Common Misperceptions of Salads

Original Image by Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flckr
Original Image by Ines Hegedus-Garcia via Flckr

By: Nikki Nies

I’m currently in my community rotation in my dietetic internship.  I recently gave a presentation to Avalon corporation’s employees.  The premise for the presentation was to debunk some weight loss myths.

As an introduction, I asked the employees what they eat for lunch.  Whether they were bringing lunch from home or eating out, 9/10 they stated they ate salads for lunch.  I got a kick out of it, as yes, salads CAN be healthy.  Yet, there’s such a spectrum of variety of others foods that are screaming to receive attention as well.

A 2005 study on the Big Four fast food chains–Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut, found that 5/8 of the salads used as “evidence” of their healthy contents were actually higher than normal for salt and fat content.    For example, a classic cobb salad with chopped bacon, egg, blue cheese, avocado, and creamy dressing, or a standard restaurant chef’s salad loaded with Swiss cheese, roast beef, eggs, and dressing  can add up to over 1000 calories and 80 g of fat!

Unfortunately, the toppings and/or salad dressings that people use on their salads can be the culprit to extra calories and fat, which backfires the plan to eat healthier.

Tips for healthier salads:

  • Fill up your salad with veggies: at 25 calories or less per 1/2 cup serving, it’s a great bang for your buck for nutrients!
  • Choose a variety of colors for your salad–red and yellow bell peppers, red onions, broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumbers and hard boiled eggs
  • Stick with raw or lightly steamed vegetables instead of fried or those drenched in marinades
  • Opt for lean protein to stay fuller longer: i.e. 1/2 cup tofu; 3/4 cup of chickpeas, lentils or kidney beans; 3 oz. skinless chicken; water packed chunk light tuna, wild salmon, wild sirloin steak, 4 egg whites
  • Avoid fatty meats, such as bacon or or salami
  • Choose one extra goodie: aiming for between 40-70 calories; i.e. 2 T of cheddar, feta, goat cheese, Parmesan or Swiss; 1 T of chopped walnuts, pecans or sliced almonds; 1 T of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds; 1 oz. avocado; 10 small olives; 1/4 cup croutons; 2 T dried cranberries or raisins
  • Lightly dress salad! Unfortunately a healthy salad can quickly become unhealthy when drenched with a fatty dressing; when ordering, ask for the dressing on the side, limiting use to 1 to 1 1/2 T
  • When available, opt for fat free, light or low fat salad dressings
  • Make your own vinaigrette: using one part oil to 3 parts vinegar with mustard, lemon or added spices of your choice

I applaud the employees for wanting to healthier, but I wanted to encourage them to eat more variety, to get more nutrients and to have more fun with their meals!


10 Starbucks Drinks that Won’t Blow Your Diet



Doctor Oz Syndrome

Pardon some of his language. I think Matt did a great job explaining why this new chapter on Dr. Oz and nutrition is a triumphant one for the health industry, Thanks for sharing!

Matt Wilson Personal Training

By now I hope you have seen John Oliver’s skewering of Doctor Mehmet Oz and his push for “miracle” and “magical” weight loss supplements.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth the 15-minutes.

Did you watch it? Excellent.  As you heard at the beginning of the clip, a news reporter talked about the “Oz Effect”.  Essentially, any company that gets mentioned by Oz typically experiences a massive uptick in sales, which is great for the company…not so great for the consumer.  As mentioned in the clip, one of the “magical” beans Oz pushed as a weight loss miracle supplement actually seemed to cause the onset of diabetes in lab mice.

Right, diabetes.

I said this on Facebook soon after seeing this clip:

I’ve always thought that Oz was nothing more than a snake oil salesman. Here’s a number for those of you who still defend the dietary supplement industry…1…

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By: Nikki Nies kefir

Kefir, a fermented milk drink made of fermenting milk with kefir grains,polysacharides and  yeast, impacts the way foods are digested.  While it’s not commonly found in your local Dollar Store, kefir is worth the investment. Cultured milk products have been around for more decades than can be counted, yet asking someone to ask about some of the health benefits of kefir, is not always easy.

Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt and may be found in some dietary supplements.

Health benefits of kefir:

  • May help treat diarrhea, esp. if antibiotics have been recently used
  • Treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Prevent or treat eczema
  • Prevent or reduce the severity of colds
  • Contains lactobaccilus caucasus, leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, Streptococcus species, Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir–which are beneficial bacteria that help with digestive health and prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms
  • Can help facilitate the production of vitamin K and B12 in the gut
  • Through the fermenting process of kefir, it’s lactose free

One cup of kefir provides 8-11 g of protein.  It also provides 10% of the day’s recommended vitamin A content and 25% of the day’s vitamin D. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, kefir provides 30% of the day’s calcium needs.

While probiotics aren’t a required food item to maintain one’s health, consumption of these microorganisms can aid in digestion and provide protection from harmful bacteria.  While none of the health claims for kefir have not been scientifically proven, how can you not deny the great nutrients! Some have complained that use of kefir can lead to intestinal cramping and/or constipation with initial use. 


GF Baking Ingredient Breakdown

By: Nikki Nies gluten-free-baking-conversion-chart

I myself am not Gluten Free. Yet, I have several friends that are and as a future health professional, I ought to know at least the basics regarding gluten free products. I recently helped demo how to bake with gluten free products and would like to think I was able to show how tasty gluten free products can be!

While abstaining from gluten, a protein found in wheat, oats, barley and rye, can sound restrictive, especially with some beloved sweets, it’s more than manageable!  One of the main properties of gluten, elasticity, seems to be quickly removed from gluten free foods, yet there’s been a lot of advancements in the use and production of gluten free baking products.

 Common Gluten Free Baking Ingredients:

  • Arrowroot powder:a starchy thickener, similar to corn starch
  • Cornmeal: A gritty, yet sweet addition to include in breads and muffins
  • Corn Starch: Often used in baking breads, cookies and cakes; make sure to get the GF brand
  • Flaxseed Meal: Great source of fiber and antioxidants; can be used in replacement of eggs to provide structure; can be frozen or refrigerated
  • Gelatin: increases the elasticity and strength of doughs; good source of protein
  • Gluten Free Flour: i.e. all purpose gluten free flour blend, garfava flour, almond flour,soy flour, teff flour, white rice flour,  coconut flour, bean flours, corn flour, millet flour, rice flour, potato flour, brown rice flour, chickpea flour, almond flour, buckewheat flour, sorghum flour and/or tapioca flour
  • Gluten Free Vanilla: All vanilla extracts are produced without gluten
  • Guar Gum: used as thickener and emulsifier; from seed native to tropical Asia; can have laxative effect
  • Xanthan Gum: used as thickener and emulsifier ; made by xanthomonas campestris organism

If product has Certified Gluten-Free label, you’re guaranteed to be buying 100% gluten free.

photo-1Since Bob’s Red Mill gluten free products are pretty accessible and mainstream, we used the flours from his line and used recipes that coincided with the flours.  While the chocolate chip cookies were most favored by the attendants of the cooking demo, I believe the fruit cobbler came out pretty well, with the ability to cater to different tastes depending on fruit used.  I burned the bottom of the brownies, at least I know for next time!

If you’re having trouble finding gluten free products at your local grocery store, check out,, and, which are sure to have what you need!

There’s so many variations to gluten free baking, to discover what recipes, ingredients and flavors work best for you, you may just have to keep testing recipes!


Debunking Weight Loss Myths!

By: Nikki Nies Weight-Loss-Myths460

“Magic pills” and “detoxification systems” that promise instant weight loss have been around for years.  In the 21st century, the market continues to meet the demand of the such products, yet many of these so called products do not provide the advertised weight loss.

While the bombardment of which products can be overwhelming, be careful what you shell out money for.  The table I’ve created below provides examples of weight loss claims that have not been found efficacious with using such products.

Instead, diet and regular bouts of exercise are the still proven tried and trued method of losing and maintaining weight loss.

If I skip meals, I’ll lose weight quicker
  • Can lead to becoming overly hungry → overeat at next meal
  • Those that skip breakfast tend to be heavier than those that consume at least 3 meals/day

o   Quick breakfast options: whole wheat toast with fruit spread or oatmeal with low fat yogurt and berries

Fad diets will help me lose weight and keep it off
  • Often promise quick fixes with food restrictions and/or avoidance of food groups/types of food
  • Hard to follow
  • May not provide all nutrients one needs
  • Being on a diet of fewer than 800 calories a day for a long time may lead to serious heart problems.
  • Losing >3#/wk can increase risk of developing gallstones

o   Safe wt loss: 0.5-2#/wk

Carbs are fattening. I should limit.
  • Carbs are body’s main source of energy
  • Limit simple, not complex!

o   Simple: candy, cake, cookies, sugar sweetened desserts/drinks and alcohol

o   Complex: fruits, vegetables, whole grains

  • Opt for brown rice, whole-wheat bread, cereal, and pasta
“Low fat” and “Fat free”=0 Calories
  • Low fat and fat free products have calories, but may be less than full fat
  • Many processed foods have the same amount of calories whether low fat or full fat
  • Processed foods that state they’re low fat/fat free may have added flour, salt, starch, or sugar to improve flavor and texture after fat is removed, which contain added calories
When dieting, one can’t eat fast food!
  • Yes, fast food can be bad for you
  • Opt for:

o   Avoid “value” combo meals as more calories than you need in one meal.

o   Choose fresh fruit or nonfat yogurt for dessert

o   Limit use of high fat/calorie toppings

  • i. e. bacon, cheese, reg mayo, salad dressing

o   Pick steamed or baked items over fried

o   Sip on water or fat-free milk instead of soda

o   Choose soft instead of hard tacos

Snacking is always a bad idea!
  • In between meal snacking can prevent overeating at meals
  • Can benefit from 5 small meals a day
  • Great choice: nuts, low fat cheese, yogurt or an apple
Eating healthy costs more!
  • Canned and frozen fruits and veggies can provide same nutrients as fresh at a lower cost
  • Great sources of protein: tuna, lentils, beans and peas
  • In the end, health care costs will be less expensive!

What weight loss claims have you encountered that isn’t listed in the table? Have any specific questions regarding weight loss claims you’ve heard that you’re not sure about? Ask away!


Healthy Fare for Kids


By: Nikki Nies hffklogotm

A year ago, the  Healthy Fare for Kids initiative was implemented, recognizing a need and opportunity to provide travelers more healthy airport food options. Partnered with the Premier Restaurant Group, this collaboration has arranged  at least 16 foodservice units to the Midway International Airport, Chicago, IL that are guaranteed to promote and sell healthier food options.  With more than 18 million people passing through the airport annually, this Healthy Fare for Kids initiative has been received positively.

The green Healthy Fare for Kids logo can be found on food options that have been deemed healthy.  The seal can be found on most grab and go containers in Concourse A & B and near baggage claim. Be on the lookout for the logo to appear on menu items as well!  More restaurants are joining the healthy initiative at a rapid pace, recognizing their role in creating healthy menu options–Miller’s Pub, Manny’s Express, Manny’s Deli, Harry Caray’s Seventh Inning Stretch, Tuscany Café, Sprigs, Landings,etc.

If you see the Healthy Fare for Kids logo, you can be guaranteed the food is antibiotic free, nonsugared beverages, using whole grain bread, smaller portions, less salt and omitting use of the deep fryer.

While I was walking through the arrivals, I saw a sign for Healthy Fare.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the strides being made to provide healthy food in the airport, which hasn’t always been known as a “healthy” place . Next time you’re at Chicago Midway International Airport, look for the green logo on menu boards and grab and go containers.  Check out your local airports to see what programs they have in the works and/or currently providing nutritious food options.


Forks Over Knives

By: Nikki Nies url

Forks over Knives is a 2011 American documentary directed by Lee Fulkerson.  It examines if a low fat, plant based diet can provide reversible effects or delay the progression of on certain chronic diseases.

It hypothesizes by rejecting animal based and processed foods, we can start to live a more clean life.  This documentary looks at the work of researchers Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

The concept of using food as medicine is put to the test, with heart disease and diabetic patients used in trials. The two doctors teach patients how to use whole foods as a source of treating ailments.

Check out the official trailer to spark your interest and then get your hands on the documentary!


The Trouble With “Everything In Moderation”

The Trouble With “Everything In Moderation”

I’ve got to admit, I’ve firmly believed in the concept of eating in moderation.  Yet, this article highlights the flaws with moderation.  I’m thoroughly impressed.