How Fast Do Burgers Age?

By: Nikki Nies

J. Kenji López-Alt, a restaurant-trained chef and managing director of the blog Serious Eats, performed an experiment that explored why fast food burgers seem immortal presence of some special preservative in the meat or bun, high salt content in the burger, low moisture content, no mold spores ever coming into contact with the burger, or no air where the burger was prepared.

The burger was obviously cooked where there is air and mold spores are fairly omnipresent no matter where you go, but they would have been killed when the burger was cooked. Thus, the latter two hypotheses were quickly thrown out. The ingredient list for a McDonald’s bun isn’t much different from those bought at the store and the patties claim to be 100% beef, so there were no obvious preservatives that would inhibit mold. Still, hedecided to test the burgers from McDonald’s against some that he made in his kitchen.

Nine different burger combinations were made by mixing and matching the buns and patties from McDonald’s and from his kitchen. Some of his patties had added salt, while others did not, and he also varied the types of packaging. His hands never made direct contact with any of the burgers, which were all left in the open air.

More than three weeks later, the McDonald’s food hadn’t rotted, but neither had the homemade patties. The homemade patty with no added salt looked no different than the those with extra salt, indicating it wasn’t the causal factor.

The key appeared to be moisture levels. The burgers had each lost a quarter of their weight within the first week, indicating that they had dried out. Without moisture, the mold can’t grow. Since McDonald’s uses thin patties with a lot of surface area, they quickly dry out before they can start to rot. This is the entire principle behind beef jerky. A McDonald’s burger sealed in a plastic bag will be completely consumed with mold within a week.

As far as the Buzzfeed video goes, it’s possible that different burger joints use different patty thicknesses, or contain varied ingredients that add moisture, such as different types of cheese or condiments. Also, there’s no way to know if the burgers were sealed within the jars at the same time after purchase, or if some had been given more time to dry out than others. There wasn’t enough due diligence in this video to hail Burger King as haute cuisine and condemn McDonald’s as mysterious Frankenfood quite yet.

This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appropriate to eat fast food several times a week, either. Many drinks from McDonald’s far exceed the WHO’s new recommendation of 25 grams of sugar per day. Heck, a large chocolate shake has 120 grams all on its own. Additionally, most of their sandwiches and wraps make up over half of the recommended daily sodium levels, while medium fries are a quarter of the fat one should consume for the day.

If you want to hate fast food because you find the nutritional content objectionable, go right ahead. But criticize what it is, don’t speculate and fear monger about what it is not.


For Under $10, You Could Buy ALL This!

By: Nikki Nies

There’s a common argument that “healthy” food is too expensive to purchase on a regular basis and that dollar menu fast food restaurants and less nutrient dense foods (i.e. soda) is a deal that can’t be passed up.  However, I politely disagree.  I will let the following picture speak for itself!


As we all know, investing in one’s health is a long term relationship! So, grab those grabs in the produce aisle why don’t you!

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Healthy Eating in College

eating_healthy_in_college1By: Nikki Nies

With the impending semester upon us, it’s never too early to talk about healthy dining on campus.  While freshmen are often times required to buy a meal plan with tuition, those living in nearby apartments or are juggling school and home responsibilities, the stress of school can quickly get to students.  Unfortunately, the first habit to go is eating healthy.  Yet, it doesn’t make sense to opt for cheesy fries that don’t have as much energy producing qualities as a strawberry banana smoothie when the time crunch is really being felt!

I admit, I find myself eating on the go more often than not, but that doesn’t mean I’m going through McDonald’s drive thru or grabbing a Hot Pocket out of the microwave on my way out! With careful planning before the work load gets into the “meat” of things, you can set up your semester with some healthier options.

Planning ahead for upcoming semester, trimester or quarter, use the following suggestions for long term use:

  • Have a mini fridge in your dorm and/or access to fridge in apartment or suite for on the go breakfast items, such as a piece of fruit, yogurt,string cheese and/or pb&j  to store leftovers and to have produce on hand!
  • Opt for “healthier” options at fast food chains.  Order salads with dressings on the side, pizza with half the cheese, roast beef sandwich, sweet potato and/or fruit cup.  Limit the high fat, greasier options, such as French fries, fish sandwiches and/or fried chicken.
  • Monitor your sugar intake, which tend to quickly add up quickly.  Often times, coffee creamers, cookies, cocktails, cereals are packed with sugar.  Not sure how to check the sugar content? Here’s how to read a nutrition fact label.
  • Keep your room or apartment stocked with healthier snacks so you’re not tempted to head for the vending machines or order late night pizza.  Next time you’re at the grocery store, grab some pretzels, unbuttered popcorn, rice cakes, whole wheat crackers, hummus and/or granola.
  • Keep a reusable water bottle on hand!  It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day.  It’s common for people to mistake thirst for hunger, plus drinking regular bouts of water can keep you focused.
  • Take advantage of the dining hall’s salad bar! Fill up on fresh fruits and veggies, but go easy on the salad dressing!  Vegetables are very filling for few calories!cafeteria
  • Attempt to eat meals on a consistent basis.  Yes, college is known to be hectic and one may not always a have a set schedule, but eat when you’re hungry and avoid skipping meals as much as possible.
  • Recognize your body’s cues.  I understand it’s a lot easier said than done, but listen to your body as it tells you when it’s hungry and when it’s full.  No need to overeat, that’s what leftovers are for!
  • Recognize portion sizes and stick to them.  You often need less food than you think or may like to fill you up! You’ll let meals stretch longer, while sticking to the recommended portion sizes.
  • Limit alcohol intake.  Alcohol is packed with calories, but provides few nutrients.
  • If you’re going grocery shopping.  Mix it up! It’s easy to get bored eating the same meals day after day and to opt for late night pizza, but don’t give in!
  • Fill up on calcium. Just because you’ve graduated high school, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done growing.  Make sure to eat enough calcium rich foods to continue to prevent osteoporosis. You don’t have to be entirely dependent on milk for your calcium, so keep on hand low fat yogurt, green leafy vegetables and/or low fat cheese
  • If you’re out and your stomach’s growling, don’t feel guilty about grabbing fast food.  Sometimes you have to eat what’s available, eating fast food once in a while isn’t going to kill you.  It’s when such habits become a weekly and then daily habit one should worry.

Yes, this is a lot of information to remember, but you don’t have to add all these suggestions tomorrow.  People tend to be more successful long term with small, gradual changes.

Photo Crdit: Diets in Review and Healthy eating in College


Food for thought: The challenge of healthy eating on campus

Constant Restraint Can Backfire

By: Nikki Nies dietaryrestrictions2bhp

I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times that whenever I’m introduced to someone new as studying nutrition or I share with someone what my degree’s in, they exclaim they have to talk to me as they could use my help!

I get a kick out of it because 9/10 they don’t follow up, yet I’m “waiting” to be able to help them.  I want to share one encounter I had with a college student.  We share a lot of the same friends and I’ve seen her a couple times, so I was more than willing to help her out (it’s not like if she was a stranger, I wouldn’t have helped her though!)

This young gal moved here from Africa to go to school.  While she holds onto a lot of African traditions, she has quickly adjusted and assimilated to American culture.  She wanted my help on what else she should be doing to lose weight.  She mentioned when she gains weight, it’s in her stomach, which I told her is very normal and that classifies her as an apple shape.

As she was telling me her list of foods that she doesn’t eat, her dietary restrictions seemed longer than what she allows herself to eat.  I was happy to hear that she doesn’t eat prepackaged foods or fast food, which can be a culprit of weight gain and can interfere when one’s trying to lose weight or maintain their weight.  I was also glad to hear that she reads her food labels and I praised her for being a head of the curve.

Yet, she wanted “more” information.  From what I heard from her, she was doing everything “right” nutritionally.  The only thing I recommended was reminding her to eat a consistent amount of fruits and vegetables.

She kept pointing to the fact that she doesn’t like how her legs look or that her arms are flabby.  I asked her about exercise,which she said she did very little of.  I suggested doing more toning exercises, but I profusely admitted that exercise is out of my scope of practice.  She kept asking me what the “go to” exercises are and I didn’t want to give her the wrong information, so I kept telling her that everyone’s body’s different, but a lot of it is trying different machines and exercise routines to find what makes her most comfortable and/or comfortable.

My point in sharing my interaction with this gal isn’t to criticize her restrictive eating, but to point out how it can backfire.  I’m not sure where this thought process of “can’t have” started for her, but it’s definitely not the road to go down to be eating healthy and to feel good!

I wanted to help her, but I’m not sure how much I did.  I didn’t give her the magic pill answer she was looking.  She seems annoyed because she restricts so many types of foods from her diet.  I asked her if she ever indulges herself and she said I know.  I encouraged to indulge in chocolate once in a while, which she abstains from, just to treat herself.  She recognizes the concept of complete restriction making you want more, but she doesn’t adhere to those concepts herself.

At this time, I’m not sure she’s ready to change her restrictive food patterns.  Yes, sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in regards to fruitfullness and happiness.  I hope she is able to recognize she can have her cake and a few bits of eating it too!


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!


Portion Sizes: Then and Now


By: Nikki Nies

One of the driving complaints about fast food, franchises and restaurants as whole is that they’re portions are small and you’re not getting your money’s worth.  While everyone knows that portions have doubled, sometimes tripled, people are still not satisified with the amount of food they’re getting relation to what they’re paying.

With such large portions provided, it can be hard to know how much to eat sometimes.  The average restaurant chain serves 96% of its entrees exceeding the recommended Dietary Guidelines for fat, saturated fat and sodium.  Now you may argue that you can tell how much a portion is, but researchers are finding people tend to clean their plates, rather than taking leftovers home.  cdc-new-abnormal-infographic

To put in perspective, an extra 10 calories daily can add up to a pound a year.  A pound a year can lead up to 20 pounds in 2 decades.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not one that 20 extra pounds sits well with.  Join with me in the awareness of intuitive eating and not giving into the portion distortions society is deceiving us.

The scary part?  Over the last couple decades, with the increase in portions, many consumers and restauranteers haven’t noticed the portion increase.  If anything, they’re still stingy with portions, expecting more!

Have no fear, while it may sound like an daunting task, the uphill battle is not impossible!

  • Start becoming familiar with food labels and servings.  Check out a previous post on how to read a food label at:
  • Familiarize yourself with portion sizes.
  • Compare marketplace portions to recommended servings sizes
  • When dining out, to decrease chances of over eating, when served, automatically, remove at least 1/2 of the serving off your plate, so you’re not tempted to over eat
  • Slow down and enjoy the meal! Eating slower helps one enjoy the meal more and decreases chances of needing a second helping!
  • Share a meal.  It makes you feel less guilty about the meal you’re about to embark on

I hope you walk away from this post, energized to trump those deceiving portions! If you think about it, by decreasing portions, you’re not only eating less, but saving money, eating leftovers means you don’t have to cook another meal! Win-win!

Photo Credit: Revolt Against and Divine Caroline 


Subway: Not Fresh


By: Nikki Nies

I just finished an episode of the Biggest Loser and a past season winner came to join current season participants bringing them food from Subway.  Getting passed the product placement and the fact that losing double digit pounds of weight a week is realistic or healthy, I like watching the emotional and physical transformation participants go through during the show with the help of the trainer’s help.  Getting back to the post, I couldn’t help, but stare at the contestants as they were eating Subway.  I couldn’t believe they were advocating to eat Subway on a regular basis, so I went to the Internet for concrete evidence to see if what I thought was true. So, keep reading!

During undergrad, I had an assignment to compare a food franchising company’s vision and mission and how well the corporation carried out said statement in their restaurants regularly  My group chose to do Subway and although evaluating the nutrition aspect of Subway wasn’t part of the project as it was more of a business class, I couldn’t help, but evaluate how “fresh” Subway really is.  Subway’s motto, Subway: Eat Fresh is a clever slogan and can be interpreted as one wishes.  Some may gravitate to Subway due to the thoughts that “fresh” ingredients are used, however, I want to take their slogan one step further and question how “healthy” and “nutritious” their sandwiches really are.

Although, Subway toots their own horn, stating all their food is fresh and healthy, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles have found contradicting evidence.  In actuality, Subway sandwiches are equally bad for consumers as McDonald’s.The study had 97 participants, ages 12-21 years old, comparing McDonald’s to Subway sandwiches.  Consumers were averaging 1,038 calories from McDonald’s while those eating from Subway were intaking 955 calories, considered statistically insignificant. article-2321877-19B2736C000005DC-684_634x323

While total calories from Subway was lower than McDonald’s, sodium content and average calories per sandwich were larger at Subway. Both fast food chains serve sandwiches that are 3 times the recommended IOM sodium intake.

Part of my research assignment in undergrad was to try the food, so I understand how tasty the food can be, I really did enjoy my sandwiches with chipotle sauce.  However, restaurants and fast food places that are deemed “healthier” can cause the “health halo”, where consumers don’t pay attention to how much is consumed as they assume they’re eating healthier anyways.

What alarms me is the celebrity and athlete endorsements for Subway.  I can see how celebrities can stand behind a product that pays enough for them to represent said product, but where’s the honesty and integrity? Eating Subway once in a while won’t kill you, just keep in mind, it’s high in fat, calories and sodium and it’s still fast food.  Of course, such information is omitted during advertisements and campaigns, but it’s true!


Food Babe Investigates: Is Subway Real Food?

Dollar Menu–>$5 Menu

Original Image by Matt McGee via Flickr
Original Image by Matt McGee via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

 My generation grew up with the Dollar Menu.  You can’t talk about the Dollar Menu without mentioning McDonald’s, nor can you talk about McDonald’s without the mention of the Dollar Menu.   Although, the Dollar menu’s been an integral part of McDonald’s since 2002, there are some new prices changes around the corner.

Yes, there will still be some $1 menu items, which has generated 13% of sales, but in addition, there will be $2 sandwiches, as well as $5 meals (i.e. 20 piece nuggets), called price tiers.  The Dollar Menu will still be advertised, but more as a starting price than an across the board menu option.

CEO Don Thompson defends the changes as a way to give more options to customers as well as providing an evolved menu that stands the test of labor pressure and increasing commodities.

You can also thank climate change’s contribution to the change in prices. With rising temperatures since 2011, drought conditions have occurred more in OK and TX, leading to increased feed and more expensive cattle on the market. us-drought-conditions-moderate-severe-extreme-exceptional_chartbuilderAlso, beef prices have increased since 2008 .

While the McDouble was hailed as “the most bountiful food in human history” for supplying 390 calories at such a low cost, even it can’t last forever

With an adjustment for inflation, $1 in 2002 is equivalent to $1.30 present day.  One day, it’ll be impossible to sell $1 burgers because the cost and profit need will be too high.  Introducing non-$1 food items is a slow way to decrease the number of $1 meals offered.

Be ready for the additional price changes starting November 4th.  Is it wishful thinking that such price hikes will encourage others to lessen their frequency at drive thru’s and fast food?  Low income as well as those that can’t stay away from convenience foods, argue one can’t beat $1 meal.


No Favors From Celebrity Endorsements

No Favors from Star Athletes


By: Nikki Nies

Celebrity athletes are adored and their every move is scrutinized and/or praised.  It never hurts to see one of America’s favorite athletes endorsing a product to lure their fans into trying.  This is one of the many problems with childhood obesity.  How many TV commercials, billboards and advertisements do you see for yummy kale or scrumptious beets? None. That statistic is staggering, yet very telling of what our society endorses–literally and figuratively.

litany of pro athletes analyzed by the authors put their big names behind 44 different food or beverage brands during 2010, with 79 percent of those food products being “energy-dense and nutrient-poor,” and with 93 percent of the drinks receiving all of their calories from added sugar — including sports drinks, the paper notes.

Highest grossing star athletes:

  1. LeBron James-$42 million to represent McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, etc.
  2. Peyton Manning-$12 million to represent Buick, Reebok, Gatorade and DirecTV plus Papa John’s
  3. Serena Williams-previously McDonald’s and Oreo’s

Parents are the final say in what goes in the grocery cart, so don’t let your kids pleading faces make you cave at the register.  Celebrities are paid an exorbitant amount for products that don’t back up their paycheck.

Photo Credit: The Spish

Get Back in the Kitchen


By: Nikki Nies

How often do you eat out? Once a week? 3-4 times a week?

I’m not here to judge your number, but to remind you of the long-lasting impact of eating out.

Regular out of the house eating can add up quickly money wise.  Also, it can increase one’s waist circumference as fast food is more fattening and higher in sodium than home-made foods.  With larger portions served, it’s understandable how people could overeat, especially if thinking ” I already paid for this.” fast-food-calories-per-dollar-14569-1242682964-12

For the next month, I challenge you to not change you’re meal routine, but start writing down how often you eat out, where you go and how much was spent.  Yes, that includes take out and lunch meals.

Once you’ve calculated how much you’re spending, just think where that money could be better allocated?  Have you been struggling to pay some bills? Perhaps, reallocating money to bills and limiting eating out to once a week will suffice?

Besides, having kids help in the kitchen is an integral life skill they need to learn, so why not start now? If you’re skeptical to get into the kitchen, start out slow and practice will make you more confident in the kitchen.  With a limited budget and no parents to cook for me, since moving to IL, I’ve been forced to cook for myself.  If I can do it, you can too.  There’s so many recipes online to help you.

Check out my previous post on Quick Prep, Slow Cooker if you’re crunched for time and want dinner waiting for you when you get home.

Photo Credit: Building Success Today and Ultimate Coupon Blog