Yogurt… Is it Really Healthy?

Back in college, I didn’t have a lot of healthy habits. But I thought I was doing one thing right. Every day, I ate some yogurt.

I’d fill my fridge with yogurt flavors like “red velvet cake,” “key lime pie” and “black forest cake.” I never questioned why my healthy snack was named after a dessert. But, if I had checked the label, I would have noticed that my “healthy snack” had 21 grams of sugar. That’s about the same as a candy bar – yikes! So, what’s the deal? Is yogurt a healthy snack?

Not All Yogurt Is Created Equal

It’s true, yogurt can be a healthy snack. It’s rich in protein and calcium (FYI: Greek yogurt has almost twice the protein of regular yogurt, but not as much calcium).  In addition, research has shown that a daily serving of yogurt may protect against type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, not all yogurt is created equal.

Check The Nutrition Label

  • Added sugar: Yogurt naturally contains some sugar. However, it has added sugar if the nutrition label says “fruit on the bottom,” “fruit-flavored” or it contains toppings like cookie bits. Eating foods with added sugar can contribute to health problems, like weight gain and tooth decay. So, is the 100-calorie, “light,” flavored yogurt free from added sugar? Check the label. To reduce calories, some “light” products contain artificial sweeteners. Choose one without added sugar or artificial sweeteners for a less-processed and less-sugary snack.
  • A long list of ingredients: Some products contain extra ingredients that enhance the consistency, texture, and stability of the food – things like modified corn starch. While not all of these ingredients are harmful, some may cause digestive issues or allergic reactions in some people. Other added ingredients, like carrageenan, are of questionable safety. Your best bet is to find a product with a shorter list of ingredients, like “milk and live and active cultures.”
  • “Live and active cultures:” Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with probiotic (“good”) bacteria, or “cultures.” These cultures may help support healthy digestive and immune systems. For the cultures to possibly have an impact, they have to be “live and active” and present in sufficient numbers. Not all yogurt packs the same probiotic punch. Look for a “live and active cultures” label or a special industry seal for the presence and activity of live cultures.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Whether you prefer Greek or regular (or even French) yogurt, check the label and aim for one that has less sugar per serving, a short list of ingredients and enough live cultures. Jazz up plain yogurt by adding fresh or frozen fruit, and nuts or seeds.

Looking for a different healthy snack? Try some Energizing PB Date Bites.

Binghamton High Poverty Area Gets Healthier

The north side of Binghamton, New York, was in desperate need. Not only does it have a high rate of obesity, but it also has the highest rate of poverty in the county. Making matters worse, the only grocery store in walking distance or on the bus line closed. It was hard to find affordable or quality fresh foods.

The Northside Healthy Lifestyles Program

The United Way of Broome County stepped up to help by creating the “Northside Healthy Lifestyles Program.” The program increased residents’ access to healthy food, in particular locally grown fruits and vegetables, and taught them about nutrition. The program also provided physical fitness opportunities for families to combat childhood obesity. But there was still something missing.

More Help Needed For Binghamton

Program coordinators soon learned that more was needed to improve the residents’ health. Community members wanted important health screenings and physical education activities for their families. They’d also benefit from health coaching and chronic disease management, which the program lacked.

“Families didn’t know where to get started,” said Kim Schwartz, program coordinator and physical activity specialist for the United Way of Broome County.

A Customized Approach To Getting Healthy

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield stepped in to partner with the United Way of Broome County with a three-year grant to enhance the Healthy Lifestyles Coalition Program. The program could now expand services to better support the community.

They added a new program, called the “Northside Health Coaching Program,” to provide individual motivational health coaching, physical education opportunities, peer counseling and free health screenings.

“The unique aspect of this program is that all participants will receive a customized approach to getting healthy,” said Jessica Renner, Excellus BCBS regional president.

Small Changes Have a Big Health Impact in Binghamton

The new partnerships and programs have helped the community. Northside community members are now learning about nutrition, taking yoga classes, learning stress management skills, and trying different programs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Small adjustments add up to a big difference,” stated Schwartz. “Trained health coaches work with participants to make lasting changes together.”

After six months in the program, one program participant, Laura Race, has lost 89 pounds. She’s gone from a size 22 to a size 16.

“My blood pressure has improved, and my cholesterol has gone down. My doctor told me that health-wise, I’m a whole new person,” said Race.

Laura Race

Food, Fitness, and Bikes, too!

The enhanced Northside Healthy Lifestyles Program also has a new component called Fresh Cycles. The Fresh Cycles program helps kids and their parents with bike maintenance, including donated bikes, and recycling.

Adult volunteers provide hands-on instruction about basic bicycle maintenance and repair. They also educate about safe riding habits, e.g., wearing a helmet, following traffic laws and being visible on the roads. Group rides are open to anyone who wants to peddle through Binghamton’s neighborhoods, parks, and roadways.

“Together with Excellus BCBS, we’re making the health and wellness of Binghamton’s north side our top priority. Our goal is to get people to ‘Move More in 2017’ and take a more active role in their health care,” said Schwartz.

12 Tips for Using a Bike Share

Bike shares are popping up in cities like mine (Rochester, NY). They’re great for quick trips to the neighborhood store, or for a group ride when with friends or out-of-town guests.

It sounds like fun, but if you’re like me, you’re not quite sure how to do it. Yes, I know how to ride a bike, but how do I rent one?

Don’t worry. I have friends who’ve mastered this new service. Here are some tips:

  1. Bring your own bike helmet. Not sure how to find one?
  2. Carry a small backpack or messenger bag. You can clip your helmet to it and carry your sunscreen, water bottle, snack and wallet. Maybe even carry a spare pair of shoes? Many of the bikes also have baskets for those items you’re carrying.
  3. Put on sunscreen, and not just on your face. Make sure you protect your arms and legs, too!
  4. Wear “sensible” shoes like a pair of sneakers or closed-toe shoes. Come on, you know your mom would tell you not to wear flip flops, right?
  5. Know the route and the rules. Aim for routes that keep you off busy roads. Ride with traffic (riding against traffic is a leading cause of bike-car crashes), use hand signals when turning and use the bike lanes where they’re available. You can read up on many of the rules here.
  6. Get the app. Most bike shares are mobile-based. You simply download an app, preload your credit card, and you’re off like Dorothy and Toto.
  7. Look for bike share credits, if you’re using an app. My co-worker, for example, found a promo code on the Rochester Regional Transit Service (RTS) website for $5 in bike share credits!
  8. Know the bike share rules. Can you return the bike to a public rack, or should you return it to the bike share stations? How long can you rent the bike? The rules are usually detailed on the bike share app or website.
  9. Adjust the bike seat for your height! A quick tip: Sit on your bike, and push one pedal all the way down. You should have a slight bend in your knee, if your seat is adjusted correctly.
  10. Before you ride, squeeze the bike’s handles to test the brakes. Check the tires to make sure they’re not flat.
  11. Start easy. Consider biking along a trail or in a park, and skip high traffic areas. In Rochester, for example, there are spots to rent a bike along the Genesee Riverway Trail, an off-road trail along the Genesee River.
  12. Have fun!

When you’re done, tell your friends and family. Lots of people (like me) are thinking about it, but are too nervous to try. So share your story – whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or just at the dinner table.

Here are a few bike sharing services in upstate New York. Please note that many bike share services close for the season around late October or November.

Enjoy the ride!

Hidden Gems: Wall Therapy in Rochester

I recently went on a slow bicycle ride through the streets of Rochester, stopping at notable city spots, such as the Genesee Brew House and the Rochester Public Market.

But what I really loved were the “hidden gems,” or numerous murals located throughout the city.

Each location left me wanting to visit the next as I admired how the wall art helped resuscitate a dilapidated building or added beauty and color to a normally blank space.

But turns out there was a greater meaning behind the murals.


The healing power of murals

The murals are part of Wall/Therapy, the brainchild of Dr. Ian Wilson, a radiologist in Rochester. Wall/Therapy began in 2011 to help address the collective need for inspiration and to heal “the city with new life and energy.”  Believing in the healing power of pictures, street artists from around the world helped create these public art murals.


More than just murals

Wall/Therapy seeks to heal through art. But it also helps bring awareness to another project of Wilsons’s, IMPACT! (IMProving Access to Care by Teleradiology). IMPACT! sets up diagnostic imaging sites in developing countries. The volunteer radiologists use cloud computing to help diagnose and recommend treatment for people in these countries. Artists also travel to these communities to paint walls with inspirational murals.


Where to find murals in Rochester

There are more than 100 Wall/Therapy murals throughout the City of Rochester.  If you are up for another adventure, there are other murals to explore, including those from M.A.R.C. (Mural Arts of Rochester Crew). M.A.R.C. is a mural arts project where city youth are hired by the City of Rochester and trained in areas such as community art development.

Here are some photos I took of the murals at the the Rochester Public Market:

Check out the locations below and find your favorite piece of wall art. It may help you see the Rochester area in a brighter light.

Wall/Therapy locations



Build Your Own Trail Mix

Trail mix is my go-to afternoon snack. It’s the perfect blend of salty and sweet that keeps me going from lunch until dinner. Trail mix is also easy to pack and stores well. The next time you’re in the mood for trail mix, head to the bulk section of the grocery store and build your own! The perfect trail mix is all about getting a good blend of your favorite ingredients.


Nuts are a great source of protein and fiber that help fill you up. They are also good for your heart with lots of healthy fat and omega-3 fatty acids. My favorites are almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans.

Tip: Look for unsalted and unsweetened nuts. Choose raw or roasted (your preference!). Nuts are high in calories so a one-ounce serving per day is all you need to get those health benefits. What’s a one-ounce serving? It’s 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 35 peanuts, 15 pecan halves or 14 walnut halves.


Seeds can help boost your immune system because they have lots of zinc and selenium. They also contain calcium which helps to keep bones strong. I love pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and chia seeds.

Tip: Look for unsalted and unsweetened seeds. Like nuts, seeds are high in calories, so keep portions on the smaller side.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit has many of the health benefits of fresh fruit. Many dried fruits pack antioxidant power (like dried Goji berries), promote heart health (like dried apples), and are rich in potassium (like prunes and dried apricots). The USDA recommends that everyone ages 2 and older eat at least one cup of fruit per day. Adding fruit to trail mix helps make that goal easier. My preferred dried fruits are raisins, dried cherries, and dried cranberries.

Tip: Look for dried fruit without added sugar. For portions, about 1/2 cup of dried fruit = 1 cup of fresh fruit.

Whole Grains

Whole grains add some crunch to your trail mix. They are a good source of fiber, iron and many B vitamins. Eating whole grains may help reduce blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Adding whole grains to trail mix also helps keep you feeling full long after eating. I like to add whole grain cereals, whole wheat crackers or air-popped popcorn to the mix.

Tip: Not sure if a product is a whole grain? Check the label for “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat”.

“Sugar and Spice”

A little “sugar and spice” goes a long way! Adding a few dark chocolate chips or unsweetened coconut flakes can take your mix from drab to fab. If you’re looking for a more savory and less sweet mix, try adding some spices, like cinnamon, turmeric, curry or cayenne pepper, to bump up the flavor.

My Go-To Trail Mix Blends

Fall Adventure Mix
Pumpkin seeds
Wheat Chex cereal
Dried cranberries
Pumpkin pie spice
Dark chocolate chips

Sun Mix
Sunflower seeds
Golden raisins
Unsweetened Coconut flakes

Game Day Mix
Air popped popcorn
Dark chocolate chips

Hidden Gem: Whole in the Wall Restaurant

Binghamton locals refer to the Whole in the Wall restaurant as the best kept secret on the Southside of Binghamton.  But the word is out and I was thrilled to see the place full of people when I recently visited the restaurant with my mother for lunch.

What is Whole in the Wall?

The Whole in the Wall restaurant is a farm-to-table, all-natural and organic restaurant that is located on South Washington Street in Binghamton. The restaurant is close to downtown Binghamton but far enough away to provide adequate parking.

The restaurant has a cool, funky ambience when you enter. Additionally, local art work on the walls gives it a more creative, personal feel. The seating is intimate and not too formal, which allowed us to sit back and relax while we looked over the menu.

Garlic Ball – A Must Have!

We started off our meal with their famous garlic ball. It is pure yumminess!! The garlic ball is a huge fresh wheat roll, warm from the oven and is smothered in garlic butter.  It is totally worth the breath mint!!

The very yummy garlic ball.

More Must Haves

Since it was a bit of a cooler, rainy day, we both opted for the homemade cream of mushroom soup. The soup is another signature item on the menu and it surely did not disappoint.  You can tell that the soup is homemade, really fresh and just seasoned enough to not be overpowering.  I love mushrooms and they definitely did not skimp on the mushrooms in the soup.

At this point, our bellies were getting full. But as my mother reminded me, “we had to eat our veggies,” so we both ordered the house salad. The salads were just the right size and filled with tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.  Everything was very fresh and we both cleaned our plates!

Don’t Miss

On our way to the counter to pay our bill, we grabbed a container of their homemade sun dried tomato pesto to take home. The Whole in the Wall chefs make their own homemade pesto in several varieties. It is sold nationwide

If you’re in the Binghamton, N.Y. area, and you grab a bite to eat at the Whole in the Wall, you and your belly won’t be disappointed!

The Details

 Whole In The Wall
43 S Washington St, Binghamton, NY 13903
(607) 722-5138

Overwhelmed with Life? Try Making Your Bed

My parents passed on many a piece of advice to my brother and me over the years. Like most children, we generally did the opposite.

Eat your broccoli, it’s good for you = Whittle a hole in table leg, hide broccoli there.
Empty the dishwasher, you’ll feel accomplished = Pay off a sibling to do it for you.
Being home by curfew will make you feel responsible = change the clocks an hour ahead.

You can see where this is going.

But there was one piece of advice that I initially embraced. Then, as life went on, I forgot it. Now, after recently becoming a parent, I’ve finally realized the true genius of this “life tip.” It was my mom’s edict to make my bed.

Forgetting everything my mom ever told me

A call to make one’s bed was, shall we say, a distinct challenge. You can’t throw a twin bed out of the window as a way to avoid the chore. Paying my brother to make the bed defied economic sense when calculated against income from allowance, my mix cd business and hoarded lunch money.

As such, I acquiesced on the topic, until I went to college and Forgot Everything My Mom Ever Told Me. As she visited my freshman dorm room, she took stock of the scene: a cereal spoon molded to the floor in a halo of dried milk, a stack of CDs wobbling on a stack of papers, and an inked reminder on the back of my hand to do something, possibly study for an exam.

She looked longingly at my roommate’s pristine side of the room – a made bed, a calendar, file folders and – gasp! – an iron. She sighed, as mothers often do, then fell back on a piece of wisdom she often uttered to her notoriously disorganized youngest child:

“If you can keep your room clean, you can keep your life clean.”

My mom had a point

Anytime something felt overwhelming, she would ask “Is your room clean?”  After a dozen years and hundreds of “no’s,” she modified the question.

My flavored toothpick business is getting too large and I can’t keep track of my clients on the school bus.
Did you make your bed?

I’m not ready to pick a major and don’t know where to start.
When was the last time you made your bed?

This Italian class is really hard.
Go make your bed, then sit on it, with your books.

Make your bed. It could lead to other good things

This wasn’t just a mom-tested mantra; she used it in her days as a social worker. Sometimes tasks in life seem so insurmountable, she would say, that it’s hard to know where to start. Even the phrase “start small” feels big. But a palatable suggestion, like “make your bed,” well that can have some power.

Here’s why.

In the widely-circulated commencement speech and subsequent book from Naval Adm. William McRaven, the emphasis on making a bed isn’t just aesthetic. It’s about paying attention to detail, starting small and harnessing a special kind of momentum in your day:

If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

Others in the home/life organization field say it’s one of those habits that snowballs into other good things. Kind of like when you say “hi” to someone and they say it back, it’s a simple task that makes you feel good (if it doesn’t, YOU ARE SOUL-LESS.)

So the next time you feel overwhelmed or aren’t sure where to start with something, try going back to basics. Try making your bed.

And if you can’t remember, just write it on your hand.

Five Pumpkin Breakfast Recipes for Fall

(Just about) everybody loves fall. But do you ever get tired of the leaves, the brisk morning air or the pumpkin everything? NEITHER DO I! I don’t just love pumpkin because of the weather. It’s also delicious and really good for you. Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene, which help promote the health of your eyes and skin. The fiber in pumpkin also works to keep your digestive system happy. That’s why I enjoy these pumpkin breakfast recipes all year long (shhh…don’t tell fall).

Print Recipe
Warm Autumn Oatmeal
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 minute
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 minute
  1. Combine oats, pumpkin, milk, and apple into a bowl.
  2. Microwave for one minute.
  3. Add peanut butter and pecans, stirring to combine.
  4. Top with cinnamon.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Protein Smoothie
Prep Time 5 minutes
Prep Time 5 minutes
  1. Blend all ingredients together in a blender.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Granola Bars
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line an 8 by 8 pan with partchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together oats, walnuts, spices and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, honey/maple syrup, applesauce and vanilla until smooth.
  5. Pour over oats and stir to combine. Mix in chocolate chips.
  6. Evenly press the mixture into the pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until edges are golden brown.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes before cutting into bars.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Parfait
Prep Time 5 minutes
Prep Time 5 minutes
  1. In a small bowl, layer yogurt with pumpkin puree and granola.
  2. Sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice.
Print Recipe
Pumpkin Pancakes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Prep Time 20 minutes
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin, egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and whisk gently until combined. Let the batter set for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat a pan to medium heat. Drizzle vegetable oil on the warmed pan.
  5. Ladle 1/3 cup of the batter onto the pan for each pancake.
  6. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bubbles around the edges are open and set. Flip and cook on the other side for an additional 2 minutes.

Looking for a cozy dinner for an autumn evening? Check out our recipe for Tasty Crock-Pot Beef Stroganoff.

Hidden Gem: The Westminster Staircase

Referred to by some as the “Stairway to Heaven,” the Westminster Staircase in Syracuse holds special meaning for those of us who use it.

Starting on Euclid Avenue and leading to a small circular park at the dead end of Westminster Avenue, the stairs are a startlingly serene departure from the hustle and bustle of the University Neighborhood.

From the crest of the hill, you can catch some of the best views of Syracuse depending on the time of year. The stairs and park have been the scene of countless heart-to-hearts among friends, breakups, and even wedding ceremonies. But the stairs remain relatively unknown to the larger Syracuse community.

Is It Really “Hidden?”

To the untrained eye, yes! With the tree cover, you might mistake the base of the staircase for the steps to one of the neighboring Euclid Avenue homes built into the hillside. More observant passersby and those “in-the-know” will see the entrance to one of Syracuse’s more whimsical urban features.

What’s So Great About A Staircase?

Walking up the stairs recently, I could hear the sound of summer cicadas all around me (terrifying for some, calming for me). The noise of traffic was blocked by thick trees and I was surrounded by the lovely smell of earth and greenery. Even though I went on a 90-degree day, my walk up the stairs felt cool and relaxing in comparison to the sidewalk below.

At top of the stairs is Westminster Park, a modest patch of grass surrounded by a loop of road. Mature trees shade part of the park, and there is a solitary bench for weary stair-climbers. Above scrubby trees and bushes covering the sides of the hill, you can see the Carrier Dome and other iconic buildings on the Syracuse University campus. Milkweed growing among the brush is a sign the park may be a good place for watching for butterflies, and I saw a cardinal perched in one of the tree branches.

One More Thing

The staircase is used by many as an outdoor workout course. On my recent climb, I saw several people using the staircase to get in their steps for the day. Even just walking up the stairs will get you winded, so running up them is a great challenge!

The Details

Access the stairs from the south side of Euclid Avenue, between Maryland and Lancaster avenues. Or, enter from the dead end of Westminster Ave.

Please use caution as many of the bricks and cobbles have been worn away by the elements and there are many uneven surfaces. Only those with sure footing should use these stairs.

Your Back-To-College Health Checklist

I’ve never been as sick as I was my first year at college. I was barely sleeping and living off ramen noodles and coffee. No wonder I caught mono!

Unfortunately, my mono went without diagnosis for eight months! The cure for mono is rest and more rest. But when I did suffer a cold or aches and pains, a simple gift of a first aid kit from my parents ”saved” me on more than one sickly occasion!

That’s why a first aid kit is on my back-to-school health care checklist.

You can create your own first aid kit by including some typical injury materials, including bandages, gauze and tape and antibiotic ointment for cuts and scrapes. You might need ibuprofen for aches and pains and antihistamines for allergic reactions. Eye drops help get the red out. Add a thermometer, just in case!

But a first aid kit is just one of the items you might want to tackle before the start of school:

#1 On Your Checklist Is . . .

Although it’s the last thing on our minds when we’re healthy, getting your yearly checkup should be at the top of your checklist.

Many college students should also get certain vaccinations, including those for meningitis, cervical cancer and whooping cough. Flu shots are also strongly recommended, but many college campuses offer free vaccinations for them in the fall.

Ask your doctor about the best ways to care for yourself, especially if you’re away from home. Also consider getting your annual dental checkup and needed vision and hearing screenings out of the way before school starts.

#2 Your Doctor’s Digits

While you’re at it, ask your doctor about the best way to reach him or her while you’re at school. Your pediatrician knows you best, and you trust him or her. Ask if they do visits over the phone or by video chat for those times when you can’t get to their office.

#3 Unlock These Health Benefits

Maybe not as exciting as meeting your new roommate or choosing your first classes, but you may save yourself a hassle later on by  registering now for an online account on your health insurer’s website. You may “unlock” a bunch of important benefits, including instant access to your member card and a new kind of service that lets you video chat with a doc ! (See below for details.)

Register now while you’re healthy. You don’t want to be searching for this stuff while you’re battling high temperatures, a scratchy throat and the shivers.

#4 Get “The Card”

You’ll need your health insurance member card, whether it’s a digital version on your phone or a physical card. You’ll need your card wherever you seek care.

#5 FaceTime A Doc

Adulting is hard! Mom and dad might not be there to take you to your doctor when you’re sick. If you can’t contact your doctor or your college’s health center is closed, telemedicine might be your best bet. It feels a lot like FaceTiming or Skyping. You can talk or video chat with a doctor from your dorm room, apartment or between classes for non-emergency medical conditions.

If you have Excellus BlueCross BlueShield health insurance, you may have access to a telemedicine benefit through MDLIVE. Using an app on your smartphone, computer or tablet, you can get help from a doctor within minutes. If needed, the doctor can fax in a prescription to a nearby pharmacy.

Consider registering today for telemedicine so you’re ready to use the app when you’re sick: ExcellusBCBS.com/HealthCareLive

That’s all I have for tips! I hope you’re better equipped to handle whatever malady comes your way this school year.