Monthly Archives: December, 2013

Jacki’s Journey: Some Parting Words of Wisdom

It’s time to wrap up the Stress Less Challenge while preparing for the final push of the busy holiday season ahead.  I have completed my Stress Less Challenge, during which I learned a few things about myself and how I let stress affect me.  I found that, yes, I can control how I react in stressful situations.  I went back and reviewed my previous posts.  Two thoughts from week #1 stand out, especially this time of year:  Don’t over commit yourself, and prioritize.  Over the past few weeks, I have had to cancel or postpone some of my plans.  By doing so, I have been able to take a moment to myself – and in some cases, delegate tasks to others – take those deep breaths, and feel the stress lifted off my shoulders.  It is amazing how the challenge has helped me to do those two simple things, which I never would have done in the past.

I was not alone in this Challenge, as there were others from my worksite who participated.  I asked them what they thought of the Challenge and what worked best for them.  The majority thought the challenge was great and easy to follow.  Only a few felt it was too much work.  Overall though, the feedback has been positive.  Some of the participants have said they will continue to practice the art of stress-less in their daily routines.  The techniques that worked best for them were yoga, breathing exercises, physical activity, vacation, weekly pedicures, sleep, family time and making time for yourself.  My personal favorite technique that I discovered was my positivity calendar.  Yes, there were days when it was hard to find something positive to say, but I always managed to find something, no matter how small it might have seemed at the time. 

You all know I did not part ways with my best friend, caffeine.  I think that would have made my life more stressful knowing we could not hang out together every morning while we watched the news!  Having a piece of dark chocolate every day was nice, too.  I looked forward to that one piece after dinner.  Just the thought of chocolate brings a smile to my face.  Maybe I might introduce Mr. Coffee to Miss Dark Chocolate!

I hope you all enjoyed the Challenge as much as my co-workers and I have.  I know the challenge helped me in so many different ways.  I have found myself in some extremely stressful situations lately.  In these situations I think back to the Challenge and what I can do to help alleviate some of the stress and tension.  Thank you WellMASS for the wonderful and informative handouts provided to us in this Challenge.  They are what have helped me get through my own daily stress challenges.  Thank you all for listening to me during this Challenge.  I had so much fun doing this.  I found the saying below and it fits in perfectly with how I would like to close out my last Stress Less Challenge blog to you all.

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Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Beets

Up until about a year ago, I had never tried beets, mainly because they were never “on the menu” at my house, and they didn’t seem to be a common ingredient in restaurant salads or meals.  That all changed, however, when I had a delicious beet salad at a potluck, which made me realize what I had been missing all that time.  Besides being tasty, beets are high in fiber, Vitamin C, and folate (which is an especially important nutrient for women of child-bearing age).  They are also a good source of iron, potassium, and magnesium.  Although beets are relatively high in sugar, when eaten in moderation and combined with nutritious, savory ingredients, they can be a regular part of a balanced diet.  Rather than chopping up beets to include in a salad, try them pureed as part of a healthy dip that will be perfect for any holiday gathering.

Roasted Beet Hummus

Ingredients
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup peeled and chopped roasted beets
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Instructions
1.  To roast beets:  Preheat oven to 400°F.
2.  Wrap beets in foil and seal tightly. Bake for 45 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife. Cool.
3. Use a paper towel to rub skins off beets.
4.  Chop coarsely.
5.  Combine chickpeas, beets, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor. Cover and process until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.

Recipe from Kids Eat Right

Understanding the Glycemic Index

I’ve given quite a few presentations on diabetes prevention and management in the past few weeks, so it’s no surprise that I have the Glycemic Index (GI) on my brain.  The GI is a measure of how fast a carbohydrate-containing food raises your blood sugar.  Foods are rated on a scale of 1-100 based on how fast they raise blood sugar compared to a reference food, usually white bread or pure glucose: 

<55 = low GI (good)

55-69 = moderate GI

>70 = high GI (bad)

Foods with a low GI raise blood sugar slowly, meaning they provide a steady source of energy that helps keep blood glucose levels stable.  Foods with a high score raise blood sugar quickly, and cause it to drop just as fast, leading to unstable glucose levels.  Blood sugar fluctuations can be dangerous in diabetics, and can cause issues such as increased hunger in between meals, lack of energy, and moodiness in most people.   Therefore, it’s important to choose foods with a low GI as much as possible in order to keep blood sugar stable throughout the day.  If you must reach for a high-GI food, try to pair it with a low-GI one to avoid blood sugar fluctuations.  GI values for over 100 foods can be found here.   

Several factors can affect GI, so the aforementioned GI chart is just a guideline.  Be aware of the following GI influencers: 

  • Fat and fiber content.  Foods that contain fat or fiber take longer to digest, so they can help stabilize blood sugar.  Choose foods that are made with heart-healthy unsaturated fats (rather than saturated or trans fats), and contain at least 3g of fiber per serving.
  • Ripeness and storage time.  As fruits and vegetables ripen, the starches they contain are broken down into simple sugars, thus increasing their sugar content.  Therefore, the riper the fruit or vegetable, the higher its GI.  A ripe banana has a GI of 62, which is bordering on high.  A slightly under-ripe banana, however, will keep blood sugar much more stable.
  • Processing.  There is only one ingredient listed on the carton of orange juice I drink most mornings:  oranges.  One would think that an orange and orange juice would have exactly the same GI, but processing actually increases the GI of most fruits.  When fruits are juiced, they lose their skin, seeds, and other components that provide most of the fiber they naturally contain (and many of the nutrients, as well).  When fiber is lost, there is not much left to help slow down digestion, so blood sugar – and GI – rises more rapidly in “processed” foods like fruit juice.
  • Cooking Time/Method.  Al dente is the preferred way to cook pasta in Italy, but most Americans like their pasta slightly softer.  However, just like slightly under-ripe fruits and veggies have a lower GI, so do many slightly under-cooked carbohydrate-containing foods, like pasta.  Again, this has a lot to do with starches being broken down into sugars, so cook your pasta according to the directions for “al dente” in order to give it a slightly lower GI. 

All of this being said, while GI is important, the amount and type of carbohydrate you’re eating also matter.  Be sure to choose complex carbs like fruits, veggies, and whole grains more often, and limit your intake of refined carbs like those made with white flour in order to help keep your  blood sugar levels where they need to be.

 

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds pack a lot of nutrition in a small package.  They’re a great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help decrease inflammation and lower cholesterol levels.  They’re also extremely high in fiber and lignans, chemical compounds found in plants that act as an antioxidant.  Whole flaxseeds are not fully digested by our intestinal tract, so for the most nutritional benefit, choose ground flaxseed, which can easily be found in grocery and specialty stores.  I like to sprinkle ground flax on cereal and oatmeal, but it’s also great as a substitute for oil in baked goods.  Here, flax adds a healthy twist to dinner rolls.

 

Two-hour Buns

Ingredients
2 tbsp fast rising instant yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups whole-wheat flour
¾  cup ground flax seed
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
3 cups lukewarm water

Instructions

1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.  In a bowl, mix yeast, 2 cups each all-purpose and wheat flour and ground flax.
3.  In a large bowl, beat sugar, eggs, and salt. Add water and stir.
4.  Add flour mixture to the liquid and beat until well blended.
5.  Add remaining flour and knead.
6.  Let rise 15 minutes.
7.  Punch down and let rise again 15 minutes.
8.  Punch down and form into buns.
9.  Let rise one hour.
10.  Bake 20 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack.  Makes 4 dozen buns.

 Recipe adapted from the Flax Council of Canada

Stay in Shape This Winter Without Leaving Home

Cold, snowy, windy winter weather can easily deter even the most avid exerciser, but what’s going on outside doesn’t have to be an excuse not to exercise if you have the right equipment inside your home.  I’m an advocate of building up a home “gym” for a number of reasons, the most important being that there is no excuse not to exercise when everything you need to do so is right in front of you.  If you work out at home, you don’t have to factor in travel time to and from the gym, so it’s easy to fit in one or more quick workouts throughout the day.  Home exercise is also a lot more cost effective than joining a gym, since you only need to pay for your home equipment; once it’s purchased, that’s it – there are no monthly fees or major upkeep charges. 

The obvious choices for home workout equipment – treadmills, stationary bikes, and rowing machines, can be pricey and take up quite a bit of space.  All of the equipment I recommend here is inexpensive, cost-effective, and can easily be stored in even the tiniest of apartments (I speak from experience on this last point).  Choose one or more of these items, and you’ll soon be incorporating exercise into your daily routine, no matter the weather.

Exercise Videos

–      Come in a variety of formats:  different lengths of time, types of routines, activity levels
–      Prices range from $5 to $25

Dumbbells

–      Consider an assortment of 2-, 5-, 10-, 12-, 15-, and 20-pound dumbbells
–      $15 to $25 per set

Stretching mat

–      Choose one with a comfortable cushion that’s long enough for your body.
–      Costs about $40

Jump rope

–      Great cardio workout
–      A good jump rope costs about $10, although you can buy one for as little as $1!

Step bench

–      Perfect for a great cardio or strength training workout
–      Cost ranges from $50 to $100

Resistance band

–      An alternative to dumbbells
–      Provides a good strength workout for the upper and lower body
–      A set of varying resistance costs about $12

Therapy ball

–      Can be used in a variety of flexibility, strength training, and balance exercises
–      Great for stretching, sit-ups, pushups, overhead presses, and many more
–      Costs about $30

 

 

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Turnips

While turnips may not be the best-known or most popular root vegetable, they’re just as versatile and tasty as their distant cousins carrots and sweet potatoes.  Turnips in their whole form provide a lot of bang for your buck, as both the root and leaves are edible.  Turnip roots are a good source of fiber and high in Vitamin C.  Turnip leaves, or greens, like many other green leafy veggies are rich in Vitamins A, C, K, folate, and calcium.  When you buy turnips at the store, get creative and try to use the entire vegetable to make multiple, healthy dishes.

Mashed Turnips

Ingredients
2 lbs. turnips
½ cup Skim or 1% milk
3 tsp. butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

1.  Rinse and peel turnips. Cut them into large, even pieces. Put them in a pot, cover them with cold, lightly salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook turnips until very tender, about 10 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, gently heat the milk over low heat. Add butter and melt it into the milk.
3.  Drain turnips, return to the pot, and place over medium low heat to dry out the turnips a bit.
4.  Mash turnips until as smooth as possible or run them through a ricer. Stir in warmed milk and melted butter. Add pepper to taste. Serve mashed turnips hot.


Turnip Green Soup

Ingredients
1 bunch of turnips with greens, or 3 or 4 turnips and 1 bunch of turnip greens
2 small onions or leeks
2 or 3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 to 6 cups homemade or low-sodium vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

1.  Remove the greens from the turnips, if necessary. Wash and rinse the greens, cut them into thin strips, and set them aside.
2.  Peel the turnips, chop them into small chunks, and set aside.
3.  Peel and finely chop onions or clean and finely chop leeks. Set aside.
4.  Thinly slice garlic and set aside.
5.  Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium high heat.  Add the onions or leeks, sprinkle with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 3 minutes.
6.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
7.  Add the chopped turnips and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook until turnips are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
8.  Stir in the turnip greens and cook until the greens are tender, about 2 minutes.
9.  Taste the soup and add seasonings to taste. Serve the soup hot, garnished with black pepper.

Recipes adapted from About.com