Healthy Pasta Alternatives

Original Image by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr
Original Image by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Love the taste of pasta, yet struggle to eat a balanced diet?  Switch up your meals with healthier pasta options and pair with your favorite vegetables and seasonings.Whether you’re trying to limit your refined carbohydrates and/or increase  whole grains and vegetable intake, by making some small changes, you can still enjoy some great tasting dishes!

Healthy Pasta Alternatives

  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Black bean spaghetti
  • Broccoli Slaw
  • Shredded cabbage
  • Soybean pasta
  • Sprouted wheatgrass
  • Farro pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Soba Noodles
  • Shirataki Noodles
Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Serves:8Ingredients:

  • 3 small heads cauliflower
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ c. heavy cream
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Chop cauliflower. Bring vegetable broth to a boil over medium-high heat and add cauliflower.  Cook until cauliflower is soft, ~15 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and saute 4-5 minutes or until soft.
  3. Transfer cauliflower to a blender with about 2 cups of broth. Add sautéed garlic, salt, nutmeg and black pepper and puree until smooth .Stream olive oil into blender and add more broth or water if too thick.
  4. When smooth, transfer back to butter/garlic skillet and add cream over low heat
Adapted from Pinch of Yum

Make It Yours: Cauliflower is an underutilized food in the kitchen, yet you should always have it on hand! Besides using as a healthy pasta alternative, use cauliflower to make pizza crust, cauliflower mash, replace chicken, cauliflower rice burrito bowl, cauliflower mac and cheese, cauliflower tots, cauliflower breads rolls, cauliflower calzones and/or baked breaded cauliflower “mozzarella” sticks.

Health Benefits of cauliflower:

Original Image by dollen via Flickr
Original Image by dollen via Flickr
  • Rich in fiber, which helps stay full longer and eases digestion
  • Folate rich to form red blood cells
  • Rich in vitamin C, which protects the immune system during cold and flu season
  • Rich in vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting
  • Full of potassium, which helps regulated blood pressure
  • Good source of manganese, which helps nerves function properly
  • Increases HDL cholesterol—“good” cholesterol à reduces risk of stroke
  • Has anti carcinogenic effects—antioxidant rich
  • Helps unborn babies develop properly
  • Low calorie
  • Fat free
  • Vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Improves healthy cell growth
  • Assists with kidney and bladder disorders
  • Blood and liver detoxifier

Customizing Pasta Alternatives: Now that you’ve ventured out and tried non grain pasta, don’t stop there! Add more color, flavor and nutrients to your meal with the addition of your favorite vegetables and seasonings: asparagus, broccoli or broccoli rabe, spinach, arugula, mushrooms, limes, carrots, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, corn, artichokes, pesto, garlic and/or onions.

What’re your favorite pasta add ins? Suggestions for how to make regular dishes more exciting?

Chocoholics Celebrate!

By: Nikki Nies

Chocolate has been tooted as a “healthy” indulgence.  Guys and gals clamor to their feet to celebrate such announcements! Before we get chokladahead of ourselves, I hate to burst your bubble, but I want to make sure every one knows why chocolate is healthy in moderation!

Chocolate derives from the cacao plant, which is flavanol rich phytochemical. Flavanols are a type of antioxidant rich flavonoids.  It’s important to note that not all types of chocolate have an equal distribution of flavonoids, with dark chocolate found to be the most antioxidant rich. Second best is unsweetened baking chocolate, which has the second most amount of flavanol content per serving.  Moreover, the more nonfat cocoa solids chocolate contains, the more antioxidants it has.

Nutrient Content of Chocolate: Cacao contains saturated fat, mostly in the form of stearic acid, which has been noted not to contribute to elevating cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated fat and palmitic fatty acid are also present.

The issue that comes up with chocolate is when “milk fat”,”coconut butter”, “coconut oil”, “palm oil” and/or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” are added.

Potential benefits of chocolate in moderation:

  • Reduce risk of heart attack, blood pressure, LDL oxidation, platelet clumping
  • May contain anti inflammatory properties
  • Increase insulin sensitivity
  • Improve arterial blood flow and/or chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Help resist cell damage

CocoaVia_Stickpacks_unsweetened_vertWith news of chocolate’s potential health benefits, companies have made efforts to provide more flavanol rich products.  Hershey’s has its own Cacao Reserve and CocoaVia by Mars has come out with its own line of flavanol rich dark chocolate!

Limit chocolate to no more than 15-30 grams of chocolate per day! Two Hershey kisses may not sound like much, but you don’t really need more than that to “taste” the goodness of chocolate!


Functional Foods

Functional-foods-at-the-forefront-of-innovation-and-adulteration-says-USP_strict_xxlBy: Nikki Nies

 As consumers, we’re always looking for the best deal, option and/or product that offers the most features or characteristics.  That type of decision making is strongly integrated in what people choose to consume and eat.  If you’re looking for foods to maximize the nutritional benefits, you may want to take a closer look at functional foods.  Specifically, functional foods are known to have the potential to offer a positive effect beyond basic nutrition.  Consumption of functional foods can not compensate for other poor eating habits.

Some foods are naturally considered functional, while others are modified to become more functional.  Foods are categorized as a conventional food (i.e. grains, nuts, vegetables and fruits), additives, modified foods (i.e. yogurt, cereal, and orange juice) , dietary supplement, medical food (i.e. special formulations of foods and beverages) or for specific dietary use (i.e. infant formula).  For example, oatmeal’s naturally a functional food that contains soluable fiber to lower cholesterol levels.  Orange juice is a modified functional food that is often fortified with calcium to improve bone health.

Suggested functional foods: Functional-Foods-300x232

  • Cold Water Fish: such as salmon and/or sardines, contain a good amount of omega 3 fatty acids–may lower overall risk of heart disease, reduce joint pain, improve brain development and function; recommended to consume at least eight ounces of fish per week
  • Whole grains: such as barley–a fiber rich food that can also lower one’s cholesterol levels and help control blood sugars.
  • Nuts: can help control blood sugars, cashews and almonds are also great sources of magnesium, which is known to lower one’s blood pressure
  • Beans: Potassium, fiber, protein and folate rich, beans are an all around optimal functional food! Opt for low sodium beans if you’re purchasing canned! By rinsing beans prior to consumption can also reduce sodium content by up to 40%
  • Berries: All types of berries are not only low in calories, but contain the pigment anthocyanin, which delays or prevents cell damage.

One may argue all foods provide a function, which is true, but in terms of what the health world considers functional may have a different connotation in mind.  Again, functional foods are praised for their additional benefits to promote optimal health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases–such as cancer or heart disease.  There is no standard definition that foods adhere to be considered functional, but the FDA regulates manufacturers’ claims regarding health and nutrition promotion, impact on body and/or nutrient content.

It takes a little bit of discernment to push through the bombardment of health and nutrition claims manufacturers confuse consumers with, but by incorporating more berries, beans, barley, nuts and/or salmon into your daily meals is a great start!


Watermelon… Magic Fruit?

Thanks Kelly for sharing these great watermelon tips!

Refreshing Summer Salad Dressings

By: Nicole Arcilla

Some of the greatest summer recipes out there are for salads — they’re light, refreshing, and cool. It’s just what you need for those summer get togethers, or even if you’re having a solo meal! But be careful what dressing you use — those cream based dressings, like ranch, can easily turn your salad to an unhealthy dish.
So how do you avoid it? Go with an oil and vinegar-based dressing instead! Here’s how these kinds of dressings can be healthier for you:
1. The oils used are typically high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. These are good fats to consume as they have protective effects, and can even combat the bad cholesterol in your body.
2. Depending on the spices you use, these oil and vinegar-based dressings can be low in sodium – a bonus feature for those with high blood pressure, and great for everyone in general.
3. It’s true that dark green leafy veggies are much healthier for you, but its nutrients, mainly iron, are not always accessible to your body. Adding something acidic, like vinegar or citrus fruits, can activate the iron so your body can absorb and use it properly.
There’s plenty of these out in the grocery store, but why not make it yourself and make your own uniquely flavored dressing recipe? Just follow these simple steps:
What salad recipe are you going to be showing off to your friends and family this summer?

Food & Drug Interactions

By: Nikki Nies

Medications are prescribed for everything from acute illnesses to helping with the healing of chronic diseases.  While the use of medications can become necessary, it’s important to know how and if drugs and food will interact with one another.  A food/drug interaction can occur when one of its components interferes with one of the drugs in the body.

There are 4 steps to drug action for medicines taken orally:

  1. Drug dissolves into useable form in stomach
  2. Drug is absorbed into blood and transported to its site of action
  3. Body responds to drug and drug is able to perform its intended function
  4. Drug is excreted from the body either by the kidneys, liver or both.

iron1Risk factors of a negative drug/food interaction may include nutritional status and/or number of medications taken at one time.  Drug absorption can be altered by food consumption.  Certain foods can block the absorption of drugs and interfere with the drug’s ability to complete its intended task.

While not every drug and food interaction is listed below, the chart provided is a great starting place to better understand what medications you’re taking and what precautions you should be aware of.

  Function Body’s response Interaction with Food
Analgesic (acetaminophen) Relieve pain Can cause stomach irritation; increases risk for liver toxicity Good to take with food; a full stomach lowers the risk of stomach irritation
Anticoagulant (i.e. warfarin) Slows the process of blood clotting Can decrease risk of strokes in patients whose blood tends to clot too easily Those taking anticoagulants should be consistent in the amount of vitamin K; important to avoid eating large amounts of foods high in vitamin K
Antacid/Acid Blocker Neutralize stomach acid; acid blockers reduce stomach acid production Regular use can lead to lower B12 absorption even more Can lead to nutrient deficiencies due to stomach acid’s important in the digestion and/or absorption of nutrients; older people produce less stomach stomach, which can lead to low absorption of B12; supplements may be needed
Anticonvulsant (i.e. Phenytoin, Phenobarbital and primidone) Helps control seizures Can decrease appetite; cause diarrhea Can decrease availability of many nutrients; increase the use of vitamin D in body—meaning less vitamin D is available for important functions (i.e. calcium absorption); some decrease folic acid levels; alcohol use can increase drowsiness
Antibiotic (i.e. tetracycline) Treat bacterial infections Pencillin and erthromycin are most effective when taken on an empty stomach due to being partially destroyed by stomach acid when taken with food Some decrease synthesis of vitamin K by bacteria normally found in intestines
Antifungal (Griseofulvin) Treats fungus Increases drug absorption Take with a high fat meal
Antihistamine (i.e. chlorepheniramine, diphenhydramine) Treat allergies Can cause drowsiness; can increase appetiteàweight gain
Antiinflammatory (Naproxen, ibuprofen) Chronic joint pain, headaches and arthritis Can lead to stomach irritation or ulcers; when taken with food or milk it can decrease GI irritation; alcohol can cause damage or stomach bleeding Should be taken with food; avoid alcohol
Diuretic (spironolactone, furosemide, HCTZ) Causes body to excrete more urine; used to treat high blood pressure and fluid build up Can increase urine losses of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium; limit mineral loss; decreases GI irritation May need to avoid or take mineral supplements; take with food
Laxative (Fibercon, Mitrolan) Increase movement of materials through digestive tract Increase fluid losses; can lead to dehydration Reduces the time for nutrient absorption; excessive use can deplete vitamins and minerals needed for normal bodily function
Blood Pressure Lowering Drugs Help control high blood pressure Can cause problems in controlling blood sugar Can negatively impact minerals such as potassium, calcium and zinc; natural licorice found in some candies can cause salt and water retention, which can increase blood pressure
Cancer Drugs (i.e. methotrexate) Used to treat different types of cancer Can irritate cells lining the mouth, stomach and intestines; can cause nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea Can impact nutrient status—methotrexate can reduce the availability of folic acid, may require supplementation
Mental Health Drugs Can treat depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions Can alter appetite; can impact weight in a significant matter Avoid alcohol with use as it can intensify drowsiness
Lipid Lowering Drugs (i.e. cholestyramine, lovastatin) Reduce blood cholesterol levels Can reduce the absorption of fat soluable vitamins, B12, folic acid and calcium; may be helpful to take a calcium or multivitamin supplement
MAIO Inhibitors (phenelzine, tranylcypromine) Decrease body’s use of monamines Can raise blood pressure levels Can interact with tyramine rich foods—i.e. aged and fermented foods, fava beans, Chianti wine, pickled herring

**It’s best not to drink grapefruit juice while taking medications as it enhances the absorption of some drugs. Wait at least 2 hrs. in between taking medications and drinking grapefruit juice** 

Have you had a particular experience or interaction when taking specific drugs or medications?  What has helped you?


Pros and Cons of Coffee Consumption

Pros and Cons of Coffee Consumption

Unfortunately, there are some cons to this ubiquitous aspect of many daily lives, mine included.



By: Nikki Nies

Pregnant women not only have to worry about eating well, fulfilling regular daily responsibilities, but also about long term health complications of baby and herself.  It’s a large load to ask of someone, but it’s almost a requirement for a healthy outcome for mother and baby.  Conditions, such as pre eclampsia and eclampsia are preventable, yet are necessary to understand if pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Formerly known as toxemia, preclampsia is like pre-diabetes.  One hasn’t been diagnosed with pre eclampsia, but red flags emerged. I’m into my second paragraph and have yet to define preeclampsia.  No worries.  Preeclampsia is when a women develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy (between the 2nd and 3rd trimester).

The specific cause of preeclampsia is not conclusive, but may be due to diet, genes, autoimmune disorder and/or blood vessel problems.  Additional risk factors include being one’s first pregnancy, obesity, over the age of 35, multiple pregnancy–twins, triplets, etc.; and/or a history of high blood pressure, kidney disease or a history of heart disease.

Symptoms of preeclampsia include: preeclampsia-pih

  • Swelling [edema] of extremities
  • Sudden weight gain within 1-2 weeks
  • Chronic headache
  • Irritability
  • Decreased urine output
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision change
  • Abdomen pain
  • Proteinuria

Proteins are normally confined to one’s blood, but with proteinuria, proteins entire one’s urine due to the lack of “filtering” of urine.

A physician will check one’s blood pressure for indications of preeclampsia.  Blood and urine tests may show proteinuria, higher than normal liver enzymes and/or platelet count with less than 100,000.


  •  The only true cure is the delivery of one’s baby–c section or medications may be used to induce labor
  • If delivery is not impending, it may be recommended to consume less salt, bed rest, plenty of water, medications to lower blood pressure and/or frequent visits for monitoring by physician.

Hopefully, preeclampsia will go away within 6 weeks of delivery.  With future pregnancies, the likelihood of preeclampsia increases dramatically.  Complications from preeclampsia can include severe bleeding, premature separation of placenta, stroke, rupture of liver and/or death.


Nursing Care Plan – Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH; Preeclampsia and Eclampsia)

Metabolic Syndrome (MetS)

Original Image by U.S. Army via Flickr
Original Image by U.S. Army via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Metabolic syndrome is not an actual syndrome, but a cluster of risk factors that can raise one’s chances of heart disease, diabetes and/or stroke.  While, the name may be misleading, it’s called metabolic syndrome due to the impact the risk factors have on one’s biochemical processes and the ability for one’s body to function normally.  Other common names for MetS include Syndrome X, Obesity syndrome, insulin resistance syndrome, hypertriglyceridimic waist and/or dysmetabolic syndrome.

While one can have only one of the following risk factors, it’s common for someone to encounter multiple risk factors simultaneously.  One’s considered to have metabolic syndrome if at least 3/5 risk factors pertain to them:

  1. Large waistline:  Also known as “apple shape”; with abdominal obesity, excess fat in the abdominal area increases chances of heart disease, then on hips; for men: 40 inches or larger; for women: 35 inches or larger
  2. High triglyceride levels:  Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood; or if you’re already on triglyceride medications; 150 mg/dL or higher
  3. Low HDL cholesterol level:  When low HDL levels are low, it means the cholesterol from arteries isn’t being removed at ideal rate;for men: 40 mg/dL or lower; for women: 50 mg/dL or lower
  4. High blood pressure: With high blood pressure over time, it can damage the heart and lead to plaque buildup; blood pressure of 135/85 mm Hg or higher
  5. High fasting blood sugar:  Can signify early diabetes; 100 mg/dL or higher

For those living with MetS, it can lead to diabetes, yet the follow recommendations for those with MetS may help:

Original Image by Department of Foreign Affairs via Flickr
Original Image by Department of Foreign Affairs via Flickr
  • Increase  physical activity: while it may be hard at first, start by walking 5 minutes a day and increase time gradually; it’s doctor recommended to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily
  • Losing 5-10% of your body weight can make a world of difference! It can decrease blood pressure, insulin resistance and one’s risk for diabetes
  • Adopting the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet or Mediterranean diet can help one eat healthier: limits intake of unhealthy fats, while highlighting whole grains, high intake of fruits and vegetables and low sodium foods
  • Stop smoking!: Smoking increases one’s insulin resistance and
  • If prescribed, don’t forget to necessary medications to help control blood pressure and cholesterol levels

The more risk factors one has, for example, 4/5 risk factors, the more likely one will develop heart disease and or develop diabetes than someone who doesn’t have metabolic syndrome.  While the above risk factors are often looked at as indicators of heart disease, they’re not the sole risk factors, physical inactivity, smoking, insulin resistance, age and gender can also play a role in one’s heart health.  With 35% of the American adults with MetS, be proactive and talk to your physician.


Let’s Be Heart Healthy!

By: Nikki Nies

Maintaining one’s health requires a healthy heart.  While the concept is simple, achieving the goal is not always as easy.  With heart disease the #1 leading cause of death, review of healthy habits is never too repetitive.

While change can be hard, the key is to make small, gradual changes to ensure they become permanent, small changes. The following suggestions are geared towards healthier habits for everyone: Heart-Healthy1

  • Being aware of portion size: overloading and overeating can quickly cause one to eat more than intended, including fat and cholesterol; keep track of the number of servings consumed and realize restaurants often serve more than 1 serving
  • Replace high fat foods with more fruits and vegetables: they can be eaten as a snack as well as a major portion of your daily meals; be aware of fried, canned and processed fruits and  vegetables, which are often high in added sugars and sodium
  • Whole grains: Replace refined grains with whole grains; in addition to being fiber packed, they can regulate blood pressure; want to mix it up, try couscous, quinoa, barley and/or high fiber cereal
  • Limit saturated fat and trans fat: Will lower risk of coronary artery disease and keep cholesterol levels in check; can lead to artherosclerosis, which is the hardening of one’s arteries and can increase risk of a heart attack and/or stroke; recommended to limit saturated fat to less than 7% of daily diet/14 g per day of a 2000 calorie diet; limit trans fat to less than 1% of a 2000 calorie diet
  •  Choose low fat protein sources: Opt for lean meat, egg whites, egg substitutes,legumes, poultry and fish
  • Dept. of Agriculture recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2300 mg daily for healthy individuals:  Those 51 or older, African Americans and/or those with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes should limit intake to 1500 mg/day
  • Don’t completely eliminate: With elimination of certain foods, you’ll crave it more and end up overeating and feel bad about it; allow yourself the occasional indulgence and don’t feel guilty about it!
  • Plan ahead: If possible, plan menus of your meals ahead of time, which will decrease likelihood of succumbing to take out or last minute unhealthy food choices

Which of these tips are you most willing to add into your life?  What barriers aren’t allowing you to achieve your best self?  What tips have helped you in the past that you want to start again?