Monthly Archives: September, 2014

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Tofu

Lately I’ve noticed that whenever I talk about cooking with tofu, I’m usually met with a look of disgust.  Tofu has unfairly gained a bad reputation in certain circles for one of a number of reasons – it’s slimy, it doesn’t taste like anything, it seems too healthy to taste good – the list goes on.  I wanted to feature tofu as a Healthy Ingredient of the Week to dispel those myths and hopefully convince you to include tofu in one of your next meals or snacks.

Tofu is made from soybeans, which means it’s high in protein (and a complete source of protein, too!).  It’s also low in calories and high in calcium and iron, making it a much healthier substitute for meat in many stir-fried or baked meals.  The nice thing about tofu is that it takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with, so you have plenty of room for creative seasoning.  Tofu is versatile in other ways, too, since it comes in several different textural varieties.  Silken, or soft, tofu is perfect for incorporating into smoothies for an instant protein boost, while firm tofu works well for stir-frying.  I challenge you to think outside the box and give tofu a try – you may be surprised by how easy it is to use and how much you actually like it.


Sweet and Sour Chili Tofu

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 14-16 ounce package firm tofu, cut into slabs
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Black pepper, to taste


1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except oil and tofu. Soak the tofu in the mixture and place on plate.

2.  In a large pan over high heat, place the oil and fry the tofu evenly on each side. Serve with brown rice and veggies.
Recipe from Nasoya


Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

¾ cup almond milk
½ cup silken tofu
½ medium banana preferably frozen, sliced into rounds
½ cup strawberries, frozen


1.  Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth and frothy.

Recipe adapted from Joy Bauer 


Earn Incentives for Taking the WellMASS Health Questionnaire

If you haven’t already taken the WellMASS Health Questionnaire (HQ), which launched last Monday, don’t delay – the sooner you take the HQ, the more incentives you’ll receive.  Although the HQ will be open until June 30, 2015, the window to receive incentives for taking it is much shorter.

If you take the HQ before January 31, 2015, you will receive:

  • Your choice of a $20 gift card or a deluxe gym bag. The gift card can be redeemed at one of over 300 different retailers, and the gym bag features multiple pockets for your water bottle, smelly sneakers, and more.
This lovely gym bag could be yours...

This lovely gym bag could be yours…

  • Entry into a monthly raffle for an iPad. The raffles will take place from September – January, and you’ll be entered into the raffle each month beginning the month you take the HQ.  So, if you take the HQ this month, you’ll be entered into the iPad raffle every month through January!

Additionally, the first 5,000 employees who complete the HQ before December 19, 2014 will also receive a six-month subscription to NutriSavings,  an easy, fun and exciting nutrition-focused wellness program that helps you make healthy choices while shopping in the grocery store.  Employees enroll online or from their smartphones, register their shopper loyalty cards and earn “cash back rewards” on the purchase of healthy foods in the grocery store!  Easily accessed online or on your mobile device 24/7, NutriSavings also educates participants by providing a variety of healthy recipes and an array of articles and tips on good nutrition.  Employees who qualify for this incentive will be eligible to log onto NutriSavings beginning January 1, 2015.  I am so excited about the addition of NutriSavings to the WellMASS program that I’ll be handing over the reins of the blog to the NutriSavings team in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for more information about this great new incentive!

The WellMASS Health Questionnaire is designed to help you take charge of your health, and incentives for doing so certainly don’t hurt.  Whatever your reason for taking the HQ, I encourage you to take it as soon as possible so you can start taking advantage of all the WellMASS program has to offer!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Spelt

Spelt, a type of wheat, has been around for thousands of years, although it’s fairly new to North America (it just started being cultivated and sold here in the past century). Like some other newly popular grains, spelt is a main ingredient in animal feed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as delicious to humans. Like wheat, spelt can be ground into flour and used for baking. It can also be cooked and served as a side dish or in a salad like other grains such as rice and quinoa. Spelt is high in fiber and protein, and it’s also a good source of iron and magnesium. Since spelt is a type of wheat, it contains gluten, so it’s not suitable for people with Celiac disease. If you’re able to consume gluten-containing foods, and are looking for an alternative to regular wheat flour or your side dish staples of rice or quinoa, give spelt a try!

Spelt Salad with White Beans and Artichokes

1 ¼ cups uncooked spelt, rinsed and drained
2 ½ cups water
⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup minced red onion
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1. Combine spelt and 2 ½ cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil.
2. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until tender and liquid is absorbed.
3. Combine cooked spelt, mint, and the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well.
4. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

Recipe from Cooking Light magazine, January 2007

Bread Machine Spelt Bread

1 ¼ cups hot water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons honey
3 ½ cups spelt flour
1 ¾ teaspoons bread machine yeast

1. Pour water into bread machine loaf pan. Next, add salt, canola oil and honey.
2. Add the flour, in a mound shape, so some of it sticks up above the water.
3. With a spoon, make a small well in the center of the mound, then pour the yeast into that well.
4. Set bread maker to 1 ½-pound loaf (basic setting) with a medium crust or see your manufacturer’s instruction manual.

Recipe from

The WellMASS Health Questionnaire Is Here – Take Yours Today!

This week marks the launch of the new and improved WellMASS Health Questionnaire. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing you with information about the Questionnaire and the exciting new features of the GIC’s WellMASS wellness program. To start, I’ll answer a question I often get asked: “What is the Health Questionnaire, and why should I take it?”

The Health Questionnaire, or HQ, is a 10-minute assessment that provides you with a snapshot of your current health status and resources to take charge of your own health and wellness. The Health Questionnaire asks you a series of questions related to health behaviors such as nutrition, stress, and physical activity and provides you with personalized recommendations based on your results. In addition to the incentives you can earn just by taking the HQ (more on those next week), you’ll benefit from taking it in the following ways:

  • You’ll receive a wellness “score” and see how you rate nationally with others your same age and gender
  • You’ll discover your top 3 wellness priorities
  • You will be provided with health recommendations unique to you
  • If you took the WellMASS Health Assessment in the past, you can take it again this year to see how you’ve improved from year-to-year
  • Based on your results, you may qualify for free telephonic or mail-based health coaching
  • You’ll have access to the other great information on the WellMASS portal, including online classrooms, a prescription drug database, and wellness-related tools and calculators

The WellMASS Health Questionnaire is available to GIC-insured employees of the Executive and Legislative Branches and Constitutional Offices. It can be accessed by going to on your computer or smartphone. Since it only takes 10 minutes, it’s easy to take anytime, anywhere, so why wait? Take yours today to take the first step toward better health!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Yogurt

Yogurt, whether it’s Greek or “regular,” has a host of nutritional benefits. For starters, it’s high in calcium, protein, and Vitamin B12. It’s also a good source of potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure. Where yogurt stands apart from many other foods, however, is the fact that it contains probiotics, or live and active cultures made up of “good bacteria” that help regulate the digestive tract. Almost all yogurt contains these probiotics, often in the form of acidophilus, so there’s no need to buy a specialty brand that makes claims about improving digestion. It also doesn’t matter if the yogurt is Greek or not – it will still contain these healthy bacteria.   Greek and regular yogurt do differ in a few ways, though: Greek yogurt is often higher in protein and lower in sugar, while regular yogurt is higher in calcium. Either way, you’re making a smart choice by choosing to incorporate yogurt into your meals and snacks.

Green Goddess Dressing

1 cup chopped avocado (about 1 avocado)
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup nonfat Greek yogurt
¼ cup firmly packed basil, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to reach desired consistency)

1. Add the avocado, garlic, scallions, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, and Greek yogurt to a food processor or blender; process until relatively smooth.
2. Add the basil, parsley, and tarragon; process until smooth. If too thick, thin it out with a drizzle of olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. Makes 1 ½ cups.

Recipe adapted from FitSugar

Overnight Y’Oats

½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
½ cup unsweetened almond milk (plain or vanilla)
1 tablespoon chia seeds

1. In a resealable jar, add oats, Greek yogurt, almondmilk and chia seeds. Stir, then seal the jar with a lid.
2. Place in refrigerator 6 hours or overnight.
3. Once oats have softened and are ready to eat, garnish with desired toppings such as cinnamon, fruit preserves, almonds, granola, raspberries, and honey. Serve cold.

Recipe adapted from Trader Joe’s

Healthy Pasta Swaps

I love pasta (who doesn’t?), but I don’t love how quickly the calories in it can add up. The standard serving size of pasta is ½ cup – cooked – although we often tend to serve ourselves 4 times more than that during a typical meal. Given that a ½ cup serving of pasta, without sauce, normally contains around 100 calories, if you’re not careful of how much pasta you eat and what you serve that pasta with, you could easily be looking at consuming over 500 calories worth of pasta in a single sitting. This is a scary statistic, especially for those who consider themselves “volume eaters.” However, there’s an easy and healthy way to get your pasta fix by swapping out your typical caloric pasta for one of these sneaky swaps:

Spaghetti Squash

On the outside, spaghetti squash looks like any other member of the squash family. What’s on the inside, however, is a completely different story. Spaghetti squash gets its name for the spaghetti-like strands it produces after it’s been cooked. To turn your spaghetti squash into, well, spaghetti, cut it in half, place it on a sheet pan, and bake it in a 375° oven for around an hour. After you’ve let it cool for a few minutes, flake it with a fork to create spaghetti-like strands. One cup of spaghetti squash contains just 42 calories, or five times less than an equivalent amount of pasta.


Zucchini makes a surprisingly good – and easy – pasta swap. While it doesn’t have spaghetti-like fibers inside of it, it can be made to look like pasta with the aid of a vegetable peeler. Just peel the zucchini into strips (bonus points if you want to turn it as you’re peeling to create a spiral effect) and either boil it for 2-3 minutes or sauté it in a little bit of olive oil for 4-5 minutes, and you’ll end up with something that looks and feels like pasta but only contains 20 calories per one-cup serving.

Whole Wheat Pasta

Although it contains a similar calorie count as regular white pasta, 100% whole wheat pasta is much healthier, and much more filling, due to its high fiber and protein content. By swapping out your regular white pasta for the whole wheat kind, you’ll be adding an extra 3 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein, which will help you feel full while eating less.

No matter which pasta swap you choose, make sure to keep the calories low and nutrition high by steering clear from sauces that are high in calories, fat, and sodium, such as pesto and alfredo, and by loading up your dish with healthy extras like even more veggies, beans, or a handful of nuts.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Basil

Although basil, an herb, is often used in small quantities in cooking and baking, it surprisingly adds a lot of nutrition to any dish in which it’s featured.   Basil contains several different polyphenols, a type of antioxidant known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects. Basil is also a good source of Vitamin A and an excellent source of Vitamin K (just two tablespoons of basil leaves contain over a quarter of the Recommended Daily Allowance!). While basil is commonly featured whole in Italian and Indian dishes, it also tastes delicious pureed into chimichurri sauce, a traditional Argentinean condiment.


1 cup basil leaves
1 cup parsley leaves
½ cup cilantro leaves
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped, or ¼ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.

Recipe from Food & Nutrition magazine, July/August 2014

Knowing Your Barriers is Key to Quitting Smoking

Smoking, like other unhealthy habits, can be tough to quit if you feel like there are a lot of barriers standing in your way. Barriers to quitting vary from person to person, so that’s why it’s important to identify your own unique challenges in order to come up with your own unique plan to conquer them. Barriers to quitting smoking often take the form of triggers, or situations, environments, or feelings you associate with smoking.   It can be hard to escape these everyday occurrences, which may include:

  • Working under pressure
  • Feeling blue
  • Playing cards
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Watching TV
  • Driving your car
  • Drinking coffee
  • Feeling bored
  • Going out with friends
  • Seeing someone else smoke

Taking a minute to think about your triggers is a great first step to overcoming them. If you know what your barriers to quitting are, you can avoid, work around, or at the very least, be prepared for them.

Besides identifying triggers, another way to overcome barriers is to give yourself a visual reminder of them. You can make a list of everything you think is a barrier to your success, or you can think about your barriers in a different way by making lists of pros and cons. Focus on the pros and cons of smoking, by thinking about what you like and don’t like about it. Then, think about the pros and cons of quitting – what do you think you will like about it, and what do you think you will dislike about it? You’ll know you’re ready to quit if your list of “Cons” of smoking is much longer than your list of “Pros,” and your list of “Pros” to quitting is much longer than your list of “Cons.”

Quitting smoking is not an easy or quick process, but being aware of your barriers will make you much more prepared for all that the process entails.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Milk

We’ve all seen the ads and know that milk is good for our bones – it’s an excellent source of calcium (in fact, it happens to be one of the best-available and best-absorbed sources of calcium there is), phosphorus, and, thanks to fortification, Vitamin D – three nutrients that are essential to bone health. The health benefits of milk don’t stop there, however. Milk is also high in protein, which helps build, maintain, and repair your muscles and all other tissues in your body. In addition, the protein in milk, and foods made from it, will keep you feeling full for hours, making it a good choice to include in meals and snacks. Milk can also help regulate blood pressure levels, thanks to its potassium content. The potassium found in milk and other dairy products helps your body flush out excess sodium, which can lead to increased blood pressure control.

Milk and dairy products sometimes get a bad reputation for multiple reasons, one of which is that they tend to be high in saturated fat. When choosing milk or milk products, make sure you stick with low-fat or fat-free varieties (a.k.a. 1 percent and skim) to keep saturated fat content to a minimum.  There is no reason to avoid milk because of its fat content if you choose wisely.

Very Berry Pops

1 cup 1% milk
2 cups whole blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries

1. In a blender, combine berries and milk for about 60 seconds, or until mixture is smooth.
2. Fill 6 popsicle molds, or 6 5-ounce paper cups with mixture and freeze until partially frozen.
3. Remove from freezer, insert popsicle sticks, and return to freezer until completely frozen.

Green Burst Smoothie

2 cups 1% milk
1 ¾ cups green grapes
½ ripe Bartlett pear, seeded and halved
½ avocado, pitted and peeled
¼ cup coarsely chopped broccoli
½ cup spinach
¼ cup ice cubes
1 tablespoon honey

1. Place all ingredients into a blender and slowly increase speed to high, blending for 30-45 seconds or until mixture is smooth.
2. Pour into glasses and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Recipes from Got Milk