Monthly Archives: January, 2016

Office Work Isn’t Easy on the Eyes – Here’s How to Treat Them Right

If you spend most of your workday sitting at a desk, staring at a computer, you may be putting your eyes at risk.  Poor lighting and an improperly placed monitor, especially one that you’re looking at for a prolonged period of time, can lead to eyestrain and irritation; watery eyes and red, swollen eyelids; double vision; a decrease in the ability to focus your eyes and see clearly; headaches from straining to see clearly; and neck and back pains from hunching over to see small items.  Chances are, you’ve probably experienced at least one of these issues at some point throughout your career, but you may not have been sure of what caused them – or of how much of an effect they were having on your productivity.  Research has shown that even slight eyestrain can reduce workplace productivity by up to 20% – if you’d like to feel more focused and productive, here are some tips to avoid eyestrain and related problems:

  • Brighten up the place by placing an extra light above your workstation or on your desk. If your workspace is naturally dim, this “task lighting” can help you see more clearly.
  • Place your computer monitor at a 90-degree angle to any nearby windows and close window blinds to reduce glare from the sun.
  • Keep the top of your computer monitor even with or slightly below eye level – the top task bar on your Internet browser or computer program should be parallel with your eyes.
  • If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, adjust your monitor so that you don’t have to tilt your head back to see clearly, or look for progressive lenses with reading, mid-distance, and long-distance prescriptions.

Even if you’ve adjusted your workspace to reduce eye problems, it’s a good idea to follow the 20-20-20 Rule throughout the workday:  Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. Giving your eyes a break, even if it’s for a few seconds, should help make your workday more productive and less stressful – on your body and your mind.

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Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Sorghum

You may have never heard of sorghum, but it has been a staple of African and Asian diets for centuries.  Its popularity is currently on the rise here in America, thanks to its status as a gluten-free grain.  Sorghum flour can be substituted for wheat flour in a variety of recipes, and whole sorghum grains can be popped like popcorn for a satisfying snack.  Sorghum is a good source of fiber and iron, and some varieties are high in antioxidants.   If you’re looking for a different grain that can be used in the same ways as more familiar ones, give sorghum a try!

Sorghum Salad

Ingredients
1 cup sorghum
3 cups water
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano
2 green onions, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 cup peeled, chopped English cucumbers
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring the water to boil in a medium saucepan, then add the sorghum.
  2. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until somewhat soft, similar to cooked rice.
  3. Cool sorghum to room temperature, fluffing with a fork occasionally.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and add the cooked sorghum.

Recipe adapted from the Oldways Whole Grains Council

Is Your Diet Too Good to Be True?

It’s January, which means advertisements for diets and diet-related products are everywhere.  While it may be tempting to try out the eating plan or supplement you saw on tv that promised that you could lose weight quickly while eating fast food all day and never really leaving your couch, most of these plans and products are too good to be true – and likely not very safe.  How can you sort out the good from the not-so-good when it comes to diets and supplements specially-designed for weight loss?  Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself when it comes to choosing a weight-loss aid:

  • Does it sound too good to be true? Does it promote rapid weight loss or promise results without having to make dietary, exercise, or lifestyle changes?
  • Does it involve a pill, cream or patch? Can you continue to eat whatever you want and not exercise and still see results?
  • Does it over-emphasize restrictions on what you can or cannot eat? Are certain foods praised or criticized excessively?
  • Does it eliminate certain foods or entire food groups? Are you prohibited from eating grains, dairy, or other major food groups or types of food due to the “evidence” against their consumption?
  • Does it encourage fasting? Are you supposed to go hours or days with eating little to no food in order to “kickstart” your metabolism?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then the diet or product you’re considering is probably not a safe – or effective – option.  The best diets are lifestyle-based, meaning they promote and encourage a balanced diet and regular exercise – without the use of any “extras” like specially-formulated supplements.  They also are fairly easy to follow, have a high safety track record, don’t leave you feeling hungry, allow occasional room for foods you enjoy, and result in weight loss of about 1-2 pounds a week.   If you’re in search of a better-for-you diet and are unsure of where to start, U.S. News and World Report just released their yearly Top Diet rankings.  Whether you decide to look further into any of these diets or not, remember that the best diets are not actually diets at all – they’re lifestyles that you can sustain even after you’ve reached your desired weight.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Kumquats

Kumquats, a citrus fruit popular in Asia, are currently in season here in America and worth trying.  They’re a good source of fiber and high in Vitamin C and, unlike some of their citrus-y cousins, can be eaten with the skin intact.  Try snacking on kumquats in place of clementines or oranges, or incorporating them into a sauce to accompany chicken, pork, or beef.

Pepper-Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Kumquat Marinade

Ingredients
1 ½ cups vertically-sliced onion
½ cup halved, seeded, and vertically-sliced kumquats
½ cup carrot juice or orange juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons freshly ground mixed peppercorns or black peppercorns
4, 4-ounce beef tenderloin steaks, trimmed (about ¾-inch thick)
Fresh chives (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Stir in rice vinegar, and let cool.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge steaks in pepper.
  3. Add beef to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with marmalade; garnish with chives, if desired.

Recipe from Cooking Light, December 2002

Mastering the Art of Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is the practice of focusing all one’s attention and awareness on the food in front of them.  It’s the exact opposite of the mindless eating we so often perform in front of the tv, in the car, at our desks, and anywhere else where our focus is on something other than food.  Those who eat mindfully are better able to determine when they’re full, more likely to feel satisfied by the foods they eat, and therefore less likely to overeat.  If you’d like to change your habits for the better and start eating more mindfully, here are some easy strategies to try:

  • Eat your meals sitting down at a table rather than at your desk, in your car, or standing up.
  • Eat away from your computer, tablet, smart phone, or tv.
  • Eat in a quiet setting where you can clear your mind and focus only on your food.
  • Place your silverware down between bites to help pace yourself.
  • Chew your food slowly (ideally 15-20 times) before swallowing.
  • Use your senses to fully experience the food you’re eating – smell your food, taste it, and notice its textures.

When you make a conscious effort to eat mindfully, you’ll probably enjoy your food more and end up eating less of it – a win-win situation for those focused on weight loss, weight maintenance, or healthy eating in general.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Coffee

I’m often asked about the nutritional value of coffee and whether it can be part of a healthy diet. Coffee is an excellent source of phenolic acids and tannins, potent antioxidants that also have anti-inflammatory properties.  On its own, coffee is virtually calorie-free, a good source of the B vitamin riboflavin, and contains many other B vitamins as well as potassium and magnesium.  Coffee becomes less nutritious when excessive amounts of sugar and high-fat dairy products are added in; if you do choose to sweeten or lighten your coffee, stick to 1-2 tablespoons of sugar and low-fat or skim milk.  When it comes to the caffeine content of coffee, it’s all about knowing your personal tolerance.  Caffeine has few, if any, effects on most people, but if you experience heart palpitations or a jittery feeling after drinking coffee, or you have trouble sleeping at night, try cutting down your intake and refrain from consuming coffee and other caffeinated beverages after noontime.  Coffee can be consumed any time of day without these effects, however, when it’s incorporated into dishes like the one below.

Three-Bean and Coffee Chili

Ingredients
¼ cup olive oil
3 large onions, chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup chili powder
¼ cup ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
2, 28-ounce cans no-salt-added crushed tomatoes (with purée)
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup strong coffee
2, 15-ounce cans low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
2, 15-ounce cans low-sodium kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1, 15-ounce cans low-sodium chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 roasted red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
  2. Mix in chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook 1 minute.
  3. Mix in tomatoes, honey, and coffee. Add drained beans, red pepper, chicken or veggie stock, and remaining spices. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 60 minutes uncovered or until mixture thickens. If mixture consistency is too thin, use a potato masher or immersion blender to smash a portion of beans to thicken the chili.
  4. Optional: Top with nonfat sour cream, chopped avocado, grated low-fat cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, or jalapeño peppers. Serves 8.

 Recipe adapted from WebMD

Did You Resolve to Exercise More in 2016? Try These Tips to Stay Motivated All Year Long!

January is often the time we decide to take charge of our health and resolve to change our eating and exercise habits for the better.  The new year brings along with it a fresh start, and a perfect blank canvas to create new, healthy habits.  However, these habits don’t last long for most of us – according to data from Gold’s Gym, most people end up breaking their resolutions (at least the ones related to exercise) on February 18.  If you’d like to make your resolution to exercise more a habit that lasts all year long, try these tips to stay motivated until February 18 – and beyond:

  • Set realistic goals. If you’re a couch potato who vowed to exercise 7 days a week come January 1, chances are good that your resolution has already been broken.  Setting reasonable expectations for yourself will ensure you have the time, energy, and interest needed to help you reach your goal.
  • Start slowly. Like setting realistic expectations, starting slowly will help you feel like your goal is more attainable, and you’ll be less likely to suffer fatigue or burnout if you ease into your healthy transition.
  • Think about how much better you feel when you’re active. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why you don’t want to exercise, but it’s even easier to think of how good you’ll feel after you do.  The next time you claim you’re too tired to be active, think back to a time you managed to fit in a quick workout and remember how good your mind and body felt afterward.  Use that memory to help fuel your next exercise session.
  • Schedule some exercise on your calendar. If you’re like me, you rely on a calendar (whether on your desk, phone, or Outlook) to keep your schedule straight.  You know you have to attend a meeting or perform a work-related task if it’s on your calendar, so why not pencil (or type) a regular workout in there as well?  You’ll be more likely to commit to exercise if you look at it as part of your schedule.
  • Think outside the box – try a new activity. It’s understandable to lose interest if you stick with the same types of activity day in and day out.  When you feel your motivation slipping, think about activities you haven’t performed before, but are interested in, and give them a try.  Who knows – you might just find the workout you’ll want to stick with for years to come.
  • Use the buddy system. Exercising with a buddy is a great way to stay accountable and receive the support you need to work out regularly.  Remember that your buddy is probably looking forward to working out with you and wants to get healthy together – you wouldn’t want to let him or her down, would you?  Think of your exercise buddy as your own personal cheerleader, and use them to your advantage whenever you don’t have the motivation to exercise.
  • Add exercise in whenever you can.  Physical activity doesn’t have to take the form of a 60-minute exercise class or a long run.  Challenge yourself to be active in creative ways at work, at home, and when out with friends.  Anything that gets your heart rate up – walking meetings, cleaning the house, or going bowling after work  – counts as activity.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Turmeric

Turmeric, the deep yellow spice that gives curry both its color and earthy, bitter taste, has been used for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal properties.  Curcumin, one of the main components in turmeric, is a potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.  Some studies have shown that turmeric helps reduce the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, but more research still needs to be done to confirm its effectiveness in treating a variety of conditions.  Medical claims aside, turmeric is a good source of iron and manganese and contains a host of other vitamins and minerals.  If you’re a fan of curry, then you already know that even a small amount of turmeric can add a lot of color and flavor to a meal.  If curry’s not your thing, plenty of other options abound for adding a little more spice to your meals by incorporating turmeric.

Curried Potatoes with Cauliflower and Peas

Ingredients
2 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter), melted butter, or vegetable oil
1, 10-ounce package diced onions, or 1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
6 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Instructions

  1. Heat ghee, oil, or butter in pressure cooker over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until softened.
  3. Stir in garlic, ginger, curry powder, cumin, mustard seeds, and turmeric, and sauté 2 minutes.
  4. Add potatoes, cauliflower, sugar, and ½ cup water.
  5. Close pressure cooker, and bring up to high pressure. Cook 5 minutes.
  6. Release pressure with quick-release button, or transfer pressure cooker to sink, and run cool water over rim to release pressure.
  7. Stir peas into cauliflower mixture, and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 6.

 Recipe from Vegetarian Times

Greek Lemon Rice Soup

Ingredients
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
⅓ cup brown rice
1, 12-ounce package silken tofu (about 1 ½ cups)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring broth and rice to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is very tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Carefully transfer 2 cups of the rice mixture to a blender. Add tofu, oil and turmeric; process until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
  3. Whisk the tofu mixture, lemon juice, dill and pepper into the soup remaining in the pan. Heat through. Serves 4.

 Recipe adapted from EatingWell