Health Tips When Traveling To China

China_table_settingBy: Nikki Nies

To truly immerse yourself in a culture, especially one that is far removed from your own is the true definition of traveling. Whether you travel to the exhilarating Machu Pichu or soak up the rays in Turks & Caicos, there’s one factor in vacation destinations that can be not be ignored, the food. Depending on one’s taste buds and food preferences, that can dictate travel excursions. No matter how much you   factor in food, China should be at the top of your list of travel destinations!

You should head to China with at few ideas of where you want to go and how to best enjoy the food. I have provided first hand tips of how to best eat in China.

With many carbohydrate sources, such as rice, noodles, steamed buns as entrées themselves or accompanying the entrees, it can be easy to carb overload. However,

  • Eat with chopsticks. Not only will it slow down intake, but locals will be more likely to give you menu and meal suggestions when they see you immersing in the culture
  • Try a bit of everything, but don’t eat everything. Having a couple bites can help limit overindulging while getting the exposure to different flavors
  • Cold beverages are deemed harmful to digestion of hot foods, so hot tea or hot water are served with meals. Tea is believed to help with the digestion of greasy foods
  • Food is often prepared and served on small plate, “family style”, be ready for direct pick up and communal eating

    Image by rayand
    Image by rayand
  • While China can be divided into 57 cuisine regions, below are some of the more popular regions:
    • Szechuan (Sichuan): known for spicy, hot flavor; uses a great mixture of poultry, pork, beef, fish, vegetables, tofu in combination with pepper and chili; fast frying is most commonly used method
    • Cantonese: characterized by tender, slightly sweet taste; sauces are often light and mellow, including hoisin, oyster, plum and sweet and sour sauce; often see spring onions, sugar, salt, rice wine, corn starch, vinegar and sesame oil used; garlic can be heavily used; prefer stewing, sautéing or braising food, which helps to preserve the flavor
    • Hunan: “land of fish and rice”; fresh vegetables cooked “al dente”; favors steaming, stir frying, smoking and sautéing; special seasonings include soy sauce, tea seed oil, Chinese red pepper, fennel and cassia bark and spicy oil
    • Jiangsu: moderate saltiness and sweetness; places emphasis on the making of soups; abundant in freshwater fish and seafood from the Yangtze River and Yellow Sea
  • Desserts less common, with sweet foods introduced during meal. For example, basifruit, sizzling sugar syrup coated fruits are eaten with other savory foods
    • Beware, there are fried desserts that incorporate red bean paste
    • If dessert is served at the end of the meal, often times it is fresh fruit
  • Soup is often served at the end of the meal to satiate appetite

For any of you that have traveled to China, what other tips can you share? It’s hard to give specific “restaurant recommendations” as a lot of the great food is on the street kiosks and depending on what flavors you’re looking to try! Remember, when traveling, go in with an open mind and have fun! What regional cuisines are must eats for you


The Forgotten Health Benefits of Chinese Food

Crohn’s Disease

crohns-disease-comparisonBy: Nikki Nies

I’ve talked about other gastrointestinal (GI) diseases before and the potential benefits of being on a Gluten Free diet or FODMAPS. However, I don’t want to be mistaken for writing as if these GI issues are somehow not worth noting the disparities.

I wanted to write about Crohn’s Disease as A) of all the GI diseases I’m least familiar with the root cause and treatment B) I try to take advantage of the opportunity to write on this blog to share awareness of GI issues with the public, but most importantly C) there’s a member of my campus ministry that has Crohn’s Disease.  I often don’t see him at our weekly devotionals due to his Crohn’s acting up, I was glad to see him these past few weeks, which means he’s obviously feeling well enough to be in public.  I went to hug him and he grimaced as I pulled away.  I felt bad because I could tell I had accidentally hurt him with my hug.

Of course, my hug was unintentionally painful.  I  had assumed his small stature was due to his inability to keep “food down”, but that was just an assumption and I wanted and needed to know the true story of Crohn’s.

So, as you can imagine this topic is new to me so as I write, I’m learning with you as well!

In 1932, Crohn’s Disease was first described by Dr. Burrill Crohn.  Crohn’s Disease belongs to the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), similar, but not the same as ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is restricted to inflammation in the large intestine.  Specifically, Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and can include the entire thickness of the bowel wall. GIT is everything from the mouth and anus.

Specific causes of Crohn’s is not entirely clear, but it has been found that one’s genetics, environment, diet and stress can play a role in the development.  Since Crohn’s Ddisease can impact any part of GIT, the symptoms are few and far between.  However, some common symptoms include: stages-of-crohns-disease-chart

  • Persistent Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Urgent need to move bowels
  • Abdominal cramps and pain
  • Sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • Constipation, which can lead to bowel obstruction
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite**
  • Weight Loss**
  • Fatigue
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of normal menstrual cycle

For a complete, thorough diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease, make sure to consult your primary care physician and/or obtain an endoscopy,small intestinal imaging, chromoendoscopy, or biopsy.  In cases of severe circumstances, tears, also known as fissures, in the lining of the anus may cause intense pain and/or bleeding.  Moreover, fistula, which are tunnels that lead from one of intestine to another or connects to bladder, vagina or skin.  If this occurs, it requires immediate medical attention!

As a chronic disease, Crohn’s Disease requires continuous care and understanding that ‘flare ups’ may occur exacerbating some symptoms.  One of the treatment options is to limit the amount of irritation and stress one places on the GIT.  This means adopting a GI Soft Bland Diet may play a critical role in the maintenance and prevention of flare ups! Be on the look out for a follow up post regarding what a GI Soft Bland Diet entails!

Do you or a loved one have Crohn’s Disease, what habits have you adapted?  What have you learned over the course of your journey with Crohn’s Disease?

Photo Credit: Bio News


High Fiber Musts

By: Nikki Nies

High fiber diets are always tooted as a lifestyle must! What does high fiber mean, you ask? It means consuming a diet of at least 21-25 g of fiber for women and 30-38 grams of fiber for men.  If meal planning isn’t part of your daily routine, it’s easy to let the days go by and not fulfill the daily fiber recommendations.  Gradually increase your fiber intake as a quick surge in fiber can lead to bloating and gas.

The best way to consume a high fiber diet is to eat more foods that have a higher fiber content! Can you guess what tops the list of the highest fibrous foods per serving?


  1. Corn bran, raw: 1 oz.=22 g of fiber
  2. Navy beans or white beans: 1 cup=19 g of fiber
  3. Yellow beans, cooked: 1 cup=18 g of fiber
  4. Adzuki, French, or black turtle soup beans: 1 cup=17 g of fiber
  5. Split peas, cooked: 1 cup=16.3 g of fiber
  6. Kidney or cranberry beans: 1 cup=16.0 g of fiber 
  7. Mung or pinto beans: 1 cup=15 g of fiber high-fiber-diet
  8. Lentils, cooked: 1 cup=15.6 g of fiber
  9. Black beans: 1 cup=15.0 g of fiber
  10. Oat or wheat bran, raw: 1 oz.=12.0 g of fiber
  11. Lima beans: 1 cup=13.2 g of fiber
  12. Baked beans, vegetarian, canned, cooked:1 cup=10.4 g of fiber
  13. Artichoke, cooked: medium=10.3 g of fiber
  14. Green peas, cooked: 1 cup=8.8 g of fiber
  15. Raspberries: 1 cup=8 g of fiber

A high fiber diet + adequate fluid intake is the right combination for smoother digestion, lower one’s risk of obesity, heart disease and/or cancer.  Furthermore, since fiber isn’t digested, it moves through the body quickly, helping to aid in constipation.

Have you added more fiber into your daily diet?  What changes have you seen accompany these fibrous additions?



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. 


Starchy Vegetables

By: Nikki Nies

 As one of the main sources of sugar, starchy vegetables need to be limited, with more emphasis on nonstarchy. The positive, starchy vegetables are used to provide fuel to all aspects of the body, specifically sound digestion and energy production.  Too much of starchy vegetables can lead to elevated blood glucose levels.

Starchy vegetables are denser in calories than nonstarchy vegetables and are a great source of fiber.  Specifically fiber, can help remove waste from the body, keep one fuller longer, maintains stable blood sugar levels and can promote healthy cholesterol levels. For example, 1 cup of canned pumpkin can provide 7 grams of fiber while sweet potatoes contain 6 grams of fiber.

Compared to nonstarchy vegetables, starchy vegetables are carbohydrate rich and contain a high amount of sugar.  High starch vegetables include plantains, corn peas, sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, turnips, parsnips, green beans, kidney beans, yams, potatoes, butternut and squash.starchyveg300

The goal isn’t to completely eliminate starchy vegetables from one’s diet, but to be more aware of what vegetables have a high starch content.  The best sources don’t include added fat, sodium and/or sugar.


Timing’s Everything

Original Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr
Original Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Timing’s everything they say, huh? Well, that saying might ring more true than you think.  As with everything, take suggestions with a grain of salt, but many of these suggested times provide sensible explanations.

  1. 2PM–nap time: a 20 minute nap should boost your alertness for several hours; if you limit intake of caffeine to 1-2 cups/day, caffeine can kick in immensely
  2. Follow regular sleep schedule–Those that get at least 7 hours per night, are less likely to be obese or gain weight; with a  regular schedule it keeps one’s biological on track; those with irregular sleep patterns have been found to have emotional, health, digestive problems, heart disease and/or cancer
  3. Eat dinner 3 hours before sleep–creates more efficient digestion
  4. Take mulitvitamin with meals–better absorption when taken with meal; limit chance of upset stomach
  5. Take birth control or heart pills at night–if nausea is common, you’ll sleep through this common side effect;it’ll still be 30-50% effective when you rise in morning,which is the most common time for heart attacks and strokes; maximize lipid lowering ability by taking at night
  6. Cardio in the morning: fewer distractions in the morning; worse comes to worse you can reschedule for later in the day if needed; air pollution outside’s lowest in the morning; boosts brain activity for the rest of the day
  7. 4-6PM–learn a new sport a skill: hand eye coordination is highest then; will help you sleep better later
  8. January or June: Best time to join a gym; with the New Year, often times discounts or reduced enrollment fees; June’s a great time to join as there’s sometimes incentives to join during vacation season
  9. Start a diet in June: Being outdoors usually indicates more weight loss with increased movement; seasonal fruits and vegetables at hand to be taken advantage
  10. Within hour of drinking sports drink: brush your teeth as the acidity can erode your teeth
  11. Get a root canal after 2PM: pain meds last usually 8-10 hours, so you’ll be good to go until bedtime
  12. Head to toe examination in December: you’ll be less likely to be tan, so there will be a higher contrast in your pigments and lesions.  Doctor will better be able to pick out any suspicious remarks.

What tips are you planning to incorporate into your daily living? Doesn’t hurt to try, does it?


Flock Over to Flaxseed!

Original Image by Alisha Vargas via Flickr
Original Image by Alisha Vargas via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

So flaxseed went through it’s fair share of hot item advertising and it’s proven to not only be a hot ticket item, but it’s worth among health professionals. My mentor, Nicole Hallissey, RD recommends it to a lot of clients and she uses it frequently herself.  I’ve honestly never used it myself, but from a health professional standpoint, I was interested to see what the benefits and history of flaxseed are.

To start, let me explain the backstory of flaxseed.  This seed derives from Babylonian times as far back as 3000 B.C.

In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it

The two most common types of flaxseed are golden and brown flax. The difference between the two kinds of flaxs is in one aspect of the composition, however, it’s hard to track it down exactly.


Original Image by Miia Sample via Flickr
Original Image by Miia Sample via Flickr
  • Found in many sources of food—everything from smoothies, ice cream, bread, muffins, cereal, waffles and/or oatmeal
  • Feed all those chickens that are laying eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids
  • Source of energy producing vitamin B1
  • Contains free radical scavenging manganese
  • Great source of vitamin E, which is a lipid soluable antioxidant
  • Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, like oleic acid
  • Source of magnesium, phosphorus and copper
  • Healthy components:
    • Lignans: contain estrogen and antoxidants; can reduce inflammation;
    • Fiber: insoluable and soluable
    • Omega 3 fatty acids: promotes heart healthy; every 1 tablespoon contains 1.8 g of omega 3 fatty acids; considered good fatsGealthy components
  • Can reduce risk of cancer and heart disease
  • Great “mucilage” content: can provide special support to the intestinal tract
  • Helps delay digestive emptying
  • Steady passage of foods throughout intestines
  • High antioxident content
  • Versatile “condiment”—can be sprinkled on, added in and/or thrown in

So add this great food to your grocery list and be on the look out for it when you’re at your local supermarket.  However, those that are pregnant, breastfeeding and/or have kidney problems should refrain from consuming flaxseed as research studies are concurrently inconclusive on the impact on these populations.  Also, some have complained of flatulence and bloating in regards to consumption.  Consuming 1-2 tablespoons daily is highly recommended.

Using the website listed below, there’s some great tips on what to be on the look out in regards to flaxseed and the difference between what’s provided in varying mediums.

Fun fact:  Globally, flax seed is commonly referred as “linseed” because of its common occurrence in sails, bowstrings and body armor.


Alcohol 101

Original Image by Lindsey G via Flickr
Original Image by Lindsey G via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

The consumption of alcohol (ETOH) has become a regular factor of American life. Whether it’s drinking a nice cold beer after a long day’s work, socializing with friends over wine and cheese or the customary blow out for one’s 21st birthday. The fact is, alcohol consumption is associated with relaxing and fun.

I’m sure you’ve heard you shouldn’t drink your calories and it sounds silly for me to say, but that includes alcoholic beverages as well. I’ve become so dependent on nutrition fact labels that if it’s there, I can’t help but look. However, how many of you know what the recommended consumption of wine and liquor is? When you’re out with friends are you counting the amount of calories and/or sugar content? No, you’re out to have a good time.

I have to admit my nutrition interest has seeped into other realms of my life. Last Wednesday I was out with my friend chilling at the local bar and she kept asking me why I wasn’t drinking the beer, saying she wished she knew I didn’t like Coors Light. I was too embarrassed to tell her, especially as a non nutrition major, that I couldn’t help, but wonder how many calories and grams of sugar I consuming with the beer and Long Island Iced Tea she ordered. Of course, I could’ve pulled that info up on my iPhone, but part of me didn’t want to know at the time.

I recently heard one should allot 10% of their calories to whatever pleasures they want. So, if one’s on a 2000 calorie diet, allotting 200 calories to whatever treats is allowed. I should be consuming around 1600 calories so the number of discretionary calories for me is less than 200 calories, however, without even looking up the nutrition facts I knew I’d be over my recommended caloric intake if I drank all the beer.

Different liquors have varying alcohol content. In fact, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer – about 85% as much.

I don’t value beer or alcohol as highly as my fellow college students. I would rather spend my discretionary calories on sweets. Yes, I know alcohol’s a form of sugar. For the future and to be more aware of my surroundings, I’ve created a cheat sheet of customary alcoholic beverages, how much one REALLY is consuming. These numbers might make you think again when ordering your next drink. How many of you only have one? It’s hard, right?

Calories Amount Grams of alcohol Mg of Potassium Gram of OH Grams of total carbohydrates Grams of sugar Mg of sodium
Vodka, 80 proof 96 1.5 fluid oz. 13.9 0.4 13.9
Vodka, 100 proof 123 1.5 fluid oz. 0.8 17.7
Red Wine, burgundy 127 5 fluid oz. 15.2 5.5
White wine, 10% alcohol 121 5.2 oz. 105.1 15.2 3.8 1.4 7
Tequila, 80 proof 96 1.5 fluid oz. 0.8 13.9
Whiskey, 80 proof 96 1.5 fluid oz. 0.8 13.9
Vodka tonic, no lemon or lime wedge 169 8.5 fluid oz. 13.4 18.8 18.8 26
Champagne 78 4.1 fluid oz. 10.3 1.2
White wine, Riesling, 9.5% alcohol 120 5 fluid oz. 14.1 5.5
Bloody Mary 125 10 fluid oz. 13.2 6.8 5.1 461
Margarita 153 3.3 fluid oz. 17.7 7 4.3 583
Gin; 80 proof 96 1.5 fluid oz. 0.8 13.9
Sugar free Red Bull and vodka 74 1 fluid oz. of vodka; 1 can of Red Bull 2.9 197
Smirnoff Vodka; red label; 40% 97 1.5 fluid oz.; shot 13.9
Kahlua; 20% alcohol 91 1 fluid oz. 14.7 4.6 3

I really like this chart and breakdown on different wines.


Last, but not least, a little alcohol’s fine in moderation. What’s moderation? A standard drink’s considered on that contains 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to:


For men, moderate drinking’s considered two drinks daily daily, while for women it’s considered one drink a day.

Overconsumption of alcoholic drinks can cause nutritional risk and lifelong damage to one’s liver.

Impact of alcohol on one’s life:

  • Alcohol and body composition:
    • Incorporating alcohol in one’s diet can lead to obesity
    • Drinking instead of regular dietary intake can cause muscle loss or protein malnutrition
    • Men that drink 2 or more drinks are found to have higher BMI than their nondrinking counterparts
    • Higher incidence of drinking may result or be in addition to problematic eating behaviors
  • Alcohol and digestion:
    • Chronic consumption impairs pancreatic endocrine function and/or pancreatic enzyme secretion, furthering to fat and/or protein malabsorption
    • Common side effect: insulin resistance, causing energy store depletion and impaired glycogen formation
    • Excessive lactic acid production can occur because of anaerobic energy production
  • Alcohol and nutrients:
    • Alcohol consumption cab lead to impaired amino acid uptake and protein synthesis in liver
    • Increased protein oxidation due to cell regeneration
    • Leptin can be increased, which is pro-inflammatory and decreases appetite
    • Uptake of folate, vitamin B6, B1 and vitamin A may be decreased with alcohol
    • Common deficiency among drinkers: folic acid deficiency because of increased demand for nucleic acids needed for regeneration of injured liver cells
    • Alcohol’s an antagonists of vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B3 and vitamin K
  • Alcohol and tolerance
    • Alcohol metabolism converts LADH to other oxidizing system, which increases alcohol tolerance and lowers caloric output
  • Alcohol and hormones
    • Alcohol’s a strong mediator of sex hormones
    • i.e. ethanol—a testicular toxin, which coverts testosterone to estrogen
    • men may develop infertility, gonadal atrophy, feminization
    • Abusers tend to have lower LH and FSH levels
  • Alcohol and heart disease and oxidative stress
    • Moderate consumption’s been seen to have the lowest mortality rate
    • Often seen that moderate consumption of alcohol often consume moderately in other aspects of their lives


Photo Credit: NIAAA, Wine Folly and NBC News