Health Tips When Traveling To China


China_table_settingBy: Nikki Nies

To truly immerse yourself in a culture, especially one that is far removed from your own is the true definition of traveling. Whether you travel to the exhilarating Machu Pichu or soak up the rays in Turks & Caicos, there’s one factor in vacation destinations that can be not be ignored, the food. Depending on one’s taste buds and food preferences, that can dictate travel excursions. No matter how much you   factor in food, China should be at the top of your list of travel destinations!

You should head to China with at few ideas of where you want to go and how to best enjoy the food. I have provided first hand tips of how to best eat in China.

With many carbohydrate sources, such as rice, noodles, steamed buns as entrées themselves or accompanying the entrees, it can be easy to carb overload. However,

  • Eat with chopsticks. Not only will it slow down intake, but locals will be more likely to give you menu and meal suggestions when they see you immersing in the culture
  • Try a bit of everything, but don’t eat everything. Having a couple bites can help limit overindulging while getting the exposure to different flavors
  • Cold beverages are deemed harmful to digestion of hot foods, so hot tea or hot water are served with meals. Tea is believed to help with the digestion of greasy foods
  • Food is often prepared and served on small plate, “family style”, be ready for direct pick up and communal eating

    Image by rayand goo.gl/5mSWbf
    Image by rayand goo.gl/5mSWbf
  • While China can be divided into 57 cuisine regions, below are some of the more popular regions:
    • Szechuan (Sichuan): known for spicy, hot flavor; uses a great mixture of poultry, pork, beef, fish, vegetables, tofu in combination with pepper and chili; fast frying is most commonly used method
    • Cantonese: characterized by tender, slightly sweet taste; sauces are often light and mellow, including hoisin, oyster, plum and sweet and sour sauce; often see spring onions, sugar, salt, rice wine, corn starch, vinegar and sesame oil used; garlic can be heavily used; prefer stewing, sautéing or braising food, which helps to preserve the flavor
    • Hunan: “land of fish and rice”; fresh vegetables cooked “al dente”; favors steaming, stir frying, smoking and sautéing; special seasonings include soy sauce, tea seed oil, Chinese red pepper, fennel and cassia bark and spicy oil
    • Jiangsu: moderate saltiness and sweetness; places emphasis on the making of soups; abundant in freshwater fish and seafood from the Yangtze River and Yellow Sea
  • Desserts less common, with sweet foods introduced during meal. For example, basifruit, sizzling sugar syrup coated fruits are eaten with other savory foods
    • Beware, there are fried desserts that incorporate red bean paste
    • If dessert is served at the end of the meal, often times it is fresh fruit
  • Soup is often served at the end of the meal to satiate appetite

For any of you that have traveled to China, what other tips can you share? It’s hard to give specific “restaurant recommendations” as a lot of the great food is on the street kiosks and depending on what flavors you’re looking to try! Remember, when traveling, go in with an open mind and have fun! What regional cuisines are must eats for you

Sources: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/healthy-living/use-your-noodle-the-real-chinese-diet-is-so-healthy-it-could-solve-the-wests-obesity-crisis-873651.html

The Forgotten Health Benefits of Chinese Food

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-10-tips-healthy-chinese-cooking

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/2013/2/7/chefs-reveal-how-to-find-authentic-chinese-food

Complementary Proteins


By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Liz Mc via Flickr
Original Image by Liz Mc via Flickr

We all know there are simple and complex carbohydrates, but how many people are familiar with the different types of proteins? Yes, not all proteins are made the same! Complement proteins, made of amino acids, are those that come together to form a higher quality protein.  There are twenty amino acids, with ten considered essential to be obtained from the body as the body can not produce them. These include valine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, cysteine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, tryptophan, threonine and lysine. Limiting amino acids, such as cysteine, tryptophan, cysteine and methionine’s intake are monitored since if diet becomes too low in one of the amino acids, it will limit usefulness of other amino acids consumed. For example, while beans are high in lysine, they are low in methionine and cysteine.  While grains are high lysine, they are low in methionine and cysteine, making eating grains and beans at the same meal a great pairing, called complementary proteins.

A vegetarian requires complementary proteins from foods in order to obtain the complete package of essential amino acids. Vegetarians obtain their protein sources from vegetable sources, which do not always contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts. Besides soy protein, plant proteins are not complete protein sources.  Therefore, by pairing incomplete protein foods (i.e. beans and rice together), it forms complementary proteins and ensures one obtains enough of the limiting amino acids.

The best way to ensure you’re obtaining all necessary vitamins and minerals in your daily meals is to keep a variety of foods on hand.  Of course, protein can be found in beans, nuts, nut butters, peas and soy products.  Aside from all of the essential amino acids, people on a vegan diet also need adequate intake of iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B-12, which are found abundantly in animal foods. Leafy greens, dried fruits and fortified breakfast cereals will help you to add these important nutrients to the vegan diet.

While all animal proteins, soy and quinoa are complete proteins, other plant based proteins, such as whole grains, beans and nuts are incomplete, but when combined with other foods forms essential amino acid.  Legumes, such as peas, lentils, peanuts and beans, are great to eat when paired with whole grains. Some common combinations include black bean and corn salad with brown rice, split pea soup with barley, peanut butter on whole wheat toast and/or pinto beans in a whole wheat pita. Legumes provide an essential amino acid called lysine, which is low in many grains. Whole grains provide methionine and cysteine, which are low in legumes, or beans, peas, lentils and peanuts.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians may have an easier time pairing foods since they eat dairy and eggs, which are great sources of complete proteins. Haricot beans, lentil and rice

Suggested combinations:

  • Dairy and grains
  • Dairy and seeds
  • Dairy and legumes
  • Grains and seeds
  • Grains and legumes
  • Legumes and seeds

What food pairings work best in your life? What struggles have you found when pairing foods together?

Sources: http://www.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips/2011/09/what-are-complementary-proteins-and-how-do-we-get-them

http://www.nutrition411.com/content/complementary-proteins-origins-and-recipes

http://biology.clc.uc.edu/courses/bio104/compprot.htm

http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html

http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/dietarytherapy/a/Vegetarian.htm

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/health-benefits-lentils-whole-grain-rice-2159.html

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002222.htm

新年快樂


1400361914By: Nikki Nies

Happy Valentine’s Day! For all those that are celebrating this love filled Hallmark holiday, I hope you’re enjoying yourself! For those that are looking for other events and/or happy moments to celebrate, why not join me in celebrating Chinese New Year! As the Chinese say, 新年快樂 (xin nian kuai le!). While those that follow the Gregorian calendar have already celebrated the New Year as of January 1st, double dip in New Year’s, starting new healthy habits and/or learning about Chinese dietary customs during this time of celebration!

Since the Chinese use a lunar calendar, the festivities are also known as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year celebrations run from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the last day of the month of the Chines ecalendar, the Lantern Festival.  This means that celebrations often extend for more than two weeks, since the Lantern Festival is not until the 15th day of the first month.

With the Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year, between January 21 and February 20. This year it officially starts on February 19th, but like many holidays, preparations and celebrations may start well before that.  It is customary for families to thoroughly clean the house to sweep away any ill fortune.

Each New Year as a presiding animal zodiac, which rotate in a twelve year cycle-at, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, Rooster, dog, and pig. Each animal represents a year in a 12-year cycle, beginning on Chinese New Year’s Day. This year’s celebration is personally important to me as it’s the Year of the Sheep, which is “my year.”  What do I mean by “Year of the Sheep?”

The upcoming 2015 year of the Sheep is the inspiring period; it will try to leave behind any unstable affair and connections with the aim to carve a new more honest pattern of relations.

Chinese New Year Traditions:

  • 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. Each of the ten heavenly stems is associated with one of the 5 elements of Chinese astrology: Wood, Fire, Earth,Metal, and Water. The elements are rotated every other year
  • Yin and Yang association alternates yearly. i.e. Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc.
  • Eight individual dishes are served to reflect the belief of good fortune associated with the number eight. If there was a death in the family in the year prior, seven dishes are served.
  • Preceding days: on the eighth day of the lunar month, a traditional porridge is served in 201112311452057656remembrance of an ancient festival, called La. The women of the household at first light, offers to the family ancestors and household dieties. Laba garlic turns green from vinegar to create pickles. “La month” is similar to Christianity Advent.
  • On Chinese New Year’s Eve, many eat vegetarian
  • Biggest event is the “Reunion Dinner” on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Fish is often times served. Part of the fish will be saved overnight due to the phrase “may there be surpluses every year”
  • Garlic and preserved meat are saved for Chinese New Year’s Day
  • In northern China, dumplings (jiao zi, 餃子) are often served around midnight, as they symbolize wealth. Their shape resembles a Chinese sycee, a type of silver or gold ingot currency
  • In southern China, 粘 糕 (nian gao) is served, a glutinous new year cake. 粘 糕 literally translates as “New Year cake”, with a homophonous meaning of “increasingly prosperous year in and year out.”
  • eight-treasures-rice-cakeOther commonly eaten foods during the celebrations: 1) Eight Treasures Rice contains glutinous rice, walnuts, different colored dry fruit, raisins, sweet red bean paste, jujube dates, and almonds; 2) “Tang Yuan” – black sesame rice ball soup; or a Won Ton soup 3) Chicken, duck, fish and pork dishes 4) “Song Gao” translates to “loose cake”- which is made of rice which has been coarsely ground and then formed into a small, sweet round cake 5)“Jiu Niang Tang” – sweet wine-rice soup which contains small glutinous rice balls

If you love the pizazz that comes with lion dances, fireworks, family gatherings,lighting firecrackers, visiting friends, the exchange of giving money in red envelopes and/or hearty food, join me in celebrating Chinese New Year! I can’t wait to make dumplings, rice and just enjoy the start of a New Year! Again, 新年快樂!

Photo Credit: Open Clip Art,Celtnet and X Zone 

Food Sources: http://www.gotohoroscope.com/chinese-zodiac-ram.html

http://www.chinesenewyears.info/chinese-new-year-traditions.php

http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/chinese-new-year-traditions

http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/special-report/chinese-new-year/

https://www.yahoo.com/food/10-chinese-new-year-foods-c1423811122143.html

Making Perfect Rice Everytime


By: Nikki Nies fluffy-rice

Whenever I tell someone I use the oven to cook my rice they do a double take. No, I don’t use a rice cooker or stove top, but this route of rice cooking has been a tried a true way!

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. In a greased, covered oven-proof casserole, put one-cup white* rice, two-cups water, one Tablespoon butter, one teaspoon salt. Cover, bake for 50 minutes. Fluff with fork.
*Brown or black rice takes longer; if not done in 50 minutes, bake ten minutes longer. Experience will tell you exactly how long it will take.

Thanks mother for this fool proof way of making rice!

Photo Credit: Feminiya 

Healthy Pasta Alternatives


Original Image by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr
Original Image by Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Love the taste of pasta, yet struggle to eat a balanced diet?  Switch up your meals with healthier pasta options and pair with your favorite vegetables and seasonings.Whether you’re trying to limit your refined carbohydrates and/or increase  whole grains and vegetable intake, by making some small changes, you can still enjoy some great tasting dishes!

Healthy Pasta Alternatives

  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Black bean spaghetti
  • Broccoli Slaw
  • Shredded cabbage
  • Soybean pasta
  • Sprouted wheatgrass
  • Farro pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Soba Noodles
  • Shirataki Noodles
Cauliflower Alfredo Pasta Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Serves:8Ingredients:

  • 3 small heads cauliflower
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ c. heavy cream
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Chop cauliflower. Bring vegetable broth to a boil over medium-high heat and add cauliflower.  Cook until cauliflower is soft, ~15 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and saute 4-5 minutes or until soft.
  3. Transfer cauliflower to a blender with about 2 cups of broth. Add sautéed garlic, salt, nutmeg and black pepper and puree until smooth .Stream olive oil into blender and add more broth or water if too thick.
  4. When smooth, transfer back to butter/garlic skillet and add cream over low heat
Adapted from Pinch of Yum

Make It Yours: Cauliflower is an underutilized food in the kitchen, yet you should always have it on hand! Besides using as a healthy pasta alternative, use cauliflower to make pizza crust, cauliflower mash, replace chicken, cauliflower rice burrito bowl, cauliflower mac and cheese, cauliflower tots, cauliflower breads rolls, cauliflower calzones and/or baked breaded cauliflower “mozzarella” sticks.

Health Benefits of cauliflower:

Original Image by dollen via Flickr
Original Image by dollen via Flickr
  • Rich in fiber, which helps stay full longer and eases digestion
  • Folate rich to form red blood cells
  • Rich in vitamin C, which protects the immune system during cold and flu season
  • Rich in vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting
  • Full of potassium, which helps regulated blood pressure
  • Good source of manganese, which helps nerves function properly
  • Increases HDL cholesterol—“good” cholesterol à reduces risk of stroke
  • Has anti carcinogenic effects—antioxidant rich
  • Helps unborn babies develop properly
  • Low calorie
  • Fat free
  • Vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Improves healthy cell growth
  • Assists with kidney and bladder disorders
  • Blood and liver detoxifier

Customizing Pasta Alternatives: Now that you’ve ventured out and tried non grain pasta, don’t stop there! Add more color, flavor and nutrients to your meal with the addition of your favorite vegetables and seasonings: asparagus, broccoli or broccoli rabe, spinach, arugula, mushrooms, limes, carrots, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, corn, artichokes, pesto, garlic and/or onions.

What’re your favorite pasta add ins? Suggestions for how to make regular dishes more exciting?

SF Cinnamon Vanilla Rice Pudding


By: Nikki Nies

Thanks Food and Nutrition Magazine for sharing this sugar free rice pudding recipe!

 IMG_7717.JPG

 

Great Meals for One!


Handsome black man preparing salads in a modern kitchen.By: Nikki Nies

Several of my friends and family, including my parents, struggle with making meals that they can adequately eat since many of them are either not big eaters and/or would be cooking for one.  While I personally don’t struggle with making too many quantities of food as I love not having to cook every night, I can understand why the extra leftovers can be daunting.

In case you need tips on what to do with leftovers, you’re in luck! There’s tons of ways to reduce spoilage and to make your meals last longer.  However, if you need further incentive to get in the kitchen instead of opting for take out or a bowl of cereal, let me direct you to some worthwhile tips!

The best part of cooking for yourself? You get to eat what you want, how you want without any compromises!  Yes, there may be more freedom in the kitchen in terms of artistic creativity, but it doesn’t mean you have to throw out all you’ve learned regarding healthy cooking!

  • Utilize your muffin pan for more than just muffins! Whip up some rice and/or barley, making individualized portions using your muffin tin
  • Have leftover bread or English muffins? Wrap the leftovers up tightly in a sandwich bag to prevent freezer burn and/or use some of the leftover bread to make croutons or for dipping
  • Head to a bulk warehouse store, such as BJ’s, Sam’s Club or Costco and stock up to decrease waste and often times less expensive per pound.  Bulk produce is only worth the investment if the quantity is a realistic amount for you to consume before spoilage.
  • Opt for frozen fruits and veggies, which are often times more convenient and last longer than fresh food.  Make sure to choose frozen packages that do not have added sauces, syrup or sugar
  • Enjoy the more perishable produce, such as berries and spinach, earlier in the week.  Heartier produce such as carrots, cabbage and potatoes can be eaten later in the week
  • Make sure to always have eggs on hand! They’re a great addition to many dishes and contain a great amount of vitamin D and choline
  • Take the plunge and buy a whole package of meat and/or poultry, wrap in individual portions, date and freeze!

I’ve found the best part of cooking for myself is that I’ve gotten quite well acquainted with my freezer.  I don’t have to worry about rushing home to get dinner on the table, but when I make a casserole or have leftover soup, I can individually package the leftovers to get out for a later date.

For those of you cooking for yourselves, what tips have you found to make cooking hassle free?

Sources: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442477582

http://greatist.com/health/healthy-single-serving-meals

http://www.helpguide.org/life/cooking_for_one_fast_easy_healthy.htm

http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Health/Recipes.shtml