Wheat Grass

Original Image by Anna via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Although modern day use of wheatgrass is associated with cleanses and clean eating, its use can be traced back to 5000 years ago in ancient Egypt. Urban legend has it that the ancient Egyptians viewed the leafy wheat grass as a positive effect on health and vitality. Wheat grass is derived from Triticum aestivum, whose above ground parts, roots and rhizome are used to make medicine. Since it’s concentrated with vitamin A,C, E, iron, calcium, magnesium and 17 amino acids, it’s considered a powerhouse of nutrients.

With a growth period of 7-14 days, it can be found all year round in stores. Raw wheatgrass can be stored in a container for 7-8 days. If you’re harvesting on kitchen window, it’s best to juice immediately.  Stay away from wheatgrass that has turned yellow.
Most commonly, wheatgrass is sold as tablets, frozen or fresh juice, powder concentrate, spray, cream, gel, massage lotion and/or as a liquid herbal supplement and is served as freeze dried or fresh. Like most plants, wheat grass contains amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Original Image by Ina Todoran via Flickr

Wheatgrass is commonly used to:

  • Increase the production of hemoglobin
  • Improve diabetes and wound healing
  • Improve digestion
  • Lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption
  • Prevent bacterial infections and tooth decay
  • Removal of cancer causing agents from the body and toxins from the liver and blood
  • Removal of drugs, heavy metals and cancer causing agents from the body
  • Removal of toxins from liver and blood
  • May help treat bladder, prostate and/or urethra infections, kidney stones
  • Used in irrigation therapy
  • Kill bacterial infections
  • Blood disorder beta-thalassemia–suggested that drinking wheat grass juice daily for 18 months can decrease the need for blood transfusions
  • Treat arthritis-since wheat grass contains chlorophyll, the chemical that’s responsible for the ‘green’ in plants and allows them to make energy via photosynthesis, it’s hypothesized use of wheat grass can treat arthritis
  • Respiratory complaints (e.g. common cold, bronchitis)
  • Ulcerative colitis-due to potential antioxidant and anti inflammatory activity.

Many find using wheat grass juice a quick way to get the nutrients. The thought is the health benefits are only extracted when it’s fresh an taken on an empty stomach right after extraction. You may also find wheat grass extract as a flavoring component.

However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of any of the aforementioned uses. It may cause nausea, headaches, hives or swelling of your throat. Wheatgrass is usually grown in soil or water and consumed raw, which means it could be contaminated with bacteria or mold.

Yet, if you’re up for using wheatgrass, one of the best, flavorful ways is via smoothies. Similar in taste to spinach or other leafy greens, it’s a great addition or substitution to any and all juices and drinks. Amazing Grass is a great starting place to try wheatgrass and tastes great in a pineapple coconut wheatgrass smoothie or strawberry wheatgrass smoothie. This statement comes from Incredible Smoothies.

Sources: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/wheatgrass/faq-20058018






How to Celebrate the Hot Commodity: Cheese

Original Image by Jules Morgan via Flickr
Original Image by Jules Morgan via Flickr


By: Nikki Nies

While the oldest record of cheese making was ~7500 years ago in an ancient cattle rearing town in present day Poland, with the help of the master cheese makers, the Romans, the spread of cheesemaking quickly permeated Europe under the watchful eye of monks.  Legend has it that like many great creations, the creation of cheese was sheer coincidence, when an Arabian merchant had stored his milk in a sheep’s stomach and then days later found the milk had separates into curds and whey.

Nowadays, the U.S. is the largest producer of cheese, producing >30% of world’s cheese. Yet, with such wealth of cheese, 4% of the world’s cheese is stolen annually, making cheese the #1 stolen food on Earth.

Original Image by wisconsincheese via Tumblr
Original Image by wisconsincheese via Tumblr

With over 1400 varieties of cheese around the world, below are some suggestions how to best celebrate 1/20 Cheese Lover’s Day:

  • Join Green Bay Packers football team in Wisconsin, USA, who wear yellow, wedge shaped hats
  • Search for tastings, cheese rolling, special restaurant menus, costume parties and/or cheese fondue parties near you. Personally, I’ll be checking out Scardello, a cheese shop that also doubles as a wine shop. Cheese mongers help pick out cheeses ranging from Roquefort to Stilton.
  • Eat a classic grilled cheese!
  • Learn about the different textures of cheeses, with the main varieties including:  fresh cheese (ricotta); soft cheese (feta); semi-soft cheese (Fontina); semi-hard cheese (Gouda); hard cheese (Cheddar); double or triple crème cheese (Brillat-Savarin); blue cheese (Gorgonzola); washed rind cheese (Limburger); and bloomy rind cheese (Brie). This statement comes from the Dallas Observer.
  • Visit the Vermont Cheese Council’s Vermont Cheese Trail, which has 40+ farms and creameries that specialize in producing 150+ cheeses from cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk. Learn more at Travel Channel 
  • Use 1 or all 5  favorite cheeses in America: cheddar, burrata, gouda, feta and mozzarella in tonight’s dinner (e.g. mac & cheese, fondue, pizza, lasagna, omelettes, quiches, casseroles or simply as is!)
  • Celebrate locally produced cheese by checking out the American Cheese Society’s list of local cheese companies.

Are you as surprised as I am that there are so many varieties of cheese from such simple ingredients? Yes, all cheese derives from curds, which are the bits of protein that is produced from soured milk, yet, variations in cultures and the addition of flavors (eg. added spices and mold) aids in the transformation of cheese from a simple combination of dairy and acid into many celebrating cheese on Cheese Lover’s Day!

Many wine connoisseurs have their favorite wine and cheese pairings. Do you have a go to pairing? What’s your favorite way to eat and/or use cheese? If you’re curious the origin of cheese from around the world? Check out this interactive map that shows exactly where cheese comes from!

Sources: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/arts-culture/celebrate-national-cheese-lovers-day-map-cheese-found-around-world-180953915/







Lacto Ovo vegeterians

Original Image by Meal Makeover Moms via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies


Lacto vegetarian (sometimes referred to as a lactarian; from the Latin root lact-, milk) diet is a vegetarian diet that includes dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ghee, cream, and kefir, but excludes eggs. Furthermore, this term is used to describe a vegetarian who does not eat eggs, but does eat dairy products. Many Hindu vegetarians are lacto-vegetarians who avoid eggs for religious reasons while continuing to eat dairy. The prefix “lacto” comes from the Latin word for milk

Some vegetarians eat a wide variety of foods that may include fish, eggs and even meat-based broths. Others are stricter and eat no animal products whatsoever, including honey and gelatin. Lacto vegetarians fall in the middle of the spectrum. They eat milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products, but they do not eat eggs or fish

The term “lacto vegetarian” comes from the Latin word lactis, meaning milk. Historically, many lacto vegetarians have followed religions that are widespread in the Far East, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, which incorporate nonviolence and respect for animals into their belief systems. In addition to avoiding meat, most lacto vegetarians avoid eggs because they are undeveloped embryos. A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats both eggs and dairy products.

Eating dairy products is the main factor that distinguishes lacto vegetarians from vegans. Lacto vegetarians eat milk and milk products, yogurt, cheese, butter and cream. However, they do not eat dairy products made with gelatin, such as some puddings and custards, because most gelatin contains pulverized animal hooves, bones or marrow. Lacto vegetarians also avoid dairy products containing animal-based rennet, a collection of enzymes that cheese-makers normally get from calves.

Additional foods that do not contain animal products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and plant-based proteins, make up the rest of a lacto vegetarian diet. Examples include citrus fruits, berries, root vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, wheat products, oats, corn, beans, legumes and soy products. According to the USDA, a lacto vegetarian diet that is balanced among all of those foods plus dairy items can help reduce risks of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other health problems.

Menu Plan

A lacto vegetarian menu plan can look a lot like a plan for a traditional vegetarian, but without the eggs. A sample breakfast might be oatmeal with milk and berries, a yogurt and granola parfait or a tofu vegetable scramble. Lacto vegetarian lunch options include a green salad with a side of tofu and fruit, meat-free chili or pasta with vegetables and olive oil. For dinner, lacto vegetarians might have a bean burrito, lentil soup with bread and salad or a vegetable curry with rice.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians may have higher blood cholesterol levels because of the eggs they eat, so choosing to follow a lacto vegetarian diet may improve heart health and encourage weight loss or healthy weight maintenance. According to a 2004 study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” self-identified lacto vegetarian women have a lower risk of overweight and obesity than women who eat meat. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic reports that all vegetarians tend to weigh less and consume fewer calories and fat grams than meat eaters.



Reflection of My Trip to Portugal!

12274517_10207885820967715_1973631066863427831_nBy: Nikki Nies

I was blessed with the opportunity with a last minute trip to Portugal. For the week that I was there, not only was I welcomed by all, but I truly enjoyed myself and walked away feeling I embraced the culture.

Yes, I had already traveled to Spain, the neighboring country to Portugal, this year, but the two ‘sibling’ sisters are quite different. Below are some of the ‘staple’ foods the Portuguese are proud to call their own and that are often found in their dishes.

  • Carob: a tropical pod that contains a sweet, edible pulp and inedible seeds; the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean; aka St. John’s bread and locust bean; at a 1:1 substitution ratio, carob can be a great replacement of cocoa powder if you don’t want the caffeine  or are out; carob can be found in chip, powder or flour form in supermarkets and is a great addition to cookies, breads, cakes, muffins and candies; 1 T of unsweetened carob powder contains 25 calories; 6 g carbohydrates; 0 g fat; no saturated fat or cholesterol. 1 T of unsweetened cocoa powder contains 12 calories; 1 g fat; 3 g carbohydrates; no saturated fat or cholesterol
  • Prunes: dried plum; able to remedy constipation, provide antioxidant protection, prevent pre-mature aging, promote cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of cancer and osteoporosis;
  • Figs: found in the traditional Algarve cake including carob and almonds as well;
  • Almonds: not only are almonds a staple product produced in Portugal, but they can be found in a lot of the traditional Portuguese dishes.
  • Quince:while similar in appearance to pears, quince is inedible when raw. Once it’s been cooked, quince can be eaten as is, baked in a tart, churned to make a sorbet or added to your breakfast parfait!
  • 12347803_10207901917010106_1340145769349103802_nSardines, Mackeral and fresh fish: I made a point to eat local fish at every meal! To my pleasant surprise, I had no complaints about any of the meals! The first night, I had a traditional seafood cataplana. A cataplana is a type of copper cookware  in the shape of two clamshells hinged at one end with the ability to clamp it sealed on the other side. Cataplanas are traditionally found in the Algave region.  Other nights, I tried black scabbard with a side of bananas and sea bream. Who knew fish and bananas would be such a great tasty combination? I certainly was amazed! My friend and I took a motorcycle tour around Portimao and this tour included tapas at Maria do Mar. I was hesitant to try the sardines sandwich presented to me, but I had to as to not be rude to the kind restaurant for having us. I’m glad I tried it! Unlike the canned sardines, these fresh sardines were delicious! If ever presented with fresh sardines again, I’ll be sure to grab a plate and dig in.
  • Oranges: since the oranges are as fresh as you can get, they must be eaten within days of purchase. Driving directly from the airport to hotel, I mentioned to my driver that I wanted oranges and he allowed me to stop and get a whole sack of oranges for 2.50(~$3). Thankfully, in the week that I had the oranges, only one of them went bad before I could eat them!
  • Coffee: like many other European countries, portions of coffee are quite small in comparison to what Americans are used to, there aren’t ‘sizes’ to choose from, besides espresso and ~8 fluid oz cup of coffee; Starbucks isn’t as ubiquitous as it is in America. I’ve started collecting Starbucks country mugs as a gift to my dad. When I arrived in Portugal, I looked up the closest Starbucks to my hotel and only found 3 Starbucks within a few hour radius. I’m not complaining! I’ve always enjoyed exploring local coffee shops more, so it was refreshing to see that Starbucks isn’t as big of a monopoly in Portugal as it is elsewhere! 12321628_10207901915970080_3049450991667226802_n

Unlike America, all of Portugal’s food is fresh and organic. I didn’t have any qualms about the quality of produce, with stalls and stalls of fresh fruits and vegetables beaming at me to be purchased. Like many other European countries, the Portuguese frequent the grocery markets more than once or twice a week, as they stock up on food on a regular basis. The quality of produce is superb, but without the preservatives or pesticides that we may be familiar with, much of the produce has to be used within days of purchase.

My friend learned the hard way that Portugal is not the place of frozen food or margherita pizza. When we went to the grocery store to stock up on breakfast foods for the week, she opted for empanadas, margherita pizza and fish sticks, yet, to her avail, none of these tasted what she thought they’d be. I guess it’s a good to know that you don’t go to Portugal for ready to eat foods, their food is so fresh and available, why would they invest their time and energy in producing locally made ready to eat foods?

Due to my own food preferences and exposure to Portugal, I’m sure there are other traditional foods I didn’t encounter, but for the most part, again, I walked away confident that I got a better idea of the traditional Portuguese food. If you’ve been to Portugal, what experiences and/or foods did you encounter that you have to share? I’d love to hear!

Sources: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/whole-story/advantages-carob