Discovering Healthy Choices

dhcBy: Nikki Nies

Who likes free? If you’re like the rest of the global society, you answered with an emphatic “I DO!!!”  Today you’re in luck, I’m sharing some the free curriculum that was shared with me at FNCE 2014. Discovering Healthy Choices os a garden enhanced nutrition curriculum as part of the Shaping Healthy Choices Program.

The goal with this curriculum is to provide better understanding of nutrition concepts and development o problem solving skills so children and teens can make wise, evidence based decisions about the foods they eat.  The curriculum covers everything from the roles of specific nutrients to MyPlate and physical activity recommendations to explanations on how food companies market their products.

Whether you’re an elementary teacher that wants to incorporate more sustainable practices in your classroom or you’re a dad that wants to teach your kids how to read food labels, this curriculum is friendly to all!

Photo Credit:UC Davis


Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating



gapaBy: Nikki Nies

The Global Advocacy for Physical Activity (GAPA) is part of the Advocacy Council of the International Society of Physical Activity and Health (ISPAH).  They aim to globally increase the amount of exercise.

With the help of other global advocacy groups, it creates and measures principles and actions to increase global health-enhancing behaviors.

Importance of GAPA:

  • Physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor for global mortality
  • Large share of deaths that are contributable to deaths occur in low and middle income countries
  • Will help support and advance WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
  • Multifold of benefits: environmental, cultural, sports, economic and overall health
  • Help countries investigate and compose strategies to inform, motivate and support individuals, families and communities to be physically active in a safe, enjoyable way

Become a member of GAPA and join the efforts to curb worldwide physical inactivity.


It’s All in the Name of the Diet

FAdDiet-BAd-Diet-1By: Nikki Nies

I was working recently at school in a computer lab and a student walked up to me asking to fill out her survey.  After filling out the typical female/male question, I already had questions regarding her survey.

Her first survey question asked, “Do you believe diets are healthy?”  She said what do I mean? I asked if she meant by diet as “eating healthy” or the more name brand diets, such as Atkins or Low Carb Diet. After some thought, she finally stated she was surveying on people’s perception of fad diets.

Of course, as a nutrition major I “strongly disagreed” with all claims that a fad diet is the most effective method of long term weight loss.  However, I started thinking about about “why” and “how” diets have evolved to be effectively hyped up and marketed.

It could be argued everyone’s on a diet–whether it’s a diet consisting of daily trips to McDonald’s to only chicken nuggets as main source of protein or eating 1/2 of one’s plate of fruit and veggies.  They’re all describing a type of diet.  A diet is:

 kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats

To help you decide what kind of diet you want to go ahead with, let me give you some things to ruminate about certain diet features:

  • Rapid Weight Loss: Not only is weight loss more than .5-1 lbs. not the most effective way to lose weight, one will also lose muscle, water and bone.  With too much weight lost in a short amount of time, it can lead to the regain of weight
  • Complete Restrictions of Foods or Foods Groups: Mind you, I’m not talking about eating foods if you’ve got an intolerance, sensitivity or allergy, but be wary of diet claims that either state unlimited quantities of certain foods (i.e. cabbage soup or grapefruit).  You may think substituting a food group with a multivitamin will help compensate with missed food groups (i.e. no carbs), but you’ll still be missing critical nutrients.
  • Exercise is not needed: Regular physical activity is needed for optimal weight management; it’s recommended one gets at least 160 minutes of exercise per week
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!  
  • Lose weight without making any changes!: Be wary of diet claims that you can eat as much high calorie foods and still lose weight.  In truth, it’s recommended to slash calories by 500 for a healthy, gradual weight loss.
  • Once and for all magic pill! Permanent weight loss requires the implementation of healthy lifestyle changes.  Doctors, dietitians and other leading experts are adamant that no “magic pill” exists.
  • Every body will lose weight: there’s no one size fits all solution.  Every one’s situation, body and needs are different! Contact a dietitian and/or your local health care provider to design a individualized nutrition and exercise plan.

The above claims are tempting to believe, but when looking for what you want to merge into your daily “diet”, think about the health claims that the latest diets have to offer.  To help you decide if the  latest diet is for you, ask yourself  “Can I eat this way for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, the diet isn’t for you.


The Pros and Cons of Fad Dieting

Healthy vs. Attractive Weight

By: Nikki Nies

Depending on one’s cultural and personal views, the perception of what’s healthy and attractive can or can not be synonymous. By medical standards, many Americans meet the criteria of overweight to obese.  Yet, critics of the BMI measurement state it is not always an accurate measurement of healthy and/or attractiveness.

A lot of critics suggest the lack of adequate nutrition in the Western diet has led to the current obesity epidemic, yet it seems some people are comfortable or sometimes prefer extra cushion or being “thick.”

Original Image by Kiran Foster via Flickr
Original Image by Kiran Foster via Flickr

A healthy lifestyle is subjective, but a standard measurement is how one’s lifestyle is linked to overall nutrition, obesity, physical activity and one’s risk for chronic diseases–heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  When looking at lifestyles, one’s cultural specificities of how food and fat operate in body according to class, gender and ethnicity, need to be evaluated as well. A study led by Lovejoy et al., 2001, found Black women tend to be more satisfied with their weight, size and appearance than their white counterparts.  A possible explanation for this difference may be the “afrocentric aesthetic”, which may allow blacks to resist mainstream beauty and that black men prefer larger women than white.

Healthy eating has been criticized due to the limiting consideration of food practices and has negatively played a role in the addition  of dieting.I’m not sure when the loathing of fat was introduced in American society, but it has had a double edged sword.  Being healthy promotes a healthy weight, but often times it’s mistaken as an attractive weight, yet healthy and attractive weight are not always the same thing.

With the cultural pressure to meet and remain a smaller size, it has led to body distortion, eating disorders and/or poor body image and self esteem.

Modern media has dictated what an attractive weight is, which isn’t always realistic.  “Penalities”for being overweight or obese is less severe for black women than white. While a person’s weight is part of the assessment of one’s physical appearance, it’s unfortunate that in our society so much emphasis and acknowledgement of weight is part of mainstream news and attention.  Physical attractiveness has been noted to help one’s prospects in the labor markets, in romantic relationships and throughout various face to face social interactions.

Although discrimination against weight can’t always be proved, it’s been widely scrutinized as responsible for social exclusion, public ridicule and the development of depression and/or isolation.


  1. Ali M, Rizzo J, Heiland F. Big and beautiful? Evidence of racial differences in the perceived attractiveness of obese females. Journal Of Adolescence [serial online]. June 2013;36(3):539-549. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 26, 2014.
  2. Kokkinos P. Nutrition and exercise: The safest way to health. Hellenic Journal Of Nutrition & Dietetics [serial online]. January 2011;2(1):19-22. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 26, 2014.
  5. Ristovski-Slijepcevic S, Bell K, Chapman G, Beagan B. Being ‘thick’ indicates you are eating, you are healthy and you have an attractive body shape: Perspectives on fatness and food choice amongst Black and White men and women in Canada. Health Sociology Review[serial online]. September 2010;19(3):317-329. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 26, 2014.

3rd Most Time Consuming Activity

watching-tv_0By: Nikki Nies

**Disclaimer: While this is a generalization that every one watches an abundant amount of TV, I myself included, while you may not spend an excessive amount of time watching TV, it’s still good to understand the ramifications of excessive TV watching.**

Besides work–which is predominantly behind a computer screen more than ever, and sleep, TV viewing is the 3rd most time consuming activity in which Americans engage in on a regular basis.  With such a statistic, it’s no surprise that large amounts  of TV viewing may contribute to obesity via the promotion of sedentary behavior and exposure to food related commercials.

While TV is convenient, enjoyable and relatively inexpensive, many families watch more TV than the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends.  AAP recommends no TV for those younger than 2 years old and no more than 2 hours for those 2 years and older.


Excessive TV watching can lead to:

  • Higher rates of attention problems in children
  • Children may become upset and/or aggressive by excessive violence seen on TV
  • TV watching may be unhealthily be used as a means to void social interaction with others
  • TV watching is a means of entertainment and leads to physical inactivity/physical development impairments
  • Increased food consumption–studies have found children consume 45% when sitting in front of the tube
  • Increased exposure to branded foods, drinks and restaurants and product placement of unhealthy products
  • Food marketing inherently influence food preferences and grocery shopping requests!

If you’re thinking to yourself, 2 hours of TV is an unrealistic request, small gradual changes can make a world of difference!  For example, making bedrooms Internet and TV free can cut the number of hours of screen in no time!

Check out this list of 174,203 things you can do besides watching TV:

After going through the above list, what new and/or old things are you going to try? After looking at the list, you can’t help, but NOT want to watch TV, right?


Barriers to Change

By: Nikki Nies

How’re your New Year’s resolutions coming along?   Do you remember what you initially sought out to improve on?   If you’re still carrying out your New Year’s resolution, that’s great! If not, having the goal to be the healthiest version of yourself is not a bad goal to have either.

Constant improvement of oneself is a great goal to have.  While people often put health professionals on a pedestal of health.  We all have traits and goals we can work on.   I’ve been thinking about what I want to improve on and publicly admitting makes one more accountable for said goals.

First, I know I drink an extensive extra amount of coffee than the recommended 3 cups maximum per day.  While other portion servings are more valid, my concept of a portion of coffee is skewed.  I don’t think coffee should be served in anything than less than 16 oz, but preferably closer to 24 oz.  While, I’ve cut out a lot of sweets (i.e. ice cream, cookies) in my regular diet due to my weekly grocery budget, I still use sugar in my coffee.  I don’t feel as guilty about the sugar packet I add to my coffee,  but I know if I drank it black, the coffee wouldn’t be a problem.

I know if it was a life or death matter, I could give up coffee, but it’s become like a third arm to me, it’s like drinking water in the morning.  I fully recognize that I have a slight coffee addiction, but am nowhere means willing to decrease to the intended 6 oz. servings.  Perhaps, when I’m done with dietetic internship? Probably, not.

However, there’s another part of my life I know I need to make better efforts.  While this blog emphasizes nutrition’s role in good health, exercise is an equally important part of the equation.  While I see myself as an active person, I definitely don’t get the recommended minutes of  daily physical activity.

We all need to acknowledge the mental barriers that impair our ability to keep our healthy routines.  What goals do you want to achieve and what’s in your way?

For me, I’m not a morning person.  Studies have shown starting your day with time at the gym or at home exercise can be a great kick off to the rest of the day.  I’ve been seen to go to the gym at 10PM and obviously it gives me an adrenaline rush.  Also, if you’re not completely committed to a new change, it’s so easy to talk yourself out of plans.  I’ve rescinded using my apartment’s elevator and only use the stairs.  I convince myself this is an adequate substitute of daily exercise, however, we all know it’s not.

Being held accountable to stick to a new goal can help remove barriers to change.  I’m heading to the gym tomorrow with my roommate.  Honestly, I wasn’t intending to go to the gym tomorrow, but since she asked me to accompany her, I know this is the time to seize a new healthy exercise routine.

Join me in living a more permanent healthy lifestyle and don’t allow those barriers inhibit your chance at reaching your goals.  Let’s do it!

Seeing the world on my bike

By: Nikki Nies

I recently bought a bike.  I must admit, I surprised myself.   I’ve wanted one for a while, but I actually bought one.  With school only a mile away, I couldn’t imagine driving there to and from.  Taking advantage of the weather and the close proximity to my school, it was a win win.

With the advisement of 30 minutes of physical activity daily, how do you get your exercise in? What’s your go to activity?

The Calorie Breakdown


By: Nikki Nies

True or false. Calories from fat, protein and carbohydrates are equal?  Well, I’m not going to give you the answer just yet.

There’s so much talk about counting calories, one wanting to know how many calories to eat and how many calories are and should be allotted to empty calories.  With the term calories becoming an ubiquitous term in our modern culture, do we even know what the measurement of calories is?

I know for me, it’s easy to know a concept, but if I had to explain the concept, I might not get my point across or be able to prove I know what I’m talking about.

A calorie is a unit of energy supplied by food that provides to the body. The body needs calories to function properly.

To answer my first question,  no not all macronutrient calories are the same.  Every wonder why fatty foods get a bad wrap?  In addition to some being coined  “bad” fats, they are higher in calories than carbohydrates and protein.

  • Carbohydrates: 4 kcal/g
  • Protein: 4 kcal/g
  • Fat: 9 kcal/g

Calories are the amount of energy released when the body breaks down (digests and absorbs) food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body. When you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the extra calories as body fat. Even a fat-free food can have a lot of calories. Excess calories in any form can be stored as body fat.

For those that love buttery foods and oils, you may be wondering why fat is higher in calories.  Fatty foods can contain saturated fats and trans fats, which can raise LDL cholesterol cholesterol.  If one consumes high fatty foods, it can increase their risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, etc. Often times high fat foods

Don’t be alarmed, not all fats are bad for you.  Check out previous posts on Good fats vs. bad fats, oils and fats.

Side note: Alcohol contains 7 kcal/g.

Now you may be wondering how many calories you should be eating.  There are so many equations and formulas available to calculate recommended caloric intake.  This chart below gives an idea of how many calories one might want to aim for in relation to his or her activity level.  However, all levels are just a recommendation and doesn’t take into account metabolism, environmental factors or personal interest.


I hope I’ve helped clear up some confusion by providing a better understanding of what a calorie is and in relation to everyday consumption of foods.


Physical Activity Objectives of 2020



In 2008, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) were created, which emphasizes the goal to “improve health, fitness and quality of life through daily physical activity.”  This is a team effort by the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
Physical activity covers an array of activities, everything from moderate and vigorous physical activity and muscle strengthening activities.  More than 80% of adolescents and adults do not meet the exercise guidelines. It is hoped with these updated objectives, that the information will be disseminated through all public agencies–schools, communities, organizations and businesses.
The Physical Activity Objectives:
  • Monitor physician counseling about exercise
  • Provide structural environments, such as the availability of sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, and parks
  • Legislative policies that improve access to facilities that support physical activity
  • Physical activity in childcare settings
  • Limit TV viewing and electronic usage
  • Recess and physical education in public and private schools
It may sound menial to list the benefits of physical activity, but why aren’t more people engaging in physical activity if the benefits outweigh the cost?  What’s stopping you?
Family on bikes outdoors smiling
The Healthy People Objectives of 2020 want to provide all the accessibility, ability and confidence to engage in physical activity regularly.  For the future, they recognize the multidisciplinary approach that is required to meet their goals.  Collaboration with education and health care, transportation, urban planning, recreation and environmental health are essential for the future.
  • Prevent early chronic diseases
  • Prevent depression
  • Decreases level of body fat
  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Improves bone health
  • Decreases stress levels
  • Improves cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
  • Associated with a higher income
  • Enjoyable scenery
  • Social support from family and friends
  • Belief in one’s self–self efficacy