Monthly Archives: March, 2014

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Teff

I’ve considered writing about teff for awhile, but I wasn’t sure if it was too obscure a food to feature as a Healthy Ingredient of the Week. However, I recently received an email from an employee asking about teff, and it’s now a mainstay on the shelves of my local grocery store, so I think the time is right to talk about this ancient grain.

Teff, a staple of Ethiopian cooking, is one of the oldest grains in the world. It also happens to be the smallest, but you would never guess that judging from its nutritional value. Teff, which is naturally gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, has more protein than wheat and is a good source of fiber. It’s also an excellent source of the mineral manganese and high in iron, calcium, magnesium, thiamin, and phosphorus. Teff can be purchased whole or ground up as flour. Whole teff can be a great substitute for rice as a side dish. In the recipe below, it makes a nice addition to an Ethiopian soup called wat, which is usually served with bread made from teff flour, but does not traditionally include whole teff in the soup.

Teff Stew 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup teff
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 medium yellow summer squash, sliced
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
½ cup lemon juice
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat.\
2. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add garlic and spices. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
4. Add teff and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
5. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
6. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until teff is soft, about 15 minutes.
7. Add vegetables and beans; cook until tender, 10-15 minutes.
8. Add lemon juice and cook 3 more minutes.
9. Add cilantro just before serving. Season to taste with pepper. Makes 4-6 servings.

Recipe adapted from Bob’s Red Mill


Nancy Minus 25: Minus Seven Pounds and Counting…

“This is the lowest you have weighed since the first time you came to my office, Nancy; keep up the good work.” Now, those were words that were sweet music to my ears. What a huge difference from the last time I visited with my primary care doctor and when we started the WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge. As I am sitting here writing my last blog and reminiscing on my experience with the Challenge, I can definitely say that it has been quite an adventure! Well, more like a roller coaster adventure, as I have had my ups and my downs, and lots of learning curves in between.

I learned that eating more fruits and veggies is tedious, but worth every effort. Preparing my meals and snacks helps me avoid eating junk food and feel great about the choices I make to eat healthier. Actually, the more I think about it, it also helped me with my children, nieces, and nephews, as I found myself eating healthier more and visiting McDonald’s less with them.

I learned that exercising (such as walking, core strengthening, and ab workouts) is important, but my mental and emotional wellbeing is not only just as important, but crucial. Yoga, meditation, and simply taking time to read or hear motivational “stuff” have helped me get closer to my goal every single day.

I learned that surrounding ourselves with those who encourage us, inspire us, and lift us higher (like my friend Maureen Saba) can only make us feel better and less likely to give up. I truly believe everyone should have a friend like Maureen; for that I am very grateful.

I also learned and felt a great deal of gratitude for those who joined me in the Challenge, because the fact that they showed up every week even though they were busy taught us that we all achieve something and that together, we can fight and win this battle called weight loss.

I may not have lost the 25 pounds that I had wanted to lose during this challenge; however, this time I feel optimistic and know that I can reach my goals because giving up is no longer an option. I learned that blogging is not only fun, but a great way for me to hold myself accountable, and I hope that my blog posts were helpful to others (thanks Ashley for picking me to do this!). Finally, I would like to leave you with this quote; Namaste!

“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” – Brian Tracy

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Mozzarella Cheese

Cheese, when it’s lower in fat and eaten in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet. Cheese is an excellent source of both protein and calcium, although it often gets a bad reputation for being high in saturated fat. While cheese made with whole milk often contains more saturated fat than other dairy products like yogurt, softer cheeses and those made with part skim milk are healthier choices. Since mozzarella is softer than many of its cheesy counterparts, like cheddar, it’s a naturally lower source of saturated fat. To make meals made with mozzarella even healthier, choose part-skim varieties, and of course, use the cheese in moderation.

The following recipes come courtesy of Jacki Dooley, the Wellness Champion for the State Lab in Jamaica Plain – she’s someone who knows a lot about making meals healthier, having lead her worksite to victory in last year’s WellMASS Weight Loss Competition!

Baked Margarita Spaghetti Squash

1 large spaghetti squash
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large Roma tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 tsp. each salt & pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Using a large knife or a cleaver, slice the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise down the middle. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and center strings.
3. Drizzle the two halves with olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
4. Place the squash, open side down on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven, check to see if the squash is soft and easily comes up with a fork into a spaghetti-like texture. If it’s too hard to remove, cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, scrape and fluff the stringy squash with a fork. Leave the squash in the skin.
6. Turn the oven up to broil. Add the tomatoes and fresh basil into the squash, stir and top with the mozzarella cheese. Place in the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Alternatively, you can leave the oven at 400 degrees and bake the squash for an additional 20 minutes. 7. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving the squash.

Baked Mozzarella Chicken Rolls

2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (8, 4-ounce pieces)
1 cup whole wheat Italian-style bread crumbs
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
5 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 clove minced garlic and olive oil for sautéing
½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
⅓ cup beaten egg whites or Egg Beaters
3 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup marinara sauce
Fresh basil for topping

1. Prep the chicken: Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and pound the pieces until they are thin (for quick cooking) and have expanded in surface area (for more filling).
2. Place the breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and set aside.
3. Prep the filling: Chop the spinach and sauté it with the garlic and just a drizzle of olive oil for 2-3 minutes or until just barely wilted. Combine the sautéed spinach with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese, and 2-3 tablespoons of the egg whites. Place the remaining egg whites in a separate shallow bowl and set aside.
4. Assemble the chicken: Oil the bottom of a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place one piece of chicken on a flat working surface. Put a spoonful of ricotta-spinach filling right in the middle and roll the chicken up so that the edges meet to form a “seam.” Dip the entire chicken roll in egg whites, and then roll it in the breadcrumbs. Place in a baking dish, seam side down. Repeat for the remaining 7 pieces of chicken. Bake for 25 minutes.
5. Finishing touches: After 25 minutes, the chicken should be cooked through (white on the inside) and browned on the top. Cover the chicken with the marinara sauce and slices of fresh Mozzarella. Bake for another 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melting. Sprinkle with fresh basil.

Recipes courtesy of Wellness Champion Jack Dooley

Making Sense of Food Labels

The nutrition community recently has been abuzz with news that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking to update the nutrition facts labels found on the back of packaged foods.  You probably have dozens of foods in your cabinets that contain these labels, and you may even glance at them once in awhile to see if you’re making a smart nutritional choice.  Nutrition labels in their current form are confusing, so it’s no surprise that the government wants to give them an overhaul to make them more user-friendly. 

The proposed changes to the labels include a more prominent calorie count (the first piece of information most consumers check); more realistic serving sizes (let’s face it – most of us don’t stick to the recommended ½ cup of ice cream or 8 ounces of soda); and a differentiation between naturally-occurring and added sugars in a product (currently, only the total sugar count is listed, and it’s almost impossible to figure out how much of that sugar comes from natural sources, like fruit and dairy, versus how much refined sugar has been added into the product).  The aim of adapting the labels to the needs of consumers is that more people will actually use them to make healthy choices.

Although nutrition labels may currently be a little hard to figure out, there is still some useful information on them, including:

Serving Size and Servings per Container:  Being aware of the serving size and how many servings are in the container of food you’re eating is a great way to keep track of how many calories you’re consuming.  Serving sizes are recommendations for how much of a product you should consume in a single sitting.  In the event you end up eating more than one serving, it’s helpful to know how many servings you consumed, and how many calories were in each serving.  It’s also a good idea to pay attention to how many servings are in a container, as it’s really easy to drink an entire 20-ounce bottle of coke without realizing that there are 2.5 servings in that bottle, and each serving contains 100 calories – so that bottle of Coke is going to cost you 250 calories, which may be a lot more than you bargained for.

Percent Daily Values:  With the exception of calories, it can be hard to remember how much of a nutrient (like fat, sodium, or fiber) you should be consuming each day.  Rather than stressing out about counting grams of sodium, you can simply look at the % Daily Value column to determine whether or not your food is a low or high source of a nutrient.  Percent Daily Values let you know the percentage of the Recommended Daily Value of a nutrient your food contains.  While these recommendations are based on an adult consuming a 2,000-calorie/day diet, most nutrient recommendations are the same or similar for all healthy adults (so even though you may only consume 1,500 calories a day, you need just as much Vitamin A as someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day).  The easiest way to make use of the % Daily Values is to remember that anything that contains <5% of the Recommended Daily Value is a low source of a nutrient, while anything containing >20% of the Recommended Daily Value is a high source of a nutrient.  You should try and choose foods that are low sources of nutrients to limit, like sodium and saturated fat, and high sources of nutrients to increase, like fiber and Vitamin C. 

Ingredients List:  Although it doesn’t contain any numbers, the ingredients list may be the most valuable portion of a food label, since it lets you know every ingredient a food contains.  General rules to follow when it comes to choosing a healthy food based on its ingredients list are:  choose foods with as few ingredients as possible; be on the lookout for words you can’t pronounce or words that signal unhealthy additives like partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or sucralose (Splenda, an artificial sweetener); and avoid foods with unhealthy ingredients like sugar at the beginning of the list, as the ingredients present in the largest quantities are listed first.  Ingredients lists are also the only way to currently determine if a product contains added sugar, although it’s not always easy.  Sugar can take many forms in packaged foods, including sucrose, fructose, maltose, or dextrose (basically, anything ending in –ose); cane syrup; molasses; honey; agave; and maple syrup.  Reading the ingredients list is the only surefire way to know if your food contains items you might want to avoid, as the nutrition facts panel doesn’t always tell the whole story.

The next time you’re shopping for food, or going through your cupboards to find a healthy choice, I challenge you to be a food detective and carefully read the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list.  What you uncover may surprise you, and will hopefully lead you on the path to healthier eating.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Peas

If there’s any day to celebrate the color green, it’s today.  The recipe below features at least four different shades of green, thanks to its many healthy ingredients.  However, the star of this dish, and today’s healthy ingredient, is an often-overlooked nutritional superstar:  the pea.  It’s easy to think of peas as inexpensive filler ingredients, since that’s how they’re often used in uninventive dishes.  In reality, peas should be anything but, due to both their unique flavor and nutrient content.  Peas, a member of the legume family (whose other members include beans and peanuts), are a good source of protein and fiber, and an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, and K.  Making a pea-centric dish is a surefire way to increase your intake of key nutrients and feel full and satisfied long after the meal is over.

Very Green Ravioli

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups frozen no-salt-added green peas
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup 1% milk
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
teaspoon ground black pepper
16 ounces fresh or frozen spinach ravioli, prepared according to package instructions
4 packed cups baby arugula or baby arugula salad mix
½ large lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

1.  Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the solids are bubbly and brown, about 2 minutes.
2.  Add peas and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.
3.  Add broth, cook for 2 minutes more and then carefully transfer to blender.
4.  Add milk, salt and pepper and purée until very smooth.
5.  Toss in a bowl with hot ravioli.
6.  Arrange arugula in four wide, shallow bowls. Top with a squeeze of lemon, the sauced ravioli and mint. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Whole Foods

Nancy Minus 25: “Surround yourself with ONLY people who are going to lift you higher” – Oprah Winfrey

By Guest Blogger Nancy Ayapan, DCF

What a difference a good speaker, someone who has the ability to inspire us and lift us higher, will make.  That was very true for me this week when our weight loss group was very fortunate to hear from our special guest of the week, Maureen Saba. Maureen, who is not only my very good friend and my daughter’s godmother, but is also an Independent Business Owner, Global Expansion Leader/Recruiter at ACN, Owner/Founder at Maternal Health & Fitness, and Founder/Executive Project Manager at Shameless Chefs, came and spoke to us about her journey in being healthy and having the right mindset to accomplish our goals. You see, my friend Maureen inspires me and lifts me higher, especially during the times when I am ready to give up. Maureen has been featured on many national and international television programs (including Good Morning America), in magazines, and in newspapers; she is also a Personal Fitness Trainer, FRA, Prenatal and Postnatal Fitness Instructor, and Yoga Instructor. I am sure I am missing a few other things, but the point is that when I thought of inviting her to come in and speak to us and she said, “Yes,” I knew we had hit gold.

During her talk, we learned about really being conscious about what we put in our mouths. Maureen talked about struggling with issues that most of us deal with:  feeling bloated, not feeling right, and basically experiencing many different health ailments. However, Maureen took control of her health by saying, “That is enough,” and that is when her journey toward a gluten-free way of eating began.  Besides eating a gluten-free diet, she also incorporates having her coconut water with lemon and tea every morning, drinking a healthy smoothie during the day, eating fish regularly, and really focusing on getting rid of every toxin in her body. Twenty pounds slimmer, Maureen described feeling “amazing,” full of energy, and most importantly, able to have gotten rid of those unhealthy ailments. It was very inspiring to hear her story, and I became more aware of the choices I made when putting food in my mouth. As a result, on Sunday, my sister and I went shopping for veggies and tons of fruits and made juice for the week; we also baked tons of chicken and grilled all kinds of vegetables; and we planned a week’s worth of meals. Speaking of my sister, she recently received the recommendation to follow a gluten-free diet, so guess what? – I think I am also going to embark on the journey of going gluten-free.  I feel that so many signs point to “gluten-free here” and “gluten free-there” that it has my attention now, and it’s time for me to take action.

Maureen’s talk exceeded our expectations, and then some! Not only did we feel inspired and motivated, but most importantly, we felt great about ourselves in the moment, no matter where we were. Maureen also brought us some motivational gifts (a Joel Osteen book, drinking cups with motivational quotes, a hand bag with motivational words on it, and aromatic hand creams) – now do you see why she is my friend? And why I surround myself with her guidance every chance I get? My bottom line is that we all have the choice to be healthy; it’s in our hands, in combination with feeding ourselves with positive thoughts and surrounding ourselves with people who are going to encourage us, and LIFT US HIGHER!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Whole Wheat Flour

Baking with whole wheat flour can be scary.  Many of us have had bad experiences with whole wheat products – if not baked or cooked correctly, they can turn out tough, dense, dry, and flavorless.  However, I’m here to tell you first-hand that whole wheat foods can taste just as good, and usually better, than their nutritionally-inferior white wheat counterparts.

The difference between whole wheat and the white flour to which most of us are accustomed is that whole wheat flour contains all three layers of the wheat grain – the endosperm, germ, and bran.  The two outer layers, the bran and the germ, are where most of the grain’s nutrition lies; white flour has been stripped of these two nutritious layers, as well as the fiber, protein, and more than one dozen key vitamins and minerals they contain.  White flour is often labeled as “enriched,” a sneaky way of saying that nutrients have been added back into it to make it more nutritious.  While enriched flour contains some vitamins and minerals, these nutrients are not absorbed by the body very well; our bodies best absorb nutrients when they occur in their natural state, so the vitamins and minerals that are naturally found in whole wheat flour will be better absorbed than those added back into enriched flour.  Additionally, white flour has nowhere near the fiber and protein content as its whole wheat counterpart, which means it won’t fill you up or keep your blood sugar levels stable for very long.  Choosing products made with whole wheat flour will keep you feeling full, satisfied, and energized long after your meal or snack is over.

Now that you know the benefits of cooking with whole wheat flour, why not try making a healthy treat with it?  This recipe calls for all whole wheat flour, but many baked goods can be made even a little bit healthier (and still taste more like the baked goods you know and love) by using half whole wheat flour and half white flour.  Whether they contain whole wheat flour or not, however, treats are still treats, and should be enjoyed in moderation.  I made the recipe below for a party, and it was a hit.  I liked it so much that I saved a few for myself, and enjoyed them throughout the week as an after-dinner snack. 


Whole Wheat Donuts

⅓ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs (or ¾ cup egg substitute)
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup + 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans.
2. Beat together the oil, eggs, sugar, applesauce, orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until smooth.
3.  Add the flour, stirring just until smooth.
4.  Fill the wells of the doughnut pans nearly to the rim; use about 1/4 cup of batter in each well.
5.  Bake the doughnuts for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
6.  Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and loosen their edges. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack.
7.  While the doughnuts are still warm (but no longer fragile), gently shake them, 1 or 2 at a time, in a bag with the cinnamon-sugar. 

Recipe adapted from King Arthur

Nancy Minus 25: STRESS, Anyone?

By Guest Blogger Nancy Ayapan, DCF

“Skin color, family structures and relationships, ages, occupations and manifestations of the disease are different, but we are all powerless over food” These words, which comprise the daily meditation for Overeaters Anonymous, were some words of wisdom that came from a friend who was sympathizing with me about stress, children, and overeating. I have to tell you that I could not agree with it more. As I reflected on how this week went for me, compared to previous weeks, I realized that stress is my biggest enemy (does anyone else have this problem or is it just me?). I blame stress as the #1 reason why I was not as successful in losing weight this week. I have also come to the conclusion that I am an emotional eater and when I am stressed, I eat. The question is, what do I do to fight this battle?

I say I am an emotional eater because when I am stressed, nothing is more comforting to me than eating (especially overeating takeout food), even if I am not hungry. I am being truly honest when I tell you that this weekend I over-ate the chicken wings and those delicious Chinese egg rolls that come with the pu-pu platters, and all I can say is “Thank God there were not any crab rangoons!” For the most part, I am able to be prepared and not eat more than I can handle; however, on this particular weekend, I was overwhelmed, and tired of not only dealing with runny noses and children whining but also with not being able to get enough exercise and sleep throughout the week. 

In thinking back about my week, what is most striking to me is the amount of stress we all deal with everyday, and the fact that how we handle it is key to success in our well being, and essentially our lives. For me, personally, weekends are not only very busy, but also very stressful. You see, besides caring for my two daughters, I also help my sister and brother-in-law in caring for my 2 nieces and my 2 nephews, one of them being a child with down syndrome, (come to think of it, it’s like running a daycare). Needless to say, there was a great deal of whining, not listening going on, and I felt like I had to keep them all entertained every 5 minutes. So when my sister came home with takeout food, not only was it one less thing to do, but at that moment, it became easy to let go, even though at the end I knew it was not the best choice.

Having said all this, there is one thing I feel I did right this week: I did not give up (like other times). You see, in the past, I simply quit, because I gained a pound or two from overeating. However, I did not give up this time; on Sunday I started from the beginning – I ate better, went for a long and brisk walk. I am also working on learning other healthy ways to deal with stress, eat healthier and take things one day at a time!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Pomegranates

Pomegranates, like many other Healthy Ingredients of the Week, are a real superfood.  They are an excellent source of fiber and Vitamins C and K, and their dark red color signifies that they are loaded with antioxidant polyphenols.  Pomegranates are distinct from other fruits in that they are prized for their seeds, or arils.  Whereas you might discard or spit out the seeds of a watermelon or orange, the seeds of a pomegranate are the part you’re most likely to consume.  Pomegranate arils are sometimes sold separately, but they’re also easy to collect from a whole fruit.  The easiest way to separate the seeds from the flesh of a pomegranate is to cut the flesh off and soak it in a bowl of water; the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, while the flesh will float. 

Now that you know the technique for de-seeding a pomegranate, you should have no trouble making the recipe below, which makes use of the fruit in two different forms.  This recipe also teaches you another valuable cooking technique – how to make your own salad dressing.  I have never been a huge salad person, but I recently started making my own dressing at home, which has made me actually enjoy eating salads.  Homemade salad dressings are quick, easy, nutritious, and delicious.  Especially when they involve a fruity twist, like the vinaigrette used here.

Spiced Pomegranate and Orange Salad

½ cup pomegranate juice 
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground mustard
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

8 cups baby or spring salad greens 
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned 
6 tablespoons pomegranate seeds 

1.  Mix pomegranate juice, oil, vinegar, allspice, mustard, and pepper in small bowl with wire whisk until well blended.
2.  Toss salad greens and vinaigrette in large bowl. Divide salad mixture evenly among 6 plates. Top each with about 5 orange sections and 1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds.

Recipe adapted from McCormick