 5g!) and a good source of iron.  Challenge yourself to try farro, or another new whole grain, tonight!

Tomato and Farro Salad

1 cup 10-minute farro
1 medium shallot, chopped
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

1.  Place farro in a medium saucepan; add enough water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until tender.  Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2.  Cook shallot in a non-stick skillet, stirring, for 1 minute.  Stir in vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Remove from heat.
3.  Add to the bowl of farro tomatoes, basil, and the warm shallot vinaigrette.  Gently stir to combine.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 6.

Adapted from EatingWell magazine, June 2013.

More Matters – Eat Your Fruits and Veggies!

Many agencies are kicking off the WellMASS More Matters Challenge this week, and it goes without saying that employees who participate in this 30-day challenge to eat more fruits and vegetables are doing their health a huge favor.  Fruits and vegetables can be an excellent source of many beneficial nutrients, including

  • Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, collard greens, winter squash, cantaloupe, red peppers, Chinese cabbage)
  • Vitamin C (red and green peppers, kiwi, strawberries, sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupe, broccoli, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, oranges, mangoes, tomato juice, cauliflower)
  • Vitamin K (kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, mustard greens, chard)
  • Folate (cooked spinach, great northern beans, asparagus)
  • Potassium (sweet potatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, beet greens, white potatoes, white beans, lima beans, cooked greens, carrot juice, prune juice, bananas, oranges, orange juice, mushrooms)
  • Fiber
  • Antioxidants (blue, purple, red, and dark orange fruits and veggies)

In order to meet your Daily Recommended Intake of fruits and veggies, consider some of the following tips:

  • Always keep frozen fruits and veggies on hand.  Frozen produce doesn’t go bad, and it actually often contains more nutrients than the fresh stuff, as it’s picked at its peak (when the nutrient content is highest) and flash frozen (so it doesn’t ripen and lose nutrients in the process).
  • Try a new fruit or vegetable each week.  In-season varieties are often less expensive and more nutritious than their out-of-season counterparts.  Berries, stone fruits, and summer squash are particularly abundant (and delicious) this time of year.
  • Include at least one fruit or one vegetable in each meal or snack.
  • Make a smoothie and include as many different fruits as possible.  As a bonus, toss in some frozen spinach or kale for a serving of veggies – you’ll never be able to taste the difference!

If you’re up for the challenge to eat more fruits and vegetables, but haven’t already signed up, contact your agency’s Wellness Champion or click here for instructions on how to start the Challenge at your worksite.  And if you have any favorite strategies for eating more fruits and veggies, feel free to share them in the Comments section!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Blackberries

Blackberries, like many other dark-colored fruits and vegetables, are powerful antioxidants, thanks to their high content of anthocyanins.  In fact, their antioxidant content is around 5.75 millimoles per serving, which is higher than any other food tested in an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.  Blackberries make a perfect low-calorie snack or accompaniment to any meal, and are higher in fiber (with 5g per one-cup serving) than most other fruits.  I’m a big proponent of using fruits in savory dishes, and the following recipe serves as no exception.

Blackberry Rice Turkey Salad

¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse ground Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½  teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Rice Salad
1 package (6 ounces) blackberries
2 cups whole grain brown and wild rice, cooked
1 ½  cups cubed cooked turkey
½  cup thinly sliced celery
¾ cup thinly sliced radishes
⅓ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

1.  For the vinaigrette:  Whisk oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, thyme leaves, salt and pepper in a bowl until blended. Refrigerate any leftovers.
2.  For the rice salad:  mix blackberries, rice, turkey, celery, radishes and walnuts in medium bowl. Serve with vinaigrette on the side.

Recipe adapted from Driscoll’s Blackberries