Saturday, September 21, 2013

Do's and Don'ts of October Unprocessed -- Choosy Moms Choose Jif No More

In last weeks introductory post, Kellie introduced us to October Unprocessed. If it can be made in a home kitchen with whole food ingredients, it's considered unprocessed. Simple enough, but the more I thought about it, the more questions I had, so I've been digging through the Eating Rules website and this is what I've learned. 
Can you guess which one is the Jif?

  • Flours and Grains -- Eat whole grains like oats (steel cut or rolled), quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat flour. Bread should be labeled "whole wheat flour" NOT "wheat flour." You only need whole wheat flour, water, salt and yeast to make bread, so look for bread with just those ingredients. Bob's Red Mill is sponsoring October Unprocessed this year. When you sign the pledge on the Eating Rules site, you'll be able to print some great coupons. 
  • Sugar -- you can use honey, real maple syrup, coconut sugar and if you're somewhat liberal with your definition turbinado, muscovado and demerara raw sugars. Kellie said the coconut sugar is actually really good, so I ordered Navitas Naturals Coconut Palm Sugar from Amazon to try. She said it's also available at Roots and Whole Foods. I already have turbinado sugar from Trader Joes. Obviously, all the fake sweeteners in little colored packets are uber processed. 
  • Baking soda and baking powder are ok, just make sure they don't have corn starch in them. 
  • Chocolate is ok if it doesn't have other junk in it. Usually cocoa powder is ok. I read Navitas Naturals Cacao Nibs are good. Usually the darker chocolate bars have fewer added ingredients. I'm headed to Whole Foods later to read labels. 
  • Cooking oil -- Of course, olive oil is fine and most of us switched to it earlier this year in during our Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge. Here's a chart of oils if you want to delve into this. 
  • Salt is ok, but a lot of regular table salt has other junk in it so, again, read the labels. 
  • Dairy -- eggs are fine, butter is fine if it doesn't have added ingredients, yogurt fine if it doesn't have junk in it, real cheese, real ice cream and sorbet. But, I suspect most store bought ice cream and sorbet is full of refined sugar. Read the labels or better yet, make your own. (I know sorbet isn't dairy, but it fits with ice cream.) 
  • Meat -- you even have to read the labels on meat. Some have added crap. And, watch out for deli meats, most of those have junk in them. Obviously, hot dogs and sausage are out. 
  • Fruits and Veggies are good -- frozen or fresh. Most canned stuff has other crap in it so read the labels before you but those. 
  • Beverages -- coffee, tea, beer and wine are fine. Even other booze is ok if doesn't have added stuff in it. Real juice is ok, but again, read labels or squeeze your own. Obviously, no pop. (You guys know I'm from Pittsburgh, right?) I guess most milk is heavily processed, so watch what you buy there too. I'm a big fan of South Mountain Creamery. They deliver milk in old fashion glass jars along with other dairy and meat and they're reasonably priced.
  • Condiments -- read the labels, most have added crap. I highly recommend making your own salad dressing anyway, it only takes a few minutes and they taste so much better. The fresh almond butter from Whole Foods is delicious and they have peanut butter too. I hear you can grind your own, but that sounds like too much trouble to me. I will try my making my Aunt Lissa's hot mustard with coconut sugar and I'll let you know what happens. 
  • Avoid these things -- high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin (which is in most chocolate), carageenan, corn starch, food dyes, preservatives 
Everything you'd want to know and more is on the Eating Rules website They recommend establishing any deliberate exceptions on the front end which I like. This could be that you'll drink Gatorade on runs over 6 miles or that you'll indulge in a piece of chocolate cake on your son's birthday. 

They also talk about the 80/20 rule. You know that one, try to stick to it 80 or more percent of the time and don't worry about the rest. I really don't think it will be very difficult. What do you think? Are you in?

Planning to try October Unprocessed with you family? Check out 100 Days of Real Food for additional resources. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Send Health Care Exchange Notice √

Last week, the DOL announced that employers will not be penalized if they do not send the exchange notice to their employees by October 1. A survey by the Washington-based ERISA Industry Committee indicated 94% of employers plan to send the notice anyway. 

I just sent the notice to ASHA staff via email and checked it off my to do list. Some asked why I didn't just post it to our intranet which is how we usually share information, but that didn't meet the requirements Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This is the note I sent along with the notice.

Hi All,

You’ve probably heard about the health care exchanges that are expected to be up and running the first of next year. In preparation for that, employers are required to share the attached marketplace notice with their employees. The notice is intended to explain your right to buy coverage through the newly established health insurance marketplace (what you’re hearing referred to as the exchanges.) The opportunity to enroll in the marketplace will begin October 1, 2013, with coverage effective January 1, 2014. 

A few key points that stand out to me:

  • Everyone must have health insurance coverage on January 1, 2014 or pay the penalties. 
  • Because ASHA provides coverage for us, staff are unlikely to qualify for any of the subsidies available to people who seek coverage through the exchanges. 
  • If staff did seek coverage through the exchange in lieu of the coverage ASHA provides, the individuals would lose the contribution ASHA makes toward our coverage. 
  • The small portion of the premium staff do contribute now is paid pretax. Premiums paid through the exchanges will be paid after taxes. 

I realize some of us have friends and family members that may be interested in seeking coverage through the exchanges. The second document I’m attaching is a pamphlet presented in Q&A form. I think it does a nice job of explaining the obligation to have coverage, what the penalties are if you don’t have coverage, and what your options are for obtaining coverage. I hope you find this information helpful. You can learn more by going to


Friday, September 13, 2013

October Unprocessed -- Guest Post by Kellie Rowden-Racette

Oh, the irony of working on this post today. I spent last weekend in Bristow, Oklahoma celebrating my Aunt Lois' 80th birthday. My Uncle Jack prepared a mountain of smoked meat for the occasion and I'm pretty sure I ate my weight in smoked bologna. Bologna is pretty much the antithesis of how I normally eat, but it reminds me of childhood and college, when a big hunk of bologna wrapped in red plastic from the Food Lion in Five Points was a major source of protein. When you pair the bologna with my Aunt Lissa's hot mustard and some Bud Light Lime; well, I simply make a pig of myself.  

Last Spring, ASHA staff and our friends and family took part in a 30 Day Mediterranean Lifestyle Challenge. Throughout the challenge we focused on eating whole, unprocessed food and Kellie shared her experience with October Unprocessed in her Unprocessed Schunprocessed post. I was intrigued and made the commitment to participate in October Unprocessed this year. (I'm looking forward to it as a bologna detox of sorts at this point.) If you've wondered away from the healthy Mediterranean habits you adopted last spring, you can use October to re-examine your choices and get back on course.

Kellie and I hope you and your families will join us in our October challenge. Getting started is simple, read Kellie's post and then go to the Eating Rules website and take the October Unprocessed pledge. You can even enter to win a gift pack of food from Bob's Red Mill and print off some coupons.

We'll also have a way of signing up here at ASHA, so we can identify who is participating and provide support. So, stay tuned...

My birthday is in October and I used to brag gleefully that I would always spend my birthday getting jacked up on Halloween candy that I bought way too early to be practical. To me October was a free pass to eat birthday cake and anything that was “fun sized.” Well it was all very fun until November would roll around and I felt exhausted, sluggish, and was faced with the looming holidays, complete with non-stop cooking and eating.

So last year I tried something different and it worked so well that I’m doing it again this year. I took the October Unprocessed challenge, which challenges you to go an entire month without eating processed food. Crazy, you say? Maybe a little but totally doable. Here’s the deal: There is a lot of processed food out there—chips, cookies, canned soup, ready-to-cook meals, frozen everything—and our lives revolve around convenience to the point that we are eating food that sometimes isn’t even … food. So what appealed to me about this challenge was to relearn what to expect from food and to set a good example for my kids. Instead of it being solely convenient, I was more interested in it being good and even good for me. So I read through the website and two things made this seem doable, even to a working mom like me:

1) The “Kitchen Test”

2) The “80/20” Rule

The “Kitchen Test”
When word got around my neighborhood that I was doing this (how does that HAPPEN?) one of my neighbors asked me if I was churning my own butter in my spare time. Absolutely not because I don’t have any spare time. Here’s where the “Kitchen Test” steps in. You can still buy food in the grocery store, but it just means you have to read labels more carefully. The definition of the “Kitchen Test” is:
“Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.”
So if I needed butter, I bought it. I would not buy, however, a “soft butter-tasting spread” that has a bazillion ingredients in it, because there’s no way I could have reasonably made that in my kitchen. Same with pasta, beans, produce, cheese, yogurt, etc. The idea is, if you could make it (within reason) you can buy it. I still can’t make an Oreo or Nutella, so those are off the list.

The “80/20” Rule
Here’s where sanity comes in. So what if during the month you slip up and have some candy corn or a Pepsi? Really, what happens? Nothing. No biggie. What if you’re out at a restaurant and you can’t be sure that they are using whole ingredients in the kitchen? Again, nothing, please just enjoy your meal. The point is that you can do your best and not sweat the 20 percent of the time that it’s unavoidable. If you keep up the 80 percent portion, by the end of the month you should still feel a difference anyway, so why beat yourself up?

The Fallout
I survived my first foray into this challenge. Last year I made a lot of soup, uber-healthy muffins and breads, a few awesome casseroles, and let’s not forget smoothies. I even figured out how to make unprocessed brownies using coconut sugar and maple syrup. My family ate some of it with me (my husband more than my kids) and here’s what happened: I stopped craving sugar. When my birthday came around, I didn’t even really want my cake that I had decided would be an allowable cheat. I did eat some Halloween candy toward the end of the month, but not much. Bottom line, I had more energy and felt great going into the holidays. Oh, you want to know what happened to my husband who did this mostly by default? He lost five pounds. Seriously.

We kept some of the eating habits throughout this year and now are going to do it again (now with more enthusiasm from my husband, I might add). I’m already cooking for it – making soups and freezing casseroles and looking up recipes. If you want to join me go to the Eating Rules website and take the pledge. I’ll share some of the recipes I’m trying and hoping you will share, too! What do you have to lose? You can do anything for a month, right?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Retail or Mail Order for Your Maintenance Meds?

Have you ever stopped to think about the cost implications of choosing to fill a maintenance medication at a retail pharmacy rather than through a mail order pharmacy? Insurance companies are able to negotiate significant discounts with mail order pharmacies because they direct a high volume of business. These discounts generally average about 8%. When you consider a plan like ASHA's spends over half a million dollars a year on prescriptions drugs, that 8% is a significant amount of money. Right now, only 13% of our prescription drugs are filled through mail order.

Approximately a dozen states have laws in place that prohibit insurance companies from directing consumers to use mail order pharmacies. Maryland is one of these states. In Maryland, fully-insured plans are forbidden from requiring a co-payment for a prescription filled at a retail pharmacy if a similar fee is not required for a mail-order prescription. These laws protect the interests of retail pharmacies, but not necessarily consumers. 
A 2005 Maryland study examined the effects of laws that impede insurance plans from offering incentives for consumers to use mail order pharmacies. The study indicated that removing these restrictions would save Maryland consumers 2-6% on retail drug purchases overall and insurance carriers an additional 5-10%. 

Since ASHA's plan is currently fully-insured, consumers make a choice about whether to use a retail or mail order pharmacy without an immediate cost impact. I understand the convenience of picking up a prescription at your neighborhood pharmacy. However, the choice to use a retail pharmacy drives up the overall cost of coverage for ASHA and every individual in the plan over the long run. This is something you should consider the next time you fill a prescription for a maintenance medication. If you choose to use a retail pharmacy now, would you make the same choice if you had to pay the additional cost out-of-pocket? 

If ASHA decides to self-insure our medical plan, we won't be subject to the Maryland mandate and will be free to differentiate the co-pays for maintenance medications filled at a retail pharmacy and mail order. Therefore, this could very well be a decision you face in the near future.