How to Travel with IBS

Original Image by fdecomite via Flickr
Original Image by fdecomite via Flickr

This article is based on an original post that first appeared on the Trim Traveler Blog entitled Have No Fear: Traveling Abroad with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

By: Nikki Nies

While last minute trips can be fun, there always needs to be some type of planning involved. At minimum, this should include source of transportation. Bus? Driving? Catching the next flight out of the airport? Yes, this level of spontaneity may sound overwhelming for some that like to plan every detail. In reality, once kids are involved, there are other considerations that are factors in traveling, such as counting for a variety of entertainment and the number of diapers needed. In addition, for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), an intestinal disorder that can cause stomach pains, gas, diarrhea or constipation, it can make multi city traveling more nerve wrecking than appealing.

As a chronic condition, management of IBS is long term and can cause hurdles in traveling. I fondly remember I was in Thailand and one of people on the trip couldn’t leave the bathroom because of intestinal issues. When he wasn’t having diarrhea, he was too scared to leave the hotel in fear of a limited availability and quick access to bathrooms. It is a shame he traveled from the U.S. to Thailand to spend his time in a bathroom. For those of you that have been diagnosed with IBS, by implementing certain planning into your travel plans, you can enjoy your travels, pain free!

Some suggested travel inquiries:

  • Plan a trip that is calm or relaxing, as it may be less difficult to maneuver
  • Plan enough to know there are enough safe places to use the restroom
  • Pack and always keep own toilet paper with you. While most travelers should pack extra clothes in carry on, this can be particularly useful for those with IBS too.
  • Keep in reach fiber supplements, medications, bottled water and snacks (i.e. nuts or yogurt). Also, having doctor’s contact information and medical diagnosis listed can help with access to care.
  • Allow enough time to get places to avoid rushing and/or giving yourself enough time to assess a situation (i.e. limiting the amount of time between connecting flights can be stressful enough, give yourself at least 2 hours in between scheduled flights to get to your destination).
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might want to ask, “Is there an early check in for hotel?” or “Does the hotel room come with a refrigerator?”
  • Investigate what measures you have to easily access bathrooms. Find out if you will need special coins and if you will have to buy toilet paper for access.
  • When booking flights, opt for the aisle seat for easier access to on flight bathroom.
  • If traveling in a foreign country learn phrases, such as “Where’s the bathroom”, “I can’t eat….” or “Can you make…[dish]…without?” A pocket dictionary or Google translate app can help with language translations too.
  • Be up front with traveling companions. Depending on your comfortability, let tour guides, friends and family know need for easy access to bathrooms. People are often more understanding than we give credit.
  • Traveling doesn’t always have the same schedule as one’s daily schedule, but try to consume the same serving and number of meals you’re used to.
  • If you’re up to trying new foods, experiment in small amounts.

A lot of these tips provide you asking lots of questions, but in the long run it will provide a more stress free trip. Having a few of the above-mentioned essentials can ease travel plans, but resist the temptation of overplanning! By leaving room for spontaneity, you can truly enjoy your travel! Happy travels!


Safe Food Preservation

Original Image by Jim Champion via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Fun Fact: Food preservation permeates all cultures.  And they say we’re all different, huh?

How often do you find yourself throwing food out because you didn’t have a chance to use it before it goes bad? Or how many times do you head to the checkout line at the grocery store with the maximum amount of produce allowed due to the great sale? While these conundrums may be a common issue for you, by canning and/or preserving your food, you can have your veggies and can them too! Pun intended!

There are so many preservation methods, depending on the foods, equipment and intentions with the food.  I’m by no means an expert on canning, but I’ve had first hand experience in the food saving systems it can do!

The list below is not an exhaustive list of food preservation, but it’s a good overview of the most common techniques used and a few unique modes of preservation for those more adventurous with their canning abilities.

Preservation Method Commonly Used Foods Fun Facts
Canning Wine; milk; vegetables; fruits; meat With canning, it destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes; the vacuum seal prevents other microorganisms from recontaminating food within jar or can; includes pressure canning and water bath canning
Cellaring Vegetables; grains; nuts; dry cured meats Storing foods in temperature, humidity and light controlled environment
Curing Meat; fish Earliest curing was dehydration; included use of salt to help dessicate foods; uses salts, acid and/or nitrites; may employ secondary method of fermenting, smoking or sealing
Dry Salting Meat; fish; vegetables Fermenting or pickling techniques; 2.5-5% salt concentration promotes fermentation; 20-25% salt promotes high salt concentration;
Drying Often with fish, game, domestic animals, fruits; herbs In ancient times, sun and wind would have naturally dried foods—with Asian and Middle Eastern countries actively drying foods as early as 12,000 B.C. ; in the Middle Ages they built “still houses” for the purpose of drying fruits, vegetables and herbs that didn’t have strong enough sunlight for drying
Fermenting Fruits–>wine; cabbage–>Kim chi or sauerkraut ; legumes; seafood; dairy; eggs; wine; cured sausage; yogurt; meats Fermentation has been used to create more nutritious and palatable foods from less than desirable ingredients; microorganisms that are responsible for fermentation can produce vitamins
Freezing Meats, vegetables, leftovers, fruit; eggs; nuts; prepared foods Common use includes cellars, caves and cool streams; chilling foods to at least 0°F
Jamming  Fruits With use of honey or sugar; in ancient Greece, quince was mixed with honey, dried and packed tightly into jars;
Pickling Wine; ciders; chutneys; mustards; relishes; ketchups and sauces Preservation of foods in vinegar or other acids; first fermented to alcohol and then alcohol’s oxidized by bacteria to acetic acid;
Sealing Legumes; seafood; dairy; eggs; wine; cured sausage; yogurt; meats Covers food to keep out air—delaying the activity of spoilage organisms; used as complementary process to other fermentation methods, i.e. freezing or drying; relatively inexpensive
Smoking Meats Improves flavor and appearance; can be used as a drying agent; by smoking, meats are less likely to turn rancid or grow mold than unsmoked

With all this said, what canning techniques have I left out that you think should be used consistently? Have any kitchen hacks you’re willing to share with canning? We’d love to hear them!

Learn how to preserve specific foods with OSU’s guide!


Microwave to Great Meals

microwave-cooking-mr-gallery-xBy: Nikki Nies

I grew up using a microwave as my go-to source of reheating food! When I moved into my first apartment last year, where there wasn’t a microwave provided in the unit, I didn’t realize how much I have come to rely on my microwave.  Until I got to the store to buy a microwave, my roommates and I resorted to heating food up on the stove.  For my generation, we admit we’ve had it easy technology wise. Yet, that doesn’t mean we’re willing to giving up our gadgets or “convenience” machines.

With that said, my time in Illinois has given me great insight and incentives to find ways to cut corners to make my money stretch while still eating a balanced, healthy diet.  I will not sacrifice quality food,I  am a nutrition student after all! Due to limited space and financials, my roommates and I have made do with some basic essentials, we had two pans and that’s all we need! As you can probably tell, I’ve learned how to stretch my food and utilize all my food and equipment to the fullest, this includes the microwave!

There’s tons recipes on line that are microwave friendly.  Here are some recipes I’ve tried myself and have found to be equally as good as if it were made in the oven or stove top!

My days of only reheating food in the microwave are over.  I now embrace the ability to make full meals in a cup or bowl in the microwave.  Yes, you heard me! Whether you’re in the mood for whipping up breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and/or dessert, your reliant microwave is always available! An added bonus, less clean up =]!

Have you used your microwave for some great meals? What tips do you have for smoother microwave cooking?

Photo Credit: MyRecipes 


Portions ≠ Servings

By: Nikki NiesPortion-Control

Depending on where you live in the U.S. you may refer to Coca Cola or Sprite as soda, pop or soda pop.  To be honest, I still haven’t gotten used to hearing or interpreting pop as soda even though I’ve been living in the Mid West for the past year.

While soda and pop are synonymous, the same can’t be said about portions and servings.  Yes, it’s understandable how servings and portions could be used interchangeably, but it’s important to recognize the difference and not fall into the pitfalls of “sameness.”

Portion: amount of food we choose to eat

Serving Size: amount of food  recommended by the Dietary Guidelines

If you’re familiar with the Dietary Guidelines then your portions may be line with the suggested serving size.  However, too many people do not discern the difference.  Let’s use some practical application.  The Dietary Guidelines state a serving of pasta, rice and/or couscous is 1/3 of cup.  However, it’s common practice for one to fill the plate up with pasta, which can easily be at least a cup.  In essence, someone’s who’s eating a cup of pasta is eating three servings.

Notable serving sizes:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 6″ tortilla
  • 1/3 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of other vegetables cooked or raw
  • 3/4 cup of vegetable or fruit juice
  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or  pear
  • 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit
  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese (i.e. Cheddar)
  • 2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1/2 cup of tofu counts as 1 ounce of lean meat
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter  or 1/3 cup of nuts counts as 1 ounce of meat

My point is that it’s not a BAD thing to be eating grains, but to make sure you’re aware of how much you’re eating and how much in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines.  The issue that often comes up is that people are eating several servings for several or all their meals on a regular basis.

Motivated to decrease your portion size, but not sure how to start? The best way is to pull out your measuring cups and spoons.  We often times “eye” the amount of food we serve ourselves, but when making these portion changes, it’s good to have a good baseline.   Additionally, join the Smaller Plate Movement, which as its name suggests promotes the use of more appropriately sized plates, bowls and cups.

Worried that you’ll be starving with smaller portions? I wouldn’t worry yet! You might be surprised that you’re actually more satisfied with your meals with smaller portions because you really got to enjoy the meals.

I’ve written a lot about portion control on this blog, how portions have changed over the years to what a portion is, but all this information is relevant and important to know to make those permanent healthier lifestyle changes! What progress have you made lately?

Photo Credit: High Heeled Life


New GF Food Labels

ALDI_blog_cover_05_GlutenFreeBy: Nikki Nies

I’ve written a lot about gluten free (GF) products lately, with my food demos of GF Pasta to talking about the hype surrounding the GF Frenzie. As an active future health professional, it’s important to know the leading health trends.  In addition, being aware of the new GF Food Labels is also important to understand and be able to interpret.

The FDA has been working tirelessly to better define the term gluten free.  With the crossbreeds of many grains (i.e. rye and wheat), it’s become necessary to eliminate any confusion regarding how food producers may label products and to assure those that need to avoid gluten that those products labeled as GF are indeed GF and are enforced by the FDA.

As of August 5th, a new rule states products that are advertised as GF can not contain more than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.  This change provides increased certainty of what one’s consuming and provides comfort for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or sensitivity that their food is safe to consume.

With the “trend” of switching to a GF diet as led to an increase in GF products, a product doesn’t necessarily have to state it has gluten as an ingredients like nut or dairy allergy.  What’re your thoughts on the new label change? Do you find it hard to decipher food labels and/or packages?


Omega 3 FA

Original Image by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr
Original Image by Camilo Rueda López via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Honestly, how many times a week do you find yourself eating fish or making your own sushi rolls?  Well, if you’re having a hard time recalling the last time you had a jam packed omega 3 fatty acid meal, let me persuade to add these types of food to your grocery list!

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fats, deemed as “healthy fats” and “heart healthy.” They can help contribute to the reduction of inflammation, controlling blood clotting, build cell membranes in the brain and help protect against heart disease and stroke.

The three main sources of omega 3’s are eicosapentaenoic acid( EPA), docosahexaenoic acid(DHA)and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found in fish, while ALA is found in nuts and seeds. These fatty acids (FA) are considered essential since they’re not produced in the body and need to be consumed in one’s diet.

Yes, while salmon is touted as the major source of omega 3’s, it can also be found in: anchovies, mackerel, algae, krill, bluefish, herring, sardines, lake trout, tuna and/or sturgeon. If consuming tilefish, mackerel, wild fish or shark, make sure to monitor how you’re consuming as these types of fish can have a toxic mercury level.

Additionally,food sources of ALA are: walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil and/or flaxseed.

The one downside to omega 3 fatty acids are their high calorie content, so moderation is key.  There’s so many variations that fish, nuts and seeds can be introduced to your daily meals.  Check out some recipes from the NHLBI website or experiment in your kitchen!


Is Fro Yo a Go?

By: Nikki Nies

I’m currently interning at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, IL.  Not only has the staff been generous in their patience and guidance, but everyone’s welcomed me in with open arms.  The hospital has been generous enough to allow me to retrieve from their cafeteria.  I must say their food selection is great and healthy.

DessertOne of the premier aspects of the cafeteria is the fro yo.  The hospital serves the fro yo as their version of ice cream.  It got me thinking, how healthy is fro yo?  Unfortunately, with all the analyzing of foods I do on a daily basis, I couldn’t help but think what is in the fro yo?

Learning how healthy foods are is a great tool and especially allows one to be able to know what is being eaten. While ice cream and frozen yogurt (fro yo) are considered synonymous, For something to be called ice cream, it has to contain at least 10% milk fat.  Who knew? However, a healthier alternative can sometimes be fro yo as it’s not always made with cream or fat. Instead fro yo is made with cultured milk, i.e. yogurt, hence the name!

As stated, the main difference between ice cream and frozen yogurt is the fat content. One cup of regular vanilla ice cream contains 275 calories, 5 grams of protein, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of fat and 9 grams of saturated fat. One cup of regular vanilla frozen yogurt contains 221 calories, 5 grams of protein, 38 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat.

The final verdict: When when you’re wanting to limit your fat intake, fro yo is the better choice depending on toppings and portion size chosen. When choosing toppings for your fro yo, opt for fresh fruit, granola and nuts to optimize your intake of fiber, protein and natural sugar.If you do choose to add some sweets in your cup, choose only one and enjoy! No need to fill your cup up to the brim either cause those extra calories can definitely add up!

Remember these tips next time you’re at your local fro yo station and enjoy!


Meatless Proteins


By: Nikki Nies

With healthy eating constantly on the brain, it’s constant job to ensure balanced meals are consumed.  Meatless proteins aren’t for vegetarians and vegans any more, with more and more opting for meatless proteins.  Meatless proteins are often low fat, low calorie, with the added protein punch!

Meatless Protein Description Protein Amount per ½ cup How to Eat Tips
Quinoa Packed with fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and folate, low cholesterol; contains all essential amino acids 7 g Stir Fried Vegetables and Quinoa, Black Bean Quinoa Salad with Basil Lemon Dressing; Toasted Quinoa with Chiles and Corn Drain in a fine mesh strainer after cooking; add to soups, hot breakfast cereal or tossed with vegetables
Edamame Have as much fiber as 4 slices of wheat bread; great as an appetizer or within an entrée 8 g (shelled) Edamame with sesame, scallions and almonds; Roasted Edamame Steam instead of boil, which will preserve nutrients; can be served hot or cold
Chia seeds Great source of brain boosting omega 3 and fiber rich; contains great source of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc; plump up and take on gelatinous texture when soaked in a  liquid 9.4 g in 2 tablespoons Mango Coconut Chia Pudding; Clementine Chia Pudding Use in jams, smoothies, oatmeal, salads, soups, etc.
Lentils Packed with B vitamins, folate, fiber, protein and are heart healthy 9 g Italian Lentil and Broccoli Stew Limit salting or using acidic items to lentils until cooked
Greek Yogurt Low in calories, protein packed; great substitution for sour cream or mayo; less sweet than some regular varieties 14.5 g Grilled Tropical Fruit with Greek Yogurt; Greek Yogurt with warm black and blueberry sauce Be wary of flavored containers that are packed with added sugar
Tempeh Soy bean based ingredient has great texture; firmer than traditional tofu 15.5 g Tempeh Burger; Miso glazed tofu On it’s own, tends to be quite bland, but is great with a marinade
Seitan Made from wheat gluten; has familiar texture of a piece of chicken or beef; brings out any flavors paired with it; looks like duck meat 21 g Mock Peking Duck; Seitan Stir Fry with Black Bean Garlic Sauce No need to add salt as many packaged varieties can have nearly 13% of daily intake
Peanut Butter Contains 2 g of fiber and heart healthy monounsaturated fats per serving 32.5 g Peanut Butter Banana Raisin Sandwich; Peanut Butter Caramel Corn Opt for reduced fat or natural peanut butter and “no stir” to limit messes
Chickpeas Aka garbanzo beans; fiber rich; can help cut LDL levels; low calorie 7 g Chickpea Stew with Eggplants, Tomatoes and Peppers; Cumin Spiced Chickpeas Look for chickpea flower, which is a great alternative to those that can’t eat gluten
Eggs When in moderation, can be great protein source; low in calories; may improve HDL levels 7 g/egg Baked Eggs with Cheese and Zucchini, omelettes, quiches, hard boiled, scrambled, sunny side up Choose cage free variety since they’re nutritionally superior and more humaneFound to have 2.5 times more omega 3 and twice amount of vitamin E in eggs of pasture raised hens
Cottage Cheese Affordable, can be eaten with reduced fat, calcium rich for bones, 13 g Combine with fresh veggies or with fruit and cinnamon Can be used as a replacement for ricotta cheese or sour cream in certain dishes
Pumpkin Seeds Great grab and go snack 7 g/1 oz. Pepita Corn Bread In fall, roast fresh seeds; be mindful of serving as seeds can be high in calories
Dried Black  Beans Low fat, fiber filled protein 6 g Cuban Black Bean Soup Opting for dry beans allows one to control sodium and additive intake; soak in large bowl overnight in water and rinse clean afterward, simmer on low heat and enjoy; make with cumin, garlic, red pepper, etc.
Soy Milk Convenient and versatile; often fortified with calcium and 4 g Espresso Soy Milk Shake Vanilla’s great in cereal and coffee; chocolate flavor’s great as a regular treat
Almonds Contains monounsaturated fats which are considered heart healthy 6 g/1 oz. Chili Spiced Almonds Sliced almonds are great over a salad


“Super” Foods

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by nick mote via Flickr
Original Image by nick mote via Flickr

Any time the word “super” is placed in front of a word, it makes the following concept that much grander.  The Super Bowl, superlatives and supermarket, etc.  All of those nouns indicate a sense of grandeur above the regular bowl, laxatives and markets.  Foods that have been deemed “super” fit within the esteemed category as well.

While the concept of superfoods have been thrown around a lot, it’s not a concept that’s always quickly understood.  What’s a “superfood” you ask?  Besides holding up claims of being able to stave off chronic diseases (i.e. heart disease, diabetes, cancer and/or cholesterol), super foods can provide more variety and color in one’s diet. While our society has evolved into heavily leaning on supplements and prescription and OTC to treat ailments, an introduction to superfoods may be the solution to many of your struggles.

Super Foods Benefits Recommended Serving
  • Contains resistant starch
  • Provides satiety
 4-6 a week
  • Top source of beta glucan, which is a fiber that lowers cholesterol and helps control blood sugar
  • Great source of fiber and protein
  • Antioxidant and phytoflavinoid rich
  • High in potassium and vitamin C
  • Can help lower risk of heart disease and cancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Boosts brain’s communication amongst cells
  • “The more color, the more antioxidants”
  • Improves memory
  • ½ cup daily
Dark Chocolate
  • Anti oxidant rich
  • Can help lower blood pressure
  • If content is 60%+ cocoa content
Fish—i.e. salmon, sardines, mackeral, herring
  • Contains omega 3’s—heart healthy, helps with arthritis and may help with memory loss
  • May help reduce depression
  • 2-3 servings per week of 3 oz.
  • Meat free protein
  • ½ cup provides ½ day’s needs of folate, which can prevent neural tube defects in pregnancies
  • ½ cup daily
  • one orange supplies more than 100% of vitamin C needed daily
  • Good source of calcium and folate
Peanut Butter
  • Protein packed
  • Contains arginine, an amino acid that helps maintain healthy blood vessels
  • Contain alpha and beta carotene—which inhibit cancer
  • In combination with other super foods, has been found to help lower cholesterol
  • Great source of vegetable protein
  • Can be found in edamame, tofu and/or soy milk
  • Contains tons of fiber and folate
  • Contains cholesterol lowering phytosterols
  • 1 cup daily
Spinach and dark leafy greens (i.e. broccoli, kale, collard greens, swiss chard)
  • Potassium rich, which can help with blood clotting and building strong bones
  • Contain zeaxanthin, vitamin A and lutein, which can keep eyes healthy
  • ½ cup daily
Tea—black or green
  • Anti oxidant rich
  • Prevents hardening of arteries
  • Can help lower cholesterol levels
  • May inhibit growth of cancer cells due to ECGC found in green tea
  • If used as a replacement for soda, win-win
  • 1-2 cups daily at least
  • Contains alpha linoleic acid, an omega 3 found to improve memory and concentration
  • 14 walnut halves daily
  • Protein packed

An added plus, there aren’t any side effects to eating superfoods and one doesn’t have to worry about consuming processed products! Even if you’re not struggling with a particular food, superfoods can provide preventative benefits as well as all around great nutrients.   You can’t get much better than that!


50 Superfoods – The Ultimate Shopping List



By: Nikki Nies

Phytosterols are plant based sterols that have been critically acclaimed and are recommended to be a regularly seen on plates.  Three of the most abundant phytosterols are beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol.  In the past, phytosterols have been up to at least 1g/day of one’s diet, however, with the progression of less natural foods, phytosterol consumption has taken a back burner to other macronutrients, such as fats.

Phytosterols are structured similarly to cholesterol, however, they contain substitutions at C24 position.   Not only do phytosterols inhibit the absorption of cholesterol, but it has been found that foods that have been enriched with at least 0.8 g of phytosterols are more likely to lower LDL cholesterol levels.  Due to the similar structure to cholesterol, phytosterols compete with cholesterol in the digestive system. Thankfully, higher consumption of phytosterols block’s cholesterol absorption and reduces one’s cholesterol levels.

Sources of phytosterols: unrefined vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts and legumes.  Truthfully, how’s your phytosterol consumption?

The effectiveness of phytosterols is so strong that The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends people with high cholesterol consume 2 grams of phytosterols each day.

The bottom line: Regular consumption of fruits and vegetables aren’t only good for overall health, but have the added plus of containing phytosterols.  How much phytosterol rich foods do you consume on a regular basis?  Are you taking advantage of their added health benefits?


The New Heart Healthy Diet Buzzword: Phytosterols