Sunday, April 21, 2013

Confessions of a Backslider -- Guest Post by Gennith Johnson

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Gennith is ASHA's Associate Director, Health Care Services in SLP. She's been an active participant in our fitness classes and enthusiastically participated in our challenge -- not without facing a few hurdles along the way though. I asked Gennith to share her story.

Gennith at her first Cherry
Blossom 10 Miler April 7, 2013
I am always searching for the latest and greatest when it comes to health and wellness. I consider myself adventurous and eager to try new things. When I first heard the news of the 30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge at ASHA I was intrigued and ready to get on board. I read the New Sonoma Diet Book, attended the cooking demonstrations, cleared my pantry and purchased lots of new “power foods”. Equipped with an arsenal of information and a great support system I was ready for the challenge. I learned so much about preparing different foods, and found myself loving the Sonoma Diet recipes. I gradually started to notice a change, I had more energy, clothing fit better and I felt great sense of accomplishment for sticking to the “plan”.

Then it happened…during Wave 2 I travelled to New Orleans for a wedding. In one three day weekend, I unknowingly traded my Mediterranean Lifestyle for the “good stuff”. I found myself rationalizing that seafood gumbo was not exactly “processed” and there was absolutely no way I could leave a wedding reception without “tasting” every dessert. I returned home, and had subconsciously thrown in the towel. The damage had been done. I noticed some of my favorite snacks and old habits had returned and I was back to my same old routine.

After my backsliding experience, I got back on track. I started Wave 1 of the Sonoma diet all over again. I needed a fresh new start. I think it is important to remember when we attempt to make lifestyle changes; we may not always have the desired success on the first attempt. I’d like to share Health Magazine’s Tina Haupert’s five tips for getting back on track:

  1. Don’t dwell on the past -- Instead of dwelling on the mistakes I made in the past, I focus on the future. For me, the most important thing to remember is that those pounds gained are not permanent. With some strength, self-discipline, and hard work, they’ll come off. 
  2. Create a plan of attack -- Creating a plan of attack with regard to my eating and exercise routine makes me feel in control. I start by planning my workouts for the week by scheduling them in my calendar. I’ll usually pick a couple of group exercise classes at my gym and schedule them like appointments that I cannot miss. Searching for nutritious recipes online and planning a few healthy meals also boosts my motivation to get (and stay!) on track. 
  3. Read health blogs for inspiration -- When I’d rather sit on the couch than go for a run, I read some of my favorite health blogs for inspiration. I almost always find a recipe, new workout, or some words of advice that make me want to change my tune. Seeing others at their healthiest and happiest motivates me to think back to a time when I felt strong and fit. This always gets my butt in gear! 
  4. Make a change now -- Instead of waiting to start a diet or new exercise routine on Monday, I make changes right away. I throw on my sneakers for a workout or plan my next meal to include lots of fresh produce, whole grains, and low-fat protein. Jump-starting my motivation right away keeps me from falling further into bad habits that got me off track in the first place. 
  5. Be patient -- Weight loss (and even maintenance) includes many ups and downs, so it’s easy to forget my successes. Instead of obsessively checking my progress on the scale and realizing it hasn’t changed as quickly as I’d like, I focus on the progress I’ve made off the scale. For instance, I recently have been incorporating more veggies into my meals. I’ve tried a bunch of new recipes and found easy ways to load up my diet with nutrients. Remembering my successes at times when I need them most gets me back on track (consistency is key!) so I see results. 
This week concludes the 30 day challenge. Since February, I am happy to report that I have lost 2 inches off of my waist, experienced a decrease in percentage of body fat and and BMI. I also had an improvement in my blood pressure reading and lost and gained a few pounds along the way. I cannot help but wonder what kind of progress I would have made if I was committed for the entire duration of the program. I am thankful for the experience and to ASHA’s Wellness Team for replacing the candy jars with fruit and nuts. This made my afternoon visits to HR much easier! I am looking forward to incorporating a few lessons from the New Sonoma Diet into a more permanent lifestyle change.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Move More! How to Incorporate Exercise and Activity into our Busy, Busy Lives -- Guest Post by Kelly Velasquez

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Kelly Velasquez is our Associate Director of Credentialing - Research & Quality Management. (Believe it or not, Kelly is not even in the running for the longest job title in the office.) Kelly has been a big supporter of our wellness efforts and is a long standing member of our wellness advisory team. Kelly is a swimmer and a triathlete. She is married to Eduardo who also works for ASHA and has two beautiful little girls. As you can imagine, what she doesn't have is spare time. Yet she logged more activity points during our Backfield in Motion Campaign than just about anyone else on staff, so I asked her to share some of her tips with us.

It’s finally Spring, and with warmer weather come thoughts of outdoor activities, cook-outs, bathing suit season, and a chance to get off the treadmill, elliptical, stationery bike, or desk chair and get outside. Not that I think you should jump right into a 10K race if you have never run before, though if that is your thing, go for it. Most fitness experts do think that setting a large goal (e.g., triathlon, 5K, obstacle race, cycling event, etc), and including many smaller, achievable goals along the way (e.g., swam 10 laps without stopping or drowning, took bike into store for tune-up, walked for 15 minutes, etc) is more likely to lead to success than just trying to start working out more.

I’m sure we’ve all been there; or at least I know I have – and by there, I mean that I have found an excuse for not working out, yet again. There are so many ways to justify NOT being active (check out this Matt Scott Nike video that lists them all); and on the flip side, there are so many MORE reasons why we should, and why we CAN. According to my informal research, the number one reason is too busy/no time, and certainly that is my number one reason as well (well, that and lack of motivation). Some tips to beat that excuse and other ways to sneak in some exercise include: 

  • Set your phone/PC/clock alarm for a pre-determined time(s) and get up to walk to the water cooler to re-fill your cup/bottle…but go the water station two floors below or above you (walking, no elevator!). 
  • Meet a work pal for a 15 minute break and do a few sets (walking one, high knees on next, or every other step) of the back stairs in our building – from B-1 to fifth floor. 
  • Schedule mini-workouts as you would meetings – you only need 15 minutes, and can break-up your day by scheduling one 15 minute workout break mid-morning and one mid-afternoon, when the post-lunch sleepies hit. 
  • Use a pyramid-like plan – do 1 push-up (strength move), 1 jumping jack (cardio), and 1 sit-up/ab move; then add one of each every day to work your way up to 30 of each. 
  • Plan your weekends around what activities or more structured workouts you’ll be doing – and then do them. 
  • When shopping for groceries, park your cart in one location/part of the store, and make numerous trips to get your needed items and bring them back to your cart. 

Feeling guilty taking time away from work/family/friends to work out? Try incorporating activity into family events, friend get-togethers, or work. On Sunday, for instance, we went to the National Zoo with the kids, and met our friend and fellow ASHA staffer Tammy there. Little did I know the workout that Tammy and I would get with all of the walking, carrying, stroller-pushing, lifting two 30+ pound children so they could see over various enclosure fences (or because they were scared that the orangutan would charge at them). We were all exhausted after 3 hours, and a side bonus was the long naps the kids took afterwards. Or, meet a friend for a walk or run or hike, and catch up on news while you work-out. Another favorite of mine is to take a mini-break from your desk and go for a walk around the block, or walk to the Mediterranean CafĂ© to pick-up lunch. Now that the weather is finally nice, it is easy to find excuses to get outside. We love taking the kids to the Rockville Town Square and letting them run around on the grassy field area and climb the rocks, then grab a bite at one of the family-friendly restaurants in that area. Makes for a great start to the weekend, and I don’t have to cook dinner on a Friday – win/win! And we can’t wait to do family bike rides, though those may be quite a few years away yet – we did get our eldest daughter (who is now 3) out on a hand-me-down tricycle for the first time last weekend, and she loved it.

Finally, find an activity you love to do, and then incorporate it into your daily activities. I am not a dancer, but my girls love to rock out to any kind of music, so I’ll dance/hop up and down with them, and burn more calories in 10 minutes of energetic dancing then an hour of formal, structured ‘cardio.’ Be open to the possibilities, and try something new once; it’s definitely better if you can convince or coerce a pal to try it with you; but getting out of your comfort zone is often just what is needed to get moving more!

References and Resources 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ASHA's a Quadruple Winner

ASHA has been selected by the Alliance for Workplace Excellence (AWE) as a 2013 AWE Workplace Excellence Seal of Approval Winner, and 2013 Health & Wellness Seal of Approval Winner, 2013 Diversity Champion Award Winner, and 2013 EcoLeadership Award Winner. ASHA is one of only 14 organizations to receive all four awards conveyed in 2013 and we have been honored to receive each of these awards annually since their inception. Congratulations to all the other winners! Here is a brief description of each of the awards from the Alliance's site. 

Beginning in 1999, Workplace Excellence Seal of Approval winners have shown an outstanding commitment to overall workplace quality. Winning organizations are selected based on their commitment to creating the best possible workplace for their employees.

Applicants are evaluated on many components including:

• Corporate culture and management practices
• Flexibility of work environment
• Communication and employee engagement programs

Launched in 2006 the Health & Wellness Seal of Approval application recognizes employers that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to their employees’ health and wellness – and have led the way by developing and implementing innovative programs.

Outstanding wellness programs include:

• Education and awareness
• Health and wellness programs
• Health and wellness assessments

Since 2009, the EcoLeadership Award has recognized employers demonstrating visionary leadership and an outstanding commitment to environmentally sustainable workplaces and efficient use of resources.

Applicants are evaluated according to several environmental best practices:

• Waste minimization
• Water conservation
• Energy efficiency

New for 2013, Diversity Champions are companies committed to creating a diverse and inclusive work environment. Their diversity initiatives extend beyond their workplace to include diversity in their products and services and supplier diversity.

Applicants are recognized based on many components, including:

• Leadership
• Workforce demographics
• Products and services diversity

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wave 3 -- Guest Post by Cyndi Fales

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Today is Day 30! Congratulations to everyone who is still working on creating their own little Mediterranean Blue Zone. For those of you that have reached your goal weight, it's time to move onto Wave 3. Cyndi Fales from Lifeworks Strategy tells us how.

Now do a little happy dance and stay the course. Screenings will be held April 17. 

Once you hit your goal weight—you are ready for Wave 3, the final wave! It may take some people a few weeks to reach their goal while others may need a few months. Continue in Wave 2 until you reach that goal weight and then move on to Wave 3. When you get there, Celebrate—you have earned it!! 
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Wave 3 isn’t too different from Wave 2, same food lists and same plate sizes/portions—you just get to give your self a little more wiggle room. This phase continues to emphasize a variety of wholesome foods and allow for “indulgences,” including: dark chocolate, juices, potatoes and pretzels, which should be limited to special occasions. Now the key is to make sure you don’t wiggle or “indulge” too much off the recommendation or you might have trouble maintaining your healthy weight. Other items to be mindful of to keep at your health weight include: keeping your portion sizes in check, not over snacking, going easy on the fruits and bread, and continuing to be physically active. Ultimately, continue learning and striving to get the maximum nutrients with the minimum number of calories. 

If you “relapse” with sugar and/or refined flours… start back at Wave 1 to eliminate those cravings. If you reach your goal weight after the 10 days you can go right back to Wave 3, or Wave 2 if you don’t get back to your healthy weight after Wave 1. 

If you have been following the Sonoma Diet closely, you may be ready for some new recipe ideas. There are tons of recipes and resources on the Oldways website. You can search through their recipes here. Some of the favorites in my house are Greek Style Lasagna and Stuffed Peppers. When I have family or friends over for dinner, I love doing stuffed peppers, we typically use poblano peppers. I roast peppers ahead of time and then lay out all the “fillings” and let each guest fill their own pepper. You can do any fillings you want, be creative—we like quinoa, black bean, mushrooms, corn, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and chicken or shrimp. Stick them in the oven to finish cooking and then serve. By letting each person stuff their own pepper, you have the flexible to control what is in your meal and so do each of the guests. 

By Wave 3, the goal is that you have ultimately learned to “eat for pleasure, eat for health and eating to stay at the best weight.” We hope that you have found that it is not a huge burden—and actually quite delicious and rewarding. You don’t have to eat Mediterranean the rest of your life, but hopefully you can take away a few aspects of the lifestyle to continue in your routine. Keep trying new foods and new recipes, don’t be afraid to go grocery shopping and cook. 

Continue to strive to turn all your meals into slow, satisfying, and sociable experiences. Do whatever you think best to stay within the Mediterranean/Sonoma Diet. It's your diet now. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eating Mediterranean on a Budget

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Mike Cannon brought an interesting article to my attention -- Study: Mediterranean Diet Can Save Money. I've heard people mention that they are spending more on groceries during our 30 Day Mediterranean Challenge. Most of the people that mentioned this seemed to be following the recipes in the Sonoma Diet book pretty closely. (If anyone has been keeping careful track during our challenge and you're willing to share what you've learned, please let me know.) Anyway, I was very encouraged to see this article. You can feed your family a Mediterranean diet on a budget. 

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Dr. Mary Flynn, a research dietician, designed a meal plans consistent with most Mediterranean diet principles, but focused on using inexpensive ingredients to feed a family. Her recipes are all meat free and use ingredients that are available through most food pantries. It's clear she's striking a balance between health and affordability by building meals around pasta, rice and potatoes, but her plan steers clear of processed foods and incorporates plenty of affordable vegetables.

She partnered with food pantries in Rhode Island and launched a program to raise the bar on nutrition. Participants were given six weeks of cooking classes where they were taught the cooking techniques needed to execute simple heathy recipes. After each class, participants were given a bag groceries to recreate the recipes at home for their families. Participants were followed for six months after completing they program -- they cut their spending on groceries in half and most lost weight (although that wasn't the focus of the study.)

You can learn more and see the recipes on Raising the Bar on Nutrition and check out the instructional videos on Common Sense Cooking.

I also ran across 12 Ways to Stop Wasting Food on Whole Foods' website. They indicate that Americans waste up to 40% of their food. For a family of four, this amounts to approximately $2,275 of food waste annually. See the article for tips on curbing your food waste.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Guiltless Sweets -- Guest Post by Peggy Savage

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Peggy Savage is ASHA's Membership Relations Manager. She's also a fabulous baker and the proprietress of Savagely Good. I'm a fan of her midnight orange fudge and her lemon bread is just like my grandma used to make. 

Photo by Shamus Ian Fatzinger 
Peggy experiments a lot with food. She's fearless when it comes to things like tofu and swears you can make a wonderful frosting with pureed dates. She often cooks in a Forks Over Knives style following a plant-based diet. She agreed to share a couple of recipes that will curb your sweet tooth without leaving you feeling all guilty for indulging.  

You can learn more about Peggy and Savagely Good in this article about her in the Fairfax Times which includes her lemon bread recipe. You can often find her at the Vienna farmers market on Saturday mornings.  

My boyfriend came home one day, after being stuck in Whole Foods during a huge rainstorm, and announced that he wanted to eat primarily vegan food. To pass the time, he read and then purchased a book by Dr. Joel Fuhrman about the many health benefits of a plant-based diet.  I wasn’t too happy because I was never very interested in vegan food, but I have to say that I was also intrigued. I love to cook and even have my own business of my homemade goodies. However, I make things like fudge, salted caramels, cakes, and pies. Things that make you happy – if not terribly healthy! I do like a challenge so I decided to try a lot of different kind of vegan recipes and cookbooks. Along the way I found things I liked and things I didn't - black bean brownies are not good!

The recipes I liked the best were in the companion to the “Forks over Knives” documentary, which is available on Netflix streaming. ASHA featured the documentary last year but I never had a chance to look at it. If you don’t know the ideas behind the documentary it is that you can change your health and overcome chronic health problems through diet instead of surgery. The book I recommend is Forks over Knives-the Cookbook. They support a low-fat, plant based diet of whole foods. You should also avoid processed foods. I’m not a fan of processed foods anyway and I love most fruits and vegetables so it wasn't too difficult to follow. I still eat meat and animal products but I almost exclusively cook vegan at home.

The savory recipes are tasty but what interested me most was the section on desserts (hello - I make award-winning fudge!) I have tried a number of them and have been very impressed. My boyfriend has a tremendous sweet tooth so I try not to keep much of the bad stuff in the house. He can eat these things and not feel guilty. I should add that neither one of us eats very much of the goodies we make to sell, maybe it is because we taste test everything and that satisfies our cravings.

I want to share two of my favorite dessert recipes from the book. These treats make you happy and are pretty healthy. They use whole grains, fruits, nuts, flax seed, and even chocolate. Chocolate is a health food, you know.

Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are so yummy that I have to hide them so we don’t eat them all immediately!

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup almond butter
1/2 cup dry sweetener (I use sugar)
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
2 tsps vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups oat flour (I actually grind regular quick oats in my blender so I don’t have to buy an extra ingredient)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup chocolate chips (I increased the amount of chips in the original recipe by ¼ cup)

Preheat oven to 350 and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, use a strong fork to beat together the applesauce, almond butter, dry sweetener and flaxseeds.  Once relatively smooth mix in the vanilla.

Add in the oat flour, baking soda, and salt and mix well.  Add the whole wheat flour and chocolate chips and mix well.

Drop the spoonfuls of batter onto the prepared baking sheets in about 1 1/2 tbsp scoops, about 2 inches apart.  Flatten the cookies a bit, so that they resemble thick discs (they won’t spread much at all during the baking). – I use the bottom of a glass dipped in water so it doesn’t stick.   Bake for 8-10 minutes. 
Remove from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing

I’m not usually a fan of chocolate cake because they tend to be dry. This is one is most and seemingly very decadent. I even made it for Valentine’s Day. This recipe is adapted from the double chocolate cupcake recipe. I just pour the batter in a square 9” x 9” inch pan. If you want to have them as cupcakes, it makes 12 of them.

2 ounces dark chocolate (the recipe calls for unsweetened but I use a very dark chocolate instead)
1 cup unsweetened plant-based milk
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
 ⅔ cup dry sweetener (I use sugar)
 ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder, either Dutch-processed or regular unsweetened
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 batch Fudgy Chocolate Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9” x 9” inch.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave. Let cool slightly. In a large bowl, whisk together the plant-based milk and vinegar. Let it sit for a few minutes, until curdled. Stir in the dry sweetener, applesauce, vanilla, and melted chocolate.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the mixture to the wet ingredients, one half at a time, and beat until no large lumps remain.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake completely cool before frosting.

Fudgy Chocolate Frosting

1 cup boiling water
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ cups dried, pitted dates, tough ends removed
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
Pinch salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the boiling water and cocoa powder in a blender. Blend on high speed for about 30 seconds, or until the mixture is relatively smooth. Scrape down the sides of the blender. Be careful not to let steam build up.

Add the dates, brown rice syrup, and salt to the blender. Blend until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the blender with a spatula to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. Add the vanilla and blend until combined.

Transfer the mixture to an airtight container. Let chill completely, for at least 3 hours, until it becomes firm and spreadable.

I may never be the “Queen of Vegan Cooking”, but I have found that there are tasty vegan recipes out there and I know that they are healthier than some of the more traditional non-vegan foods. Being healthy doesn’t have to be dramatic, it can be as simple as adding one healthy behavior (recipe, exercise, etc.) at a time – and of course, you leave room occasionally in your new lifestyle for a little fudge!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Great Grains -- Guest Post by Aryeh Hirsch

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Aryeh Hirsch is a senior Community Health major at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is interning at LifeWork Strategies this semester as one of the wellness interns. He is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and working towards a second certification with the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers. He works part time as a trainer at Golds Gym in Rockville, MD. He has a passion for nutrition and fitness and applies his knowledge towards his clients at the gym as well as serves as a Wellness Coach for LifeWork Strategies. He is very excited to have opportunity to share his knowledge of nutrition during ASHA's 30 day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge.

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Carbohydrates have been given a bad rap in the past couple of decades. A lot of the 90’s fad-diets emphasized low or no carbs diets to help shed those extra pounds. New research has shown that carbohydrates are our friends, not our enemy. This is the primary macronutrient used for energy in the human body. Our bodies need carbs to function properly. Studies show that eating whole grains and food that are high in fiber play a beneficial role is preventing cardiovascular disease as well as diabetes according to the Mayo Clinic. Fiber also plays a major role maintaining optimal digestive health.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the use of a lot of quality carbohydrate sources such as whole wheat breads and pastas, oatmeal, wild or brown rice, quinoa and fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber. These are carbohydrate sources are also low on the Glycemic index which help control blood sugar levels, keeps us feeling full longer and provides a slow release of energy.

Most of you are in Wave 2 of the diet which allows 3-4 servings of grains a day. I recommend using those extra servings of grains a day because of the numerous health benefits that carbohydrates provide. You should notice an increase in energy throughout the day, feeling more satisfied after meals as well improved digestive function compared to Wave 1.

Here are some great recipes that contain quality carbohydrates:

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pearl Couscous

  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup pearl (isreali) couscous
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • ½ cup pitted green olives
  • 4 heirloom tomatoes, quartered
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 English cucumber, cubed
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, juiced


1. Bring the vegetable stock to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the couscous and cook and stir until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir the toasted couscous into the hot vegetable stock and return to a simmer. Cover and cook until the stock has been absorbed into the couscous, about 15 minutes. Scrape into a mixing bowl, fluff with a fork, and allow to cool to room temperature.

2. Place the basil, parsley, garlic, oregano, thyme, and olives into a food processor; pulse until the herbs are coarsely chopped. Stir the herb mixture into the couscous along with the heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and feta cheese. Drizzle with the vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, and lemon juice. Stir until evenly combined.

Greek Penne and Chicken

  • 1 (16 ounce) package whole wheat penne pasta
  • ½ cup of canola oil
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts in water
  • 1 tomato, chopped 
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste


1. In a large pot with boiling salted water cook penne pasta until al dente. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the canola oil, add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add chopped chicken and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to medium- low. Drain and chop artichoke hearts and add them, chopped tomato, feta cheese, fresh parsley, lemon juice, dried oregano, and drained penne pasta to the large skillet. Cook until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Season with salt and ground black pepper. Serve warm.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reading Food Labels -- Guest Post by Lydia Lui

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Food labels can be confusing and I've tried to sort through some of the muddle in past posts like this one on Debunking Food Labels. I recently asked our friends at LWS for guidance and Lydia Lui agreed to lend us some advice on what we should hone in on as we shop to support our new Mediterranean Lifestyles. 

Lydia Lui is a senior at the University of Maryland working with LifeWork Strategies as a Community Health intern. She has a particular interest in nutrition and really enjoys food, hiking and playing all kinds of sports. She is very excited to be a part of this 30 day challenge and is looking forward to hearing about other people’s experiences with this new diet.

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When walking down the grocery aisles, it’s easy to grab a snack without reading over the food label. How often do we remember to check to see what’s really inside your food? We might look at the calorie amount, but forget to consider the quality of the food we’re eating.

Check the serving size first when reading food labels. The nutritional information for the food product is based on one serving, so if you were to eat two servings of the food, you would double the nutrient and calorie values. If you eat the whole package, multiply the values by the total number of servings in the package.

Next, take a look at the total calories per serving and the amount that comes from fat. Try to limit foods high in fat calories. Saturated and trans fats raise your “bad” cholesterol, also known as LDL, which puts you at risk of heart disease and stroke.

In general, look to maximize your amount of vitamins and minerals, fiber and protein, and minimize saturated and trans fat, sugar, salt, and cholesterol. Daily intake values are based off of a 2,000 calorie diet, a good guide to help you keep track of your intake in comparison to the daily recommended amount. Here’s a list of some daily recommended amounts for a more heart healthy diet:

  • Salt less than 1,500mg 
  • Saturated fat less than 16g 
  • Trans fat less than 2g 
  • Cholesterol less than 300mg 
  • Fiber 25-30g: Whole wheat bread should contain at least 2g of fiber per serving. Cereal should have at least 5g. 
Also make sure to check the list of ingredients in your food. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Look for whole grains as the 1st ingredient rather than refined, bleached flours, and make sure there are no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Also try to eat foods that don’t have sugar as one of the first 5 ingredients, which may be listed as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, or high-fructose corn syrup.

This link from the FDA gives a very informative overview on how to read food labels and what to look for when comparing foods to eat.

The American Heart Association also provides a great resource for definitions of nutrient content claims. For example, what’s the difference between fat free, low fat, and reduced fat?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Go Fish -- Guest Post by Laura DeFilippo

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

I love fish, but no one else in my family likes it, so I never got in the habit of preparing it often at home. When I took the Mediterranean Diet Quiz, it was my biggest shortfall and something I'm working on during our challenge. 

My friend, Laura, manages to cook and eat a lot more fish than I do. We've dined on fish she caught herself and frozen stuff from Costco. She makes it all taste delicious. So, I asked her to share some tips with us. 

I'm also relying on the seafood folks at my neighborhood Whole Foods market. They're very helpful and share my interest in sustainability. Check out their 12 Easy Fish Feast recipes. I've been enjoying the almond encrusted Tilapia from that recent Washingtonian article too. 

The health benefits of fish are numerous … fish is a low-fat, high quality protein packed with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and nutrients that can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Fish is an excellent source of calcium and minerals. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week. Fish is packed with protein, vitamins, and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and help reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

The Washington State Department of Health lists the healthiest fish with the highest health benefits in this link: Healthy Fish Guide.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are the unsaturated fats contained in fish and are important in maintaining healthy brain function and a healthy heart by lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, strokes and irregular heart rhythms, among other things. Our bodies do not produce omega-3 fatty acids so we need to get them through food we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in all fish, but are especially high in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, canned light tuna and oysters. There is also research indicating that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of depression, ADHD, dementia, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, and may prevent inflammation and the risk of arthritis.

Mayo Clinic indicates that eating one or two servings of fish a week can reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack by more than a third. The American Heart Association has long recommended that we eat at least two servings of omega-3-rich fish per week. 

What about the contaminants contained in fish?
The health benefits of eating fish outweigh any associated risks such as the risk of ingesting mercury or other contaminants. The amount of toxins in fish depends on the type of fish and where it's caught.

Generally speaking, the larger the fish, the higher the level of mercury and other contaminants. Larger fish in the food chain such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel tend to have higher levels of mercury than do smaller fish -- larger fish eat smaller fish, gaining higher concentrations of toxins. Additionally, the longer a fish lives, the larger it grows, and the more mercury it can collect.

Many researchers believe that wild-caught fish is healthier than farm-raised fish due to potential harmful effects on people the antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals used in farming fish can have.

The following is a recipe for my favorite way to prepare my favorite fish, Salmon.

Sweet Soy Salmon


Wild salmon filets, with or without skin
Soy sauce (or reduced-sodium soy sauce)
2 - 4 T. Brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Coarsely chopped scallions
Coarsely chopped fresh ginger
1 small lemon, thinly sliced

Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic and any optional ingredients (except lemon slices) in a large Ziploc bag.  Close the bag and shake to combine ingredients and dissolve sugar.  (If you are using ginger and/or scallions, it will help to first bring all ingredients to a boil to blend the flavors, bring to room temperature, and then put the marinade in Ziploc bag or bowl.)
Place the lemon slices and salmon in the Ziploc bag or bowl allowing the marinade to cover the filets.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes but no more than 1 hour, turning the fish in the marinade once or twice.

For grilling:
Preheat grill to medium-high.
Remove the salmon from the marinade, place it skin-side down on the hot grill.  Close the lid and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes.  Turn the fish carefully and replace the lemon slices on top at this point, if desired.  Close the lid and cook until the fish is just cooked through, about 5 to 8 more minutes.

For cast-iron skillet (or heavy frying pan):
Drizzle olive oil lightly in the skillet, or use a cooking spray.  Preheat the skillet to medium high.  Remove the salmon from the marinade, place it skin side down on the hot skillet and cook about 5 minutes.  Carefully turn the salmon, place the lemon slices on top, and cook the other side until done.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Wash All Those Vegetables (and fruit) -- Guest Post by Eileen Lewis

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge
Foraging for a Healthy and Sustainable Meal

Eileen Lewis is ASHA's Network Services Manager. She has been highly engaged in our wellness program and our green initiatives. Matter-of-fact, she recently took over the team leadership responsibilities for our green team. I asked her if she'd combine those two interests and give us some tips on washing all the produce we're eating now. 

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Prior to starting the Sonoma diet, I thought I ate a lot of vegetables. I quickly found, after the first few days on phase one, that a lot took on a whole new meaning. Wash and chop the veggies, clean up the mess, wash, chop, clean, wash, chop, clean, over and over again. I know the importance of washing vegetables and fruit, but I know that I have been somewhat lax in my methodology.

I decided it was some time for research to get a refresher on the whys and hows of vegetable and fruit washing. In just a few minutes I had learned quite a bit……Wow, I never realized that bananas should be washed before peeling or cutting. Bananas, of course, are not allowed in phase one, but I will be washing them when I get them back in my diet.

The Whys
  • About 4.2 milllion Americans are sickened every year from eating contaminated produce, which includes vegetables fruits, and nuts.
  • 2.2 million illnesses a year are from leafy vegetables.
  • Norovirus, salmonella, and eColi outbreaks have all been linked to greens-based salads.
  • In 2011, 33 people died from eating cantaloupe containing Listeria.
  • Produce becomes infected during the growing process due to pathogens in the soil and rain.
  • Farm packing sheds may not be sanitary and add to the contamination.
  • The majority of produce borne illnesses originate at eating establishments, but over 10% begin in private homes.

Although the produce originating illnesses cause fewer deaths than other food related illnesses, the Norovirus, the most common culprit, causes extreme nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness. That’s enough for me to get more serious about my vegetable and fruit washing. The good news is that the FDA recommends washing your produce with just drinking water. Using soap on food can make you sick, and the commercially available produce washes are expensive and not proven to provide a better cleaning.

The How

  • Start with a clean sink, cutting surfaces, and hands
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged parts of the vegetable or fruit.
  • Rinse under cold running tap water.
  • Blot dry with a paper towel or dry cloth to further reduce bacteria growth
  • Wash the produce right before you plan to use them if you can.
  • If you have cut up veggies, washed and stored in an air-tight container, it is still a good idea to wash again before eating.

  • Start the process right
    • Keep preparation of raw produce away from the preparation of raw meats, poultry, and seafood. To avoid cross-contamination, use separate, clean, cutting boards and utensils.
    • Wash utensils between the cutting of each type of produce
    • Purchase produce without bruises. Only buy bagged lettuce or cut fruit that is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.
    • When bagging your groceries, keep your produce away from meat products.
  • Scrub firmer produce like potatoes with a vegetable brush under running water.
  • Gently wash softer produce, like tomatoes and peppers, rubbing them with your hands under running water.
  • Wash the rind of melons before cutting to prevent any bacteria on the surface from being transferred to the inside by the knife blade.
  • Wash bananas, oranges, and all other fruits with skins or rinds, if you plan to either peel them with your hands or cut them with a knife.
  • Remove the outer leaves of lettuce and thoroughly rinse. Use a salad spinner to dry if you have one.
  • Rinse off berries using a colander. Remove the leafy stems first as bacteria may be growing there.
  • Wash herbs by swishing them in a bowl of water.
  • It is not necessary to wash the pre-washed bagged salad.

Organic Produce

Organic produce, as well as the veggies that you grow in your own garden, need to be washed. Organic produce has been found to be contaminated with bacteria, too. They are, however, more likely to have lower levels of pesticides. You can wash some of the pesticides off the surface or produce, but you cannot remove the pesticide that is inside or has become part of the fruit or vegetable.

The Dirty Dozen and Clean 15

The Environmental Working Group studies the levels of pesticides in produce and publishes a list of the worst offenders each year. They recommend buying organic for these Dirty Dozen. They also publish the cleanest, produce with the least amount of pesticides. Further information can be found at

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Lessons Learned

So, what did I learn? When cleaning and cutting veggies that are going to be used without cooking, I need to wash my utensils more often. I need to be more mindful of the way I wash my lettuce. I haven’t been buying organic celery, but probably should as I’m going through several stalks a day. Lastly, when I add bananas back to my diet, I will wash them.

There is also a hidden benefit to all this washing and chopping of vegetables. If you are standing up while doing all this, you are burning calories that you may not have. I know that for me it has seriously cut into my evening couch time.

More information can be found on the Food and Drug Administration site at

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Good Fats -- Guest Post by Aryeh Hirsch

30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge

Aryeh Hirsch is a senior Community Health major at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is interning at LifeWork Strategies this semester as one of the wellness interns. He is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and working towards a second certification with the National Council for Certified Personal Trainers. He works part time as a trainer at Golds Gym in Rockville, MD. He has a passion for nutrition and fitness and applies his knowledge towards his clients at the gym as well as serves as a Wellness Coach for LifeWork Strategies. He is very excited to have opportunity to share his knowledge of nutrition during ASHA's 30 day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge.

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The words “good” and “fat” don’t get used in the same sentence very often. Its time to change that, healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, fats from fish, and avocados are among the healthiest foods we can put in our bodies. They aid in the decrease of unhealthy cholesterol, increase in the healthy cholesterol, lubricate our joints; provide building material for the cells of our brain and heart just to name a few benefits. Besides being good for our overall health, they aid in the increase of our metabolism, think of them as fuel on our metabolic fire.

The term “healthy fats” can be broken down into two different types of fats, Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated simply means it contains one double bond and Polyunsaturated means it contains more than two double bonds, what this means to us is that they are easier for our body to absorb them as well as convert them into energy. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are a polyunsaturated fat, provide numerous health benefits which include increased brain health, joint lubrication and fat metabolism.

Good sources of Fats to include in your Mediterranean diets:

  • Oils- Extra Virgin Olive, Canola, Macadamia Nut, Flaxseed
  • Nuts- Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, Cashews, Macadamia
  • Seeds- Sunflower, Pumpkin, Flax
  • Fish- Salmon, Tuna, Anchovies, Sardines

Adding healthy fats to your meals is a great way to increase satiety. Adding olive oil based dressing to your salad will be more filling then a cream or vinegar-only based dressing. The Sonoma Diet recommends the following sources for fats: avocado, canola oil, olive oil, and nuts (peanuts, almonds, pecans & walnuts).  In addition to canola and olive oil, I enjoy cooking with macadamia nut oil. Macadamia nut oil has a higher smoking point then olive oil does and has a higher concentration of monounsaturated fat at 11 grams per tablespoon compared to olive oil at 9.8 grams per tablespoon.

Try adding nuts to your meals to provide added texture and contrast. Nuts make a great addition to rice dishes, salads, pastas and can be used as condiments on sandwiches. Natural nut butter such as cashew or almond offer higher amounts of monounsaturated fat than peanut butter does.