Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New Study Warns Use of Ultra-violet (UV) Tanning Bed Use, a Top Cancer Threat

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has given UV tanning beds the highest cancer risk category and calling them "carcinogenic to humans." The IARC, which is part of the World Health Organization, asserted that tanning beds are even more dangerous than previously found in earlier research studies. In fact, tanning beds are in the same group as asbestos, arsenic, and tobacco products.

Even more alarming is that their research found that individuals that began their use of UV tanning beds before age 30 increase their risk of cancer by 75%.

I've always been so mystified to see people using tanning beds to "look better." Wrinkled, leathery skin is what you will end up with when you abuse your skin with UV and over-sun exposure. Abusing tanning beds looks so unhealthy, besides the cancer risk. People don't realize it because in their mind, they think they look great.

My skin tans very easily even with the sunscreen because of my Latina heritage. However, I wear sunscreen every day and try to spend time in the shade to avoid burns and over-exposure.

Check out my "Mid-Summer Survival Tips" post for an audio interview of a dermatologist on protecting your skin against sun damage, including preventing cancer. Read the Reuters article for more details.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What's In Season Now: Cantaloupe

Serving fresh fruit for a family meal is a great way to add more nutritional values to your diet and if it's there ready to eat, kids and adults alike are more likely to serve it up on their plates. Cantaloupe is a fresh-tasting, sweet melon that is in season all summer so take advantage of the best prices now.

Cantaloupe is a nutritional powerhouse that is low in calories (about 50 calories per cup) and high in potassium (490 mg per cup). Potassium helps you keep your heart healthy and help regulate blood pressure. Cantaloupe is also an excellent source of vitamins A and C!

Cut up the cantaloupe all at once and store in containers in the refrigerator for quickly packing for lunches or snacks.

Tools you need to cut a cantaloupe quickly and safely:

  • Large chef knife
  • Small paring knife
  • Tablespoon (Your table utensil, not measuring spoon)
  • Cutting board
An efficient way to cut a cantaloupe:
  • On a clean cutting board, cut the cantaloupe in half on the vertical line (longway) with the chef knife.
  • Using a tablespoon scoop out the seeds and make sure you empty as much of the liquid from the hole in the middle.
  • Starting with the first half, slice the melon half in 4 vertical strips.
  • Then use the small paring knife to follow along the line of the rind against the flesh. Discard the rind and any green edges. With the paring knife slice cross-wise to form chunks.
  • Repeat with the other half.
  • Store in a container for serving or the refrigerator. Work next to the sink or garbage can to discard quickly and clear your space to keep your board clear.
Cantaloupe Snack Suggestions:
  • Power Energy: Serve 1 cup of cantaloupe with 1/2 cup of low fat cottage cheese.
  • Italian Appetizer: Wrap prosciutto slice around cantaloupe slice (don't cut into chunks for this snack)
  • Accent for Salad: Slice cantaloupe for a spinach or arugula salad paired with Serrano ham or prosciutto and red onion slices. Use a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing for a balance of the sweet, salty, and spicy flavors.
  • Sweet Treat - Homemade Popsicles: Puree cantaloupe in the blender with a bit of water. Pour mixture into popsicle molds and serve to the family on a hot day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Quick, Affordable Meal Solution: Adobo Chicken, Mexican Rice, and Steamed Veggies

I made this meal for dinner last night and there was enough for leftovers tonight! The authentic Mexican Rice dish is how my family made it when I was a kid. So, this is the real deal! No box rice-kits in this house! This meal is really easy and it can be on the table in about 30 minutes.

The trick is to cook the chicken under the broiler in the oven, but grilling the chicken works as well. I used chicken thighs because I had them on-hand.

Buying chicken thighs is more affordable than skinless chicken breasts. For example, I buy organic chicken and the price for 1-pound of chicken thighs is about $2.99 per pound versus $4.99 per pound of chicken skinless breast.
This price is an example, but in general, chicken thighs are more affordable. I've said before on the blog that I buy my meat from a small shop in Northern Indiana and they use only local meat so the prices are better than buying them in the city (see my previous post for buying healthy ingredients on a budget).

I served this with steamed green beans, but also try broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, or if your grilling the chicken, try throwing zucchini squash on the grill at the same time. Grilled squash is so good and you're not washing more dishes! Go for the veggie that looks fresh and in-season that day at the market. In-season produce is more affordable because it usually comes from more local sources and it's more abundant!

  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbs Adobo Seasoning (I prefer Penzey's - includes cumin, oregano, Chile, and other Mexican spices). Use a mix of cumin, Chile powder, and oregano to substitute.
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the pan)
  • 1 cup white rice (I prefer Jasmine)
  • 1-14 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (go for the jar for quick use)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 pound fresh vegetable such as green beans, broccoli, zucchini
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Defrost chicken thighs. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray for the chicken. Sprinkle chicken thighs on both sides with adobo seasoning.
  • Preheat medium to large saucepan on medium heat. Chop onion.
  • When saucepan is heated, drizzle with olive oil and add onion and minced garlic. Saute for 1-2 minutes and add rice (without adding liquid). Keep the rice moving with a spatula in the saucepan.
  • While rice is cooking, clean the vegetables and add into your steamer basket. I use a saucepan with an steamer basket insert (it looks like a double broiler). Vegetables will be ready in 10-15 minutes. Check with a fork and stir while it is cooking. Cook until fork tender and the vegetables are vibrant and not falling apart to the touch.
  • When the rice is golden after a few minutes, start to add liquid. Open the can of tomatoes. Drain the liquid into a measuring cup and add water until it is 1 cup. Then add an additional 1 cup of water (for 1 cup of rice, you need 2 cups of liquid). Add tomatoes, 1/2 tsp of salt, and stir into the rice and water mixture. Bring water to a boil, and reduce heat to low and cook for additional 15 minutes, until rice is cooked.
  • While rice is cooking, preheat broiler. Place chicken thighs on the oven rack near the top of the oven for best exposure to the broiler. Cook on first side for 10 minutes. Then flip chicken and cook for an additional 5-minutes. Too keep them warm, you can turn broiler off and put the chicken on a lower rack or cover with aluminum foil.
  • Drain vegetables and stir in about 1-2 tsp of butter, salt, and pepper.
Now you're ready to serve up this super affordable and healthy meal. If you work on your timing of the steps, you can improve your efficiency in the kitchen, which saves you TONS of time!!! Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mid-Summer Survival Tips

It's already the middle of July and summer is in full swing. Summer is one of the most social times of the year and you might find yourself running around for vacations, parties, BBQs, family reunions, and gardening. Based on my experience with the move from Chicago to Indianapolis, I've been logging many miles going back and forth. This weekend we have a family reunion in Michigan and we'll be on the road 3-hours each way. On Friday night, I'll pack dinner for us that's easy to eat on the road (sandwiches, rollups, with carrots or apple slices).

With road trips, you can plan ahead with healthy snacks so you're not forced to eat fast food as your only option. I pack granola bars, dried apricots, and water. Check out more tips on snacks you can keep in your bag.

All this fun also means that you'll be out be out in the sunshine enjoying the beautiful summer weather. This picture is from Aaron's parent's lake house before they built their year around house. We spend a lot of time at the lake house, especially in the summer. With the move to Indy, we're only 2 1/2 hours from the lake house so it's an easy drive for the weekend.

Exposing your skin in the sun means that you need to do everything possible to protect your skin, the body's largest organ. The sun over time can give you skin damage effects like premature aging and cancer. On one of my long drives between Chicago/Indy, I heard this Fresh Air podcast with the host Terry Gross interviewing a dermatologist, Darrell Rigel. He gave great tips on sun safety and helpful tips on applying sunscreen. You only have one body in this life so protect your skin! I see WAY too many people walking around with deep, unnatural tans and really it's sun damage! I protect my skin with high quality sun screen that I replace annually. A couple of tips:

  • Be practical on sun exposure. The middle of the day (11am -1pm) often is the most intense time of the day. You are more likely to burn in less time during this time of day so that means that you need to reapply sunscreen more often than other times of the day (early morning, late afternoon, for example.
  • Wear hats, sunglasses, cover up! I keep a straw hat at the lake house when I'm out in the sun. Covering your shoulders or thighs were your skin might be more sensitive is a smart move in the most intense part of the day.
Bump up your water intake and stay hydrated! Drinking more water in the summer heat is smart to help you replenish your body. In the summer heat your body sweats to regulate temperature and stay cool, but that means that you need to replenish your body with more water. You also get water from summer fruits and vegetables in addition to water alone.

With all the summer events and parties, don't forget to plan ahead. If you look at your week ahead, you can plan on nights when you can cook for packable meals that you can eat on hurried weeknights. You can get healthy meals whipped up from the grocery store salad bar/deli or one of my favorites is making versatile taco meat that you can make into taco salad, enchiladas, burritos, or quick tacos. In fact, that's what I'm making tonight - ground chicken tacos.

Have any summer survival tips of your own? Please pass them on!

Friday, July 10, 2009

5-Minute Breakfast Recipe: Multigrain Waffles with Ricotta-Walnut-Strawberry Topping

Here is another 5-minute breakfast and I'm convinced the kiddies will like this too because you can eat it with your hands. Years ago, I joined to lose weight, using the eDiets low-fat menu plan. It was great because the website gave me ideas on cooking healthfully. For example, I learned to use chicken broth in with high calorie stir fry sauces to keep the calories in check. A bonus is that chicken broth always adds flavor. This breakfast is one of the eDiets recipes that I still eat today for breakfast.

I've had variations of these waffles with blueberries, sliced kiwi, or if you like banana, that would be good, too. Instead of walnuts, try pepitas or toasted almonds. I like this because the lowfat ricotta is a better nutritional bargain than butter. Ricotta cheese is high in calcium and has protein. Berries are a superfood because they offer antioxidants, fiber, and very low in calories.

Here's how to make this 5-minute breakfast. Serve this up with a cup of milk.

  • 2 multigrain toaster frozen waffles (I prefer Trader Joe's brand)
  • 1/4 lowfat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tbs toasted walnuts
  • 2 tsp honey
  • Toast the frozen waffles in the toaster. While the waffles are toasting, slice strawberries.
  • When waffles are ready, spread ricotta cheese on the waffle. Sprinkle with fresh strawberries and toasted walnuts. Drizzle with honey. Serve.
It's really easy and very tasty. So try it with your favorite fruit topping, but berries are the best!

Monday, July 6, 2009

No Time for Cooking? Hit the Grocery Store Salad Bar or Deli for a Healthy Alternative to Fatty Fast Food

As I mentioned in my last post on July 2, Aaron and I moved to Indianapolis from Chicago. Last Friday, we loaded up our essential items to move to a temporary apartment until our condo in Chicago sells because our ultimate goal is to buy a single family house with a yard in Indy. We arrived Friday night famished from a long day of packing, loading, and driving 3 hours to our new city. Since everything was still boxed up, I decided to go to the Whole Foods near our new apartment so I could grab a healthy dinner. I took advantage of the salad bar and deli for prepared food that we could eat "picnic" in our new place. Everything I selected was something you could eat cold. I picked out grilled boneless skinless chicken breast from the deli (and on sale for $2.49 each!), spicy green olives from the olive bar, naan bread, roasted beets from the salad bar, and pasta salad and coleslaw from the deli. For the next day, the side dishes were great to have on-hand alongside the burgers that I cooked before the move. Or you could simply serve these ready-made sides with a sandwich in the future.

Our impromptu meal worked really well and I thought of some helpful tips that you might find useful if you're stuck in a jam when you don't have time to cook. First of all, most people in this situation might turn to unhealthy fast food. As your staying committed to a healthy lifestyle, it can be tempting to go for fast food because you don't think about the other alternatives. There are better choices out there!

  • Pick out healthy main dish first: grilled chicken, beef or fish is a great option because you can eat it cold, without reheating. At some grocery stores like Whole Foods, they have microwaves to heat up your food so you can eat it at the store.
  • Look for the sale items (convenience food don't have to break the bank): A great way to stick to your budget when you're buying prepared food is to look for the sales. I saw the grilled chicken was on special and decided to find side dishes that go with that main course. If you find sale items that you like, build your meal around that item.
  • Go for the freshest dishes: By the end of the day, some lettuce or delicate salads may be limp or watery. Pasta or mixed bean salads stand up well even at the end of the day.
  • Ask for samples, if you're not sure how something tastes: Many stores give free samples so you can decide if you will like the dish before you commit to buying it. It's a great way to tell if it is still fresh, too.
  • Salad bar shopping: In my case, I picked out olives because they are a great snack and they keep well in the refrigerator. I also selected beets as a nutritious side dish. You can pick out precut, washed veggies for a simple side salad. The Whole Foods salad bar also has small chucks of cheese and bread so you can grab for a quick picnic easily.
  • Raid the produce section: Fresh fruit is an easy item to grab. When I'm on the road traveling in different cities, I grab apples, oranges, and other fruit that you can eat with without chopping. Or go for the washed and cut fruit that are ready to grab and eat.
  • Stick to your budget: If you have a budget in mind, start with the main dish and build out from there. Whole fruit or precut, washed carrots and dip are a great side dish you can pair with the side dishes. You might spend a bit more money than fatty fast food meals, but think about what those meals do to your body. Stick with the sale items, which there are many especially in the summer, and you'll be okay!
If you have any other no-cook and anti-fast food tips, add your comments to this post.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Moving to Indianapolis, But Not Giving Up My Healthy Lifestyle

The Berkey's are on the move! I've been packing all day. Aaron and I have decided to move to an affordable city to improve our quality of life. Less stress from crazy commutes, more buying power to purchase a family-sized home with a yard, and being close to family were the main factors for choosing Indy. Indianapolis has over 2 million people in the metro area and with that has many cultural events and a brand-new airport so I can take trips back to California to see my family.

I've been in Chicago 7-years and in my condo for over 5-years. We've loved living in Chicago, but we're ready to start the next step in our lives. We're planning to buy a house in the city because we like the urban lifestyle for the cultural events and diversity. Indianapolis is only 2 hours from Aaron's parent's lake house in Northern Indiana so that will help when we have children. The lake house feels like a retreat for us because we visit family and friends, but it's unrealistic for us to move up there because it's very rural (less business, cultural opportunities).

Moving to Indiana still shocks me a bit because I never thought I'd stay in the Midwest as long as I had. But moving to my home state, California, is even more expensive than living in the city of Chicago! Aaron tells me that Indy is a bit "hippy" and liberal so I'm hoping that will satisfy my West Coast nature.

Things are moving with the speed of light! We made this decision only 4 weeks ago and now, we both have new jobs and a temporary apartment. In fact, we both got job offers on the same day! That's a sign that we made the right decision. I'm going to work at a different software company doing product marketing and Aaron started his job doing media sales at Nuvo, an alternative weekly newspaper. Our Chicago condo is on the market and we're hoping the 6-month lease will give us time to sell our condo and buy a new house down in Indy.

Our healthy lifestyle is always a driving factor in our life decisions. When you're making life decisions like where to live or work, think about your health and wellness. Here are some thoughts that might help you.
  • Fitness: We selected our apartment because it's near Monon Trail for hiking, biking, running, or walking our dog, Bena. And it's 10-minutes from my gym, which I will transfer to from my Chicago membership. Look for fitness centers that are near your home because it's easier to incorporate in your daily routine. My new employer has a wellness program and you can earn points to belong to the gym 1-block from the office. Many employees workout at lunch so the corporate culture encourages a healthy lifestyle!
  • Sourcing Local Produce: I have a produce delivery service lined up for the week after we move down there. The weekly delivery will include local organic and artisan-crafted produce and foods. Our apartment is also only a few minutes from Whole Foods. I'm also going to look for Farmer's Markets to get fresh, local produce.
  • Minimize Work Commute: Indy has few traffic jams - another bonus for living there! Our apartment is 20-25 minutes from the new office and when we move to our desired neighborhood, it should be only 15 minutes. At my last company, I lived 30 miles from the office and with Chicago traffic being one of the worst in the country, I chose to take a commuter train. I walked to the train station from my house, rode the train for 45 minutes, and then drove 15 minutes to my office, leaving my car at the train station permanently. The train was great for relaxing, but, if one thing happened to throw off my schedule, I would be stuck out in the suburbs and home 1 hour later! Instead of commute 2 hours and 45 minutes every day, my commute will be 40 minutes total. I'm excited to gain 2 hours of my day again! More time means I can relax more. Less stress is going to be great for my body, too.
Aaron and I are thrilled to explore Indy. We have some friends down there, but we're not going to be too far from our Chicago friends. Indy is only a 2 1/2 hour drive from Chicago. Gotta get back to packing....