Monthly Archives: September, 2013

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Apples

Apples are one of the few fruits that seem to be available in plentiful quantities year-round, but they’re at their peak (both in quantity, quality, and nutritional value) in the Fall.  Apples are one of the best sources of soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol.  They’re also a good source of Vitamin C.  To get the most health benefits from apples, eat them with the skin on, as that’s where most of their nutritional value lies.  I went apple picking over the weekend, and I plan on using my fridge full of apples in the following recipes.


8 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices (preferably a naturally-sweet variety like golden delicious, red delicious, or gala)
½ cup water
2 lemon slices
⅛ tsp nutmeg
¼  tsp cinnamon

1.  Combine apples, water and lemon slices in a large saucepan.
2.  Simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes or until apples are part sauce and with some chunks of apple left. Watch closely and stir often to prevent burning. Applesauce should be thick; add more water if necessary. Leave sauce chunky or put apples and lemons through a food mill or coarse sieve.
4.  Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Serve warm or chilled. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to one week. Yield 5 to 6 cups.

Recipe from University of Illinois Extension

Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash

¼ cup raisins
2 acorn squash
8 sprays butter-flavored cooking spray
2 tbsp sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 medium Fuji apples
2 tbsp butter

1.  Preheat oven to 375°.

2.  Soak raisins in warm water for 20 minutes.  Drain.
3.  Cut acorn squash into quarters and remove seeds.
4.  Spray the inside of each quarter with one spray of the cooking spray.  Mix the cinnamon and sugar together, and sprinkle squash with half of this mixture.
5.  Bake for 10 minutes.
6.  Cut apples into quarters, remove core, and chop into ½-inch pieces.
7.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add apples, raisins, and the rest of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Mix well and remove from heat.
8.  Take squash out of the oven and fill each piece evenly with the apple mixture.
9.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, until squash and apples are tender.  Serve warm.

Recipe adapted from Fruits and Veggies – More Matters


Celebrating Wellness Week with the Department of Mental Health – and Grace

For the past three years, the Department of Mental Health’s Northeast Suburban Area Recovery Action Team and Healthy Changes Task Force have held a day-long event at Tewksbury Hospital to kick off National Wellness Week.  Last year, I gave a talk on nutrition at the kick-off, and I was fortunate enough to be invited back to discuss life balance at this year’s event.  Wellness Champion Eileen Weber and her team organized another great event that included a welcome and opening remarks by DMH Northeast Suburban Area Director Susan Wing, Tewksbury Hospital Chief Executive Officer Debra Tosti, and DMH Deputy Commissioner for Clinical and Professional Services Kathy Sanders, MD.  Their remarks were followed by a keynote presentation on becoming safely embodied by Deirde Fay, MSW, LICSW.  Deidre’s presentation challenged participants to really think about their feelings, both physical and emotional, in order to help them feel safe in their own bodies. 

The afternoon’s sessions consisted of my talk on life balance, a very informative discussion on budgeting and financial wellness planning by my friend Janine Brady of Metro Credit Union, and an interactive presentation by Sheri Breen of Eliot Community Human Services on using yoga to energize.  Normally, I think of yoga as a relaxing practice, but Sheri shared some ways to use yoga techniques, especially those that involve deep breathing, to create energy (which is especially important in the late afternoon when, let’s face it, we all feel ourselves dragging a little).  Like last year, I left the event feeling re-energized and more knowledgeable about all eight dimensions of wellness.

Unlike last year, this year’s event included a poster session that featured nine posters on different wellness initiatives.  All of the posters provided great information, but I was most impressed by the DMH Metro North Site Health and Wellness Committee’s poster “Grace – Her journey to health and wellness.”  Grace is a consumer, and the DMH Metro North Site Office uses her story to encourage consumers and employees alike to live a healthy life.  Every few months, the site office releases another chapter of Grace’s story, along with related wellness tips including how-tos on developing the motivation to exercise, creating a holiday wellness plan, using a pedometer, eating a balanced diet, and practicing healthy habits that can add years to your life.  Grace is constantly evolving on her journey toward health and wellness, and she serves as a great role model to any employee or consumer who is looking to make small, achievable changes.  I could certainly relate to parts of Grace’s story, and I’m already looking forward to hearing about her next chapter.

Grace, the picture of wellness at the DMH Metro North Site

Grace, the picture of wellness at the DMH Metro North Site

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Amaranth

In my quest to add different types of whole grains to my diet, I stumbled upon an article about amaranth (also known as ‘baby quinoa’). Amaranth, like farro, is an ancient grain, is naturally gluten-free, and is extremely nutrient-dense.  Like quinoa, amaranth is also high in protein (one cup raw contains over 28g!), and is a complete protein, at that.  It is one of the few plant sources of protein that contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own, and it is an especially high source of the amino acid lysine, which most other grains contain in very small amounts.  Amaranth is also high in fiber, calcium, iron, and magnesium, and like many other “exotic” whole grains, can be used just like familiar staples such as oats and rice.  The recipe below takes a ubiquitous rice dish, rice pilaf, and enhances its nutritional –and curiosity – value through the inclusion of amaranth.

Amaranth Pilaf

3 cups water
1 cup amaranth
½  tsp. salt
½  tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 Tbsp. softened butter
 ⅛ tsp. pepper

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine water, amaranth, salt, and thyme.
2.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
3.  Cover saucepan and cook over low heat for 20-25 minutes or until the water is absorbed.
4.  Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes to steam.
5.  Stir in butter and pepper and serve.

Recipe adapted from

Use a Standing Desk – Every body(part) Wins!

Up until a few months ago, I was a firm believer that my daily 45-60 minutes of exercise more than made up for the fact I spent most of the rest of the day sitting at my desk.  I had a change of heart about my daily routine after I read that sitting for more than 6 hours a day, regardless of how the rest of the day is spent, increases the risk of early death by 20-40%.

Upon hearing this startling statistic, my mind immediately turned to thinking about how I could get out of my chair, yet still be productive during working hours.  I remembered conversations I’ve had with several employees about standing desks, and decided to start using one at my home office – that way, I’d have no excuse not to stand for most of the day.  Using some textbooks and an extra shelf I had lying around, I rigged a pretty decent – and ergnomically-correct – standing desk that I now use whenever I work from home.  It only took a few minutes to set up the desk, and it hasn’t been difficult to make the switch from being totally sedentary to on my feet for several hours at a time. 

Hard at work, at my standing desk!

Hard at work, at my standing desk!

If you’d like to follow my lead (and the lead of several other state employees who inspired me), here are a few tips for setting up a standing desk at your workspace:

  • Use a box, basket, or a stack of books to elevate your keyboard and mouse (when you stand, your forearms should be parallel to the floor, without any creases in your wrists)
  • Prop up your monitor so that the top toolbar on your screen is at or below eye level (your goal:  glance at the screen as if you’re reading a book)
  • Keep monitor and keyboard at a comfortable distance for you – arms-length away or closer
  • If you have trouble seeing the screen, adjust the monitor, not your body
  • First-timers:  start by standing for 30 minutes every 2 hours

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Cinnamon

I always get a craving for cinnamon-flavored foods in the Fall, so now is the perfect time to try new recipes that contain the spice, for more than just taste reasons.  Cinnamon happens to be many people’s go-to spice when it comes to livening up sweet (and sometimes savory) dishes, but it may also have a number of health benefits that are often overlooked.  Some studies have indicated that as little as ½ teaspoon a day of cinnamon can help lower blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and inflammation.  Cassia, the dark-colored variety most often used in commercially-packaged ground cinnamon, is thought to have the greatest beneficial health effects.  Cinnamon, no matter the type, can – and should – be a regular part of almost any healthy diet, as it adds flavor (and a feeling of satiety, since strong-flavored foods are more likely to make you feel full than bland foods) without the calories of sugar. 

Cinnamon Oranges

4 navel oranges
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.  With a sharp knife, remove rind and white pith from oranges.
2.  Cut each into 5 or 6 slices and arrange on 4 plates.
3.  Whisk together orange juice and lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon.
4.  Spoon over the orange slices.

Cider-Glazed Roots with Cinnamon Walnuts

3 pounds assorted root vegetables, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup apple cider
¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspon freshly ground pepper
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon butter
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. If using parsnips, quarter lengthwise and remove the woody core before cutting into 1-inch pieces. Whisk cider, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish until the sugar is dissolved. Add root vegetables and toss to coat. Cover the baking dish with foil.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and stir the vegetables. Continue cooking, uncovered, stirring every 20 minutes or so, until the vegetables are glazed and tender, about 1 hour more.
  4. Meanwhile, place walnuts in a small skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and add butter, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Stir until the butter melts and the nuts are coated. Spread out on a plate to cool slightly.
  5. Transfer the vegetables to a serving dish and sprinkle with the cinnamon walnuts.

Recipes from EatingWell

DPH Employees Relax with Lunchtime Yoga

I spent the better part of last Thursday in my car, delivering promotional materials to agencies throughout the eastern part of the state.  Spending the day sitting down and gripping my steering wheel, stuck in traffic, I was not doing myself any favors in terms of ergonomics, physical activity, or stress reduction.  Thankfully, part of my day also included a pit stop to the DPH State Lab in Jamaica Plain, where Wellness Champion Jacki Dooley invited me to join in on the yoga class her site hosts every Thursday at lunchtime.

Wellness Champion Jacki Dooley stretches out before class

Wellness Champion Jacki Dooley stretches out before class

Jacki organizes the 16-week class, for which around 20 employees pay a nominal fee, taught by yoga instructor extraordinaire Paige Briber.  Paige has a calm, gentle demeanor, which allows her to expertly instruct all levels of yogis – even relative novices like myself.  Paige’s class is conducted in the dark, with only two small lamps to help participants see, creating a relaxed and welcoming environment.  Each week, she leads the group through a slightly different set of poses and movements, including back bends, core strengtheners, and deep breathing exercises.  She also includes modifications for each pose, so everyone is able to participate at their own comfort and skill level.  Coming from only experiencing yoga through DVDs at home, I was hesitant about joining in on a class, but Paige made me feel at ease and confident the entire time.  I left the class feeling relaxed, stretched out (in the best possible way), and ready to sign up for a yoga class near me!

Instuctor Paige Briber (in black) with DPH employees after class.

If space and other logistics allow, I would highly recommend looking into holding yoga or another group exercise class during lunchtime at your site.  An onsite lunchtime class is accessible, since employees don’t have to travel far; builds camaraderie; and is a great way to fit in exercise during the workday.   If you would like help in starting up a lunchtime class, send me an email.  And if your site offers classes similar to those at the State Lab, I’d love to hear about them and share them on the blog.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

By Guest Blogger Liz Layton, GIC

Have you ever gone to a petting zoo and then explained to a kid over lunch just where burgers come from?  No, of course you haven’t.  Because you know you’d have to rewrite your entire menu to exclude animals that your kids find cute.  And frankly, who has the time? 

So you might understandably be a little resistant at the suggestion that you plan an outing to the New England Aquarium, where you can learn about sustainable fishing.  Actually, the program is advertised as Celebrate Seafood, which implies cheering your finny friends as they swim around.  After which you go to out dinner and eat them.  (I could be wrong of course – maybe all this talk about eating living creatures is making you downright squeamish, in which case please email us and ask that we post some very good vegetarian recipes.)

Maybe you’re intent on making your diet healthier by including fish, or someone in your family just loves to fish.  Health care providers still recommend eating fish, especially saltwater fish, twice a week.  Omega-3 fatty acids in seafood have lots of benefits including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, alleviating arthritis, and improving immunity and brain function. The idea is to balance our need for a healthy diet with our need for healthy oceans and a sustainable fish population. 

Quick quiz:  which of these recipes would you not want to serve to your sustainable-fish-loving Aunt Tillie?

Southern Red Snapper
Traditional Maine Baked Stuffed Haddock
Healthy Mussels
Citrus Orange Roughy
Blackened Catfish
Broiled Striped Bass
Pan-seared Swordfish

If you wouldn’t think of putting orange roughy or red snapper in front of her, good for you.  But the others can be a little tricky.  She might look down her nose at the delicious platter of pan-seared swordfish steaks and demand to know how and where they were caught.  Should you answer “these fish were netted in the Mediterranean” or “these were harpooned in the North Atlantic”?  Depending on whether or not you’re in her will, you might want to study up.  Sure, it takes a little learning on your part but isn’t that why we send our kids off to school every day?

The list of sustainable fish is not static, and depending on who’s reporting you may find conflicting ideas on what should be on the list. Farmed fish that’s advertised as sustainable may still be anathema to people who think that GMO corn should not be fed to any farm animals, whether they have hooves or fins.  Swordfish was taboo a couple of decades ago but now is back on the list, thanks to changes in fishing regulations and methods that allowed the population to recover. 

I was hoping that the New England Aquarium gift shop might have a deck of sustainable fish cards, kind of a concentration game that would also teach me the best fish to serve.  The aquarium doesn’t have the cards but does provide a list of good fish choices to simplify your shopping.  The aquarium also teamed up with local restaurants to create sustainable Blue Plate Specials – look for the logo, or ask if the restaurant serves sustainable fish.  Then you can eat guilt-free – and ask Aunt Tillie to pick up the check.

Who’s watching the fish?

Who’s watching what we eat?

The WellMASS Health Assessment is Now Open – Take Yours Today!

Today marks the re-launch of the online WellMASS Health Assessment (HA).  Completing  the HA is a great way to take charge of your health by learning your areas of strength, as well as which areas you may want to work on improving.  Taking the HA is a good idea for a number of reasons:

  • It only takes 15 minutes to complete
  • Your results are 100% confidential and won’t be shared with the GIC, your agency, or your health plan
  • It provides a snapshot of your current health
  • It helps you determine which health areas/behaviors need more attention
  • If you took it last year, you can take it again and get a year-over-year comparison
  • Your results may qualify you for FREE health coaching
  • The first 10,000 participants to complete their HA will receive a $15 gift card

If you are identified as being high-risk in one of eight health areas (nutrition, weight management, stress management, blood pressure, cholesterol, physical activity, back care, or tobacco use), you will qualify for telephonic health coaching – a great, FREE benefit of the program.  Additionally, the first 10,000 participants who complete the HA will receive a $15 gift card that can be redeemed at one of over 300 popular retailers.  The Health Assessment closes on December 31, so don’t delay in logging on to to complete yours and take advantage of the other benefits our website has to offer, including personalized health news, a prescription drug database, online Healthy Living centers, and wellness tools (including BMI and calorie burn rate calculators). 

The HA is open to GIC-insured active employees of the Executive and Legislative Branches and Constitutional Offices, as well as retirees between the ages of 55-64 and their spouses.  Since it is part of a state-mandated program, and it takes only 15 minutes to complete, employees are allowed to take it on their work computer, during work time, with a supervisor’s approval.  If you have any questions about the HA, or the WellMASS program in general, I would encourage you to learn more about this great, free benefit available to you by attending one of the Intro to WellMASS webinars on September 10.   You can also view a step-by-step demo of the Health Assessment here.   In the meantime, if you have any other questions, feel free to contact your agency’s Wellness Champion, or send me an email.  Here’s to another happy, healthy year of wellness!