Our Passion, Your Health

Our Passion | Your Health features stories on the latest happenings at Penn State Health St. Joseph. Check out our blogs, recipes, patient stories, program highlights, and new services that represent our passion...your health.

Love Salt? You Just Might be a Supertaster

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences food scientists discovered several years ago why some people have a harder time than others passing up the salt shaker or enjoying low-salt foods.

People who use lots of salt may be genetically influenced to do so, researchers learned. That’s because some people are naturally more sensitive to tastes such as bitterness or spiciness, and may use more salt to alter or cover those tastes.

For instance, salt is added to many cheeses to mask bitter flavors that occur naturally during the cheese’s ripening process. Someone who is particularly sensitive to the taste of those bitter flavors may not enjoy a low-salt cheese because there’s not enough salt to offset the bitterness of the cheese.

Scientists have known for many years that, just as individuals differ in hair color or eye color, there is a wide range in one’s ability to taste certain compounds. While some people are extremely sensitive to tastes such as sweetness, spiciness and saltiness, others barely detect them.

Those with extremely sensitive taste buds are known as supertasters, while those who do not easily perceive taste are known as non-tasters.

Supertasters tend to ingest more salt both because they enjoy the flavor of it, leading them to eat more salty foods, and because they use salt to mask other flavors that they find unpleasant.

The problem with that, of course, said Nicole Rhoads, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Registered Dietician, is that eating too much salt can raise blood pressure, increasing the possibility of stroke and heart attacks, and may cause other health problems. It’s recommended that adults and children 14 years and older consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day – about what’s found in one teaspoon of salt.

Those with hypertension should aim at consuming considerably less than that amount.

That can be difficult to do, Rhoads explained, because salt is prevalent in prepared foods, including condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce, pickles, olives and bottled salad dressing.

Convenience foods, snack foods and fast foods also tend to be very high in sodium.

One slice of pizza chain pepperoni pizza, for instance, might contain more than 800 milligrams of sodium, more than one-third of the recommended daily limit. The same goes for a bowl of canned soup.

So, regardless of whether you’re a supertaster or non-taster, how can you limit the amount of salt you consume? Here are some general tips Rhoads provided.

  • Avoid processed foods and convenience foods such as canned soup and frozen dinners
  • Eat more fresh and unprocessed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins, unprocessed meats and low-fat dairy items
  • Omit salt from recipes when cooking
  • Use fresh herbs and spices to flavor foods, or an herb seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash
  • Read food labels and choose low-sodium products over those containing a lot of salt
  • Prepare most of the food you consume at home
  • Find low-sodium recipes from reputable sources on line and try them out

Find out more from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ tip sheet on “Eating Right with Less Salt”.

Nicole Rhoads, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian If you are interested in individual outpatient nutrition counseling, contact Nicole at 610-378-2489 or NRhoads@pennstatehealth.psu.edu or schedule an appointment at 610-378-2100.

Fear of Missing Out Can Negatively Impact Your Life.

If you’re constantly checking Facebook, desperate to see where your friends are and what they’re doing, and then becoming upset when you discover they’re having dinner without you, you may be suffering from a condition known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out.”

Dr. Krista Schenkel, a family practitioner who serves as medical director of Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Strausstown facility, spoke about FOMO recently during a program offered by Women2Women.

St. Joseph is a founding, presenting sponsor of Women2Women, an organization managed by the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry that works to help empower women to become leaders in our community.

FOMO, Schenkel explained, is a form of social anxiety disorder that is becoming increasingly prevalent as use of social media increases. By some accounts, nearly three-quarters of young adults in the United States report experiencing the phenomenon of FOMO.

It is particularly common among those between the ages of 13 and 33.

FOMO can result from the perception that other people are having more fun, or are happier than you are, Schenkel said. In their social media posts, friends may appear to be engaging in exciting activities, seemingly without a care in the world.

However, Schenkel related, social media posts often portray an idealized version of the truth.

“Let’s face it. Most social media posts are not giving the entire truth,” she said. “Anyone can put anything on social media and make their life sound amazing.”
Schenkel referred to her own experience in Disney World, showing a photo of herself with her husband and daughter that she’d posted on Facebook. The photo, she explained, was taken after a very long day. They all were exhausted, with their 3-year-old nearing a meltdown.

In the photo, however, the family appeared to be having a great time.

“We looked so happy, but really we were miserable!” she said.

A danger of the FOMO syndrome is that it tends to cause people to spend more time on social media, taking them away from the really important aspects of their lives.

According to Schenkel, the life of a typical woman contains five priorities: career, sleep, daily obligations, family and social activities.

Once the obligatory parts of a woman’s day are done, such as working, errands, commuting and sleeping, there are not many hours left. That means that it’s really important to carefully consider how those hours are spent.

Using that time for social media can minimize time you spend with your family and friends, and limit activities that you enjoy and make your life ultimately valuable
“Sometimes we get so caught up with what we’re seeing on line that we’re not being involved in the real world,” Schenkel said.

While she is not opposed to Facebook and other forms of social media, Schenkel said it’s important that users are in control of how they use it.

Employing Facebook to organize a hike with friends, and then attending and enjoying the hike is a positive use of social media. However, skipping the hike to stay home and engage in social media is not.

“I’m not saying that Facebook is an evil thing,” Schenkel said. “I’m just saying that you need to be careful about how you utilize it.”

While FOMO seems to be affecting an increasing number of people, there is an opposing movement – JOMO – that also seems to be gaining traction.

JOMO, Schenkel explained, stands for “joy of missing out,” and embraces disconnecting from technology and living in the moment in an attempt to find a balance between the two things.

JOMO allows you to move at your own pace, Schenkel said, and to pay attention to what is happening right now, such as the feel of warm sunshine, the sound of your children’s laughter or the smell of your first cup of morning coffee.

“Those are the things that we should fear missing out on,” she said.

Schenkel reminded the women at her talk that when they are 80 years old and looking back on their lives, they will not regret that they didn’t receive more “likes” on Facebook.

“But, what you may regret is not living out your personal truth or spending more time with the people you love,” she said. “We need to be aware of our priorities so we can all make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Want to find your FOMO score? Take this quiz!

Krista Schenkel, DO Looking for a new family physician that gets what you’re going through? Dr. Schenkel practices at Penn State Health St. Joseph Strausstown and is currently accepting new patients. Schedule an appointment at 610-488-7080.

Activity on Social Media can Help Older Adults Feel Less Isolated and More Empowered

In a study of Facebook use, older adults who posted a lot of personal stories on the social networking site felt a higher sense of community, and the more they customized their profiles, the more in control they felt, said S. Shyam Sundar, Penn State distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory. He added that the study suggests that using social media is not a uniform experience that is either all bad, or all good, but offers multiple functions for diverse users.

“People tend to think of Facebook as a black box that either has an overall positive effect or a negative effect, but what distinguishes this study is that it makes an effort to go in and see what people do in Facebook — and that’s what matters,” said Sundar. “So, in other words, social media, by itself, is neither good, nor bad, but it’s how you use it.”

For older adults, who may be less mobile, Facebook and similar social networking sites could play a critical role in easing isolation and making them feel like they are part of a large community, according to the researchers, who report their findings in the journal New Media & Society.

“This is important, especially for older adults who might be aging in place, because they have mobility constraints that limit their ability to socialize,” said Sundar. “And, for the last ten years or so, we’ve been looking into how social networking sites can enhance the social life of older adults and reduce the social isolation that they might feel. These are more fine-grained findings that say certain things you do on Facebook can give you gratifications, like fulfilling the needs for activity, having interactions with others, having a greater sense of agency, and building community.”

The researchers also suggested that commenting on and responding to posts gave older users a feeling of social interaction.

Eun Hwa Jung, formerly a doctoral student at Penn State and currently assistant professor of communications and new media, National University of Singapore, who worked with Sundar, said older adults are increasingly adopting social media, in general, and are a growing number of Facebook’s total membership. According to Pew research, 34 percent of Americans aged 65 years and older use social networks in 2017, an increase of 7 percent from 2016. Facebook is considered the most popular social network among older adults, the researchers add.

Given the widespread diffusion of Facebook in this group, understanding what gratifications older adults derive from particular technological features helps designers develop better user interfaces suited for them, Jung said.

“It can improve online interactions between individuals from different generations,” she added.

According to Sundar, developers of social media networks should consider the needs of this growing group of users. For example, they should create features that enhance the identity of older adults while simultaneously protecting their privacy. More features that encourage older adults to exchange and visualize messages with others could also make sites more interactive for this group.

To collect the data, the researchers recruited 202 participants — 79.7 percent female and 20.3 percent male — who were 60 years and older and used Facebook for at least a year. The participants were recruited from 27 retirement centers throughout the United States.

The researchers “friended” the participants on Facebook so they could count the number of times they used the various tools in the site during the past year. The participants were also asked to respond to a questionnaire that captured the gratifications they obtained from Facebook.

Future research may look at whether these positive interactions on Facebook could lead to the enhancement of well-being for seniors, Sundar said. The researchers also suggested that the effects of other social media outlets, such as Twitter and Pinterest, as well as other mobile and wearable devices, on older adults should be investigated.

Test the study for yourself by connecting with Penn State Health St. Joseph on social media! Meet us on Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter.

150 Minutes to a Healthier Life

Who is ready to hang up the winter coats, put away the snow boots and get off the couch? It’s hard to believe that spring is here, but it is. This is the perfect time to get outside and restart our New Year’s resolution to exercise.

Penn State Health St. Joseph is here to help! We created a program, FIT150, that encourages everyone to “fit” in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or

75 minutes of vigorous exercise) every week as recommended by the top heart and cancer research centers. 150 minutes is only 2 hours and 30 minutes – less than the time it takes to binge 3 episodes of This Is Us!

This formula has the following benefits:

  • Reduces the risk of some cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Elevates your mood
  • Increases your energy levels
  • Strengthen bones and muscles.

How does this break down?

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150. If your time is limited, split the 30 minutes into a 15 m
    inute morning and an evening session.
  • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
  • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

What is Moderate Aerobic Exercise?

Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, tennis doubles, spring cleaning, swimming, and mowing the lawn.

What is Vigorous Aerobic Exercise?

Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, cycling, tennis singles, and playing soccer and basketball.

There is an exercise routine for everyone. Find something you like to do, and it suddenly doesn’t feel like a dreaded activity. You will see results and feel good about those 150 or 75 minutes a week.

Hard to get started? Engage a friend, family member or a co-worker to take the FIT150 pledge with you. Together, you will be on the road to fitness and improved health.

We are proud to be partners with some local fitness centers YMCA, BLDG. 7 Yoga and Corps Fitness. If you take our FIT150 pledge, we’ll email you free gym passes.  Put your sneakers on, take the pledge and get moving! http://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/fit150/

10 Real Life Situations Our Nutrition Services Team Can Help

Penn State Health St. Joseph Nutrition Services are offered by Registered Dietitians. Unlike others that offer advice on nutrition and diet, Registered Dietitians have completed rigorous education and testing standards. St. Joseph Registered Dietitians have the unique qualifications to ‘clear the air’ around nutrition misinformation and provide sound, easy-to-follow nutrition advice.

Not sure when to seek Nutrition Services? Here are the Top 10 Life Situations where we can help.

You have diabetes, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, or food allergies. We serve as an integral part of your health-care team by helping you safely change your eating plan without compromising taste or nutrition.

You have digestive problems. We will work with your physician to help fine-tune your diet so you are not aggravating your condition with fried foods, too much caffeine or carbonation.

You’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant. We can help make sure you get nutrients like folate, especially during the first three months of pregnancy, lowering your newborn’s risk for neural tube or spinal cord defects.

You need to gain or lose weight. We can suggest additional calorie sources for healthy weight gain or a restricted-calorie eating plan plus regular physical activity for weight loss while allowing you to still eat all your favorite foods.

You want to eat smarter. We’ll help you sort through misinformation; learn how to read labels at the supermarket; discover that healthy cooking is inexpensive; and learn how to eat out without ruining your eating plan and how to resist workplace temptations.

You are thinking of having or have had gastric bypass surgery. Since your stomach can only manage small servings, it’s a challenge to get the right amount of nutrients in your body. We will work with you and your physician to develop an eating plan for your new needs.

You need guidance and confidence for breastfeeding your baby. We can help make sure you’re getting enough iron, vitamin D, fluoride, and B vitamins for you and your little one.

Your teenager has issues with food and eating healthfully. We can assist with eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and overweight issues.

You’re caring for an aging parent. We’ll help with food or drug interaction, proper hydration, special diets for hypertension and changing taste buds for aging parents.

You want to improve your performance in sports. Running a marathon? Planning a skiing vacation? We can help you set goals to achieve results.

Nutrition Services
Appointments available in Bern Township and the city of Reading. Call to learn more! 610-378-2976

What to Know Before Seeking that “Healthy Glow”

It’s been a cold and windy spring, and everyone is ready for some sunshine.

If you’ve been thinking about getting a jump on the season with a visit to a tanning salon, however, you might want to think again.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that indoor tanning is no safer for your skin than being in the sun outdoors, because in both cases you’re exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage skin and can cause skin cancer.

Consider this information from the CDC.

  • Indoor tanning is especially dangerous for young people, who, according to research, are some of the most likely users of tanning beds or booths. The CDC concluded that those who begin tanning during adolescence or early adulthood have higher risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer, and the second most common cancer in women between 20 and 29 years old.
  • A base tan is not a safe tan. While many believe that a tan can protect you from getting sunburned, if you have a tan, the damage has already been done. Tanning is your skin’s response to injury from UV rays, and it does little to protect you from further exposure.
  • Tanned skin is not healthy skin. Many people report that they feel healthier when their skin is tanned. But, the concept of a “healthy glow” is nothing more than a myth, according to the CDC, because every time you tan or burn, you expose yourself to harmful UV rays and increase your risk of melanoma.
  • While some claim that indoor tanning is safe because you can control your level of exposure to UV rays, research has found that indoor tanning exposes you to intense UV levels. Thousands of people each year require visits to hospitals due to injuries caused by tanning beds.
  • The most dangerous types of UV rays cause changes to the DNA in cells, and experts believe that those changes are likely the cause of skin cancers. Weaker UV rays are less likely to cause cancer, but can result in long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, blotches and changes in the texture of the skin.
  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and, unlike many other cancers, it’s increasing in frequency. Protect yourself from dangerous UV rays by avoiding tanning salons and covering up when you’re in sunshine outdoors. Wear sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV light, and use sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection and a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. And, remember that UV rays are at their peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so avoid the sun during those times.

Patty Kelly, Physician Referral Specialist Need to find a physician, program, or medical practice close to home? Call Patty Kelly, Physician Referral Specialist, & let her help you find the perfect fit.
610-378-2001   |   toll free 844-363-0882   |   FindAPhysician@PennStateHealth.psu.edu

Magical Leprechaun Eggs

Wishing you Good Health, Good Luck and Happiness this St. Patrick’s Day!

Start your day off with a healthy and festive breakfast that harnesses super powerful – and appropriately colored – spinach.


  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. milk
  • 2 tbsp. onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 c. fresh spinach leaves, washed with big stems removed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter or olive oil for frying


Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender (including the salt and pepper) and blend until the greens are pureed into little bits. Heat a pat of butter or splash of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Pour the egg mixture into the warm pan. Let it sit for a couple minutes before you begin to stir and scramble with a spatula. Cook until eggs are done all the way through.

Makes 3 servings.

Recipe found on Shape.com

The Body: A Detox Machine

Consuming large food portions, endless cookies and too much alcohol during the Holidays can leave us feeling sluggish and tired in the New Year. We may feel the need to detox our bodies to recover from all of the overindulgence. Fortunately for us, healthy bodies are incredibly efficient at detoxing on their own. Functions including sweating, urinating and moving the bowels all rid the body of toxins. Toxins are by-products of food, air and water and we are exposed to them on a daily basis. Even when you are consuming a healthy diet, toxins are produced and must be eliminated from the body.

The liver, kidneys, respiratory, lymphatic and gastrointestinal (GI) systems all work together to process toxins out of our bodies every day. It is not necessary to follow a ‘detox or cleanse diet,’ to clean out our bodies. In fact, these diets are usually insufficient in calories, protein and other important nutrients. If you want to cleanse your body from the Holidays and work towards being the healthiest you in 2018, here are a few things you can do to support your body’s already existing detox processes.

  • FLUID. The majority of Americans consume less than the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. Drinking enough water allows your GI tract and kidneys to efficiently rid the body of toxins regularly.
  • FIBER. Very few Americans consume the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Eating foods high in fiber cleanses the GI tract, preventing build up of dangerous toxins that promote disease. Include whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables in your daily meal plan.
  • FITNESS. Exercise stimulates the lymphatic, circulatory and respiratory systems to detoxify the body. Sweating is another way the body gets rid of built up toxins. Those who exercise regularly typically have a lower percentage of body fat, which is where toxins are stored. Losing weight through a healthy diet and exercise is a great way to actively detox your body.

Instead of focusing on “detox dieting” this New Year, let us work towards supporting the body’s natural detox processes. If you are interested in detoxing the body through healthy weight loss, schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian.

Andrea Thompson, RDN, LDN, Clinical Dietitian. If you’re interested in individual outpatient nutrition counseling, contact Andrea at 610-208-4735 or AGamber1@pennstatehealth.psu.edu or schedule an appointment at 610-378-2100.

Passionate About Health: Party Foods that won’t Add Inches (or Dullness) – Light Pumpkin Pie

photo credit thedietingchef.com


1 c gingersnaps
16 oz can pumpkin
½ c egg whites (about 4)
½ c sugar
2 t pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves)
12 oz can evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grind cookies in a food processor. Lightly spray a 9″ glass pie pan with cooking spray. Pat the cookie crumbs into the pan evenly. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Pour into crust and bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 minute. Store in refrigerator. Allow to cool and slice in 8 wedges.

1 slice: 165 calories, 1.5 g total fat, 6 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate (2 carb exchanges)

Passionate About Health: Party Foods that won’t Add Inches (or Dullness) – Festive Tossed Salad

photo credit espressoandcream.com


1/3 c vegetable oil
2½ T cider vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1 T finely chopped onion
¼ c sugar (or 6 pk. artificial sweetener)
1 t poppy seeds.

Blend ingredients except poppy seeds for 1 minute.
Stir in poppy seeds. Good for up to 2 weeks.


10 c torn romaine lettuce
1 medium apple, cored & chopped
1 medium pear, cored & chopped
1 c (4 oz) shredded or diced Swiss cheese
¼ c dried cranberries
1 c chopped cashews

Thoroughly wash & drain romaine lettuce. Tear or cut into bite size pieces. Place in large salad bowl. Prepare apple and pear and coat with 1 t lemon juice and water to retard browning. Just before serving, combine romaine lettuce, apple, pear, and dressing; toss thoroughly. Add cheese and toss lightly. Sprinkle cranberries and cashews on top or place in small bowls on side.