Monday, June 27, 2016


Summer grilling makeover — building a healthy plate

For those grilling this summer, a juicy steak with a side of potatoes might sound like the perfect meal but before taking a bite, you might want to look at the numbers.

One half pound of New York Strip steak garnished with roasted potatoes and a pat of butter contains one day’s worth of protein (50 grams) and 60 percent of the daily value for saturated fat (12 grams).

But don't worry; you can make healthy choices and still enjoy the foods you love by following these simple tips to build a healthy plate this summer:

1) Keep portion sizes right. Choose a four-ounce portion of lean meat and surround it with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Kebabs make it easy to serve a balanced meal because they can be assembled in advance and take just minutes to cook. Try tossing cubed skinless chicken thighs with bold spices, and then thread them onto skewers alternately with your choice of fruits and vegetables such as: pineapple chunks, red onion, and mushrooms. Cook’s tip: Soak wooden kebab sticks in water for 30 minutes and freeze in a plastic storage bag so they are ready when you are.

2) Try grilling fish. Toss shrimp in a grill basket with vegetables for a tasty taco filling or satisfying stir fry. Another smart choice is skinless salmon filets. Packed with heart healthy omega-3 fats salmon can handle the heat of the grill and does not tend to fall apart like white fish. Cook’s tip: Place salmon filets on cedar planks and close the lid to infuse them with flavor.

3) Grill leaner red meat. Choose ground buffalo, it has fewer calories and half the saturated fat of 90 percent lean ground beef. To keep these extra-lean burgers moist add a small handful of parmesan cheese and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Another smart option is flank steak because it has 30 percent less saturated fat than top sirloin. For best results, cook flank steak quickly over high heat, let it rest for five minutes, and slice thinly against the grain. Cook’s tips: Handle ground meat gently to avoid dense, tough burgers. Score flank steak lightly so it lays flat on the grill.

4) Make better beverage choices. Reach for sparkling water with a splash of 100 percent juice instead of soda.

5) Use a grill basket to cook more vegetables with ease. A variety of colorful vegetables such as corn, bell peppers, chilies, and onions make a lovely grilled vegetable salad that can be the star of any dinner menu. Crank up the heat to maximize flavor, then toss cooked vegetables with avocado, black beans, cumin, lime juice, fresh herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Now wipe out that grill basket because it’s time for dessert.

6) Make dessert delicious with fruit. There are many fruits that are suitable for grilling such as: peaches, pineapple, melons, and—if you own a grill basket—you can wow your guests with grilled cherries. Try grilled peaches topped with fresh raspberries, two tablespoons Greek yogurt cream*, dark chocolate, and fresh mint for a satisfying dessert that is less than 200 calories. (*For the Greek yogurt cream mix: ½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons cream, 1 tablespoon honey and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.)

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 20, 2016


Food safety tips for picnics and BBQs

Roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick annually from the food they eat. Reducing food borne illness by 10 percent would keep five million Americans from getting sick each year. Individuals in their own homes can help keep food safe by following the four principles of food safety: CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK and CHILL.

• CLEAN: Proper hand washing, a clean work area, and clean produce are key factors in the prevention of food borne illness.

Regularly washing hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds is the most effective way to kill germs. A soap product that claims to kill 99.90 percent of all germs is not more effective, nor does it work faster than other soaps.

When handling raw meat, wash dishes in warm soapy water, then soak in a solution of one tablespoon bleach per gallon of clean water for 10 minutes. Another batch of this solution can be used to disinfect stainless steel, plastic and other non-porous surfaces. Sponges can harbor potentially harmful bacteria, use disposable towels instead.

Produce is attributed to 46 percent of all food borne illness in the United States. The surface of a melon may look clean but slicing through an unwashed rind can transfer harmful bacteria to the edible portion. Therefore, it is important to wash all produce and scrub rough-skinned produce before chopping or slicing.

• SEPARATE: Always keep raw meat separate from produce and service ware. To significantly reduce the risk of cross contamination: purchase a raw-meat only cutting board, color-code so cookware used for raw meat is not used for other items, and immediately discard marinades used for raw meat. Do not use wooden utensils and bowls because the porous surface can hold on to potentially harmful bacteria.

• COOK: To ensure meat cooks evenly, preheat the grill and create two heat zones. A good tip is to position thicker portions of meat closer to the flame. Do not cook directly over the flame because that will result in a burnt exterior and undercooked interior.

To determine doneness, let whole cuts of meat rest for three to five minutes, and then insert a food-grade thermometer in to the thickest portion. If the safe minimum temperature is not reached within 15 seconds of inserting the thermometer, put it back on the grill.

Food / Safe Minimum Temperature (°F)
Poultry, whole and ground           165
Ground Meat (excluding poultry) 160
Steaks, roasts, and chops            145
Fish                                            145

• CHILL: All refrigerated foods and raw meat should be kept at or below 40 degrees. Bacteria can begin to multiply when frozen and refrigerated foods are warmer than 40 degrees. Meat should be unthawed in the refrigerator or under cool running water. Never unthaw meat on the counter.

Keep cold food on ice beneath a tent or shaded area. Cover dishes and service ware to keep flies and other pests away and note when the food is put outside so you know if it is still safe to eat.

Food is not safe to eat when it has been in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees for more than two hours (1 hour if the temperature was above 90 degrees). If you are unsure, the safest thing to do is throw it away.

If you follow the principles outlined in this article you will help keep food safe at picnics and BBQs this summer. For more information and answers to specific food safety questions:

• Visit:
• Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) TTY: 1-800-256-7072 or email

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 13, 2016


Traveling the road together with a nurse navigator

“What the heck is a nurse navigator?” I’ve probably heard this question dozens of times since returning to Backus Hospital’s Cancer Institute as an oncology nurse navigator. I like to compare it to being a travel guide. When’s the last time you took a road trip through uncharted terrain? Did it go smoothly or did you have to seek help, whether from an experienced guide, a map, or the Internet? Did you hit any detours? Get a flat tire? Get hopelessly lost? Wish you had planned things differently?

As any patient will tell you, the cancer experience — from diagnosis to treatment to recovery — is a journey in and of itself. With our complicated healthcare system, it’s easy to get lost. That’s where a nurse navigator comes in. Whether it’s questions about your cancer type and treatment, how to talk to your doctors, where to get emotional or financial support, or how to deal with treatment side effects, I like to tell my patients that no question is too big or small — just ask. I will either have the answer or more importantly (and more likely), know how to get it.

Each branch of Hartford HealthCare’s Cancer Institute — which includes campuses at Backus Hospital, Windham Hospital, the Hospital of Central Connecticut, Hartford Hospital and MidState Medical Center — has dedicated oncology nurse navigators to help cancer patients. I reached out to my counterpart at Windham Hospital, Lori Surber, RN, BSN, to see what she had to say about her nursing role. Lori has been an oncology nurse navigator for four years.

“I reach out to patients right from their moment of diagnosis. Then I work with the healthcare team to get them from one step to the next. The best advice I can give to patients is to take one step at a time. Don’t look too far down the road,” she says.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a nurse navigator?

“Making a difference in someone’s life every day. Knowing you made the road a little easier for someone going through cancer is so rewarding,” Lori says.

I couldn’t agree more.

Here are the last 10 questions I have answered as a navigator:

• What does my pathology report really mean?
• Why is my doctor talking about taking an anti-hormone pill for five years?
• Will I be totally sedated for my biopsy?
• Should I be “freaking out” if my doctor mentions chemo?
• How can I coordinate my chemo and radiation so I’m not driving back and forth all day?
• How can I be considered for a clinical trial?
• Do you have any support groups for cancer patients?
• Am I allowed to have cats while on chemo?
• How can I reduce stress and anxiety during treatment?
• My doctor hasn’t called me back with my results, what should I do?

If you or a loved one are coping with cancer and need a little extra guidance and support, please contact your oncology nurse navigator. Working together, we can make your journey through cancer a smoother ride. I can be reached at Backus Hospital at 860-425-3870. For Lori Surber at Windham Hospital, call 860-456-6952. Let’s travel the road together.

Jessica Vanase is the Backus Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Vanase or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, June 06, 2016


Health benefits of a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep used to be a nice target to aim for, but until recently, no one really knew the true benefits of sleep. As college students, my friends and I would pride ourselves on “pulling an all-nighter” and still being able to “ace” our exams the next morning. Now we understand that adequate sleep really is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit our heart, weight, mind and more.

Experts now say that consistent sleep patterns can improve memory, curb inflammation and even help us when trying to lose weight.

Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who get less sleep — six or fewer hours a night — have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get more. In particular, C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, was higher in people who got six or fewer hours of sleep a night.

It’s not just adults who require adequate sleep. According to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep, children between the ages of 10 and 16 who have sleep disordered breathing, which includes snoring, sleep apnea, and other types of interrupted breathing during sleep, are more likely to have problems with attention and learning. This could lead to "significant functional impairment at school," the study authors wrote.

A 2009 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children ages 7 and 8 who got less than about eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to be hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive.

I asked my friend and colleague Dr. Setu Vora to expound on the health benefits of good sleep. He put it succinctly:

• Sleeping well, about 7-8 hours, at night, is great for our health.
• Sleep deprivation is linked with increased risk of errors and accidents.
• Good sound sleep helps the heart and brain.

Dr. Vora and Dr. Olimpia Radu, pulmonologists and sleep disorder experts, will be speaking on this important topic at Backus Hospital on June 22, from 6:30-8 p.m. At this free community education program, “Better Sleep for Better Health,” they will discuss sleep problems like snoring, sleep apnea, and give tips to get a better night’s sleep. Call (855) HHC-HERE or (855) 442-4373 to register or for more information.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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