The Lenten Season


By: Nikki Nies

I, myself, am not Catholic nor do I practice Lent, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be knowledgable about the practices during the Lenten season. As you may know, as a nutrition professional, knowing an assortment of dietary restrictions and traditions is important to ensure I’m able to do my job successfully, but as a compassionate member of society, recognizing the practices that occur during Lent is a good gesture as well.

With that said, I’ve had to brush up on my knowledge of what Lenten season is all about.  Lenten season is a period of approximately six weeks, starting from Ash Wednesday leading up to Easter Sunday.  The intention of lent is to prepare the believer through prayer, repentance, atonement and self denial. While there are variations in the spiritual practices among Christians that practice Lent, Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Methodist and Roman Catholic, the food traditions and changes.

fasting1The symbolism and importance of the number 40 in the Bible has helped formulate the suggested 40 days/6 weeks of fasting.   Present day, the tradition of fasting has evolved into observers choosing a vice to give up, which will help them bring them closer to God. Growing up, I vividly remember my friends sharing about how they were giving up beloved foods, such as soda or candy for the 40 days and hearing how hard it was to abide by that fast during the Lenten season.

During lent, fasting is not comprised of the elimination of all foods, but for Catholics to eat one full meal and two smaller meals, which when perceived together, do not make up one full meal.  Fasting regulations do not apply to the elderly, those younger than 21 years of age and/or those with compromised health.

The practice of fasting has become less strict in the Western world, with Ash Wednesday, Good Friday  and all Fridays during Lent deemed appropriate days to fast from meat.  In comparison, the Eastern Orthodox Church prohibits meat and other animal products the week prior to Lent and during the second week of Lent, only two full meals are eaten on Wednesday and Friday.  During Lent, observers are to avoid meat, meat products, fish, eggs, dairy, wine and oil. On Good Friday, it is recommended observers fast from all foods.

By viewing fasting as opportunity to reassess one’s current position in life and to help shed light on practices, which may include food, that are detrimental to current health is a great way to utilize the time during the Lenten season.

Again, whether you’re fasting from social media, dining out and/or multitasking, it’s important to plan out meals that reflect your fasting and Lenten Season practices. Not sure how to plan nonmeat meals? There are so many meatless proteins, Lenten season may be an opportunity to experiment in the kitchen! By being in the appropriate mindset, you can successfully navigate your way through periods of fasting and remind yourself that your support system is a critical aspect of your ability to get through the daily trials and mental outlook is stronger than you think.

Photo Credit: Ancient Faith 

Sources:http://www.episcopalnet.org/TRACTS/5ThingsLent.html

http://www.rachaelray.com/2009/02/the-story-of-lent-and-recipes-to-see-you-through-the-holy-days

Catholic Traditions: Celebrating the Lenten Season

https://melkite.org/faith/faith-worship/holy-week-traditions

http://catholicism.about.com/od/catholicliving/tp/Lenten_Recipes.htm

10 Ways to a Healthier YOU!


Health-Map-471x282By: Nikki Nies

Being honest with ourselves’ goals and future lifestyle changes is the best thing to do moving forward.  While one might have the best intentions of losing weight, as we all know, learning how to walk is essential and part of the foundation of learning how to run.  With that said, with the New Year upon us, there’s no better time to jumpstart healthier changes.  BUT, while there are ten suggestions to a healthier lifestyle, you know, deep down, what changes will stick and what changes are not realistic to implement.

You don’t have to implement all ten changes, as that may be too overwhelming and backfire in the long run, but incorporating one or two ideas that best fit into your daily routine can provide insurmountable intrinsic and extrinsic benefits.

1. Drink more water! Aim for 16 oz. of water with each meal and snack

2. Plan at least one more meal per week in advance.  Meal ideas :

Breakfast:

  • 1 cup egg whites, 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats, 1 cup blueberries, 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • Flatbread sandwich with 3/4 cup egg whites, lean meat, cheddar cheese, spinach, onions and black olives
  • 2 scrambled eggs, 1/4 cup cheddar cheese and Canadian bacon on an English muffin

Lunch/Dinner: 1047445.large

  • Chicken and flank steak, 1/2 cup white rice and 2 cups steamed vegetables
  • 4 oz. extra lean ground turkey, 1/2 cup sweet potatoes, 4 cups spinach with olive oil and vinegar dressing
  • 4 oz. salmon, 2 cups broccoli with 2 tablespoons of organic unsalted butter
  • 2 oz. turkey breast, 1 oz. raw, unsalted nuts, sliced cucumber
  • 6 oz. oven roasted chicken breast 1, 1 cup vegetables and 2/3 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 cup brown rice, 4 oz. tilapia and 1 cup steamed green beans
  • 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1/4 cup fat free cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons olive oil

Snack:

  • Banana and peanut butter smoothie
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 1 tablespoon natural nut butter or 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 cup oatmeal and protein shake
  • Fresh pineapple and yogurt
  • Handful of almonds and an apple
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Brown rice cake with almond butter and string cheese

3. Make meat proteins a side dish, not main entree of meals

4. Follow the 80/20 rule-with healthy options 80% o the time, but still having the occasional indulgence

5. Instead of concentrating on the number of calories consumed, focus more on the variety of colors and foods you’re eating from the increased intake of fruits and vegetables

6. Gradually cut down on calories where you are willing to make lifestyle changes you can live with

7. Be patient and realistic–remember that small changes do make a difference and that it’s more important to FEEL better!

8. Sharing is caring! Share your latest achievements via social media! Post on Facebook the latest meal you made, take a picture and upload to Instagram of the view at the top of a mountain you’ve hiked and/or follow motivational and inspirational quotes on Twitter

9. Use the outdoors as your gym will decrease excuses of working out.  While it’s winter, indoor swimming, hiking, rock climbing and biking are great year round exercises!

10. Find a partner, a support system and/or accountability buddy to encourage, confide and motivate you to make healthier choices.

If you need more information, please search and contact a Registered Dietitian near you! Keep us posted on your lifestyle changes! What healthier lifestyle additions are you adding to your day to day life? Good luck!

Photo Credit: Care2 and Green Bean Delivery 

Killer Kebabs


IMG_8636By: Nikki Nies

While it’s not necessarily the warmest time of the year, that doesn’t mean meals have to be dictated by the weather!  The best part? There’s no right or wrong way to make them–whether you’re a vegetarian, griller or want to get your kids in the kitchen with you, these skewers are calling your name! With kebabs originating and made in several Middle Eastern countries there are variations in the spelling-kabob, kebob, kebap, kabab, and kebab.

Original Image by Steven Depolo via Flickr
Original Image by Steven Depolo via Flickr

No matter how you spell kebab, it’s important to note the sticks used to cook the kebabs, skewers, are not the same and can dictate the cooking method, temperature and/or enhanced flavors produced. Stainless steel skewers are the optimal type of skewer as vegetables and meat cling to the metal better than wooden skewers. If wooden skewers are used, make sure to soak them in water 15 minutes prior to skewing to limit chances of wood splitting. Additionally, make sure to apply a light coat of cooking oil to skewers, which will help the vegetables and meat slide off easier after cooking.

Grill wise, obviously personal preference will dictate whether charcoal or gas grill is used, but if a charcoal grill is used, it’s more likely a more “authentic” taste will be present.

Kebabs can be eaten as a meal itself or with pita bread, additional sauté vegetables and/or over a bed of rice.  Dipping sauces and/or marinades-Southern, wine, teriyaki, tarragon, sportsman, soy, rum, Oriental spice, mint, honey spice, herb, Hawaiian, California can be popular entity!

Hawaiian Marinade: Makes 1 cup marinade         

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Combine all ingredients in a pint size, screw-top jar.  Cover jar and shake vigorously.  Store marinade in refrigerator until ready to use.  Shake marinade vigorously before using.

Recipe adapted from The Art of Barbecue and Outdoor Cooking

Speedy Marinade: Makes 1 1/2 cups of marinade

  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme m
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil
  • 1 cup lemon juice

Put all ingredients except lemon juice in a small saucepan.  Heat.  Add lemon juice; stir to mix well.  Cool and pour over meat to marinate or store marinade, covered.

Recipe adapted from The Art of Barbecue and Outdoor Cooking

I hope the listed marinades give you some inspiration for future kebab cooking! Please share pictures and/or experiences of great dishes you make with your families! Happy cooking!

Photo Credit: Real Mom Kitchen

Sources: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/articles/50-kebabs.html

http://mideastfood.about.com/od/kebabs/a/kebab101.htm

http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/how-to-make-great-grilled-kebabs.html

Portfolio Diet


By: Nikki Nies{AE7BD78B-6507-4209-A994-0BCE1D51D5F1}Portfolio-Diet_article

The portfolio diet, created by David J.A. Jenkins, MD, decreases cholesterol levels without any side effects.  The name of the diet derives from the concept of figuratively “investing” in one’s health portfolio.  By investing in the consumption of cholesterol lowering foods, one is ensured of a variety of foods and diversification, just as in a diverse stock portfolio.

Previous diets aim at either cutting out an entire food group, but the portfolio diet looks at the big picture and has 4 key points:

1)   Soy products are consumed in replacement of meat (i.e. soy cold cuts, tofurkey)

2) 3 daily servings of Metamucil; oats and barley are primary source of grains; eggplant and okra are common vegetables consumed

3) replaces butter and margarine with plant sterol enriched margarine (i.e. Benecol, Take Control)

4) Handful of almonds consumed daily

Almonds contain cardio protective monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and vitamin E.  With a daily intake, almonds provide an additional lipid lowering effect.  Soluble fibers, such as oats, prunes, lentils and peas reduce absorption of dietary fat and increase loss of bile acids in feces.  Soluble fiber is found in the form of beta glucans in oats and barley and as pectin in fruits and vegetables.  Total cholesterol levels can be decreased 3-5% if 5-10 g of soluble fibers consumed daily.

health-082511-002-617x411Soy products decreases cholesterol synthesis and increases LDL receptor uptake, with the recommendation of 25 g of soy protein consumed daily.  Phytosterols and stanols compete with cholesterol for absorption and are able to block uptake from gut.

While I was looking at past studies’ evidence regarding the efficacy of the portfolio diet, there was one author I couldn’t get away from.  That name is ‘Jenkins.” As you know, Jenkins is the founder of the portfolio diet and his name is everywhere when it comes to the “research” of this diet.  Without easy access to other researcher’s thoughts on the diet, it makes me question why the research isn’t there.  While Jenkins’ Portfolio diet is not the worst of the worst diets, it’s advertisement of the the vegan diet to reduce chronic disease is questionable.  Extensive studies have proven the positive impact of the adoption of this diet. 7 studies were conducted to assess the effect of the portfolio diet, specifically the consumption of almonds on blood lipid levels in those with hyperlipidemia.  Over a four week period, LDL cholesterol was decreased by 30%, percentage change in LDL: 8.0%, CRP: 0.28; no difference found in blood lipids or CRP between control and experimental group.

Although there is evidence of cholesterol reduction, there have been no studies that have investigated the efficacy of a vegan Portfolio diet on healthy cholesterol levels.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Evidence Analysis Library posed the question “What’s the relationship between a portfolio diet containing almonds and cholesterol levels in patients with hyperlipidemia?”

It went on to share that in six of seven studies (with four time series studies, one positive, one neutral study and one randomized cross study), the intake of almonds was found to reduce LDL cholesterol by 30%.  In addition, a self selected portfolio diet that spanned over one year was found to provide a 12.8±2% decrease in LDL cholesterol.  While these numbers are promising, for a diet that has been around since 2003, there are still no present studies that have looked at the “entire diet”

Photo Credit: Lifescript and Red Orbit

1. Keith M, Kuliszewski MA, Liao C, et al. A modified portfolio diet complements medical management to reduce cardiovascular risk factors in diabetic patients with coronary artery disease. Clinical Nutrition. (0).

2. Phillips F. Natural cholesterol lowering with the portfolio diet.Practice Nurse [serial online]. July 23, 2010;40(2):19-22. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA.

3.  Evidence Analysis Library.  from:
http://ada.portalxm.com/eal/evidence.cfm?format_tables=0&format_tables=0&evidence_summary_id=250948

Nitrates & Nitrites


By: Nikki Nies esphoto_cold_cuts_meat_nitrites-504x334

While nitrates are not harmful in normal amounts, when consumed in excess, like any other food or ingredient, it can have adverse effects.  excess nitrates can be especially harmful for children who tend to eat more nitrate rich foods, leading to a higher risk of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and ovarian, colon, rectal, bladder, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer.

Nitrates are naturally found in vegetables, such as spinach and celery and also synthetically added into foods.  For example, sodium and potassium nitrate are added to cured meats, added to fats to prevent rancidity and to bacteria to prevent further growth.  Also, found naturally in tap water due to nitrogen based fertilizers.  Yet, when nitrates are used as a food additive and/or consumed, the nitrates can quickly turn into nitrites, which when exposed to high heat during cooking can lead to the conversion to nitrosamines.  Bear with me!

Nitrosamines are chemical compounds that are carcinogenic properties.   However, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your leafy greens.  Not all nitrates are the same.  There’s a stark, but good difference between the nitrates from produce and the nitrates from preserved foods.  The nitrates in produce inhibit the conversion to nitrosamines, unlike the nitrates and nitrites in the artificially, synthetically made foods.

Suggested tips to nitrate success:

  • Limit intake of processed foods and cured meats (i.e. hot dogs, sausage and/or cold cuts).
  • Read nutrition fact label of prepackaged foods, watch out for ingredient lists that include nitrates, nitrites and/or nitrosamines compounds
  • Skip the “uncured” and “nitrate free” brands: these products usually contain a high content of nitrates from celery juice
  • When possible, opt for 100% organic products as they’re guaranteed to not have been exposed to nitrogen filled fertilizers
  • If you live in an agricultural region, may want to opt for a home water distiller, which will limit the amount of nitrates in your tap water
  • By eating well balanced meals, you’ll naturally include antioxidant rich foods, which combat the effects of nitrates!

This post is meant to help, not scare you.  Again, naturally grown produce may have nitrates, but do not have the same harmful effect as the nitrates that are synthetically added into prepackaged foods.  Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to read through the ingredient next time you’re grocery shopping! Happy shopping!

Photo Credit: Healthy Child

Sources:http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/seasoningflavoring/a/nitrates.htm

http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Food-technology/Biotechnology/Novel-foods/The-truth-about-nitrates.aspx#.VCCz5WTF_M0

http://www.epa.gov/teach/chem_summ/Nitrates_summary.pdf

http://www.medicinenet.com/nitrates-oral/article.htm

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/f-w00/nitrosamine.html

http://healthychild.org/easy-steps/avoid-nitrates-and-nitrites-in-food/

Cleaner Eating on a Budget


By: Nikki Nies IMG_9404

I recently wrote about the proper measures one may need to take to ensure home safety.  While, that is important, it’s equally important to recognize how all healthy eatomh can fit into a household budget.  Obviously, I don’t know what your family and/or financial circumstances are, but I can make generalizations that you care about your family’s well being, that you want to know where your food is coming from and if you can save a buck or two while eating frugally, why not?

If you found yourself nodding ‘yes’ to any or all of my above generalizations, then proceed to my next point. There seems to be three kind of grocery shoppers, those that stick to non-GMO, organic, pesticide, hormone and antibiotic free, those that pick and choose the foods that are “cleanly” bought while opting to buy the nonorganic counterparts when desired.  And then there’s those like me, may recognize the benefits of “cleaner” produce and products, that are non-GMO, organic, antibiotic, hormone and/or pesticide free, but don’t see how those concepts fit into  our budget.

I can’t help, but look at prices.  However, I’ve doing a lot of reading lately and I firmly believe that these distinctive three groups could be under one umbrella, purchasing cleaner foods in a cost effective manner.

Friendly Suggestions on How to Stretch Food Dollars:4colorsealgif

  • Stick to foods that have the 100% organic, “organic” made with organic ingredients–skip the sections that have “natural”, “hormone free” and/or “free range.”
  • Opt for generic organic brands
  • For each week, plan meals around circular sales and/or dry goods you already have to spare at home
  • Compare different organic variations, including dried, fresh, canned or frozen.  When cooked correctly, all these organic variations can be  equally delicious!
  • Shop around to find “your” store! Perhaps, a closer grocery store has a better organic variety and/or generic options!
  • Always make a grocery list!
  • Join a local food cooperative to learn the latest local news on events, programs and locations to purchase organic products
  • Plant or join a local community garden to grow your own organic produce
  • Limit meat to less than three times a week as meat is naturally more expensive than vegetables, legumes and beans
  • Clip coupons or gather from online newsletters or magazine subscriptions
  • Shop at supermarkets that carry their own generic organic brands (i.e. Aldi)
  • Check out local farmer’s market
  • Buy in season
  • Buying in bulk will not only be less expensive long term due to larger quantity, but due to less packaging costs

I promise, with my next grocery trip, I’m heading straight to the organic section! For those that have been eating only or predominantly organic, how are you able to stretch the dollars?  How can we best incorporate organic foods into our lives seamlessly?

Photo Credit: Back to Her Roots 

Sources: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/how-to-eat-organic-foods-on-a-budget

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/going-organic-budget

Kosher Kitchen


032210-kosher6By: Nikki Nies

While I’ve enjoyed writing for this blog for the last year and half, I’ve also used it as a channel to challenge myself to learn new concepts and review important points. Being aware of cultural and religious customs of others than yourself not only makes you more appreciative of the differences, but provides an obvious respect to how the differences are actually quite similar. If you’re like me,you recognize those differences, but don’t want to offend other parties by admitting you can’t articulate the exact differences.  So, today, with Rosh Hashanah upon us, there’s no better time to learn what it really means to have a ‘kosher’ kitchen.

In the Jewish community, the separation of meat and dairy products is crucial for the celebration of multiple holiday. The mixture of these two food groups is prohibited in Jewish law, which derives from the book of Exodus in the bible, which forbids [a goat] in a mother’s milk. This Jewish law prohibits against cooking a mixture of milk and meat, eating a cooked mixture of milk and meat and deriving any benefit from a cooked mixture of milk and meat.

During my research, I learned that creating a kosher kitchen does not have to be a daunting task, but one that is appropriate for the holidays. Prior to the revamp of a kitchen, one can start with purchasing only products that are certified kosher. If you’re not sure if a product is kosher or not, it’s best to put aside or discard.  It should be noted some new purchases will be necessary, including, but not limited to: dishes, some additional pots, plastic drainboards, and basins for the sink.

Many of the dishes and/or utensils will require the immersion into a mikvah before use.  Next, decide which drawers and/or kitchen cabinets will be used for the meat and dairy.  Labeling such designation may be helpful.  Many of the kitchen equipment and utensils will be permitted to use after koshering.  Koshering can be done by heating the item with a blowtorch or immersing it in boiling water.  The method of koshering will be dictated by the material the equipment is made of and/or its use. Once, it’s been decided which items need to be koshered, an appointment with rabbi needs to be made.

kosher-labels-LAccess to a kitchen for kashrut observance with two sinks, two stoves and separate working areas, would be ideal, but it’s not necessary! To ensure separation, there should be two sets of dishes, pots, trays, salt shakers, draining boards, draining racks, silverware, sponges, dish towels, tablecloths, cleanser and/or serving dishes. A practical way to accomplish this feat is planning the sets of meat and dairy utensils around a color scheme–red for meat and blue for dairy.  However, whatever color scheme works for you should be used!

Additionally, start separating your meat and dairy in the fridge.  Yes, every kitchen layout is different, but I’m sure there’s a way to make the necessary accommodations, even if that means having to get the creative juices flowing!

As you can see, I’m not expert on the ins and outs of a kosher kitchen.  I’m always open to hearing about personal touches and/or traditions that occur that I may overlooked.  Please share any stories that you feel comfortable with!

Photo Credit: The Kitchn and Jewish Recipes 

Sources: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/kosherkitchen.html

http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm

http://judaism.wonderhowto.com/how-to/keep-kosher-272992/

Your Kosher Kitchen

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/82667/jewish/Koshering-Your-Kitchen.htm