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

Put Your Knowledge to the Test with this Holiday Wellness Quiz

The WellMASS blog will be taking a break for the holidays during the next two weeks, but before we sign off for the year, let’s have some fun.  Below are ten holiday-themed trivia questions that will put your wellness smarts to the test (answers are at the bottom of this post).  Thanks for supporting WellMASS this past year – see you in 2016!

  1. It would take one hour of which activity to burn off the calories contained in three gingerbread men?
    a.  Shoveling snow
    b.  Downhill skiing
    c.  Chopping wood
    d.  Any of the above 
  1. Which holiday beverage is lowest in calories?
    a.  Hot chocolate
    b.  Hot buttered rum
    c.  Champagne
    d.  Eggnog
  1. How many pounds does the average American gain over the holidays?
    a.  Less than one
    b.  2-3
    c.  5-7
    d.  More than ten
  1. Which holiday side dish typically has the lowest glycemic index?
    a.  Mashed potatoes
    b.  Sweet potato casserole
    c.  Roasted carrots
    d.  Green bean casserole
  1. Which latke (potato pancake) topping has the fewest calories?
    a.  Sour cream
    b.  Plain Greek yogurt
    c.  Unsweetened applesauce
    d.  Smoked salmon
  2. Which of these strategies has been proven to help you eat fewer calories during a holiday meal?
    a.  Filling half your plate with veggies
    b.  Using a bread plate instead of a dinner plate
    c.  Drinking water with your meal
    d.  Skipping breakfast the morning of the big meal
  3. Which of these can be used as a substitute for butter in most cookie recipes?
    a.  Applesauce
    b.  Canola oil
    c.  Mashed avocado
    d.  Greek yogurt
    e.  All of the above
  1. Which fruit is not in season in December?
    a.  Clementines
    b.  Grapefruit
    c.  Cranberries
    d.  Pears
    e.  Persimmons
  1. Which vegetable is not in season in December?
    a.  Butternut squash
    b.  Kale
    c.  Brussels sprouts
    d.  Turnips
    e.  Leeks
  1. Which holiday color scheme is most likely to stimulate appetite?
    a.  Blue
    b.  White
    c.  Green
    d.  Red
    e.  Gold

 

Answers:  1.d; 2.c; 3.a; 4.c; 5.c; 6.d; 7.e; 8.c; 9.a; 10.d

Simple Strategies to Manage Acid Reflux

Last week, I shared strategies to help you recover from a bout of overeating.  Eating too much often comes with a host of unwanted side effects, including bloating, gas, nausea, an upset stomach, and heartburn.  Heartburn, or acid reflux, is also a common everyday problem in people who haven’t overeaten.  People who suffer from chronic acid reflux sometimes feel like they have no control over their condition – they eat well and exercise, yet they still frequently experience a burning sensation in their chest, a sour taste in their mouth, and other unpleasant symptoms.  Managing acid reflux involves more than just eating “healthy” foods and engaging in frequent exercise, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to do.  If you suffer from acid reflux, here are some easy strategies you can employ to help manage your condition:

  • Allow at least three hours between your last meal and bedtime. Lying down makes acid reflux worse.  Make sure you eat dinner at least three hours before you go to bed to give your food time to digest, which will decrease the chance that it will “reflux” its way back up to your esophagus.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes when you eat. You want to make sure you’re not constricting any part of your digestive tract and slowing down the process of digestion.
  • Avoid common acid reflux triggers. Triggers vary from person to person, but foods and beverages that commonly cause reflux include chocolate, peppermint, tomatoes, onions, citrus fruits and juices, caffeine-containing drinks, and alcohol.  Restrict or eliminate these foods from your diet, and take care to steer clear of high-fat and high-acidity foods, as these can also trigger reflux.
  • If you smoke, quit. The nicotine found in cigarettes can weaken the muscle that controls the opening between your esophagus and stomach, allowing food to more easily reflux back up into your esophagus.
  • Time your exercise right. We all know that exercise has a host of benefits.  However, for people with reflux, exercising, if not timed right, can make symptoms worse.  Try to allow at least two hours between meals and exercising in order to avoid jostling the contents of your stomach and opening the gate (pun intended) for those contents to make their way back up to your esophagus.

You may be wondering where medication fits into this equation.  In many cases, acid reflux can be successfully managed without the use of medication.  Many reflux medications don’t actually improve the condition – they just mask its symptoms and lessen discomfort, so talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about taking medication to manage reflux.  And in the meantime, try incorporating the above tips into your daily routine to help manage your reflux the natural way.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi, German for “cabbage turnip,” is a vegetable that’s worth adding to your repertoire.  For starters, it pulls double-duty in the kitchen, as both its root and leaves are edible.  You can consume kohlrabi root either raw or cooked and sauté the leaves as you would kale and other green leafy vegetables.  Kohlrabi is also a nutritional powerhouse; it’s an excellent source of fiber and Vitamin C and a good source of potassium and Vitamin B6.  Although you may currently be unfamiliar with it, kohlrabi is in season and available at most major grocery stores, so why not be the first of your friends to give it a try?

Kohlrabi Home Fries

Ingredients
1 ½ to 2 pounds kohlrabi
1 tablespoon rice flour, chickpea flour, or semolina (more as needed)
2 to 4 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil, as needed
Chili powder, ground cumin, curry powder, or paprika, to taste

Instructions

  1. Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thick sticks, about ⅓- to ½-inch wide and about 2 inches long.
  2. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet (cast iron is good).
  3. Meanwhile, place the flour in a large bowl and quickly toss the kohlrabi sticks in the flour so that they are lightly coated.
  4. When the oil is rippling, carefully add the kohlrabi to the pan in batches so that the pan isn’t crowded. Cook on one side until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Then, using tongs, turn the pieces over to brown on the other side for another 2 to 3 minutes. The procedure should take only about 5 minutes if there is enough oil in the pan.
  5. Drain on paper towels, then sprinkle right away with the seasoning of your choice. Serve hot.

Recipe from The New York Times