Digestive Health – Your Gut is More Important Than You Think

On a recent webinar with Kelly Springer of Kelly’s Choice Nutritional Company, I learned about digestive health and why it’s so important. As a college student with little time to eat healthy and who lives off of dining hall food, I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that 74 percent of Americans are currently living with digestive issues. Here are a few of the most valuable things I picked up on:

Everything is connected to the gut

Your gut does so much more than digest your food. Ninety percent of your serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates body functions like your mood, is actually produced in your gut, not your brain. That’s why more psychiatrists are recommending a healthy lifestyle – with a focus on nutrition and exercise – as part of treatment plans for depression and anxiety. What one eats can affect mood and well-being. Therefore, maintaining your digestive health is just as important as maintaining your heart and brain health.

Fiber is key

Fiber is essential for your diet. It regulates your gastrointestinal tract, helps with treating constipation, and can lead to weight loss. Here are foods to  add to your diet if you’re  trying to incorporate more fiber:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Chia Seeds
  • Brewed coffee

Limit foods high in fat and sugar

I learned that it’s important to avoid artificial sweeteners and that there are good fats AND bad fats. Bad fats can slow down your digestive process. But good fats like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are actually really good for you.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prior to the webinar, I had heard of prebiotics and probiotics but had no real sense of what they were. Probiotics are a good type of bacteria that are naturally found in foods like yogurt. They help to regulate your digestion. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates found in fiber-rich foods that act as food for probiotics.   They’re the reason fiber is so important to your digestive health.

Some people try to increase the healthy bacteria in their digestive symptom by taking a probiotic supplement. Many probiotic supplements are marketed as dietary supplements, which do not require FDA approval. Therefore, it is important to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before starting them. However, there are many ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet without taking supplements.

Just a few of these options include:

Eat mindfully and develop a routine

Most importantly, always be mindful of how much you’re eating. Overeating can result in digestive symptoms such as heartburn or an upset stomach. Don’t just focus on eating; make sure to always stay hydrated. Water in your digestive system can help dissolve fats and soluble fiber. You can’t just rely on healthy eating, it’s also important to exercise regularly. This will help to manage your stress and improve your overall health.

Now you try

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are a few easy ways to start improving your digestive health today:

  • Focus on drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of fiber throughout the day
  • Start trying products like kefir, kombucha, or kimchi for probiotics
  • Try to eat mindfully for one meal every day
  • Start cutting out diet sodas and artificially sweetened drinks

Consider some of these small changes and you may be well on your way to improving your digestive health and overall lifestyle! Don’t forget to also discuss dietary changes and major digestive issues with your health care provider.

What’s the difference between “organic” and “natural”?

If you’re confused about the difference between organic and natural, you’re not alone. While they might sound like the same thing, one describes a strictly regulated product, while the other is largely a marketing term. Don’t be fooled.

What is “Organic”?

Organic food is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which sets national standards for certification. Foods that are certified organic must follow strict regulations. For example, they must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, certain fertilizers or genetic engineering. Livestock must have access to the outdoors and be raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. These farming practices are designed to help enhance the quality of soil and water, decrease pollution, and provide healthier habitats for animals.

The USDA also sets standards for product labeling, with 4 types of labels:

  • 100% organic: all ingredients in that product must be certified organic
  • Organic: must contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients: must include at least 70% certified organic ingredients
  • Contains organic ingredients: includes less than 70% certified organic ingredients

Only products labeled “100% organic” or “organic” can use the USDA seal, with some exceptions.

What is “Natural”?

No government agency or group regulates the term “natural” (other than for meat and poultry, where the USDA has created some requirements). Therefore, it’s not really clear what this term means. It is generally thought that a natural product has “no artificial ingredients”. But without regulation, it’s common to find products labeled “natural” that contain things that are not natural, like artificial preservatives or genetically modified organisms. Without strict standards, food corporations can define what “natural” means for their products.

Why Does This Matter?

According to a 2015 Consumer Reports survey, nearly two-thirds of people believe that the natural food label means more than it does. This confusion means that people may be buying a product assuming certain regulations and standards when that’s not the case.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Use the food label and ingredients list to check if food lives up to its front-of-package claims. If you want to purchase organic products, look for the labels or the USDA seal. This food can cost more money, so pick the foods where you’ll get the most “bang for your buck”. For example, the “dirty dozen” is a list of 12 fruits and veggies that have the most pesticide residue when grown conventionally. Those may be a good starting place. On the other hand, the “clean fifteen” are fruits and veggies that have low pesticide residue, even when grown conventionally.

Looking to add more of those veggies to your day? Check out 9 Easy Ways to Add Vegetables to Your Meals.

Have a Medicare Plan? Take Steps to Protect Yourself Against Fraud

My mom laughed out loud when she got a call from her bank asking if she had purchased hand-crafted men’s cowboy boots from a store in Texas. She was grateful the bank checked to see if the charge was legitimate. The account was frozen and she cut up her card and waited for the bank to send a new one.

New Medicare Cards

Similar to this instance, the Federal government is notifying people with Medicare about the new red, white and blue Medicare card they’ll be receiving. They’re giving advance notice so that you can take precautions to protect yourself against fraud.

Medicare is a Federal program for those over 65 years old, certain people with disabilities, and those with permanent kidney failure (end-stage renal disease). I work with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Medicare members and I’m sharing this story to help inform you.

To help protect against identity theft, the card will have a new unique identifier. On the other hand, current cards use the Social Security number.

Protect Yourself From Scams

Unfortunately, scam artists may use this opportunity to try to steal personal information. Medicare will never call beneficiaries and ask for information like a Medicare number. Therefore, if someone asks for this personal information over-the-phone, hang up and call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

Also avoid sharing personal information by email or in person, unless you have given your permission in advance. Visit Medicare.gov/fraud for tips on protecting your identity.

And remember to destroy or shred the old card after the new card arrives. This will better protect your social security number.

If you are eligible for Medicare, or know someone who is, consider these tips:

  • Keep your address up-to-date. The card will be mailed to the name and address on file with Social Security. To update an address call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, or visit SSA.gov.
  • Be patient. It may take some time to mail the new cards. You may not receive the card at the same time as your friends and neighbors. If you do not receive a card by April 2019, call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).
  • Keep your card safe. Many Medicare beneficiaries have additional coverage through private insurance companies. Not all plans require the Medicare card be shown at the doctor, hospital or pharmacy. So, if you don’t need to carry your card, store it at home in a safe place.

To learn more visit:



This Tasty Recipe Won the “Chompionship!”

Congrats to the big winner of our Munch Madness “Chompionship.”

The Winter Squash Bake recipe “squashed” the competition to earn the coveted crown.  The chef behind the winning dish was Lauren “All Day” Daley, a chef with a knack for super simple comfort food.

Lauren “All Day” Daley, the chef behind the winning dish.

The Winning Recipe in Action

Here is my (video) attempt at making the dish. I skipped the red pepper flakes (a no-no with our kiddos) and may have accidentally used regular ground sausage instead of poultry sausage. (Don’t ask – It’s been a long week.) Enjoy!

Check out her recipe: Winter Squash Bake 

Interested in tasting the other recipes in our Final Fork Chompionship? Read: Munch Madness.

Or, click on the following recipes:

Southwestern Two-Bean Chicken Soup

Freezer Meal Chicken Parmesan

Honey Sriracha Wings




Teresa’s Grateful for Her Gift of Life

After Teresa Arnold’s 12-hour liver transplant surgery, her doctor told her husband, “It’s amazing she was still alive. Her liver was a small, hard rock.”

Teresa emerged from the operation looking pink after years of having a yellow cast to her skin.

Her husband, David, burst into tears of relief. He had been her primary caregiver for the previous two years while working full-time.

“It was a crazy, crazy time,” Teresa said of her five years waiting on the transplant list. Liver failure had caused her to develop encephalopathy. The brain disease not only turned her sleep/wake cycle upside down, but also adversely affected her memory and balance.

Teresa, a registered nurse, believes she contracted hepatitis C during the 1970s before the health care profession adopted universal precautions.

At 3 a.m., two days after Christmas 2006, she received a call informing her that a donor’s liver was available. Soon, she and her husband were on the road to Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital for the surgery.

Teresa checked out of the hospital in a record seven days post-op. Although she would undergo yearlong chemotherapy for hepatitis C, she felt well enough after three months of recuperation at home to take on a new job. In 2007, she started working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Syracuse as a Utilization Review Coordinator.

“I love my job. I still get to be a nurse,” she said. Until her illness forced her to quit, Teresa had been nursing director at Syracuse Community Health Center. She also had worked in a Wyoming hospital for 10 years before returning to upstate New York with her husband and son. Her son now lives in Oregon with his family.

Her current position is Manager of the Commercial Line of Business in Utilization Management.

“It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had,” said Teresa.


In the years since her surgery, Teresa often has wondered why she — of the thousands of people waiting for a donor organ — was lucky enough to receive a 40-year-old man’s liver.  Through the transplant coordinator, she wrote a thank-you letter to his family, but didn’t hear back.

She contemplated how she could repay the gift the universe had bestowed on her.

A Buddhist, Teresa believes in the interconnectedness of all life. She turned to her teacher for answers.

“What am I supposed to do now that I’ve been given this gift? How do I give back?”

Her teacher answered, “Just live.”

Organ donation statistics

Here are some organ donation statistics provided by Nancy Ryan, director of Marketing and Community Relations at the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network. The Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network is a nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization that serves 20 counties in the Finger Lakes, Central New York and upstate New York regions.

In the United States

  • Every 10 minutes, someone is added to the national transplant waiting list.
  • On average, 20 people die each day while waiting for a transplant.
  • More than 7,000 people died in 2016 while waiting for an organ transplant (or within 30 days of leaving the list for personal or medical reasons).
  • One donor hero can save up to eight lives through organ donation and could improve the lives of up to 75 more through tissue and cornea donation.

Waitlists (the number of people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant

  • National: 116,000
  • New York state: 9,400
  • Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network service area: 770 (listed at Strong Memorial Hospital or SUNY Upstate Medical University)

Donor registry enrollment rates (the percentage of people registered as organ, eye and tissue donors)

  • United States: 54%
  • New York state: 32%
  • Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network area: 40%

The only restriction to signing up for organ donation in New York state is that enrollees must be at least 16 years old.

If it’s your wish to pass life on to others through organ donation, you can easily enroll through the electronic New York State Donate Life Registry.

Click here for frequently asked questions regarding organ donation.

Nancy Ryan’s call to action:

“Despite the progress, the organ donation crisis in this country, and particularly in New York state, will not improve unless community members who wish to register as organ donors actually take the steps to do so.”

Spotlight on Kelly Springer, a Skaneateles business owner with a national reach

Kelly Springer is the founder and owner of Kelly’s Choice nutritional company, which focuses on sports nutrition, weight loss, workplace wellness, heart health, diabetes and more. Kelly also is a spokesperson for many national healthy food companies. Her clients have included Quaker Oats and KIND. Recently, Kelly’s Choice kicked off a virtual wellness program for large companies and businesses throughout the U.S. Kelly lives her healthiest life by always staying organized and being active with her family!

Kelly Springer

Favorite Healthy Eating Tips:

  • Start the day off with a well-balanced, nourishing breakfast. I start my day off with a glass of kefir (a creamy drink of fermented cow’s milk) and a scrambled egg with veggies mixed in.
  • Hydrate throughout the day. Water is critical to all of the body’s systems, including the brain, heart, lung, kidneys and muscles. You can’t digest and absorb vitamins and nutrients without water. It also detoxifies the liver and kidneys and carries away waste from the body. Your brain is mostly water—drinking it helps you think, focus and concentrate better.
  • Make sure that half of your lunch and dinner plates are veggies. They provide your body with additional water and also provide fiber, vitamins and minerals. There are many ways to make vegetables delicious!

How do you juggle a career, family and healthy lifestyle?

I’m going to be honest here—it is not easy! I’m busy with work, and my two daughters are busy with school, swimming and other activities. All of those activities go on a calendar, but guess what else? A couple of years ago, I started putting “me” time on the calendar. This is when I work out. I also make sure to never skip meals and get a full night’s sleep. This is true for me and my girls! We all need at least seven hours of sleep a night!

How do you stay active in the winter?

On Sunday, we like to ski in the winter! We spend four to five hours on the slope. I also stay active by doing all of my errands by foot: going to the bank, going to the post office or picking up a few groceries. I live in Skaneateles. It’s great to live in a walkable community.

How does a healthy lifestyle help you at home and at work?

A healthy lifestyle helps my whole family. It helps protect us from colds, flus, and other illnesses. My schedule is packed, and I don’t have time to get sick or for my children to get sick.

Best advice for people trying to live a healthy life?

Understand that you don’t have to be perfect. You can start by making simple healthy swaps:

  • Swap your morning cereal for eggs.
  • Replace white bread with whole wheat bread and white rice for brown rice.
  • Switch your candy bars for healthier granola bars.
  • Eat your fruit instead of drinking it (example: an apple instead of apple juice).
  • Switch from potato chips to air-popped popcorn.
  • Try Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream.

What are your favorite, local “healthy” spots?

I love the Charlie Major Nature Trail along Skaneateles Creek. It’s beautiful alongside the flowing water. We use it year-round for walking and biking in the spring, summer and fall, and snow-shoeing in the winter.

Click here to learn more about Kelly.

What I learned about getting shingles at 40

I had a rash that would not go away. It didn’t cover a large area, but it was irritating. Waiting it out was not helping, so I started looking for information on the internet. All signs pointed to shingles! I ran off to urgent care, and the doctor confirmed I was correct.

I had thought shingles was something that happened to older adults. Indeed, half of all shingles cases happen to those 60 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  I had turned 40 just a week prior to this happening (so this did not stop me from grumbling about getting older!). But anyone who has ever had chickenpox can get the virus, no matter when they had it or how old they are now.

The shingles infection is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster). I had chickenpox when I was 6 years old. My whole first-grade class passed it around that year. The virus stayed in my system and resurfaced as shingles all these years later.

What are the symptoms?

My rash was on the side of my body, which is the most common area for a shingles outbreak. In some cases, it can break out on your face or in your eye, which can be very painful. (Quick tip, nothing good comes from looking at images of other people’s medical conditions!)

I was lucky that my symptoms were not severe. I just experienced some itching and general discomfort for about two weeks. As long as the area was covered with a large bandage I could manage. But, it took nearly all my will-power not to scratch!

In more intense cases, you could experience nerve pain—called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN)—that can last well after the other symptoms disappear.

Is it contagious?

That was my first question to the doctor. I certainly did not want this to spread in my family. Answer: You cannot spread shingles, but someone could catch chickenpox if they come in direct contact with open blisters.

I made sure to keep the rash covered as much as possible and washed my hands frequently. I felt good that both my kids have already had the chickenpox vaccine. This was before the holidays, so it was not a struggle to keep away from those at risk including older adults, folks who are ill or have a weak immune system, and babies too young to be vaccinated.

Why me?

In my case, the likely trigger for shingles was stress. Stress weakens your immune system and makes you more likely to catch a virus like shingles. It was easier said than done to avoid stress during the busiest time of year, from my full-time job to my children’s school and activities. I tried my best to find a way to calm my mind and body. I started taking a yoga class again and tried to stick to a regular sleep schedule.

You have shingles. Now What?

See your doctor as soon as you can. He or she may prescribe an antiviral medication, which can shorten the length and/or severity of the infection. Antiviral medications are most helpful when taken as soon as possible after the rash appears, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By the time I saw a doctor, his only advice was to give it time to heal.

Some ideas to help you feel better if you have shingles from the National Institutes of Health include:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Some find it uncomfortable when clothing rub the affected area.
  • Eat balanced meals.
  • Rest! Give your body time to recuperate.

Get protected!

As of October 2017, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends Shingrix®, a new vaccine to prevent shingles and the symptoms it may cause.

What should you know? The vaccine is:

  • For healthy adults ages 50 and older.
  • Administered in two doses, with the second dose given between 8 weeks and 6 months after the first.
  • Effective! If you are in your 50s or 60s, it has been shown to be more than 90 percent effective.  
  • Long-lasting. The vaccine kept its effectiveness during a 4-year study.
  • Does not contain a live virus.
  • Recommended over the other shingles vaccine, called Zostavax.® (If you have already gotten Zostavax®, you are also encouraged to get Shingrix®.)
  • Another layer of protection. If you’ve already had shingles, the shot may prevent it from coming back.

If interested, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the vaccine.

Are there side effects of the vaccine?

Temporary irritations like soreness in the arm, redness, and swelling are typical.

Form the New York Times: “It’s no contest: The hazards of shingles and its complications dwarf any problems yet reported with Shingrix”.

If you’re considering the shingles vaccine, you may want to call your insurer and ask about coverage for your specific plan.

I Stand – A Lot. But why does it make others uneasy?

I have an odd habit that’s good for my health, but seems to make others uneasy.

I have a tendency to stand, even when asked to sit.

You might not think this is odd. Especially since sitting too much could put us at risk for serious health issues, including heart disease and diabetes.  This is true for people who even exercise regularly.

But my tendency to stand seems to create a lot of confusion.

Stand Whenever You Can

Whenever I walk into my hairdresser’s, for example, she always says, “Take a seat.”

But I don’t. I stay standing.

I stand when I read the paper, wait at the doctor’s office or nail salon, fill out papers or read something on my phone.

The other day a friend and I were waiting for another friend to go for a walk. While we were waiting, my friend asked if we should sit. I said, “No! We’re about to go for a walk! We’re not sitting!”

My new approach to standing

But I may need to take a slightly different approach to my standing habit.

My hairdresser, for example, said my standing while waiting makes her nervous. I’m making it seem as if I’m impatient, that I need to be helped right away.

That makes complete sense. It’s probably why I get all these odd looks whenever I’m asked to sit, and I don’t!

From now on, when I’m asked to sit, I may say, “Thank you, but I’m just better off standing.”

Maybe that’ll lessen everyone’s uneasiness? But we do need a culture shift. If people stood more, fewer people would ask why I’m standing!

Other ways to stand more

If you need more tips on how to stop sitting so much, read “Is being healthy as simple as standing up?”

I’d also love to learn more about any ideas you may have on ways to stop sitting so much! Please add your thoughts to the comments section below.

Flavorful Escarole and Pastina Soup

This delicious Escarole and Pastina soup includes many Italian flavors that remind me of my childhood. What little Ragazzo or Ragazzi didn’t grow up feasting on ingredients such as escarole, tiny pastina, and cannellini beans?

Alisa Fanara, my co-worker (and fellow Italian), shared this recipe. This soup is perfect for a wintery day. Add chicken or sausage to make the soup heartier.