Monday Giveaway #4: The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman


8495570358_b4e01c3fb8_cWe all know that Americans eat too much junk food. But figuring out what to do about it is complicated. Do we ban super-sized sodas? Do we all become vegetarians? Do we eat like the Italians? The Japanese? There are truly thousands of books, articles and websites out there, telling us how to eat more healthfully, but it can be hard to sort through all the conflicting information! Complicating it further: in our information age, much of what we do find seems to assume we either have an unlimited budget, multiple hours available to prepare a meal, or both.

We at the Clergy Health Initiative promote healthy eating choices because we believe that our bodies are gifts from God, which we have been charged with stewarding. We recognize that in our fast-paced culture, making these choices can be difficult, not to mention costly. Many pastors in our Spirited Life wellness program live in remote parts of North Carolina, where there is limited access to sources of fresh food. Despite these challenges, though, we continue to encourage and provide support for healthy eating, because we recognize the connection between mind, body and spirit. When our bodies feel well-nourished and cared for, we have more energy, we are able to think more clearly. Simply put, we feel better.

03-29-00_mark-bittman-the-food-matters-cookbook_originalIn this spirit of feeling better, we offer our final May giveaway — The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. Bittman is best known for his cookbooks, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Both are heralded for being full of recipes that are easy to follow, with affordable, down-to-earth ingredients. He also blogs for the New York Times, and his op-eds champion simple, healthful food and the pleasures of cooking — without assuming that you spend two hours making dinner every night.

The Food Matters Cookbook is one of Bittman’s newest offerings, and it draws the connection between the food choices we make and the environment. (He did an entertaining and informative TED talk on the topic, which you can find at the bottom of this post.) Bittman emphasizes that what is best for the environment is often times what is best for human health as well, and he offers 500+ recipes for “better living” that help the reader eat healthfully and sustainably. If you are looking for some inspiration for what to do with all that kale and swiss chard at the farmer’s market, or are looking for some ideas on making healthier desserts, this cookbook is for you!

As we move into the season of bounteous fresh food, let’s remember that God called all of creation GOOD, both the human body and earth that sustains us. Eating well does not have to cost a fortune, or be boring and tasteless! Let’s celebrate God’s provision for us by enjoying the good gifts of the land this season, and by tending with care the bodies in which we travel this life.

–Caren Swanson

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This week we are giving away one copy of The Food Matters Cookbook!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway – just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

And the winner is Caren Bigelow Morgan!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Caren, and let us know where to mail your copy of this book!

Thanks to all who commented here on the blog or on our facebook page, and for supporting the work of the blog and making our one year “blogiversary” a great month!  

Image by flickr user gruntzooki via Creative Commons

Monday Giveaway #2: Fitbit (plus other fitness gadgets and apps)


7418728612_d2f66668d3_bIn previous posts, we shared several nutrition and fitness apps that help you plan and keep track of your health habits.  While most apps on the market today don’t have clinical research to back them up, researchers are starting to look into the technology’s effectiveness, and the initial results look promising!

A recent Northwestern University study found that people who used a mobile food and activity tracking app alongside of another weight loss program lost an average of 15 pounds (and kept the weight off for a year!).  Even those participants who used the app alone lost an average of 8 pounds.  Below are some new apps and other gadgets that make a healthier lifestyle more attainable and maybe even more fun!

(Be sure to read to the bottom — we’re giving one of these beauties away!)

Fitbit: Wear this small device to track your daily activity (steps, distance, calories burned, sleep cycle); your information is wirelessly synced to your computer and mobile device.  Use the companion app to set goals, log your food intake, track your progress, and share/compete with friends.  The Fitbit comes in three small and stylish options: One, Zip, and Flex (new!). Price range: $59 to $99

Withings Smart Body Analyzer: This “health tracking scale” instantly gives you your weight, body composition (% body fat) and heart rate; then it automatically transmits this information to a companion smartphone app where you can keep track of your progress, note trends, and get help with your goals. Price: $149.95

Fooducate: Use this website or smartphone app to learn which foods at your local grocery store pack the most nutritious punch.  Using a scientific formula, this program gives letter grades (A-F) to thousands of products so that you can pick the more nutritious items.  You can take a picture of the product’s barcode with your smartphone to get an instant and easy-to-follow report of the product’s contents, to compare it to other products, and to select a healthier alternative.  Price: Free

GymPact: Put your money where your muscles are with this mobile app!  Decide how many days a week you want to work out; select a cash amount that you would be willing to pay if you do NOT work out.  When you work out, check into your gym using the GymPact app (includes a GPS tracking feature), track log at-home workout with the GymPact Anywhere app, or log your outdoor exercise time in the RunKeeper app.  The money paid by those who do NOT exercise is divided up and distributed to all the exercisers.  The more you exercise, the more money you earn, but if you miss a day of exercise, you have to pay up!  Price: Free

Lift: This app extends beyond physical health.  Select good habits that you want to increase the frequency and consistency of in your life.  Examples of habits include: getting outside, pleasure reading, flossing, learning a new skill, spending time with friends, exercising, drinking more water, etc. Use the app to set goals, track your progress, and share your success with friends.  Price: Free

The key to all of these apps?  They encourage you to set goals, track calories and activity, and use social media for social support.

–Katie Huffman

Post adapted from “Better Homes and Gardens” (May 2013), “Fitness 2.0” page 187.

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fitbitWe are so excited to announce that this week we are giving away a Fitbit ZIP!

There are 3 ways to be entered in our giveaway–just make sure to tell us what you did so we can count your entry!

  1. Take a moment to look back through the blog and find a post that catches your attention, then leave a comment with what you like about it!  ( = 1 entry)
  2. “Like” the Clergy Health Initiative’s facebook page! ( = 1 entry)
  3. Share our blog with 5 friends, and tell them about the giveaway! ( = 1 entry)

You can enter as many times as you’d like, just make sure to leave us a comment ON THIS POST with how many entries are “due” to you! That’s right, if you e-mailed 25 friends (or tagged them in a post on Facebook) about the giveaway, and liked our Facebook page, and left a comment on a previous post, you would be entered 7 times! Thanks for celebrating with us by participating in the giveaway!

A winner will be drawn at random on Friday morning, May 17, so be sure to get all your entries logged by 10 a.m. EDT Friday.

Thanks to ALL who supported the blog this week by leaving comments, “liking” the Duke Clergy Health Initiative Facebook page, and telling your friends! This week’s giveaway is now closed! And now, (drumroll, please!) the winner of the Fitbit is Erica!  Congratulations!  Please contact us Erica, and let us know where to mail your Fitbit.

Check back next Monday for details on our next giveaway!

Mediterranean diet helps decrease risk of cardiovascular disease


A new, large-scale study with over 7,000 participants (aged 55-80) at high risk of heart disease, has concluded that eating a traditional Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death from heart disease among those predisposed to them.*  

All study participants had either type 2 diabetes or at least three of the following major risk factors: smoking, hypertension, elevated LDL, low HDL, overweight or obesity, or a family history of premature coronary heart disease.

What is considered a traditional Mediterranean diet?

  • High intake of extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, beans, fruits and vegetables
  • Moderate intake of fish and poultry
  • Low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets
  • And wine in moderation with a meal


Below are excerpts from the New York Times article reporting the research findings:

“About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet…

“The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s web site on Monday [Feb. 25], were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks.  The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts.  The study [conducted in Spain] ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

“The diet helped [reduce the risk of major cardiac events in] those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.**

“The researchers were careful to say in their paper that while the diet clearly reduced heart disease for those at high risk for it, more research was needed to establish its benefits for people at low risk. But [Dr. Ramon Estruch, the lead investigator on the study and a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona,] said he expected it would also help people at both high and low risk, and suggested that the best way to use it for protection would be to start in childhood.”

Do you eat a Mediterranean diet? 

The New York Times has posted the survey designed by the study’s researchers in Barcelona.  Use it to determine if your current diet is heart healthy.  Take the quiz.

Looking for recipes?  You can find lots of tasty suggestions for Mediterranean-style dishes you might enjoy on these and other websites:


— Melanie Kolkin


* At the time of enrollment, none of the participants had cardiovascular disease.

** It is important to note that the only health outcome researchers looked at in this study was the effect of the Mediterranean diet on major cardiovascular events (acute myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes) in high-risk individuals.  It did not assess the diet’s affect on the other physical and mental health or quality of life consequences associated with the heart disease risk factors mentioned in paragraph 2.  For example,  smoking can cause emphysema and various kinds of cancer, while being overweight or obese increases an individual’s risk of developing osteoarthritis, cancer, and complications during pregnancy.

Kolata, G. (2013, February 25). Mediterranean diet shown to ward off heart attack and stroke. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, Covas M-I, D.Pharm., Corella D, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine. Online publication February 25, 2013.

(Image courtesy of USDAgov via Flikr)

Maintain, Don’t Gain, Over the Holidays


Fresh back from Thanksgiving, it’s official: ’tis the season for holiday eating.  And also countless articles (here, here, and here) about holiday weight gain. While some of these stories pose a scare that Americans may gain, on average, 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the average gain is actually closer to just one pound.

That’s the good news.  The not so good news?  According the National Institutes of Health researchers, that one pound may never come off.  Americans gain an average of .4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives.

There are lots of reasons why weight gain happens over the holidays.  The increased availability of rich foods.  Stress.  With so many additional activities to attend to, it can be tempting to carve out less time for exercise and sleep, and deprivation of both can contribute to additional pounds.

There also may be a sort of ‘all or nothing’ thinking; once you have blown your diet at one event, it may seem like forgoing exercise and enjoying each delicacy with fervor and enthusiasm is the best way to get into the holiday spirit.  After all, the New Year’s the time for dieting and renewed commitment to exercise, right?

Unfortunately, no.  The easiest way to lose the extra holiday weight is to never put it on.  However, during this season of temptation, keeping the weight off can be much easier said than done, so here are some tips to help keep the scales from creeping up on you:

  • Make a plan. Take a look at your (already very full, I imagine) holiday calendar and schedule in time for exercise, healthy meal preparation, or an early bedtime a night or two per week.  Be prepared for holiday gatherings with these tips on surviving a potluck.
  • Limit treats to one per day.  One way to prevent overeating of sugary and savory holiday goodness is to allow yourself one serving per day, remembering that you may have to compensate later with exercise or holding back from a second treat.
  • Focus on other joys of the season.  Focus your energies on making calorie-free conversation with family and friends at gatherings.  Redirect attention from food to enjoying holiday music, a warm fire, or taking a walk in the crisp outdoors.
  • Don’t make a new year’s resolution for weight loss.  Planning for a ‘brand new you’ in January sets you up to overeat and overindulge now as you anticipate lean times with just carrot sticks to slim you down come January.
  • Sign up for the ‘Maintain Don’t Gain Holiday Challenge’ through the NC Department of Public Health.  You will receive email tips, healthy holiday recipes, and physical activity suggestions to stay healthy during the holidays.  Last year, 89% of the more than 3,000 participants reported maintaining their weight.

We wish you well on your efforts to health and well-being this Christmas season.

Catherine Wilson

Photo by flickr user JoeGray, via CreativeCommons.

Can you take anything off your plate?


Amidst the frenzy of gearing up for the holidays (food preparation plans, gift giving, holiday travel), many pastors are also juggling overloaded church schedules.

In addition to the regular activities of the church, the weeks leading into Advent bring charge conferences, capital campaigns and/or ordination papers, plus an influx of denominational retreats and unexpected pastoral emergencies, not to mention daily family life.  During other parts of the year, a pastor might be able to prioritize action items or delegate some duties to willing church or family members, depending upon the tasks. But what about those times when it seems as if absolutely NOTHING can be delayed, delegated or outright removed from the list of duties?

That’s exactly when stress moves in.  And as the pressure rises, it can be all too easy to return to old habits of choosing unhealthy (though very convenient) foods or eating to relieve stress — habits you may have worked really hard to change.

Through our Spirited Life program, we offer pastors the Naturally Slim healthy eating program, and countless clergy have seen it make a real difference in their lives. But the stress of the holidays can put the program’s tools to the test.  The Naturally Slim ‘hunger savers’ or the incredibly popular H2Orange may not feel like enough to get you through the long and stressful days of the Advent season.

So: some reinforcements…

Stress is a known trigger for cravings, so planning ahead is key — especially when craving foods that are either salty, sweet, crunchy (or all of the above!) In addition to packing the recommended Naturally Slim hunger savers, here is a useful chart from that helps you match up your unhealthy craving with healthier food options.

May God continue to strengthen you to add healthier food to your physical plate, even as you juggle the duties piling up on your pastoral plate.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of &

EWG’s “Good Food on a Tight Budget”


Grocery stores can be overwhelming when it comes to the number of decisions you have to make. Let’s say you need bread. Which kind of bread? Which brand? How much? It’s no wonder the check-out lanes are full of soda and candy. After making hundreds of choices up and down the aisles, we’re decision-fatigued, our willpower depleted, leaving us nearly helpless to resist the shiny packages with their sugary, savory treasures.

Just making it out of the grocery store without having bought a Snickers bar in the check-out line is an undervalued achievement. But to navigate the terrain well — choosing healthy, satisfying, and cost-effective food — we need a strategy.

Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) knows that our busy schedules make it hard for most of us to choose well and maintain a balanced diet without breaking the bank. They’ve created a nifty, easy-to-use guide based on their analysis of nearly 1,200 foods.

Not only does the EWG’s shopping guide (Good Food on a Tight Budget) list foods with high nutritional value at a low price, but their suggestions also take into account environmental pollutants and the use of pesticides.

In addition to food recommendations, the site provides various other resources: forms for making a shopping list and tracking food prices, and a link to EWG’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

Since coming across this material, I’ve been trying to be mindful of their recommendations as they relate to pesticides in particular.

If you have time to peruse the site, we’d love to hear about anything you find interesting or helpful.

Tommy Grimm

(Image by flickr user Didier Lin /via Creative Commons)

The “Food for Thought” Pyramid


Quick: when I say “well-balanced diet,” what comes to mind?

Amidst images of fruits, vegetables, and Cheerios, I imagine another top association is the USDA’s food pyramid. Even though they retired the model in 2011 (replacing it with their current My Plate diagram), the food pyramid still holds a fixed place in our national consciousness when it comes to nutrition and healthy-eating.

While we all know that nutrition is important, many of us have had our fill of nutritional advice. One such person is Laura McKibbin, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with a background in wellness promotion. She’s written, “We are constantly bombarded with information emphasizing healthy eating and exercise as the primary determinants of good health.  While these can be important factors for good health, when we focus too much on them, we tend to forget the many other factors that probably have an even more profound effect on health.

To make this point visually, McKibbon has produced a “Food for Thought” pyramid, challenging us to give a second thought to what really affects and enhances our health.

It’s not USDA-approved, but I love the tongue-in-cheek nature of this pyramid, teasing us for our (often counter-productive) hyper-consciousness about our health while highlighting the fact that some highly significant health factors, like our genetics, are outside of our control. And she’s certainly drawn upon a variety of sources!

What comes to mind when you see McKibbin’s pyramid? If you designed your own health and wellness pyramid, what would the different levels contain?

— Tommy Grimm

Exercise and nutrition apps


Now that most of us carry smartphones at all times and can hardly function throughout an entire day without our favorite device in hand, software developers have created an abundance of apps that allow us to plan and track our exercise and nutrition habits in real time.  Some of these apps, indicated below with double asterisks, are available as an internet-based service as well, so no smartphone is necessary.  Please note that this list is not exhaustive and that there are many more apps out there.  Let us know about your favorites!


Nike Training Club (free): offers workouts consisting of resistance, flexibility, and cardio exercises; provides videos and audio for instruction and motivation

iFitness (currently $0.99): provides workouts for your home or gym; allows you to focus your workout on target areas and includes detailed instructions for every exercise

Fitness Buddy (currently $0.99): includes exercises specific to target areas and exercise equipment; allows you to track your body metrics and fitness progress

Workout Trainer (free) **: provides thousands of exercises based on your area of focus: running, weightlifting, yoga, weight loss, etc; use with or without exercise equipment

JEFIT (free) **: keep track of and plan your weight lifting routines; winner of  2011 Best Fitness and Workout App – 2011 Best App Ever Awards

MapMyRun (free): keep track of your pace, distance, and location while you’re walking or running; you can also post your workouts to social media to let your friends see your progress


Naturally Slim (free): tracks daily food/fluid intake and weekly weights; includes a timer that reminds you take a break during your meals

Restaurant Nutrition (free): allows you to keep a food journal and find out the nutritional information of foods at your favorite restaurants

Calorie Counter by FatSecret (free) **: find nutritional information for the food you usually eat, and keep track of your daily calorie intake

Combo Nutrition and Exercise Journals

My Fitness Pal (free) **: a calorie counter and exercise tracker; includes a large food and exercise database to help you balance calories consumed with calories burned

Lose It! (free) **: set a daily calorie budget; adjust your food intake or exercise level to meet your goal

FitDay ($1.99) **: track your food and exercise habits; chart your progress daily, weekly, or monthly

Cronometer ($2.99) **:  track diet, exercise, and other health-related information

**also available as a free internet service

Katie Huffman

Book Review: The No S Diet


For all of us, maybe clergy especially, forbidden food diets or the time-consuming calorie counting diets might be good enough for a while, but what happens when we are late to our board meetings, attend potluck number seven, or forced to eat out as we travel?  We need new eating habits that are simpler, natural, and hopefully sustainable.

I’ve stumbled upon a diet that I can’t really call “new” because I think many people have been doing it their whole lives.  The “rules” for the No S Diet can actually be found on the cover of the book: “No Snacks, No Sweets, No Seconds.  Except on days that start with S.” For a weight loss program, those guidelines seem pretty straightforward and simple.

But does it work?

The author and creator, software engineer Reinhard Engels tells the website CalorieLab during an interview, “I admit it does seem suspiciously cute, but I actually lost 40lbs and found that I was able to keep it off over time.”  Other encouraging and inspiring reviews can be found at the No S Diet free website.

Unlike many other diet books, the reasonably priced slim paperback is packed with practical advice, with chapters that explore each of the three S’s in depth instead of focusing on nutritional content and research data.  Although good research is important, I appreciated Engel’s direct approach and acknowledgement that he isn’t an expert.  He gives simple advice that has worked for him and many others.

This is week number four for me on the No S Diet.  The S’s are simple to remember, but I’ve been surprised what hard work it is to reform my habits.  In my favorite chapter – Building the No S Habit – authors Engels and Kallen paint this picture: “Your rational self is like an animal trainer locked in a cage with a fearsome beast” (p 115).  My tiger is addicted to sugar.  It’s going to take a lot of retraining to tame this wild habit of mine!

If you read the book or try the diet, let us know.  Share your feedback in the comments.

Find The No S Diet on

— Kelli Christianson

Eating Healthy to *Save* Money?

Woman w/ Baby and Vegetable

Photo by USDAGov

It’s nearly a truism to say that healthy food costs more money. When we buy chard instead of chips, we tell ourselves we’re investing in our health, paying the price for good nutrition.

But what if eating healthy food could actually save us money?

That’s the finding of a recent USDA report. Our misconception comes from comparing food prices based upon the calories they contain. To consume 300 calories, you’re going to spend a lot more money on bananas than donuts. However, when we compare food prices in terms of average portion size, the healthy food comes out much better. I can eat two or three donuts before I’m full, but one banana usually leaves me satisfied.

Of course, it’s not nearly this simple. Just like there is cheap and expensive unhealthy food (mmm, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…), there’s expensive and cheap healthy food. Grass-fed, free-range beef may cost you a pretty penny, but beans and lentils will benefit your health and your wallet.

It may be hard to shake the idea that nutritious shopping at the grocery store requires extra funds. But perhaps all that’s really required is extra effort, to reduce our waist lines and our bottom lines.

(For more a more extensive summary of the report, see the Huffington Post’s helpful article.)

by Tommy Grimm