Top 5 Gardening Benefits for Your Life and Health

A day of gardening by Howard County General Hospital's Population Health staff to provide Maryland Food Bank shoppers with fresh healthy vegetables.

A day of gardening by Howard County General Hospital’s Population Health staff to provide Maryland Food Bank shoppers with fresh healthy vegetables.

The health benefits of gardening are numerous. There is a certain symbiosis that exists between you and the earth when you start digging in the dirt.

Recently, the Population Health department at Howard County General Hospital volunteered to plant vegetables in the Howard County Community Garden as a team building exercise and as a way to give back to our community. The vegetables we planted will be donated to the Maryland Food Bank, providing people in need with healthy, organic and fresh vegetables.

Most of our team members had never gardened before and were amazed at how much they enjoyed the experience. As we prepared the garden plot, planted different types of vegetable plants and then mulched the beds to promote its health and future growth, we all stood back and admired the hard work of producing healthy, fresh food.

As a home gardener, it was wonderful to share my passion with my colleagues and to be a part of a movement that is promoting healthy eating and providing fresh, nutritious food to our community. There are many benefits to starting your own garden that go beyond just the food you produce.

Gardening is:

  1. Cost effective. One vegetable plant can produce vegetables throughout the season, saving you trips to the market and money on fresh produce. Vegetable and fruit plants as well as seeds are relatively inexpensive and are truly the gift that keeps on giving, all season long.
  2. Convenient. Once your plants start producing vegetables, just go into your yard and pick your own food.
  3. Organic. You don’t have to worry about toxins and chemicals on your own food because it’s all grown organically.
  4. Relaxing. Gardening can be a very therapeutic activity. In fact, studies have shown gardening’s positive benefits on reducing anxiety and stress, increasing activity levels, and improving mental clarity in people, not to mention producing healthy food that benefits overall wellness.
  5. Educational. Being out in the garden provides an opportunity to learn about the environment in which we live and how gardening success is dependent on natural factors such as weather (think April showers) and insects like bees that are critical to the pollination that makes our plants grow.

Gardening Tips for Newbies

  • Start small. Try an herb garden which is easy to grow and can be started in pots, and even grown inside on a windowsill.
  • Consider container gardening. Container gardens are great for individuals with small yards or no yard, or for people who are new to gardening and not ready to commit too much time and energy. Almost all vegetables grow well in containers and will produce all season long. Drill small drainage holes in inexpensive, large plastic pots, plant your veggies and watch them grow. Add some plant food a couple of times throughout the season, provide water and sun and enjoy your fresh produce.
  • Discover a community garden. Many communities throughout Maryland, including Howard County, have community gardens where you can rent a plot of land and plant your own garden. Universities may also sponsor a community garden and many communities provide access to master gardeners who can answer questions and help you get started. Learn more about Howard County Community Gardens.

Even if you don’t have a green thumb, you’ll be amazed at what you can grow on your own. If gardening isn’t right for you, don’t despair! Throughout the spring, summer and fall growing seasons, local farms share their abundant produce at farmer’s markets throughout the county, so fresh and healthy foods are always ready for the picking.

Learn more about gardening from Gardening: It Does a Body Good and Beyond Veggies: Why Gardening is Good for You.

Laura Torres, LCSW-C, is a behavioral health program manager in Howard County General Hospital’s Population Health Department. Learn more about our Population Health programs at hcgh.org/populationhealth.

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Simple Steps to Avoid Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, you may not realize that you are at risk of having a heart attack until it’s too late.

While there is very little you can do to change your family medical history, you can make lifestyle changes to lower your risk. First, learn about the behaviors that increase the risk of heart disease, and then start taking preventive steps.

Behaviors that Increase Heart Disease Risk

Preventive Steps

Eat a heart-healthy diet

Add these following foods to your diet. They are considered to be the main ingredients of a heart-healthy diet.

  • Vegetables – greens (spinach, collard greens and kale), broccoli, cabbage and carrots
  • Fruits – apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes and prunes
  • Whole grains – plain oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain bread or tortillas
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods – milk, cheese or yogurt
  • Protein-rich foods – fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, lean meats, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products and legumes (lentils and some bean types)
  • Oils, butters, nuts and seeds – canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower and soybean oils; nut and seed butters; walnuts, almonds and pine nuts; and sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds

Aim for a healthy weight 

Body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, is commonly used for determining weight category (underweight, healthy weight, overweight and obese). Adults are typically considered to be at a healthy weight when their BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9.

Use Johns Hopkins Medicine’s BMI calculator to help determine your BMI.

Lower stress

Improve your emotional and physical health by learning to manage stress and practice stress-reducing activities, including:

  • Seeing a mental health care provider
  • Joining a stress management program
  • Meditating
  • Being physically active
  • Practicing relaxation therapy
  • Speaking with friends, family and community or religious support systems

Increase physical activity

Routine physical activity can lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and increase good (HDL) cholesterol levels, control high blood pressure and help with losing excess weight.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends the following:

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week
  • Vigorous aerobic exercise – 1 hour and 15 minutes per week

Before starting a new exercise program, you should first ask your doctor how much and what physical activities are safe for you.

Quit smoking

Speak with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking, and try to avoid secondhand smoke. If you are having trouble with quitting on your own, consider joining a support group.

Visit your doctor

According to David Jackson, M.D., a cardiologist on staff at HCGH, one of the critical steps to keeping your heart healthy is seeing your doctor for a routine physical exam. Your doctor checks your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar – the big three indicators for heart attack and stroke.

“If your numbers start to become abnormal, you may not feel different or experience symptoms, so it’s important to have them checked periodically and more frequently as you age,” says Dr. Jackson. “Having a primary care physician monitoring your care to identify trends in your numbers is important.”

Learn more about why primary care physicians are important to your health.

More Information

For more details on heart-healthy living, view the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Heart-healthy Lifestyle Changes.

Share Your Thoughts

Do you have any heart-healthy tips – recipe, exercise, stress reducing or other tips? We’d love to hear them, and our readers will appreciate them too. Share them in the comments area.

 


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Healthy Weight: How to Achieve and Maintain

Measure your health scale.

Measure your health scale. [Credit: Iqoncept] / [Dreamstime]

A healthy weight is an important contributing factor in your overall health. It can help you prevent and control many diseases and conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers.

Determining a Healthy Weight
How much you should weigh is not as simple as looking at a height-weight chart. You need to consider the amount of bone, muscle and fat in your body’s composition.

The amount of fat your body carries is a critical measurement, and can be measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Our Adult BMI Calculator helps you determine if you are at a healthy weight, overweight or obese.

If your results indicate you are overweight, having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat and/or water; or obese, having a high amount of extra body fat; you should consider speaking to your health care provider. While BMI provides a fairly accurate assessment, it’s not a perfect measure.

You may also find it helpful to attend our Wellness Screening for Your Health, which provides a free weight risk assessment.

Achieving a Healthy Weight
Many factors can contribute to your weight, and while you may not be able to control factors like family history, the environment, genetics and metabolism, you can change your behaviors and habits.

The service providers of our Journey to Better Health program, a program that provides health monitoring and support services to Howard County residents and faith community members, recommend the following when trying to lose weight to achieve a healthy weight:

  • Set a goal
    Your weight loss goal should be a realistic goal that you can accomplish. You should start slow and change only one habit at a time.
  • Conduct a needs assessment
    Identify what you need to accomplish your goal. Make a checklist of supplies/tools and resources you need to support your goal. For example, identify the amount of healthy food options in your pantry. If you have little to none, you will need to stock up on your healthy food supply.
  • Start immediately
    In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Empower yourself to make small efforts that can be repeated to make your goal come to fruition. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or include a fruit or salad with your meal.
  • Track your progress
    Whether it be on paper or a mobile app, recording your activity informs you of how you are progressing towards completing your goal. You may find you are on target or need to make improvements. It may seem mundane, but tracking your progress is critical towards achieving success.
  • Celebrate your success
    Find healthy ways to reward your accomplishments. For example, schedule a massage or go line dancing with friends.

For more information on losing weight, read our Five Step Weight Loss Guide for the New Year.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Continuing the healthy lifestyle changes you adopt, including eating a healthy diet and engaging in 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Successful weight maintenance is considered to be regaining less than six to seven pounds in two years and sustaining a reduced waist circumference of at least two inches.

For long-term motivation, ask your friends, family and health care provider(s) for encouragement, consider joining a support group and attend health screenings that assess your weight. Our Journey to Better Health program offers such screenings in the community for free. For a schedule of dates and locations, call 410-720-8788 or send an email to hcgh-j2bh@jhmi.edu.

The longer you can maintain a healthy weight, the more likely you will achieve long-term success.

For more healthy weight information, view Aim for a Healthy Weight from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


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Back to School: How to Prepare Your Child’s School for Food Allergies

Eliminating Gluten, Nuts and Dairy Photo

Brad Calkins | Dreamstime.com |Eliminating Foods Diet

With school starting soon, you’re probably busy with back-to-school activities, like buying clothes and school supplies, but is preparing your child’s school for his/her food allergies on the to-do list?

With a little organization, preparation and education, you can help keep your child safe from experiencing a food allergy reaction at school. We’ve created this list of tips to get you started.

Make an appointment with the allergist.
Discuss and update your child’s food allergy emergency plan for school, making sure the plan includes a photo of your child and your and the doctor’s contact information. Also, ask for any prescriptions that may need to be filled for the school.

Order a medical alert bracelet.
Along with your child’s name and allergy types, consider including that epinephrine should be given for a severe reaction.

Gather your child’s medical supplies.
Make sure all of your child’s medications are packed and ready to go to school. If it’s possible, provide the school with medications that will not expire; otherwise, make a note of the expiration date(s) on a calendar, so you’ll be ready to replace them before the expiration date.

If your child won’t have an epinephrine auto-injector on him/her at all times, provide one to the school nurse, your child’s teacher and any other school staff who will spend time with your child. The epinephrine container should be labeled with your child’s name, photo and emergency contact information.

Develop emergency plans with the school.
Speak with the school’s staff and make emergency plans for different scenarios, like snack time, lunchtime, classroom parties and field trips. Remind school staff they should give epinephrine immediately, then call 911 in the event of a severe allergic reaction.

Attend the school meeting.
Ask questions related to your child’s food allergy, including:

  • Where is the food kept, and where will your child eat?
  • Are tables cleaned with disposable disinfecting wipes? Sponges can spread allergens.
  • Which staff oversees snack and lunchtime, and do they discourage food sharing?
  • Can teachers give you several days’ notice of food-related events, including birthday parties?
  • Is food used as a reward in the classroom, and if so, can alternative rewards be given?
  • Are kids urged to wash their hands, instead of using hand sanitizer, before and after eating? Hand sanitizer gels do not remove allergens.
  • Is training provided to teachers on how kids describe allergic reactions (e.g. kids may say their food tastes spicy, tongue feels hot, mouth feels itchy or funny, or lips feel tight)?

Write a letter to other parents.
Your letter should include the allergies your child has, what can cause a reaction and the serious effects of a reaction. Explain cross contamination and how preventative measures can keep your child safe.

For year-long tips, read “Going to School With Food Allergies” at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital website.


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Low Carb – High Flavor: Cauliflower

I love carbs! Technically, our bodies and brain NEED carbs. But the carbohydrates I’m referring to are the “bad” ones. The ones I grew up with: white rice, white potatoes, taro, and all kinds of breads. Frankly, I have a potato problem. I love potatoes in all their glorious forms! However, I am partial to a giant mountain of home made mashed potatoes. So, in order to keep an eye on my blood sugars, I trick myself with one of my favorite low-carb sides: garlic cauliflower mash. It’s a surprisingly delicious way to enjoy cauliflower while simultaneously satisfying those carb cravings for mashed potatoes.

cauliflower mashIngredients: cauliflower, minced garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, butter, milk (optional: paprika, spinach, white beans, pesto)

Chop a head of cauliflower into florets. You can either blanch the florets in boiling water for 15 minutes, or stem the florets in the microwave or on the stove. You just need to get the cauliflower tender for “mashing.” While florets are cooking, get a small fry pan going with medium heat- then, drizzle a bit of olive oil, add a minced garlic clove. (At this point, you could add add a handful of spinach to lightly wilt in the pan or white beans or pesto or additional seasonings.) Whatever healthy, brave concoction you’ve created in your garlic pan, add to a food processor. Then, drain the water from your blanched cauliflower and add florets to the food processor as well. Blend in food processor with a little bit of salt/pepper, up to 1 Tbsp of butter, and splash of milk until its nearly smooth. Scrape down the sides occasionally. Keep an eye on its consistency so you don’t put it over the edge as a puree. You can also do this step manually with a fork or masher. Either way, it’ll be tasty. Dress up your mash with chives or other fresh herbs.

Another delicious and simple way to get more cauliflower into your diet: cauliflower rice!

My sister-in-love (as opposed to sister-in-law) bought some cauliflower rice from the store the other night. It was basically a head of cauliflower that was pulsed in a food processor and repackaged in a foam tray with a price tag and plastic wrap. Save yourself the extra cost and just get a head of cauliflower. Once your raw cauliflower is pulsed to the point of rice (or cous cous) texture, you should set a fry pan on medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil. You can then add a clove of garlic minced, along with a small white/yellow onion minced, maybe a handful of baby portobellas chopped. Saute until mushrooms are soft and onions are nearly translucent. At that point, add the cauliflower. This is a great base for any and all flavors you’re interested in creating. Simply season with salt and pepper or anything your heart desires! What’s great about cauliflower is that (like rice) it will absorb the seasoning beautifully. I’ve seen Indian cauliflower rice with cumin, turmeric, ginger, etc. The pellets of cauliflower will also absorb the colors of your herbs and spices! Try something fun like a Spanish style cauliflower rice or something Guam-style like achote red-rice (annatto seeds).  

Cauliflower is pretty easy to work with, you just need to put in time. There’s all kinds of great recipes for cauliflower tots (like potato tots), cauliflower soup, cous cous like salad, cauliflower popcorn (deep fried cauliflower), “steaks”, tortillas- the only limit is your imagination! Try out our Paleo cookbooks for more ideas!

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

 


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Eating Well With Diabetes

“When it comes to eating right, I find it’s so important for food to be tasty, so that you’ll want to keep eating well for a lifetime,” so goes the opening to the super neat and scrumptious The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, which covers everything from classic comfort foods to more exotic fare.

all natural diabetesThere are so many good cookbooks out there, but sometimes you just want a few that you can count on again and again to provide you with you healthy (and even happy) meal choices that will never disappoint or deny you enjoyment in your eating life. Whether it is Diabetic Living’s beautiful and wonderful Diabetes Meals by the Plate: 90 Low-Carb Meals to Mix & Match, Jackie Newgent’s The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, or Kate Gardner’s The New Diabetes Cookbook: 100 Mouthwatering, Seasonal, Whole-Food Recipes, you will not only want to eat healthy, you will be excited about doing so!

Essential to Jackie Newgent’s philosophy is simplicity, both with time in the kitchen and in choosing the freshest, least-processed foods. One of my favorite recipes in her book is “Buckwheat Banana Pancakes with Walnuts” (page 26). I was surprised to discover that buckwheat is not wheat at all but an herb of Russian descent. Central to Newgent’s cookbook is the idea that non-starchy vegetables promote an essential (and delicious) plant-based approach and that some vegetables can become the entrée, such as yummy cauliflower “steak” (see pages 256-257) “A good rule of thumb,” the registered dietitian nurse says, is “to fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, whether grilled, steamed, roasted, microwave-baked or raw.”

diabetes meals by the plate useJessie Shafer, Food and Nutrition Editor for Diabetic Living, supports the half plate non-starchy veggies “ideal” as well. In the intro to the fabulously colorful and very user friendly cookbook Diabetes Meals by The Plate she explains that the trick to healthful eating is in how you arrange your plate. “Visually divide your plate in half and fill one of those halves with nonstarchy vegetables,” she begins, then “divide the remaining half of the plate in two and fill one quarter with a protein. Fill the last quarter with a serving of grains or other starchy food.” Diabetes Meals by The Plate features dozens of pretty, but more importantly, very tasty and healthy recipes. There are lots of offerings for people who like their meat, but also (and in a very neat and unique way) there are offerings for the vegetarian and “Caribbean Tofu and Beans” (see pages 182 and 183) just jumps off the page with vibrancy and the promise of a terrific meal, even for those normally wary of tofu.

new diabetes cookbookPerhaps the most “foodie” of the cookbooks mentioned here, in terms of looks and taste, though (thankfully) not complexity, is the gorgeous (and mouthwatering) The New Diabetes Cookbook. One of my favorite recipes in the book is for “smoked gouda and broccoli lasagnettes.” (see pages 94 and 95) If you love lasagna as much as the author does then you might understand what she means when she says that one of the things she does not like about it is how easy it is to overeat it. That’s where “lasagnettes,” not lasagna, come in. Lasagnettes are mini lasagnas made in a muffin tin, where wontons are used instead of pasta, which saves on both both carbs and calories. Lasagnettes also travel very well and make for easy on-to-go snacks AND they freeze well.

Kate Gardner wrote The New Diabetes Cookbook knowing that cooking and eating well with diabetes is not always easy. There are the worries about carbohydrate content, blood sugar and making the “right” choices. All three cookbooks mentioned here focus on the belief that eating well with diabetes means eating whole, unprocessed foods in moderate portions. Jackie Newgent calls it “eating real” and makes cooking with vegetables a real joy, even to those who are not veggie lovers. Each color group provides distinctive health benefits and makes for terrific presentation in your meals as well as a tasty treat for your palate. It is the position of the American Diabetes Association that there is not “a one size fits all” pattern to eating and that is delightfully evident in all the wonderful and varied choices delivered in these three cookbooks.

Angie Engles has been with the Howard County Library System for 17 years, 14 of which were at the Savage Branch. She currently works at the Central Branch primarily in the Fiction and Audio-visual departments. Her interests include music, books, and old movies.

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