A Pasta Salad You Can Feel Good About!

As warm weather (finally!) descends upon us, you might find yourself attending more picnics, potlucks or other outdoor events you have to bring food to. Often, the problem with potlucks is that dishes that most people would enjoy at a party tend to not be the healthiest. But with minor substitutions, this pasta salad is sure to be crowd-pleaser while still being a healthy option.

Italian Pasta Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 12 ounces whole wheat pasta
  2. celery
  3. cucumber
  4. tri-colored bell peppers
  5. 16 ounces Olive Garden light Italian dressing
  6. 1 packet Good Seasons Italian dressing seasoning mix
Instructions
  1. Boil pasta until al dente (firm to bite), then drain, rinse and cool.
  2. Chop desired amount of veggies and put in a large bowl.
  3. Add the Italian dressing and seasoning packet and mix well.
  4. After the pasta has cooled, add it to the veggies and mix well.
  5. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Serve the next day, or make ahead a few days in advance.
Something to Chew http://somethingtochew.com/
 

The Benefits of Spring Cleaning on Your Mental Health

For many, spring means warmer, brighter weather—and that means it’s time to throw open the windows and start spring cleaning!

We’ve discussed before how spring cleaning has health benefits. Opening the windows to let in fresh air can actually improve the humidity and change the oxygen balance in your home. Even sunlight coming in through the windows can help clean the air. But spring cleaning also has associated mental health benefits, including improved mood, decreased stress and heightened creativity. Here are some specific mental health benefits of spring cleaning:

Gets you moving

Spring cleaning is a physical activity, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Cleaning gets the happy chemicals moving around in your brain, propelled by an increased heart and respiratory rate. Spring cleaning can give you some of the same mental health benefits as physical exercise, such as running or biking. What’s more, a disorganized space is associated with less physical activity, while organization and order have been associated with choosing to eat more healthy and taking charge of your general health

Reduces stress

Clutter and stress are related, and we know stress is bad for mental health. For example, piles of paper can create a false image that work is endless, and that even when we finish what we are working on, there is more to be done. Looking at the clutter in your home can bring on the anxiety of incomplete tasks or just make it more difficult to accomplish your daily routine. Many Americans feel that home organization and cleanliness are among their biggest stressors. Women specifically have shown to have chronic levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, if they perceive their homes as cluttered. Attacking that clutter can help reduce that stress.

Invites a fresh start

Sometimes mental health issues seem overwhelming because of their long history. You can fall into a pattern of poor mental health and get stuck there. Spring cleaning makes you feel like you are getting a fresh start. When your house looks different—decluttered and clean—you feel a greater ability to change the state of your mental health as well.

Tips for “spring cleaning” your mental health:

If you’re struggling with your mental health, why not try giving it a fresh start as well? Spring cleaning is not only a deep house cleaning, but an exercise of the mind!

  • Create a targeted, personal to-do list of what you want to achieve emotionally.
  • Divide goals into dream goals as well as short and long-term goals.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Get up at the same time each day to create a better sleep routine.
  • Schedule regular social activity.
  • Nourish your body and mind with a healthy diet.

Hormones: How to Restore Balance in your Life

Hormones have profound effects on the body. They help regulate metabolism and appetite, steer our energy levels, make fertility possible, manage body temperature and control the body’s ability to lose weight or even gain muscle.

Effects of hormone imbalance on the body

When someone is experiencing hormonal imbalances, it can feel as if the world is crashing down on you. Many people go through unintentional weight gain despite following a healthy diet. Others feel sluggish all day and still have difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep. These symptoms, among many others, can wreak havoc on emotions and temperament. Hormonal imbalances can be caused by excessive stress and poor lifestyle choices but can also occur naturally with age, including when women reach menopause.

As women age, production of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, declines. It may seem like you have absolutely no control over this, but there are ways to continue to keep these levels balanced, even though overall hormone production is lower.

Bring balance back to hormones through healthy eating 

Eating healthfully is important throughout a person’s life, and it’s no different for women going through menopause. Many women experience weight gain—especially around the belly—mood swings, hot flashes and night sweats, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. They are also more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

You don’t have to be a slave to your changing hormones. Try to bring them back into balance with these dietary tweaks.

What to eat more of: 

  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage (Try to have at least one serving of these hormone-balancing veggies every day.)
  • Dietary fiber: oats, berries, avocados, beans, lentils, broccoli, apples, pears, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, sweet potatoes, squash (Dietary fiber helps with liver clearance of estrogen.)
  • Healthy fats: avocados, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, eggs, all nuts and seeds including chia seeds and flaxseed, grass-fed beef, salmon, quinoa

Also increase sleep and exercise. Both help reduce stress. Weight training can also have further benefits on improving metabolism.

What to eat less of:

  • Processed foods: boxed meals, pre-packaged shelf-stable or frozen entrees, frozen pizza, premade breads and bread products, pre-packaged meats such as sausage, bacon and hotdogs, artificial sweeteners, fake cheese, excessive condiment use, Pop-Tarts®, snack mixes such as pretzels, crackers, chips
  • Added sugars: cereals, packaged sweets like Twinkies and Cinna-Buns, regular and some Greek yogurt varieties, sweetened milks, soda, juice, sweetened tea, granola bars
  • Drive-thru meals: Processed meats, refined grains and fried menu items can cause inflammation in the gut. They also are poor nutrient sources of fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Alcohol: One alcoholic beverage is processed as 29 grams of sugar or one serving of M&Ms.
  • Caffeine: For some, caffeine can be a source of inflammation.
  • Foods associated with inflammation such as gluten and lactose. Foods made from or using ingredients with wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. Milk and ice cream are two high-lactose containing dairy products.

Remember, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your diet all at once. But by increasing the good and decreasing the bad, even slowly, you can bring balance to your hormones and improve your quality of life.

 

First Day of Spring brings…Spring Cleaning!

Is clutter in your space preventing you from living a healthy lifestyle? Believe it or not, disorganization can do more than just make it hard to find daily things. Spring cleaning can actually help you live more healthfully.

Set a goal to declutter

This spring, set a health goal for yourself to start decluttering little parts of your life one at a time. You can use my “non-resolution” method from previous posts if you don’t have a favorite goal-setting method.

Remember to be specific with your decluttering goal, just like any health goal you have set. Here are some examples:

1) Organize your container cabinet.
You want to set a goal to take your lunch to work twice a week (or once a week or every day—tailor your goal to your life) but your Tupperware® or plastic container cabinet is a mess. Decluttering this space will make it more feasible to pack and take a lunch to work. Once this cabinet is tidy, packing leftovers directly from the dinner table into containers in the fridge is easy. Lunch for the next day is ready to go!

2) Organize your pantry.
Do you ever find yourself overbuying food because you can’t remember what you have in stock? Pull everything out of your cabinets, wipe down the shelves and strategically organize your food. You may be surprised how much you have, and this may be a good time to take a box or can to your local food bank. Put items that are due to expire in the front and work them into your meal plans.

3) Organize your refrigerator.
Your refrigerator can get dirty very quickly, so it’s time to deep clean it. Go through everything: I bet half of those condiments are expired! Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.

Declutter for better health

Add decluttering to the goals you already have to be healthy in order to make them easier to obtain and maintain. After you have met your goal for a significant amount of time, make sure you reward yourself (NOT with food!) to help you keep going. Happy First Day of Spring and spring cleaning!

Considering Diet to Help Prevent Cancer

March is colorectal cancer awareness month, and many health care organizations are promoting scheduling regular screening for colorectal cancer, such as getting a colonoscopy.

Colorectal cancer screening targets everyone over the age of 50. Your doctor might even recommend getting screened earlier if you are at higher risk or have a family history of colorectal cancer. While you should still count on regular screenings as your best bet to prevent colorectal cancer, there are some things you can do diet-wise to help prevent colorectal cancer.

Prevent Colorectal Cancer: Diet Do’s

The best things to eat—and this applies to really everyone, not just someone trying to prevent cancer—are high-fiber whole grains, green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables. The following are lists of types of these foods, so you can get an idea.

High-fiber whole grains

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Barley

Green leafy vegetables

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Romaine lettuce

Cruciferous vegetables

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts

Green leafy vegetables are important because they contain carotenoids. Carotenoids help prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants. Folate, also contained in these veggies, may offer protection against colorectal cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer.

Prevent Colorectal Cancer: Diet Don’ts

You might see a little repeat of information here from other blog posts, but only because these “diet don’ts” are pretty applicable for anyone wanting to live a healthier lifestyle. Limiting foods rich in animal fats, red meat and alcohol help prevent colorectal cancer.

Diets high in red meat have been associated with an increased risk for colon cancer. To eat less meat, think of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as the entrée at meals, with meat as the side dish. And you can drink a little, but it would be better to not drink at all. Alcohol has also been associated with an increased risk for colon cancer.

Looking for more information on colorectal cancer?

The Springfield Clinic web page for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month has a lot of information about colorectal cancer and colonoscopies, including an article written by one of our Colon & Rectal Surgery doctors, James Thiele, MD, FACS, FASCRS, about the importance of getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer and how the colonoscopy procedure works. Check out this information and schedule your colonoscopy today!

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

Last Black Friday, I jumped on the bandwagon and bought an Instant Pot®. Yes, I had to find out for myself what the craze was all about, so I actually bought in. And Instant Pot® is a programmable pressure cooker that is supposed to speed up cooking considerably. This week, I want to share what I’ve done with my Instant Pot® and how I’ve made it work for my family.

What’s the best part about an Instant Pot®?

First and foremost, what I absolutely love to make in my Instant Pot® is hard-boiled eggs. You may be asking, aren’t eggs bad for you? Despite their occasional negative portrayal, eggs are a fantastic protein source, as long as you aren’t going overboard with the number you eat.

I typically hard-boil about eight to 12 eggs a week for our family of five. The Instant Pot® makes it super-duper easy to do so. Here are the instructions:

Megan’s Hard-boiled Eggs

  1. Put one cup of water and however many eggs you want into the pot.
  2. Program five minutes of pressure, followed by five minutes natural release, followed by 5 minutes cold water bath.

I don’t shell them right away, but put them in a bowl in the fridge to stay fresher for longer. We shell them as we eat them.  

What else can you use the Instant Pot® for?

I also have made a whole chicken with my Instant Pot®, although this is not something new to me. I usually buy whole chickens when they are on sale and freeze them. Typically, I’ll thaw the chicken and put it in the crockpot with all the seasonings I want—by the evening, we’ve got chicken. I’ll shred the leftover chicken and freeze into patches so we can use it for subsequent meals, such as chicken spaghetti, chicken tacos, white chicken chili and BBQ chicken.

How does the Instant Pot come into play? One time, I forgot to thaw the chicken the night before. I placed the whole frozen chicken in the Instant Pot® with the seasonings and a little water. In no time, the chicken was cooked. This is a definite plus of having the Instant Pot® around.

What are some of the lesser-known features of the Instant Pot®?

My last favorite I’m going to talk about today is burrito bowls. When making this recipe, I use more than just the pressure cook feature. You can make the whole burrito bowl meal in the Instant Pot® and not dirty another dish, thanks to the fabulous sauté feature.

Megan’s Burrito Bowl for the Instant Pot®

  1. Put oil, peppers, onion and garlic into the pot.
  2. Use the saute feature to cook, and then add beans, salsa, chicken, rice and low-sodium chicken stock.
  3. Close the lid and pressure cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Quick release and ladle out. Add some fresh cilantro, cheese and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and serve.

This is always a fun, full meal for my family, and it leaves behind great leftovers.

Instant Pot®: Yay or nay?

There are some great features for the Instant Pot® outside of pressure cooking. It has a learning curve, and it’s a little difficult to use and get used to. Sometimes when recipes say “10 minutes,” it’s actually longer because it takes time for the pressure to build. And, I will be honest, it takes up a lot of space if you don’t have much in your kitchen. All that being said, the Instant Pot® can be right for a lot of people and would be a good addition in your kitchen. Happy Instant Potting!!

Instant Pot image from https://instantpot.com/