The Wellness Checklist for April

March 30, 2011

April. Is there a happier word? The sun’s warming the air, the days are lengthening, the flowers blooming. Sure, there are those pesky taxes to file, but this year there’s also a royal wedding to watch. More than the start of the year, April feels to me like the right time to renew my commitment to good health: We can play outside, and winter’s comfort-food cravings have given way to a keen desire to seek out fresh vegetables and other lighter fare. Here are some ideas for wringing lots of wellness out of April.

Warmer weather, cheaper produce

Here’s how we know summer is really right around the corner: You can find fresh corn and watermelon in the grocery store.

Bi-color corn from Florida is newly available in the produce section, along with mini-watermelons, also from Florida, says Safeway spokesman Greg Ten Eyck. Corn counts as a whole grain, and watermelon is low in calories and full of fiber. Both are excellent additions to your diet, especially for those trying to trim down for bathing-suit season without sacrificing nutrition.

But that’s not the only news from the produce aisle. Prices on many vegetables have dropped dramatically, says Ten Eyck, a result of farms’ recent recovery from winter’s deep-freeze conditions. “Row-crop” vegetables in particular are going for as little as half their usual price, he says: Green beans, for instance, will go from about $3 to $1.50 a pound, with similar reductions for several kinds of lettuce (iceberg, romaine and leaf), celery, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and squash. That’s good, as we all should be filling half our plate with vegetables at as many meals as we can.

Here are some recipes to help make use of that bounty.

- Curried Chicken and Cauliflower Stir-Fry

- Green Bean Salad With Feta and Lemon

- Grilled Vegetable Salad

- Tangy Chicken Salad With Celery 3 Ways

Hit the spa

More than 800 spas nationwide, including dozens in the D.C. area, will take part in Spa Week, April 11 to 17. The deal for the week is $50 for a spa treatment valued from $80 to $450.

Kelly Verdi, marketing and public relations manager for Spa Week Media Group, says the event aims to make stress-busting experiences available to people who typically don’t find room for spas in their budgets. “Massages and facials should not be a luxury,” Verdi says. “It’s not just about being pampered. The whole message behind Spa Week is about wellness.”

That makes sense: Studies show that massage therapy, for instance, can reduce physical symptoms of stress such as elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and also lower people’s perceptions of their own stress and anxiety.

To take part, go to www.SpaWeek.com and enter your state or Zip code. The catch is that you need to provide an e-mail address to access lists of participating spas and the services they’ll offer. If you prefer, you can contact spas directly to find out if they’re taking part. A few local deals I found:

- A 60-minute “Le Grand Classique” facial at Fairmont Health Club and Spa (2401 M St. NW, 202-457-5070).

- A 50-minute custom massage at LifeSpa (1151 Seven Locks Rd., Rockville, 240-314-7022).

- An acupuncture session, with or without needles, at Whole Health Wellness Center & Medspa (6910 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria, 571-357-2229).

- A 50-minute Spa Week Stress Melter at various Red Door Spa locations.

Coffee for Passover

Observant Jews used to refrain from drinking coffee during Passover, which this year begins at sunset on April 18. That was because it was wrongly believed that coffee beans were legumes, a food group that’s prohibited during the eight-day holiday.

In the early 1920s, the coffee company that was soon to become Maxwell House established that coffee was a berry, not a legume. Kosher certification soon followed, says Maxwell House spokeswoman Bridget MacConnell, which paved the way for Jewish people to enjoy coffee during Passover.

Even if you don’t celebrate Passover, take the time to appreciate your cup of joe. Though some people who are especially sensitive to caffeine should go easy on coffee or avoid it altogether, coffee is believed to contribute to good health in many ways. Its consumption is associated with decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, liver cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and reduced risk of stroke (particularly among women), among other benefits. So drink up!

And you can find a Passover-friendly breakfast cereal to go with it in The Post’s Recipe Finder online: Passover Granola.

Run through history

If you like a little education with your exercise, sign up for the third annual American Odyssey Relay Run Adventure. The April 29 to 30 event takes teams of 12 relay runners along a nearly 200-mile course from Gettysburg, Pa., to the District. The course is designed to wind through Civil War battlefields, through Harpers Ferry and past the capital’s iconic monuments.

Register by April 25. Information is at www.americanodysseyrelay.com, or call 301-706-2266. The cost is $110 per runner. A portion of the proceeds goes to the local chapter of the Wellness Community, a cancer-support organization.

Hungry Girl strikes again

Hungry Girl (a.k.a. Lisa Lillien) relies on reduced-fat ingredients and artificial sweeteners too much for her recipes to wow me. But I may be in the minority; her first two cookbooks were best-sellers, and she launched a TV show on the Cooking Channel in January.

Her latest book, “Hungry Girl 300 Under 300: 300 Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Dishes Under 300 Calories” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $23), came out at the end of March. It offers reduced-fat versions of favorite foods such as a Monte Cristo sandwich and EZ Chili Mac. It also features things I would actually eat, such as a breakfast “egg mug” filled with egg, mushrooms, spinach and avocado.

Salt sticklers will notice that Hungry Girl doesn’t skimp on the sodium. But, hey, she has more than 63,700 Twitter followers, so she’s clearly striking a chord. Recipes include nutrition facts and Weight Watchers Points values.

For nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog, follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to washingtonpost.com/wellness.

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