Original Image by THOR via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Prebiotics are not synonymous with probiotics. While probiotics are the healthy bacteria found in cultured dairy foods, prebiotics are fermentable fibers that helps feed healthy bacteria in the gut. The healthy bacteria that live in the intestines use the prebiotics as a source of fuel. Prebiotics have been noted to help alleviate bouts of diarrhea, aiding in healthy bowel function and improving one’s immune system.  In addition, prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that allow probiotics to flourish.

Good sources of Prebiotics:

  • Fruits-berries and bananas
  • Vegetables: Garlic, artichokes, onions and some greens
  • Grains: flax, legumes, barley and whole grains, like oatmeal
  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem artichokes

There are no specific guidelines as to how many grams of prebiotics we need to consume, but some research suggests between 3-8 grams per day.

Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not influenced by heat, cold, acid or die with time. When prebiotics and probiotics are combined, they form a synbiotic. Synbiotics include yogurt and kefir, which are fermented dairy products that contain live bacteria.  Therefore, thankfully, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to obtain prebiotics in your meals! Who doesn’t love a great meal of oatmeal, berries and bananas?!

Photo Credit:eHealth101


Complementary Proteins

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Liz Mc via Flickr
Original Image by Liz Mc via Flickr

We all know there are simple and complex carbohydrates, but how many people are familiar with the different types of proteins? Yes, not all proteins are made the same! Complement proteins, made of amino acids, are those that come together to form a higher quality protein.  There are twenty amino acids, with ten considered essential to be obtained from the body as the body can not produce them. These include valine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, cysteine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, tryptophan, threonine and lysine. Limiting amino acids, such as cysteine, tryptophan, cysteine and methionine’s intake are monitored since if diet becomes too low in one of the amino acids, it will limit usefulness of other amino acids consumed. For example, while beans are high in lysine, they are low in methionine and cysteine.  While grains are high lysine, they are low in methionine and cysteine, making eating grains and beans at the same meal a great pairing, called complementary proteins.

A vegetarian requires complementary proteins from foods in order to obtain the complete package of essential amino acids. Vegetarians obtain their protein sources from vegetable sources, which do not always contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Besides soy protein, plant proteins are not complete protein sources.  Therefore, by pairing incomplete protein foods (i.e. beans and rice together), it forms complementary proteins and ensures one obtains enough of the limiting amino acids.

The best way to ensure you’re obtaining all necessary vitamins and minerals in your daily meals is to keep a variety of foods on hand.  Of course, protein can be found in beans, nuts, nut butters, peas and soy products.  Aside from all of the essential amino acids, people on a vegan diet also need adequate intake of iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B-12, which are found abundantly in animal foods. Leafy greens, dried fruits and fortified breakfast cereals will help you to add these important nutrients to the vegan diet.

While all animal proteins, soy and quinoa are complete proteins, other plant based proteins, such as whole grains, beans and nuts are incomplete, but when combined with other foods forms essential amino acid.  Legumes, such as peas, lentils, peanuts and beans, are great to eat when paired with whole grains. Some common combinations include black bean and corn salad with brown rice, split pea soup with barley, peanut butter on whole wheat toast and/or pinto beans in a whole wheat pita. Legumes provide an essential amino acid called lysine, which is low in many grains. Whole grains provide methionine and cysteine, which are low in legumes, or beans, peas, lentils and peanuts.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians may have an easier time pairing foods since they eat dairy and eggs, which are great sources of complete proteins. Haricot beans, lentil and rice

Suggested combinations:

  • Dairy and grains
  • Dairy and seeds
  • Dairy and legumes
  • Grains and seeds
  • Grains and legumes
  • Legumes and seeds

What food pairings work best in your life? What struggles have you found when pairing foods together?


Relationship Between Self-Efficacy and Performance

andresr226241-300x300By: Nikki Nies

Self-confidence is considered one of the most influential motivators and regulators of one’s actions in daily life. Repeatedly, studies show one’s perception of ability or self-confidence can be the deciding factor of outcomes.

Moreover, self-confidence is a judgment about one’s capabilities in achieving a goal. One’s level of confidence directs situations and actions taken, as the level of confidence can affect one’s ability to reach full potential. Self-confidence can not be thoroughly understood without talking about self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capacity to handle tasks. Level of self-efficacy is situational, as it measures one’s confidence level of a task at hand. Someone with high self-efficacy will have a more positive outlook on challenges, seeing difficult tasks as something to be mastered instead of to be avoided.

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by Anthony Bandura, with the belief that one can control successful events is related to emotional well being, successful coping, health behaviors and better performance on cognitive tasks and good health. One’s self-efficacy can be enhanced by past successful performance (s), vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion and emotional arousal (psychological state). Those with high levels of self-efficacy may approach troubling situations as a challenging goal and a maintain strong commitment to overcome an obstacle. Failure is attributed to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge, but skillset is still attainable. Furthermore, observation of others performing activities successfully can lead one to believe carrying out the activity will be successful.

The power of persuasion, whether internally or from third party convincing, can also increase one’s self efficacy that success can be achieved.   Again, one’s emotional state can influence self-efficacy judgments, such as one’s anxiety leading to negative judgments of one’s ability to achieve a task. “Choking”, a physical response, possibly short breathing and muscles tighten, to perceived psychological situations usually manifest in response to a perceived situation or fear of performance. One’s level of fear is often related to past perceived negative experiences, making it harder to envision overcoming a task in the future.

In other terms, one’s psychological state can affect performance, with stress and mood impairing performance. For example, in a study led by Aronson et al., 1999, when white males were told prior to an exam that there was a stereotype that Asian students outperform whites in math, the math proficient males did significantly worse than those students that were not told the same stereotype. Studies show that those with positive induced moods show faster response times than those with negative induced mood.

Self-Efficacy-Fotolia_16051214_S-570x494What proactive tasks can you do today to improve your self-efficacy? While self-efficacy beliefs start forming in childhood, the development continues throughout life and is shaped by experiences. It’s not too late to develop self-efficacy beliefs:

  • Face challenges head on. Avoiding tasks can undermine or weaken self-efficacy
  • Focus more on the successful experiences as those examples lead to greater feelings of self-efficacy
  • Observe those that are similar to you: By observing someone else perform a task or handle a situation can help you perform same task by imitation. This will increase your beliefs that you can master the activity.
  • Welcome constructive feedback as it can help overcome self-doubt.
  • Be receptive to encouragement and praise, as it can convince you to perform a task and increases belief that you are more capable of performing a task
  • Learn how to best diminish and cope with anxiety and nervousness, as it can increase self-efficacy. These emotional reactions can lead doubt to creep in and weaken level of self-efficacy.

While one’s self-efficacy is an ongoing process of mood and confidence, belief is half of the battle of achieving what you want. How is your level of self-efficacy? Where do you stand?

Photo Credit: Clarion Enterprises and Better Patient Engagement


Community Food Security Initiative

food5By: Nikki Nies

Food security is the access to sufficient food for an active, healthy life.  Community Food Security Initiative (CFSI) is the development of sustainable, community based strategies to ensure all have access to culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate food at all times.  By rescuing food that would otherwise go to the waste side, food recovery programs can provide nutritious meals, protect the environment and save money.

Food rescue programs are involved in gathering leftover fresh and non-perishable food from restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, and cafeterias. Strategies to strengthen local food systems: url

  1. Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands: increases access to fresh produce; support regional farmers; rewards sense of community;
  2. Food Recovery and Gleaning Programs: collect excess wholesome foods that would be otherwise thrown away (i.e. farms, packing houses, caterers, cafeterias and restaurants) for delivery to hungry people
  3. Prepared and Perishable Food Programs (PPFPs): nonprofit programs that link sources of unused, cooked and fresh foods with social service agencies that serve the hungry
  4. Throughout New York state, community and/or rooftop gardens have started “Grow an Extra Row” campaigns and “Seed and Seedling Distribution” programs that improve access to healthy food, offers skill and confidence building and food security
  5. Community Support Agriculture (CSA): offers usually organic produce out of the fields with affordable prices in comparison to grocery stores or distributors; some CSA accept Food Stamps or operate on a sliding scale
  6. Food Buying Clubs: when winter rolls around, food buying clubs are a great way to include variety in your meals all year round; produce is harvested and distributed to CSA members at neighborhood site weekly throughout the summer and fall; encourages participation from low income; bring many people together to cooperatively purchase food; traditionally “food share” costs members about 50% of price in traditional retail market; no eligibility or income requirement required for participation

Buying locally isn’t just for low income families, but for those that want to take a more proactive approach to the foods consumed. Locally grown food also supports small-scale farms and strengthens the local food supply! What initiatives have you seen occur at the local, state and federal level? What programs do you think could use improvement?

Photo Credit:Hungry Action NYS and NJ Family 



1400361914By: Nikki Nies

Happy Valentine’s Day! For all those that are celebrating this love filled Hallmark holiday, I hope you’re enjoying yourself! For those that are looking for other events and/or happy moments to celebrate, why not join me in celebrating Chinese New Year! As the Chinese say, 新年快樂 (xin nian kuai le!). While those that follow the Gregorian calendar have already celebrated the New Year as of January 1st, double dip in New Year’s, starting new healthy habits and/or learning about Chinese dietary customs during this time of celebration!

Since the Chinese use a lunar calendar, the festivities are also known as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year celebrations run from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the last day of the month of the Chines ecalendar, the Lantern Festival.  This means that celebrations often extend for more than two weeks, since the Lantern Festival is not until the 15th day of the first month.

With the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, between January 21 and February 20. This year it officially starts on February 19th, but like many holidays, preparations and celebrations may start well before that.  It is customary for families to thoroughly clean the house to sweep away any ill fortune.

Each New Year as a presiding animal zodiac, which rotate in a twelve year cycle-at, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, Rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal represents a year in a 12-year cycle, beginning on Chinese New Year’s Day. This year’s celebration is personally important to me as it’s the Year of the Sheep, which is “my year.”  What do I mean by “Year of the Sheep?”

The upcoming 2015 year of the Sheep is the inspiring period; it will try to leave behind any unstable affair and connections with the aim to carve a new more honest pattern of relations.

Chinese New Year Traditions:

  • 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. Each of the ten heavenly stems is associated with one of the 5 elements of Chinese astrology: Wood, Fire, Earth,Metal, and Water. The elements are rotated every other year
  • Yin and Yang association alternates yearly. i.e. Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc.
  • Eight individual dishes are served to reflect the belief of good fortune associated with the number eight. If there was a death in the family in the year prior, seven dishes are served.
  • Preceding days: on the eighth day of the lunar month, a traditional porridge is served in 201112311452057656remembrance of an ancient festival, called La. The women of the household at first light, offers to the family ancestors and household dieties. Laba garlic turns green from vinegar to create pickles. “La month” is similar to Christianity Advent.
  • On Chinese New Year’s Eve, many eat vegetarian
  • Biggest event is the “Reunion Dinner” on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Fish is often times served. Part of the fish will be saved overnight due to the phrase “may there be surpluses every year”
  • Garlic and preserved meat are saved for Chinese New Year’s Day
  • In northern China, dumplings (jiao zi, 餃子) are often served around midnight, as they symbolize wealth. Their shape resembles a Chinese sycee, a type of silver or gold ingot currency
  • In southern China, 粘 糕 (nian gao) is served, a glutinous new year cake. 粘 糕 literally translates as “New Year cake”, with a homophonous meaning of “increasingly prosperous year in and year out.”
  • eight-treasures-rice-cakeOther commonly eaten foods during the celebrations: 1) Eight Treasures Rice contains glutinous rice, walnuts, different colored dry fruit, raisins, sweet red bean paste, jujube dates, and almonds; 2) “Tang Yuan” – black sesame rice ball soup; or a Won Ton soup 3) Chicken, duck, fish and pork dishes 4) “Song Gao” translates to “loose cake”- which is made of rice which has been coarsely ground and then formed into a small, sweet round cake 5)“Jiu Niang Tang” – sweet wine-rice soup which contains small glutinous rice balls

If you love the pizazz that comes with lion dances, fireworks, family gatherings,lighting firecrackers, visiting friends, the exchange of giving money in red envelopes and/or hearty food, join me in celebrating Chinese New Year! I can’t wait to make dumplings, rice and just enjoy the start of a New Year! Again, 新年快樂!

Photo Credit: Open Clip Art,Celtnet and X Zone 

Food Sources:

Tofu Chocolate Pudding

IMG_9046By: Nikki Nies

I love experimenting with staple ingredients, challenging myself to use them in nontraditional ways. As a recent college graduate, I still have the budget conscious mindset. What have I learned over the past year? You can use pureed prunes in replacement of butter in desserts, by freezing bananas, you can prolong their use and when blended it makes a creamy, ice cream like texture. However, one of my favorite nontraditional uses of ingredients is tofu. Yes, I said tofu! While, I’ve used pureed tofu instead of ricotta cheese in lasagna, as someone who has a sweet tooth, I always gravitate to how I can make desserts healthier.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner and February filled with chocolate day celebrations, everything from Dark Chocolate Day on February 1st to Chocolate Mint Day on February 19th, it seemed fitting to experiment with tofu and chocolate. While pureed tofu and chocolate may not be the initial pairing, it works! They say that chocolate makes everything better, well I say chocolate and tofu makes dessert better! This is where tofu chocolate pudding comes in!

This dessert leaves you nutritionally satisfied and with only four ingredients, it can be made in minutes! By using chocolate chips, these tiny morsels can be the great sugar fix you need while also helping to lower blood pressure, improve satiety and improve blood circulation! Since tofu is a chameleon food, adapting to the flavors and ingredients it is paired with, it is perfect to combine chocolate! There is no need to use sugar to make pudding, as the chocolate chips are sweet enough!

Servings: 4


  • ¾-1 cup semi sweet morsel chocolate chips*
  • 1-2 T oil
  • 14 oz. silken tofu
  • ½ cup milk 


Place oil and chocolate chips on double boiler**, until all chocolate chips are melted. Heat the saucepan over low heat until it just begins to simmer, then turn off the stove and place the chocolate bowl over the water

Stir the chocolate frequently with a rubber spatula, once the outer edges start to melt.  When almost all of the chocolate is melted, life the top bowl from the saucepan and set it on the counter. Stir until it is shiny, smooth, and completely melted. Set aside.

IMG_9036Fold and place halved or fourths paper towels on cutting board to absorb moisture of tofu. Slice tofu to at least ½ inch thick slices. With ½ cup milk, puree tofu and melted chocolate in blender until smooth.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve pudding with shredded coconut, raspberries, walnuts and/or sprinkles. Enjoy

How did your pudding turn out? What modifications and/or toppings did you add to your pudding? I hope it’s as delicious and sweet as you are! Happy Valentine’s Day!

*Depending on how sweet of a pudding you aim for, use 3/4 to 1 cup of chocolate chips at your discretion.

IMG_9037**A double boiler is a bowl placed on top of a pan of simmering water. The bowl does not touch the water, but creates a seal with the bottom pan to trap the steam produced by the simmering water.. I don’t have a double boiler myself, but by placing a stainless steel bowl over a pot, I was able to make a makeshift double boiler.