Monthly Archives: November, 2013

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Cranberries

Thanksgiving is upon us, which means that it’s time to start dreaming about all of the tantalizing food that will be a part of your holiday feast.  More than likely, your meal will include at least one variety of cranberry sauce, which could be a good or bad thing.  On their own, cranberries are a good source of fiber and are rich in antioxidant polyphenols, which can help keep your immune system strong as flu season approaches.  When they’re combined with loads of sugar and preservatives to make the cans of cranberry sauce that are most often found on Thanksgiving tables, however, cranberries transition from a health food to just another ingredient in a sugar-laden side dish.  Cranberry sauce doesn’t have to be unhealthy if you prepare it yourself and watch the sugar content.  The recipe below is just as tasty as the cranberry sauce you may be used to – and it’s something for which you can feel good about reaching for seconds.

Fruit and Nut Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients
1 bag (12 ounces) whole, fresh cranberries
⅓ cup sugar
1 orange, juiced, plus ½ tsp zest
½ cup roasted pistachios, chopped
1 firm pear, cored and chopped
¼ tsp ground cumin

Instructions

1.  In a medium saucepan, cook the cranberries, sugar, and orange juice over medium until the cranberries burst (about 10 minutes).  Let cool.
2.  Stir in the zest, nuts, and cumin.  Makes 6-8 servings.

Recipe adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray.  November 2013. 

Jacki’s Journey: Food for Thought

Here we are on the fourth week of our Stress Less Challenge.  How many of you are feeling less stressed since you started this challenge?  I have to admit, I was skeptical at first that something as simple as participating in this challenge would help to reduce my level of stress.  Well, 21 days down and I can honestly say I have found myself less stressed.  I have learned to turn my commute into a less stressful event.  I have also learned not to “sweat the small things.”  I find I have wholly embraced the challenge to my advantage.  I trust most of you have found alternative ways to reduce stress other than the techniques listed in our handouts.

I have done some research this week and have come up with a few additional ideas I happen to agree with to help us all reduce stress.  First is Reflection.  Reflect on what is important to you.  This helps you to re-center yourself, which makes the stressful situation less of a stressor.  Many of us, myself included, tend to focus on the negative and not on what can be a positive.  If you look for the positive, you will find you are less stressed.

One of my personal favorite discoveries for stress reduction is chocolate!  A piece of dark chocolate can brighten your outlook and reduce stress. A daily dose of dark chocolate (70 percent cacao or higher) is a proven antidote to stress.  It has also been said that it can lower your risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease – three less things about which to stress. Cacao beans are rich in flavonoids, an antioxidant.  They help to counteract the anxiety-producing hormone cortisol.  I know you are smiling just thinking about having chocolate!  Just make sure you are having dark chocolate, as milk chocolate has not been shown to be a proven stress-reducer. 

Here are a few other foods that have been shown to reduce stress:  Cantaloupe is loaded with Vitamin C, which is crucial for fighting stress.  Blueberries are loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants, which lower stress.  Broccoli is filled with B vitamins known to relieve stress.  Broccoli also contains folic acid, which has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, panic, and depression.  The vitamins in almonds are great stress relievers: Vitamins B2 and E, magnesium, and zinc.  Isn’t it nice to know that you can eat, in moderation, to reduce stress!

You won’t hear from me for the next few weeks.  I will be finishing up my Stress Less Challenge!  I wish you well over the next few weeks of the challenge.  I will blog once more when I complete the challenge to give you my thoughts on how I did.  I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends.  Don’t let the holiday stress you…use your challenge tips to make the day enjoyable!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Walnuts

Walnuts are one of my favorite nuts – and not just because they’re fun to crack open.  They make a tasty addition to baked goods, salads, and pasta dishes, and are one of the best plant-based sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, of which many of us have a hard time consuming enough.  Walnuts are also a good source of the antioxidant Vitamin E and an excellent source of iron, manganese, and several B vitamins.  The next time you are tempted to just use walnuts as a topping or mix-in to your main dish, challenge yourself to think outside the box and use them in a new and innovative way, such as this smoothie.

Walnut-Date Smoothie

Ingredients
Walnut Milk:
1 cup walnut halves, rinsed (about 4 ounces)
3 cups water, plus more for soaking the walnuts
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt

Smoothie:
1 cup walnut milk
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup ice cubes (about 8)

Instructions

1.  To make the walnut milk:  Place walnuts in a bowl and fill with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Cover and set aside at room temperature to soak at least 1 hour to 12 hours.  Drain walnuts and rinse thoroughly. Combine walnuts, 3 cups water, honey, vanilla, and salt in the carafe of a blender then blend on low until very smooth, at least 2 minutes.
2.  Combine all smoothie ingredients except the ice in the carafe of a blender and blend on high until the dates are broken up and the mixture very smooth, at least 1 minute.
3.  Add ice and blend briefly on high until ice is just broken up. Pour into chilled glasses and serve immediately.  Makes 3 servings.

Recipe adapted from the California Walnut Commission

Jacki’s Journey – A Relaxing Week 2

So here we are on the third week of the Stress Less Challenge.  Is everyone finding the challenge easy to follow?  I have to admit, some days are harder than others (especially when you sit in traffic!).  I find I talk to myself more; that is, I say, “Don’t let this stress you out.  Breathe.”  Taking that breath makes all the difference some mornings when I’m navigating city traffic.

Last week I mentioned I was going to try different techniques for stress reduction.  My newest find – Lavender!  Oh, the wonderful, calming scent of lavender!  Lavender has a fresh, sweet, floral, herbaceous aroma that is soothing and refreshing.  It is a great aid for relaxing and winding down before bedtime.  Just a small bit of lavender oil yields relaxation in abundance.  Try putting just a few drops on your pillow at night and you will be lulled into a relaxing sleep.  I have tried this a few nights myself.  I am happy to report it really does work.  You might want to try putting a lavender-scented plug-in in your work space to keep you calm throughout the day.

This week, I also learned some more about what stress management techniques do and do not work for me.  Listening to a relaxation CD does not work for me.  I found it didn’t keep my attention long enough.  I would actually tune out the CD and not pay attention.  I think my multitasking efforts have foiled me on this one.  I do find when I am using a yoga DVD, the tone of the voice of the instructor is very calming.  Maybe I am just not ready for the CD technique yet. 

Would you believe raking leaves actually helped me relax?!  I love being outside anytime of the year.  I think the combination of the fresh air, the beautiful colors of the leaves, and the scent of fall in the air made a wonderful combination for relaxation.  Plus, this accounted for many hours of physical activity to help release loads of endorphins!

Where will the next week take me in this challenge?  I think with the holidays coming up it might be time to schedule some “me time” with myself.  I’m already running around preparing for Thanksgiving.  I think I need to schedule some time to do something fun and relaxing for me.  I also suggest you do the same for yourselves before we are full swing in holiday preparations!  Here’s to a successful third week of less stress for all of us! 

 

 

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Brussels Sprouts

Mention the words “Brussels sprouts” to most people, and you’ll immediately illicit a groan.   Brussels sprouts’ bad reputation as a strong-smelling and unpleasant-tasting vegetable is often the product of overcooking, and therefore undeserved.  When prepared correctly, Brussels sprouts are full of flavor (in a good way) and nutrients.   They’re high in fiber and an excellent source of Vitamins C and K.  Brussels sprouts are also rich in the cancer-fighting compounds sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, making them a nutritional powerhouse on which you don’t want to miss out.  Try roasting Brussels sprouts, as in the recipe here, to bring out their sweet side and lock in all their vital nutrients.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients
1 ½ pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons good olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Cut off the brown ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves.
3.  Mix them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
4.  Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly.  Serve immediately.  Makes 6 servings.

 

Recipe from Food Network


 

Strategies for Becoming Financially Fit

By Guest Blogger Janine Brady, Business Development Officer, Metro Credit Union

Metro is proud to be the credit union for Massachusetts State Employees.  Their goal is to provide exceptional service and expert guidance to help you achieve your financial goals!  Janine Brady, Metro’s Business Development Officer, offers some tips to help start you along the journey toward becoming financially fit. 

Be Practical
Everyone’s heard this before, but don’t live beyond your means. The best way to stay fiscally fit is to be responsible. Budgeting, debt repayment, and saving are good habits to establish.

Budget
Budgeting is like making a doctor’s appointment a year in advance. Think proactively. Make it a point to balance your expenses and income.  There are plenty of financial resources available to you. Get a budget sheet and start plugging away. Budget sheets focus on what money is coming in and what money is going out. Start with the bare necessities (housing/utilities, transportation, food, insurance, and medical expenses) and then move on to non-essential spending (dining out, entertainment, personal shopping, vacations etc). I’m not suggesting you give up your big vacation, but plan for it so the vacation doesn’t sit on a credit card balance long after your tan fades. Some credit unions even have Vacation and Christmas clubs so that you can contribute on a weekly basis to a separate account for that specific purpose.

Want to give yourself a shock? Tally up how much money you spend on coffee or cigarettes a month. These little things add up and may make you consider adopting healthier lifestyle habits as well.

Pay off Debt
Along with a budget comes repayment of debt. Debt can take the form of a number of things, including school loans, credit card balances, car and personal loans, and of course, your mortgage. The key is to plan and balance what you’ve taken on as debt. The rule of thumb is to pay off higher APR balances first, so you’re paying less in interest.

Save
Want to get ahead financially? Save. There are a million ways to save, but you need to be in the mindset to pay yourself first. Saving will help in the long run, especially with normal, but large,expenses that unexpectedly come up.  That’s why it’s great to have a savings to tap into, so you don’t have to rely on a credit card when these things happen.

Here are some savings options:

Basic Savings – The traditional route and always a good choice if you like to have immediate access to your funds.

Money Market – Secure investment, which offers access to your funds and tiered rates based on balances.

CDs – A timed deposit that locks in your money at a certain rate to earn interest over a certain period of time – usually ranging from 3 months to 5 years. You cannot gain access to your funds without a withdrawal penalty until that term is up.

IRA (for retirement) – Tax-deferred earnings, which are then invested in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.You can access your IRA funds after a certain mandatory age.

Pay yourself first – set up a payroll deduction. Deposit a certain amount each pay period into a savings account, club account (Christmas or Vacation) or an IRA.  What you don’t see, you don’t miss!

If you follow these tips, you will be well on your way to achieving financial wellness!  For more information on how Metro Credit Union can help, go to www.metrocu.org.

Jacki’s Journey – The Challenge Begins

By Guest Blogger Jacki Dooley, DPH State Lab

So how many of us thought it was a good idea to start the Stress Less Challenge last week with the Red Sox in the World Series?!  The greatest challenge of all was the stress associated with watching each game, (and all those lost hours of sleep because the games get over late didn’t help).  I found an easy stress less activity that worked while watching the games.  During the commercial breaks, I took a few minutes to practice breathing exercises.  By the time the commercial was over, I felt better, until the end of the next inning when I would need to practice breathing exercises again.  Breathing exercises are so simple to do.  If you do the exercises properly, no one will know you are doing them.  Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose to the count of four.  Breathe out through your nose to the count of four.  Keep repeating breathing in and out until you reach ten. 

I officially started the Stress Less Challenge on October 28th along with 16 co-workers.  One of my goals for the challenge is to keep a positivity calendar.  That means I have to write down one positive aspect of my day.  Not just something positive that has happened to me, but also positive things I have done for others. This week has been good.  I have managed to find at least one positive thing that has happened every single day.   

I have also found that a cup of hot tea with honey and a little bit of milk in it works wonders for relaxation just before bed time.  This helps with my goal of getting 7 hours of sleep each night.  Plus, the bonus hour Saturday night for Daylight Savings Time helped even more!  It is amazing how good you feel the next day if you get a good night’s sleep.  Starting my day on a positive note keeps my level of stress low.  Of course I have not given up or reduced my caffeine intake yet.  It is probably psychological, but I cannot start my day without a cup of coffee.

My goals for week two of the challenge are to branch out and try a few new stress less activities and techniques.  I need to go out of my comfort zone so I can learn to handle stress in other ways, not just with the easiest choices!    I’ve made it through week one feeling less stress in my daily routine already by employing some new techniques.  Hopefully you are all feeling the same way, too!  If you haven’t started the challenge yet, get going!  You will be glad you did.  Here’s to another stress less week for all of us!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Arugula

Arugula, or salad rocket, seems to be everywhere these days.  This green leafy veggie is often seen as a substitute for plain old lettuce in salads and sandwiches, and for good reason – it has a strong, peppery flavor that adds a nice kick to any dish in which it appears, and it’s low in calories and high in nutrients.  Arugula is a very good source of fiber, folate, iron, and Vitamins A, C, and K.  Due to its dark, deep coloring, it’s also high phytochemicals – potent disease-fighting antioxidants.  In the recipe below, arugula, combined with basil leaves, adds a tasty spin to the traditional caprese sandwich.

 Caprese Wrap

Ingredients
4 whole wheat tortillas
1 cup arugula leaves
6 ounces fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced
4 small tomatoes, sliced
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
30 large basil leaves
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions
1.  Lay the tortillas on a flat surface and arrange ¼ cup of the arugula on the bottom ⅓ of the tortilla.
2.  Arrange 3-4 slices of mozzarella on top of the arugula, then a few tomato slices and then avocado slices.
3.  Top with 5-6 basil leaves and then drizzle with 1 teaspoon each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
4.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Makes 4 wraps.

Recipe adapted from Avocados from Mexico

Making Meetings Healthy, Part 2: Smart Catering Options

Last week, I shared my experiences with and general strategies for staying healthy during all-day meetings.  Today, I wanted to provide some tips for meeting organizers, who are often faced with the daunting task of working with a catering company to plan a menu that is cost-effective, tastes good, and (hopefully) contains some nutritious options.  Fortunately, healthy catering options abound, and the suggestions listed below should satisfy attendees without breaking the bank.  The next time you find yourself planning a meeting that involves catered food, consider including at least 2-3 options from each of the following categories, taken from the StayWell Choice™ healthy catering guide:

Beverages

  • Water (bottled or filtered)
  • Skim or 1% milk
  • Low-fat, unsweetened non-dairy milk (e.g., soymilk)
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Calorie-free flavored water or mineral water
  • Tea (hot or iced)
  • Black coffee (regular and decaf)

Breakfast

  • Fresh fruit (whole or bite-size)
  • Fruit salad/fruit cups
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries) and nuts
  • Yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat granola
  • Instant, plain oatmeal
  • Whole wheat English muffins with jam or peanut butter
  • Whole wheat mini bagels and low-fat cream cheese
  • Whole grain toast
  • Poached/hard boiled eggs
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Granola, cereal, or fiber bars

Sandwiches

  • Vegetarian option — always
  • Lean meats or meat substitutes, such as roast beef, turkey, tuna, chicken, hummus, tofu, and low-fat cheeses
  • Low-sodium meats
  • Whole-wheat breads, pitas, and wraps
  • Condiments — such as mayo, butter/margarine, and mustard — on the side
  • Fresh vegetable toppings such as lettuce, tomato, pickles, sprouts, cucumbers, peppers,
  • and onions
  • Cut sandwiches into halves

Lunch

  • Dark salad greens (Romaine, Boston, leaf, or spring lettuce; kale; spinach)
  • Salad dressing on the side and at least one fat-free or low-fat option; oil and vinegar
  • Low-sodium, low-calorie, low-fat soups
  • Whole wheat breads
  • Whole wheat pasta dish
  • Vegetarian option: tofu, beans, lentils, meat alternative, etc.
  • Fruit (whole or bite-size pieces, cups)
  • Vegetable (steamed or fresh)
  • Whole grain pretzels, baked whole grain chips or popcorn
  • Lean meats that are grilled, baked, or broiled
  • Avoid fried and breaded foods
  • Smaller portion sizes or half-sizes

Mid-Afternoon Snacks

  • Trail mix
  • Fruit (whole or bite-size pieces, fruit cups)
  • Vegetable sticks and low-fat dip (hummus)
  • Celery sticks or apple slices and peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Low-fat or air-popped popcorn (no butter)
  • Granola bars, 100% fruit bars, cereal bars
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds (consider providing small cups for the seeds)
  • Low-fat yogurt, preferably Greek
  • Cheese and cracker trays (preferably whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese)
  • 100% fruit juice

Desserts

  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Fruit cups
  • Fresh fruit or fruit salad