My Constant Temptation

Original Image by Craig Sunter - Thanx 3 Million ;-)) via Flickr
Original Image by Craig Sunter – Thanx 3 Million ;-)) via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

What’re you?  A salty or sweet person?  Anyone who knows me knows I always check the dessert menu when eating out.
Today was no exception.  I was lucky enough to meet up with one of my mother’s high school friends, heading into Buckhead, GA.  We ate at a very classy, tasty French bistro, Anis.
I’m glad that French cuisine has stayed true to more reasonable portions.  I did enjoy the profiteroles, which  is a pastry ball filled with ice cream.  The pastry was so moist and light, I don’t regret ordering it.
When I was younger I used to associate dining out with special occasions, which permitted me to include dessert after the entree.  However, as I’ve gotten older and meeting up with friends was an automatic dining event, the novelty of desserts has worn off.
No matter what your temptation is, whether it’s cookies, bread, chips, ice cream or anything that you have a hard time saying no to when it passes you by try to understand what emotions you associate with that temptation.
My new goal is to enjoy a great entree sans dessert.  I always share healthy foods that I consume on a  daily basis, but I don’t want you to think I always have a walk in the park in regards to temptation.  It’s a mental battle we all deal with, sometimes easier for others.  I truly enjoyed my meal today, but won’t be indulging in dessert in the foreseeable future.

Bring Back PE

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Soft Surfaces Ltd via Flickr
Original Image by Soft Surfaces Ltd via Flickr
I’m glad others are taking a stand and sharing their desire to incorporate physical education (PE) into everyday class schedules.  With 15% of children obese, we’re in a critical need to reinstate recess and PE into daily schedules.
I can understand school’s willingness to wane to state and national standards to groom competitive students.  However, does that mean stripping our students of recess and physical activity?  Life is all about balance and without any play, the work becomes mundane. There’s only so much the classroom can teach.  What about the human interaction?
Networking, social relationships and communication are essential tools to thriving in this world.  What better place to start than as a young child.  Besides the most listed benefits above, it’s been shown active children have a greater attention span, faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized exams than those that are required to sit behind a desk all day.
It’s recommended children get at least 60 minutes of exercise daily.  It’s hard to fit exercise in with varying school, family and life responsibilities.  School’s are supposed to be advocates for providing students tools and life lessons.  Let’s not stop with just academics.

Got Milk?

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by KGSImaging via Flickr
Original Image by KGSImaging via Flickr
Remember the got milk ads? They are and were a clever way to check if you’re consuming the recommended 8 oz. of milk, which contains 300 mg of calcium.
I’ve always chosen skim milk when possible because it’s become second nature. I’ve always been told it’s the best, but I wanted to know from a production standpoint why. I’ve included the most popular types of milk, what their composition is and how incorporating milk into your life can be positive.
Types of Milk:
  • Whole Milk: contains 3.5% milk fat; contains rich, creamy texture; usually consumed until 2 years old; fatty acids in whole milk are important to development of the brain and nervous system
  • 1% Lowfat Milk: fortified with skim milk; vitamin and mineral rich; great for those watching their weight; approximately 21% of calories from fat
  • 2% Lowfat Milk: fortified with skim milk; contains 10 g of protein per cup; approximately 35% of calories from fat
  • Skim milk: aka nonfat milk; as much fat is removed as possible; less than 1/2 g of fat per serving; 45% less calories than whole milk; contains same nutrients as whole milk; approximately 0 calories from fat
  • Buttermilk: typically made of nonfat or low fat milk; a cultured sour milk made by adding sweeteners
  • Acidophilus milk: live bacterial cultures added to milk after pasteurization; sometimes easier for some to digest for others
  • Chocolate milk: contains cocoa and sweeteners; commonly made from low fat or nonfat milk; usually contains 60 additional calories compared to non chocolate comparatives; contains approximately 5 mg of caffeine per cup
  • A great post workout drink–since muscles break down after exercise, milk’s whey and casein are a great source of protein to reenergize one’ s body
  • Prevents muscle cramping
  • May reduce risk of bone disease and fractures
  • Can help maintain bone density and slow rate of bone loss
  • Been seen consumption of milk can improve quality of sleep
  • Consumption can maintain healthy hair, skin and nails
  • May help reduce likelihood of cavities
You don’t have to drink milk plain to enjoy the great benefits. Slowly integrate milk into your daily meals if you’re wary of the taste or isn’t a part of your daily routine. For example, adding it to cereal, smoothies and/or desserts are a great start!

Wash’em Up!

By: Nikki Nies

Have you washed your hands today?  This concept is simple, but undervalued.  A lot of diseases, infections, illnesses could be alleviated or lessened if one washed their hands.  The act of hand washing is particularly critical in the food industry with mass production providing increased susceptibility of food borne illnesses, contamination and illness.
Understanding and utilizing the basics of hand washing can prevent such issues and is a great habit to reignite at any age and can dramatically save lives.
The basics:
When to wash hands:

Original Image by Sean Winters via Flickr
Original Image by Sean Winters via Flickr
  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who’s sick
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • Before and after handling contact lenses
  • After handling anything that could be contaminated, such as household and garden chemicals
  • After using the restrooms
  • After changing diapers
  • After cleaning up a child who’s used toilet
  • After bowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After handling garbage
  • After handling pet food and pet treats
  • After handling animals or animal waste
How to Wash Hands
Great tips:  Twenty seconds can sound agonizing, but if you sing the “Happy birthday” song twice while thoroughly washing hands, it’s a great  marker of how long to wash hands as well as make the hand washing as thorough as possible.
Also, if clean water’s not available, a 60% alcohol based sanitizer can work well too.  However, one should recognize that hand washing is the best practice when possible.
When using sanitizer:
  1. Apply sanitizer to palm of hand
  2. Rub hands together
  3. Rub sanitizer over hands, fingers and nails until dry
I taught a lesson on handwashing to kids at Lincoln Elementary School in NJ and it was great to see the kids get so excited and involved in the lesson.  By showing them first hand the amount of dirt and bacteria that remained on their hands even when  they had washed their hands really hit home.  Their favorite part was playing an interactive game on hand washing from
This website provides interactive characters that explain how to wash one’s hands with a user friendly website.  Giving children the tools they need to successfully wash their hands, such as knowing how, for how long, during what instances and/or the significance in everyday life can make a positive impact on their lives.  When in doubt, wash’em.

The Thyroid

Original Image by Joseph Mercola via Flickr
Original Image by Joseph Mercola via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Often times I hear someone mention they know someone that has trouble losing weight because of their thyroid.  I know there has to be more to the story than I’ve always known.  This common comment sparked my interest on the role of our thyroid in nutrition and why people have troubles losing weight if they have thyroid problems.
Problems with one’s thyroid are often overlooked, but can quickly be the reason for some underlying issues.  Hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, toxic adenomas, subacute thyroiditis, pituitary gland malfunctions, cancerous growth in thyroid glands, Hashimoto’s disease and/or Graves’ disease are all related and associated with the thyroid.
Let’s go start from square one.  The thyroid is a ductless gland that secretes triodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormone.  These hormones delivery energy to cells,  regulate growth and development through rate of metabolism.  It is located in the lower part of one’s neck.  The thyroid gland is a crucial key to the metabolic processes.
Benign problems are goiters, which are enlarged glands.  If left untreated, it can lead to life threatening issues, such as cancer.  Many people suffer from abnormal production of thyroid hormones.
Potential problems with one’s thyroid:
  • Goiter: enlarged thyroid; caused by deficiency of iodine and/or over or under production of T3 and T4
  • Thyroid nodules: lumps in thyroid gland

  • Hypothyroidism: under active thyroid; if there’s an under active thyroid at a young age, it can lead to cretinism–mental retardation and stunted growth; Most infants’ thyroids are routinely checked
    • Symptoms: fatigue; weight gain; depression; infertility; high cholesterol; neck pain/enlargement; hair loss; worsening menstrual and menopausal symptoms; low sex drive; fuzzy thinking
    • Types of hypothyroidism:
      • Hashimoto’s disease: an autoimmune disorder; thyroid tissue’s attacked by body, which causes the tissue to eventually be destroyed and ceases production of hormones; typically occurs during menopause
      • Lithium: use may cause hypothyroidism
      • Removal of thyroid gland: may need to be surgically or chemically removed
      • Exposure to excessive iodide: overexposure may occur from cold and sinus medicines, heart medicine (i.e. amiodarone), contrast dyes, may come from x ray
  • Relationship of hypothyroidism, Cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes
    • With hypothyroidism, there’s an increased risk of CVD
    • low thyroid hormone levels increases the blood pressure, blood lipid levels, C-reactive protein, homocysteine
    • 30% of those with thyroid disease have type I diabetes; 12.5% of clients have type II diabetes along with thyroid problems
    • normalization of one’s thyroid positively impact’s one’s cholesterol levels
  • Hyperthyroidism: overactive thyroid
    • Symptoms: insomnia; unexpected weight loss; chronic diarrhea; anxiety; panic attacks; palpitations; high blood pressures; bulging eyes; hair loss; neck pain and enlargement; low sex drive and/or worsening menstrual symptoms
    • Graves’ disease:most common type of hyperthyroidism; antibodies target gland and increase hormone production–>overproduction
    • Toxic adenomas: nodules begin to secrete thyroid hormone, which upset’s body’s equilibrium; goiters often contain nodules
    • Subacute thyroiditis: inflammation of thyroid; causes “leak” of excess hormones; temporary  hyperthyroidism may occur
    • pituitary gland malfunctions and/or cancerous growths:  may be caused by hyperthyroidism
Impact of nutrition on thyroid:
  • Goitrogens
    • Naturally occurring in foods that impact one’s thyroid.  A goiter may occur, can be impacted by antithyroid drug, which causes an under active thyroid
    • main goitrogens: broccoli, kale, cabbage, soy
    • If one has hyperthyroidism, may want to incorporate goitrogenic foods into daily consumption
    • with hypothyroidism, one can consume goitrogens in moderation since the goitrogenic materials can partially be destroyed by heat
  • Coffee’s interaction with thyroid medication
    • One should wait an hour after taking thyroid medication to drink coffee since it can affect absorption of the medication
  • Calcium fortified orange juice’s interaction with medication
    • One should wait 3-4 hours after taking thyroid medication to consume calcium fortified orange juice and iron and calcium supplements since they can inhibit absorption of thyroid medication
  • Iodized Salt
    • Iodized salt is sometimes the solution for those with iodine deficiency, cretinism and/or retardation
    • one needs to consume the recommended amount of iodine for the thyroid to function properly (see in the suggestions section later on for the recommended mcg)
  • High Fiber Foods
    • Many with thyroid problems have problems with constipation and extra weight
    • Fiber intake can impact absorption of medications so it should be monitored by one’s doctor
    • Sources:spinach; sweet potatoes; brussel sprouts; avocado; beans; cabbage; carrots; kale; turnip greens; mushrooms; rhubarb; peppers; eggplant
  • Gluten and Wheat
    • subset of autoimmune thyroid patients have triggered autoimmunity because of celiac disease
    • a gluten free diet may eliminate antibodies, reduce bloating and help with energy and weight loss
  • Soy
    • consumption of soy can inhibit thyroid hormone absorption
    • suggested to limit soy to fermented forms (i.e. tempeh)
    • with hyperthyroidism, one may want to incorporate more soy into diet
Suggestions for the future:

Original Image by Ken Hawkins via Flickr
Original Image by Ken Hawkins via Flickr
  • Most important: calorie and carbohydrate monitored diet and lifestyle
    • monitor intake of added sugar and fats; fast food;
  • Thyroid hormone replacement medication: i.e. Synthroid, Levoxy; Armour, Naturethroid
  • Balance adrenal, reproduction and insulin hormones
  • Water: sufficient amount of water intake is important for one’s overall health and metabolism; can reduce appetite; reduce bloating and water retention; improve digestion and elimination and alleviate constipation
  • monitor vitamin D, selenium, iodine and vitamin B12 levels
  • Exercise regularly
  • regulate one’s stress
  • get adequate sleep and rest
  • Coconut Oil: A thyroid friendly option to replace fats and oils
  • Recommended consumption of iodine:
    • Birth-6 months–110 mcg
    • 7-12 months–130 mcg
    • 1-8 years old–90 mcg
    • 9-13 years old–120 mcg
    • 14-18 years old–150 mcg
    • Adults–150 mcg
    • Pregnant women–220 mcg
    • Breastfeeding–290 mcg
    • Source: cod, tuna, shrimp, seaweed, milk, yogurt, cheese, iodized salt, breads, cereals, etc.
One can’t argue the susceptibility of one’s thyroid to many diseases.  The state of one’s thyroid impacts almost every other organ in the body.  It’s critical to not only take a proactive approach to monitor your body’s “tell tale” signs, but to know the signs and symptoms one should be on the lookout for.

Night Shade Vegetables

Original Image by liz west via Flickr
Original Image by liz west via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Night shade vegetables share a common trait, they containing alkaloids and have a bad reputation on joints, arthritis and one’s nervous system.  Never heard of night shade vegetables?  Perhaps, you’ve heard of potatoes, cayenne pepper, pimentos, paprika, tomatillos, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers and tomatoes?  These foods all contain alkaloids and have been shown to impact nerve muscle function and digestive function.
Night shade vegetables originate from the solanaceae family.  In the beginning, it was believed night shade vegetables were poisonous or had evil side effects, hence the name.  The amount of alkaloids in potatoes can be indicated by sprouted spots in potatoes and is a result of defense against insects .  The sprouted part should be efficiently removed before cooking and use.   In scientific terms, alkaloids can be indicated by at least one ring structure containing nitrogen.  The alkaloids that are produced as a byproduct of plant activity help protect plants from insects.
  1. steroid alkaloids–complicated ring structure; found in potatoes and tomatoes
  2. tropane alkaloids–all from amino acid ornithine; less commonly found in alkaloids
  3. pyrrolizidine alkaloids–produced as defense mechanism against insect herbivores
  4. indole alkaloids–contains moiety of indole; biochemical precursor: tryptophan
Impact of night shade vegetables on nervous system:
A lot of night shade vegetables have come under scrutiny in regards to their impact on health since a high consumption of alkaloids have been questioned.  As stated before, alkaloids are produced as a protective shield against insects.
  • Can inhibit enzyme activity, such as cholinesterase inhibition causing problems with nervous system
  • Allergies may occurs, with symptoms including: stiffness in joints, inflammation, dizziness, nausea, migraines and/or weakness or fatigue
  • Arthritis or joint problems can occur from excess loss of calcium from bones or excess deposition of calcium in soft tissues from alkaloids

Studies have shown that those with arthritis that stop consuming night shade vegetables for some time have seen a dramatic improvement.
Suggestions for consumption of night shade vegetables:

Original Image by 16:9clue via Flickr
Original Image by 16:9clue via Flickr
  • Avoid eating stems, leaves or flowers
  • Only eat fruit at ripest
  • Only eat fruit of plants
  • Store potatoes 1-3 weeks in dark, cool place instead of light area that could increase alkaloid formation
  • Do not purchase potatoes that have been waxed
  • Remove green parts of tomato, eggplant and/or potatoes
  • Wash vegetables properly and thoroughly
Definitely contact your doctor if you have concerns about arthritis and/or joint pain and now that you know what night shade vegetables entail, you can keep an eye out for green spots!


Dining Out Disparities

At least two thirds of all participants underestimated the calorie content of their meals, with about a quarter underestimating the calorie content by at least 500 calories. -Jason Block

By: Nikki Nies

The number of health conscious individuals in America has increased in the last few years.  I applaud those that have taken a more in depth interest in not only their dietary intake, but provide discernment in regards to advertisements of food industry claims and increased awareness of how food has really made it to the table.

Information has become more transparent as people have rallied to know what’s in the food they consume, however, we still have a whiles to go.  For example, Subway’s tagline is, “Subway Eat Fresh.”  The assumption would be that only the freshest, temperature regulated ingredients would be used in all subs and sandwiches that leave the Subway premises.  However, if one does a complete analysis of the food prep and look at the food themselves, the food doesn’t always live up to Subway’s mission statement.

Original Image by stu_spivack via Flickr
Original Image by stu_spivack via Flickr

I understand when dining out, one’s top priority might not be to choose the healthiest choices.   Nonetheless, dining out doesn’t have to always have to be a pig out session.  Recent studies have found that Americans perception of the caloric content of fast food chains are skewed.  It’s understandable that guessing the caloric  content may not always be on point, which brings me to my main complaint.  The lack of transparency that chain restaurants provide of the food production and/or nutritional information of their dishes.  A recent study found those eating at chains underestimate how much they really are eating, with a 1/4 underestimating by 500 calories!!!The study found adults consume 836 calories per meal, teens and children consume more than 700 calories.  It’s startling to see that based on the standard 2000 daily intake of calories, people were often getting ore than 1/3 of their calorie allotment in one meal.

It recently came to my attention that California Pizza Kitchen chooses what dishes to list the caloric content of their dishes.  It’s interesting because they obviously list the caloric content that is favorable to them.  The hopes for the future are that food items on the menu will have caloric information printed next to the description.


I’m grateful for those companies that clearly list their caloric information either online in PDF form or provides nutrition information on site in their establishments.  Listing caloric information is a great first step, however, I want more.  For example, I was recently at Montclair State University’s Student Center, where all they list are the calories in their food.

The tostado salad states it’s only 300 calories.  For the health consicous, that sounds great.  There’s no additional nutrition information that one can access.  I want to know about the sodium, fat, cholesterol and additional content.  It looks like a great pick to eat a dish that barks only 300 calories, but if the sodium and fat content have sky rocketing number, the 300 calories is not as relevant information.

Tips for eating out:

  • Opt for lower caloric meals by checking the nutrition information available online.  Unfortunately, a lot of chain restaurants don’t have that information readily available at the establishment.  When dining out, if you enter an establishment with an inkling of what you want to eat beforehand, it can cause less anxiety about what is the best choice.
  • Look for key words: whole grains, vegetables, low fat, skim milk, lean protein foods, which often are healthier options
  • The calories in beverages can add up quickly.  Once in a while, choose water instead of a cocktail or soda and save calories for actual food.
  • Limit dessert to special occasions can trim your wallet and waistline
  • Attempt to eat smaller portions by dividing the meal in half or a quarter when the food arrives so you don’t overeat.  Sharing a dish can help as well!
  • Ask for syrups, dressings and sauces “on the side” and use at your discretion.
  • Choose grilled, baked, steamed or broiled options over deep fried or sautéed, which are lower in calories
  • Find additional information on beverages and food at Food-A-Pedia

Critics state that people don’t eat fast food to get skinny and that those that look at nutrition information really don’t need since they’re predominately skinny to begin with.  However, isn’t it interesting that there’s a positive correlation between those that are health conscious and the likelihood of a more balanced diet?  As always, I don’t believe foods need to be eliminated, but with moderation you can enjoy the occassional treat knowing what you’re eating when nutrition information is accurately, visibly posted.    I’m hoping more nutrition information will be provided to concerned consumers.

It’s so tempting to buy the largest size of drinks, meals, entrees when the deals seem to be “too good.”  On my way to Georgia, we stopped at ROCs and the drink station’s smallest cup was 22 oz. at $1.29 and the largest cup at 44 oz. for only 30 cents more at $1.59.  I can understand how easy it is to opt for twice the amount of soda at only 30 cents more.  However ,the fact that the cost is cheaper doesn’t mean it’s healthier in the long run.  My hope is people become aware of the disparities, everything from what’s advertised compared to what’s served, what accomodations establishments provide and if restaurants are health conscious.


It’s Greek to Me

Original Image by theimpulsivebuy via Flickr
Original Image by theimpulsivebuy via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Yogurt sales have skyrocketed the last few years as the advertisement of probiotic and prebiotics* have provided consumers the confidence that they were missing out on an essential staple. Yogurt is a great breakfast food for those on the go, but its use has invaded other realms of human consumption (in a good way!).

Personally, I recently made a bean dip (one of the easiest, yummiest things to make, inquire about recipe if interested!). I was supposed to have one layer of sour cream above the salsa, but I ran out of sour cream. I used Greek yogurt to finish filling out the layer. It tasted exactly the same as when I used only sour cream for a previous bean dip experience. However, using the Greek yogurt had its added benefits that sour cream doesn’t provide—check out benefits listed below!

If you’re wondering what the difference of Greek yogurt and regular yogurt, no worries, I’ve checked the answer for you. Regular yogurt’s strained twice to, which allows the liquid whey to drain off. Greek yogurt has a thicker consistency than regular yogurt since it’s strained at least three times or more.


  • Compared to some lean meats, Greek yogurt can provide an equivalent amount of protein
  • Better alternative to regular yogurt
    • Greek yogurt averages 20 grams of protein, while regular yogurt averages 11-13 grams of protein
    • Fewer carbohydrates than regular yogurt, which can help diabetics or those watching their carbohydrate intake
      • Regular yogurt has added sugar
      • Regular yogurt averages 15-17 grams of carbohydrates, compared to Greek yogurt, which averages 9 grams or less
    • Contains half the amount of sodium compared to regular yogurt
  • Keeps you filled longer
  • Builds and maintains muscle mass
  • Great source of calcium—key to tooth and bone health
    • Check nutrition labels to see how much calcium you’re consuming every serving
  • Many Greek yogurts contain probiotics which are digestive healthy
  • Can maintain and improve one’s immune system
    • On nutrition fact label, look for “live and active cultures”
  • Can satisfy one’s sweet tooth

Creative uses of Greek Yogurt:


  • Replace sour cream, buttermilk, eggs, mayo, cream cheese, heavy cream, oil, etc. with Greek yogurt
  • Use in salad dressings, dip, sauces, smoothies, desserts, such as cheesecake, soups, chocolate frosting, etc.

With increased popularity of Greek Yogurt, unfortunately the cost has increased over the years. I suggest stocking up when on sale, no worries, it always goes on sale! Also, buy in bulk when possible!
What brand do you buy? Do you find brands of Greek yogurt vary? I personally use generic ShopRite brand of Greek yogurt at 88 cents each. I’m always a fan of a sale and don’t see much difference between the generic Greek yogurt and more household names, such Dannon, Fage or Chobani.

*probiotic is live bacteria, while prebiotics are specialized plant fiber that nourishes preexisting bacteria in one’s colon.

Calorie Myths Debunked

Calorie Myths Debunked

I couldn’t have explained these myths better myself.