Traveling with HLD

Original Image by David Goehring via Flickr
Original Image by David Goehring via Flickr

By:Nikki Nies

In today’s world, we’re surrounded by terms such as ‘good fats’ and multisyllable concepts, such as ‘atherosclerosis.’ Yet, for the average American these terms just bring more confusion to the table than help shed light on how to solve the issues at hand. How can those words be applied to daily life? By breaking down what those definitions mean is the first, best step towards understanding how one can travel with hyperlipidemia (HLD) on the go. HLD may sound terrifying, but it’s just the technical term for too many “lipids” or fats in the blood.  HLD is the elevation of cholesterol and/or triglycerides, making it a risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (“hardening of arteries) and heart disease.

While primary hyperlipidemia emerges due to familial history, secondary HLD can develop due to increased dietary intake, medical conditions (i.e. lupus, kidney disease, alcoholism, obesity, diabetics or hypothyroidism) and/or medications. In other words, with modifiable changes added to one’s lifestyle, secondary HLD can be reduced and/or eliminated altogether.

In regards to one’s heart health, there are three major lipoproteins. Low density lipoproteins (LDL) are considered “bad cholesterol.” It’s recommended cholesterol be <200 mg/dL, LDL:<130 mg/dL and HDL be >60 mg/dL. To keep cholesterol levels at optimal levels, it’s recommended to implement a low fat, cholesterol lifestyle, restricting total fat intake to 30% of daily calories, saturated fat to 7% and dietary cholesterol to 300 mg/day.  However, when you’re on the go, it can be hard to discern how much fat is eaten in an entire day. Therefore, identifying  ‘good fats’ and which menu items would be better in the long run can help make traveling more enjoyable and healthier.

Suggestions for how to travel with HLD:

  • Make every effort to make half of grains whole grains, opt for low fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables and poultry, fish and nuts, while cutting back on sugary foods and beverages and red meat
  • Add in ‘healthy fats’ that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
    • This means swapping out tropical oils (i.e. coconut for liquid) and eating fish and nuts instead of red meat
  • Be aware that foods high in saturated fatcan be equally high in calories
    • Majority of high saturated fat foods derive from animal sources (i.e. beef, lamb, pork, lard, butter, cheese and/or dairy products made from whole or reduced fat milk)
    • Again, limit plant based oils that contain high amounts of saturated fat, even though cholesterol free (i.e. palm kernel oil, coconut oil and/or palm oil)
  • Increase soluble fiber consumed, which can help decrease cholesterol levels by as much as 10%
    Original Image by s58y via Flickr
    Original Image by s58y via Flickr
    • Common sources: oats, barley, nuts, legumes and fruits and vegetables
  • Opt for boneless,skinless cuts of meat instead of fried, breaded or battered (i.e. skinless boneless chicken breast)
    • Trim fat from meat
  • Limiting alcohol can help reduce triglyceride levels, as alcohol consumption can raise triglycerides by 5-10 mg/dL
  • In increasing increments, daily regular activity can help lower LDL, while increasing HDL
    • Even a 30 minute brisk walk can do wonders in reducing risk
    • Walk at an intensity that you’re breathing hard, but can still carry a conversation
    • Build up to target heart rate gradually, which is 50-70% of maximum heart rate
  • Devote a certain amount of time each day to get the recommended 10,000 steps in

The FDA has recently declared trans fat as no longer generally recognized as safe, giving food companies until 2018 to remove trans fat from foods altogether.   This ban will take us one step closer to food companies providing fresher ingredients and allow consumers to choose healthier, heart healthy options. While on the go, what hacks have helped you the most?


Cast Iron Skillets

castironBy: Nikki Nies

While cast iron skillets may be “heavy” in weight, they require a lot of tender loving care (TLC)! Not only do these skillets require special attention while cleaning, but they need to be seasoned properly to be used at optimally. Okay, they’re kind of high maintenance, but the care that is required is well worth it. As one of the oldest forms of cookware, they’re durable and reliable, heating evenly and retaining heat amazingly!

Tips for using cast iron skillet:

  • Oil skillet generously to limit sticking. Olive or coconut oil will do.
  • Before placing any food in skillet, let the skillet preheat
  • Limit use of metal utensils
  • Since the entire skillet’s made out of iron, the entire skillet will get hot! Out of habit, you may find yourself touching the skillet, but only do so with a pot holder
  •  “Seasoning” is oil baked onto the iron at a high temperature, not a chemical nonstick coating. Seasoning creates the natural, easy-release properties. The more it’s used, the better it gets
  • Dry thoroughly after each wash.
  • If you can’t part with the thought of cleaning without soap, wash with mild soapy water and dry and oil immediately.
  • Dishwashers, strong detergents and metal scouring pads are not recommended, since they remove seasoning
  • Do not place in microwave scraping-burnt-bits-off-skillet
  • If rust appears, scour rust, rinse, dry and rub with some vegetable oil
  • Cover it with a paper towel to stack in cupboard to absorb moisture and prevent scratches
  • When first cooking with a cast iron skillet, stick with skillet staples, such as fried chicken and/or homemade pizza
  • Don’t try to make eggs, fish or cook tomatoes with a cast iron skillet, as the eggs can be hard to remove from skillet, fish is too delicate and better off being steamed.  Lastly, the acidity of the tomatoes can cut through the seasoning!
  • The most renown line of cast iron skillets are, Lodge, the United States’ major cast iron cookware manufacture

After a few rounds of using the cast iron skillet, you’ll be itching to experiment with your new skillet. How many of you have a personal history with your cast iron skillet? Was it passed down to you from your mother and/or having a history of stories behind it?

Photo Credit: Pioneer Settler and Fine Cooking


Prune Puree Perfection

Original Image by storebukkebruse via Flickr
Original Image by storebukkebruse via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

With the holiday season in full swing, there’s no time like the present to talk about baking! Of course, baked goods are a welcome commodity all year round, but with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day in succession, there are a lot of opportunities to indulge.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge in lovely treats, but if you’re feeling adventurous, which I’m sure you are, you should venture out and try different baking techniques and recipes.  Why not challenge yourself to make low sugar baked goods and swap out ingredients when you can?!

There’s a lot of fun baking hacks out there, such as making brownies with black beans, substituting applesauce for sugar.  For me, I hadn’t heard of swap of butter for prunes until I attended FNCE this year and met Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN!

Prunes are no longer designated for older adults’ to stay regular.  Instead, bakers are lining up to stock their shelve with prunes to add to any baking recipe! With the use of prune puree, calories and total and saturated fat can be slashed, while adding in a bit more fiber.

CONVERSION: 1/2 cup oil–> 1/4 cup prune puree; 1 stick butter–>1/2 cup prune puree

Benefits of using prunes:

Original Image by Demed via Flickr
Original Image by Demed via Flickr
  • naturally low in fat, sodium and cholesterol free
  • antioxidant rich–chlorogenic and neochlorogenic acids
  • promote satiety
  • support bone health, heart health, digestive health, immunity and healthy aging
  • economical–require no refrigeration and are portable
  • great for chocolate based desserts and heavily spiced goods

How to make puree: Combine 6 ounces (1 cup) pitted prunes with 6 tablespoons hot water in a food processor; process until smooth. Makes 1 cup.

Don’t hate it until you’ve tried it! I’ve just bought myself a canister of prunes and will be whipping up some cookies and brownies! Stop by if you want to try some guilt free baked goods!

Photo Credit: AllYou and Stapleton Spence


Black Bean Brownies

IMG_8358By: Nikki Nies

What would you say if I told you that to make brownies I need chocolate AND black beans?! Shocked? Surprised? Agreeable?

I admit, the first time I heard about this combination, I scrunched my face. Like many, I head to the dessert section of the restaurant menu to satisfy my sweet tooth, not for BEANS! Yet, during my latest rotation at Illinois’ Will County Women, Infants and Children Clinic, I had the opportunity to not only do a food demo, but to show women and children how they can use their dried beans that they may receive with their coupons in a guilt free, delicious manner!







Preparing: place black beans in a colander, sort thoroughly and remove any tiny pebbles; rinse under cold water

How to soak: the larger the bean, the longer they need to soak. The longer you soak the beans, the faster they cook.  Soaking beans allows dried beans to absorb water, which begins to dissolve the starches that causes intestinal discomfort. Soak beans in 3x their volume of cold water for 6 hours before cooking.

  • 1/3 cup dry beans=1 cup cooked beans
  • 1/2 cup dry beans=1 1/2 cup cooked beans
  • 2/3 cup dry beans=2 cups cooked beans
  • 1 cup dry beans=3 cups cooked beans
  • 2 cups/1 lb. dry beans=6 cups cooked beans

Black Bean Brownies

Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 20 minutes Servings: 12 Serving: 1/12 of recipe


  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Mash  beans, 1/4 cup chocolate chips and oil with a fork

2. Add eggs, brown sugar, cocoa, vanilla, baking powder and salt; cover and process until smooth.

2. Transfer to a 9-in. square baking pan coated with cooking spray.

3. Sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips. 3. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Adapted from TasteofHome

Nutrition Facts per serving: 115 calories; 2.6 g of fat; 15 g carbohydrates; 2.9 g of protein

Black Bean Brownies with Mix

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes Servings: 12 Serving: 1/12 of recipe


  • ½ 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ package brownie mix
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup chocolate chips, divided
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish
  2. Mash black beans and water together until smooth.  Pour into a bowl.
  3. Stir brownie mix into black bean mixture until batter is smooth; fold in ¼ cup chocolate chips.
  4. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips over batter.
  5. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted two inches from side of pan comes out clean, 25-27 minutes. Cool brownies completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

Adapted from AllRecipes

Nutrition Facts per serving: 150 calories; 5.6 g of fat; 25 g of carbohydrates; 2.3 g of protein

Nutrition Benefits of black beans:

  • ½ cup serving contains 113 calories
  • 1 cup serving of black beans ~15 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein
  • Boost iron intake: 3.6 mg iron per cup
  • Folic acid, magnesium and potassium rich
  • 0 saturated fat

While the black bean brownies with mix recipe is great to have to have on hand with a time crunch, do you see a difference in nutrients between the black bean brownie recipe made from scratch and from the box? Have you tried black bean brownies before? What other ways have you added black beans into your dishes?

Photo Credit: Health and Happy Herbivore



By: Nikki Nies nutrition_cocomon_curry

In the last couple of years, there’s been hype around the use of coconut oil over other types of oil, due to its cholesterol lowering effects. There are two major types: virgin and refined.  Virgin coconut oi’s extracted from the fruit of mature coconuts without using high temperatures or chemicals.  Refined coconut oil is created using dried coconut meat that’s often bleached and/or deodorized.

I have to admit, I got sucked into the advertisements that coconut oil is an equivalent to olive oil.  I even bought a ___ container of coconut oil from Costco, that’s how committed I was.

A study let by Kai et al., 2011, looked into the efficacy of virgin coconut oil (VCO) in regards to weight reduction and overall safety of use in 13 female and 7  obese male Malay volunteers.  Weight, associated anthropometric parameters and lipid profile one week before and one week after VCO intake was documented. Organ function tests were used to assess the safety of VCO one week before and after use. The results showed only waist circumference was different from the initial visit, with a 2.86 cm reduction or a 0.97% change in measurement.  There was no change in lipid profile, but there was a small decrease in creatinine and alanine transferase levels. The study found no changes in women’s waist circumference or lipid profile, yet this product was seemed as safe to use on humans.

o-BENEFITS-OF-COCONUT-OIL-facebookUse of coconut oil is in conclusive.  Due to its high saturated fat content and more concrete evidence on the impact of fish oil, it’s recommended to use coconut oil sparingly.  Studies have shown that those using fish oil have a slight increase in their HDL levels, but also have a slight increase in their LDL levels.  There is strong evidence that the use of fish oil has a positive impact on one’s triglycerides, another type of fat that can increase one’s risk for heart disease.

With the limited research on the impact on hypercholesterolemia,Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome,thyroid problems and/or weight loss, if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have bought coconut oil.l  Like other types of tropical oils, such as palm oil and palm kernel oil, coconut oil’s high in saturated fat–specifically myristic acid and lauric acid.  Together, myristic and lauric acid have a greater total cholesterol raising impact than the palmitic acid found in meat and dairy products. Lauric acid decreases the Total:HDL cholesterol ratio due to the increase in HDL cholesterol levels.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic’s Nutrition Care Manual current recommendations for disorders of lipid metabolism:

  • Limit intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Consume adequate energy to maintain or achieve appropriate weight.
  • Replace saturated fat with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat (MUFA and PUFA)
  • Increase intake of n-3 fatty acids, fiber (especially soluble fiber), vegetables, and fruits

Since I did buy the coconut oil, I’ll use it sparingly, but I now recognize the difference between the hype and see the lack of scientific evidence to back up the mass market claims of coconut oil. If you do end up using coconut oil, when sauteeing or baking up to 350F,  opt for the virgin coconut oil as it’ll provide items with that “tropical” taste.  As unrefined coconut oil’s tasteless, in up to 425F it can be used in stir frying or high heat sauteeing.

Bottom Line: While high in saturated fat, coconut oil doesn’t contain trans fat, like shortening.  The types of fat in oils is important to consider than the numerical quantity of fat in the diet.


1. Cunningham E. Is There Science to Support Claims for Coconut Oil?. Journal Of The American Dietetic Association [serial online]. May 2011;111(5):786. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 23, 2014.

2. Kai Ming L, Yeong Yeh L, Chee Keong C, Rasool A. An Open-Label Pilot Study to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of Virgin Coconut Oil in Reducing Visceral Adiposity. ISRN Pharmacology [serial online]. January 2011;:1-7. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 23, 2014.

3. Q: Does coconut oil improve cholesterol by raising good cholesterol, or should I use fish oil?. Mayo Clinic Health Letter [serial online]. August 2012;30(8):8. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 23, 2014

4.Coconut oil: Supervillain or superfood?. Harvard Heart Letter [serial online]. January 2014;24(5):7. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 5, 2014

5. Lawrence G. Dietary fats and health: Dietary recommendations in the context of scientific evidence. Adv Nutr. 2013;4:294-302.

Omega 6 FA


By: Nikki Nies

Omega 6 fatty acids(FA), also known as linoleum acid, are the second type of essential FA within the omega family. They’re only available via one’s diet Omega 6’s play a vital role in optimal brain function, reproductive health, regulation of metabolism, bone health and hair growth.  Also, it may ease resistance to insulin for diabetics.

At room temperature, omega 6 FA are a colorless liquid.  Linoleic acid is used in the biosynthesis of arachidonic acid (AA) and some prostaglandins.

Food sources of omega 6’s:vegetable oil; sunflower oil, rice bran oil; cottonseed oil; corn oil; canola oil; flaxseed oil; avocado oil; coconut oil; walnuts; safflower seeds; pumpkin seeds; sunflower seeds; brazil nuts; peanut butter; meat; eggs; dairy products, etc.

However, it’s been found that an excessive amount of omega 6, in relation to omega 3, can lead to the pathogenesis of many diseases–CVD, cancer, autoimmune and/or inflammatory diseases.  The optimal omega 3/omega 6 ratio is 15/1-16.7/1, but may vary depending on disease state (i.e. for CVD a ratio of 4/1 omega 3/omega 6 is associated with a 70% decrease in mortality; 2-3/1 ratio was found to suppress inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients).  The typical Western diet is deficient in omega 3’s, so it’s important to monitor and assess your omega 3/omega 6 intake.


Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

By: Nikki Nies arthritic_joints

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that often impacts one’s extremities–hands and feet.  Impacting more than 1.3 million Americans, RA is an autoimmune disease and can last several years without displaying symptoms.  Symptoms can begin in childhood, called juvenile RA.  With progression, it can lead to joint destruction and functional disability.

The joint inflammation of RA can lead to stiffness, pain, swelling and/or stiffness in joints.  Additionally, pain can occur in the tendons, ligaments and/or muscles.

The direct cause of RA is unknown, yet it’s suspected viruses, bacteria and/or fungi may play a contributory role.  There may be some hereditary contributions to the cause, but information on specific genes is not concrete.  While the exact trigger of RA is also unknown, it’s understood when RA does develop, it promotes inflammation in the joints and possibly surrounding areas/organs. Lymphocytes  (i.e. TNF, interleukin-6)are expressed in the inflamed area.

Periods of flare ups and remission is common, with fluctuating levels of pain. Furthermore, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, muscle aches, low energy and/or stiffness may be exhibited. Joints may become red, tender and/or swollen due to the lining of the tissue becoming inflamed.

Risk factors:

  • Sex: Women are more likely to develop RA than men
  • Age: While it can occur at any age, there’s an increased risk of development between 40-80 years old
  • Family History: If a family member has RA, you may be at increased risk

In the early stages of RA, it can be difficult to diagnose as the pain and inflammation could be due to another underlying cause.  Secondly, there’s no specific physical or blood test that can be used to confirm the diagnosis. However, during a physical exam, a physician may check one’s reflexes, muscle strength and/or your joints for swelling, warmth and redness.

Those with RA have the tendency to have an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate), which is indicative of inflammation in the body. Blood tests may look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.

Complications can include osteoporosis and chronic anemia. There’s no specific cure to RA, yet there are some proactive nutrition recommendations suggested to alleviate pain and inflammation: fruit-grid

  • Simplify meal prep–i.e. purchase precut veggies and fruits
  • Support immune system by consume antioxidant rich food (i.e. carotenoids, vitamin E, selenium and vitamin D)
  • Restrict sodium intake if needed
  • If there’s elevated homocysteine levels or hyperlipidemia present, may need to limit fat intake
  • If malnourished, it’s encouraged to consume a high protein, calorie diet
  • If methotrexate’s used, increase folic acid rich foods or supplements
  • Make sure to stay hydrated regularly with adequate fluids
  • Since olive oil contains oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent, it’s recommended as the “go to” oil

While RA can become a debilitating disease, don’t let it stop you from enjoying life to the fullest.  With these nutrition recommendations, inflammation can be alleviated!


Escott-Stump, Sylvia. (2008) Nutrition and diagnosis-related care /Philadelphia : Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins,

Spanish Food Staples

mexicanBy: Nikki Nies

As the ethnic diversity of this nation  evolves, it’s important to stay on top of what people are buying as well what’s being sold in stores.  To ignore such trends limits one’s ability to connect to the masses and inhibits one’s ability to provide the best counseling and ed possible. The American census continues to grow, with Spanish American cuisine permeating through New Mexico to New York.  This type of food is also demanded by the American population.  With a rich history from the beginning of time, many Spanish Americans stay true to their family and cultural traditions to this day.  Many of the dishes made to this day have been passed down from past generations, with Goya products a necessary product on hand. I admit it’s not fair to clump all Hispanic cuisines together, there are some commonalities that can’t be denied.

To provide the best overview of such food staples, it only made sense to provide all information that one might encounter in an ethnic restaurant or within a Spanish community.

Food Description Use
Achiote Paste (Recado Rojo) Rust colored flavorful paste; made from the annatto seed; can substitute achiote oil for paste; originally a Mayan blend  seasoning for meat and vegetables
Avocado/Guacamole Can be mild, medium or spicy; can be smooth or chunky; can include mayo or not As condiment or dip
Beans Up to 20% of bean can be composed of proteins; easily grown; inexpensive; plentiful—can be used in a side dish or main dish Can be cooked with onions; epazote, pork crackling; frijoles puercos (“pig beans”); frijoles charros (“ranch style beans”); can be boiled or refried
Chayote Prickly fruit of chayotera; delicate, almost sweet flavor; Sweet and savory dishes; cooked with raisins, sugar, cinnamon and butter; can be eaten with salt and topped with cream cheese
Chiles 6 varieties; generally has high vitamin C content; diuretic, appetite stimulant and to cure some skin infections Can be stuffed and used as a main dish
Mexican Chorizo Spicy pork sausage
Maize/Corn Large grain plant domesticated by indigenous people; leafy stalk Used for tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, tortillas; tamales
Mamey Red, smooth, sweet and delicate pulp An excellent oil to nourish hair
Papaya Firm flesh; yellow with delicate aroma and flavor
Pepper Can be sweet, tangy or spicy Most common: bell peppers; also use jalapeno, habanero, poblano or serrano
Queso Fresco Fresh Mexican cheese with crumbly texture; slightly acidic flavor
Tamarind Pods Tropical fruit; similar to lemon or lime juice For sweet and sour taste
Tomatillo Tart flavor; neighbor of gooseberry Chillaquilles
Tortillas Flat bread often made from f corn or flour Used in enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, burritos; often warmed to make soft
Zapote Soft, red paste consistency; aromatic; with intense flavor Smoothies


While I had to research staples, what foods have I missed?  What are some foods that you keep in your pantry or use in your dishes?


Equipping Your Kitchen with Mexican Staples

Saturated Fats

By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Phu Thinh Co via Flickr
Original Image by Phu Thinh Co via Flickr

The USDA highly recommends the limitation of saturated fat to no more than 7% of one’s daily caloric intake.  So, if you’re consuming 2000 calories per day, it’s recommended no more than 140 calories or 16 g of fat per day.

Saturated fats can be found in animal products (e.g. butter, cheese, whole milk, cream, fatty meats, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil) are linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases (e.g. heart disease).  However, it must be noted that there isn’t concrete evidence that a large saturated fat intake will always pan out negatively.

Saturated fats contain carbon atoms that are saturated with hydrogen atoms.  Typically, saturated fats are solid at room temperature.

On to the good news! While unsaturated fats are not as favorable, unsaturated fats are a great replacement.  Unsaturated fats, such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature are an awesome alternative. Swapping out the portions of meat consumed for beans and legumes may be a good option as well.

To reiterate, the complete elimination of saturated fats is not needed.  By becoming more aware of what foods you’re eating, you can better acknowledge what your eating habits are.


Top Food Sources of Saturated Fat in the U.S.

The Facts About Saturated Fat