Steam Your Way to Easy, Nutrient Rich Foods

Original Image by Alpha via Flickr
Original Image by Alpha via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Certain cooking techniques (i.e. braising, poaching) can diminish the nutritional value of some foods as vitamins are heat sensitive and may break down as a result of the heat. When foods are cooked in fluids, some of the nutrients may end up leaching out of the vegetable(s) and into the liquid.  Yet, as a moist heat cooking method, steaming uses the least amount of water when cooking, limiting the number of nutrients that can escape.  Therefore, steaming is one of the best cooking methods to maintain taste and color.

When using any of the other methods, nutrients are drawn from the vegetable to the water. To get more nutrients when using other methods is to additionally consume the water. When cooking vegetables in soups, this leaching of the micronutrients isn’t a detriment since you would be consuming the soup’s nutrient rich broth. A recent study led by Chang et al., 2012 showed that boiling of some vegetables for eight minutes actually increased the carotenoid retention. Though, in terms of other nutrients, steam cooking will have the least micronutrient losses.

Yes, steaming requires cooking at a higher temperature than poaching, braising or stewing, it’s one of the more “gentle” cooking methods, limiting agitation to foods as there is no bubbling liquid. As a reminder, steaming occurs when water is converted to its vapor state at 212F degrees.  Steaming’s perfect for vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, corn, carrots), couscous, desserts, fruit, fish and other “delicate” pastas (i.e. Chinese dumplings and ravioli).

Original Image via Ron Dollete via Flickr
Original Image via Ron Dollete via Flickr

Steamers can be found in a variety of materials, yet it should be noted that bamboo steamers are meant to be stacked on top of one another-at least two to three steamers together.  If you’re feeling extra frugal, you can use a metal colander in a  large pot.

Once steamer’s set up:

  1. Pour water in the bottom of your lidded cooking vessel (wok, pot, etc)
  2. Place food to be steamed in a steamer basket/insert/improvised steamer
  3. Put the insert into the pan, cover and let the water come to a boil over medium heat.

In addition to being a cost-effective way to cook, steaming does not require fat to conduct the heat.  Since the food is cooked in a combination of convection-movement of hot vapor through food and conduction-direct contact between steam, a squirt of lemon juice is all one needs! Again, since nutrients don’t leach out into vapor, water soluable nutrients, such as vitamin C and B can be preserved up to 50% more than in other types of moist heating cooking methods.

The steaming technique has been used as far back as the Paleolithic Period and is still one of the most popular ways to make fresh, healthy meals! To this day, China, India and North African countries use this cooking technique, allowing people to cook a lot of food relative to fuel and water.  Interested in getting your hands and food steam filled? I recommend steaming some fresh broccoli or cauliflower to start yourself off. For the steaming aficionados, what tips or recommendations do you have fellow readers for the best steamed meals? Then options are endless!


Steaming Technique | How to Steam Food

Milk Substitutes

By: Nikki Nies

For hundreds of years, milk derived from animals only, such as cow’s, sheep and goat. Yet, with lactose intolerance, maldigestion and the preference for non-dairy sources of milk emerging in recent years, the market and need for milk substitutes as increased multifold. Like there are differences in whole milk, 2% and skim milk, the nutrition content, flavor, color and texture of non-dairy milks–soy, rice, oat, 7 grain, hazelnut, hemp, almond and coconut vary.


Milk Type Description Texture/consistency Nutrients–1 cup Use
Whole great source of vitamin D, B12 and calcium 147 calories; 8.1 g fat; 98 mg sodium; 12.9 g carbs; 12.9 g sugar; 7.9 g protein; 276 mg calcium; 349.4 mg potassium; 98 IU vitamin D
1% great source of vitamin D, B12 and calcium 91 calories; 0.7 g fat; 130 mg sodium; 12.3 g carbs; 12.3 g sugar; 8.7 g protein; 316.2 mg calcium; 419.1 mg potassium; 98 IU vitamin D
Soy–plain obtained from soy bean; closest option to cow’s milk; contains vitamin B12 and D; processed; can be high in sugar; comes in sweetened, unsweetened and flavored varieties such as chocolate and vanilla creamy 100 calories; 4 g fat; 120 mg sodium; 8 g carbs; 6 g sugar; 7 g protein; 300 mg calcium; 300 mg potassium; 119 IU vitamin D vegan–baking, coffee, as is, cereal
Almond made from ground almonds, water and sweetener; has ⅓ of calories as 2% milk; magnesium and protein content is good for bone strength; contains less sugar than soy or rice milk; tends to be high in sodium; contains vitamins A, D & E; low in protein; higher in fat than skim milk thick 60 calories; 2.5 g fat; 150 mg sodium; 8 g cars; 7 g sugar; 1 g protein; 200 mg calcium; 180 mg potassium; 100 IU vitamin D cereal, coffee, sipping, baking
Coconut richest, creamiest of all milk alternatives; when purchased in a carton, tends to have a lower fat content and is not as creamy as in can form; high in saturated fat and calories thick, creamy 80 calories; 5 g fat; 30 mg sodium; 7 g carbs; 6 g sugar; 1 g protein; 450 g calcium; 40 g potassium; 100 IU vitamin D ice cream, Thai curry, moistens cakes; coffee; tea
Hemp best for those with nut or soy allergies; rich in omega 3 fatty acids; low in saturated fat; mixture of hemp seeds  and water; contains essential amino acids; fortified with vitamin D and A; low in protein thick, creamy; “earthy” 100 g calories; 6 g fat; 110 mg sodium; 9 g carbs; 6 g sugar; 2 g protein; 300 mg calcium; N/A potassium; 100 IU vitamin D smoothies; porridge; baking; cereals
7 Grain–original Oats, Brown Rice, Wheat,  Barley, Triticale, Spelt and Millet thin 140 calories; 2 g fat; 27 g carbs; 3 g protein; 115 mg sodium; 125 mg potassium biscuits, smoothies and cereals
Hazelnut considered “more agreeable” in flavor with coffee; supposedly “froths” better thin 110 calories; 3.5 g fat; 120 mg sodium; 16 g carbs; 0 g sugar; 2 g protein coffee, baking, vegan cooking
Oat Void of cholesterol and saturated fats; high in fiber, iron; contains phytochemicals, which can protect against heart disease and some cancers; must be avoided by those that need to adhere to gluten free diet thick and grainy 130 calories; 2.5 g fat; 24 g carbs; 110 mg sodium; 19 g sugar; 120 mg potassium on its own as a beverage, cereal, gravy, cupcakes, hearty cookies
Rice most hypoallergenic option of all milk alternatives; good for blood pressure due to niacin and vitamin B6 content; low in protein; not recommended for diabetics; highly starchy; often enriched with calcium, vitamin A & D watery, thin 70 calories; 2.5 g fat; 80 mg sodium; 23 g carbs; 10 g sugar; 1 g protein; 300 mg calcium; 0 mg potassium; 100 IU vitamin D oatmeal, smoothies and cereals–not recommended to be used in baking or cooking due to watery texture

With cow’s milk allergy reported to be the largest allergy in infants and children, it’s safe to say that these milk substitutes are a valuable resource. What’s your experience with these different milks? Have a particular preference you want to share? If you’re up to the challenge, why not make your own milk?


246353b24d55bd9ee4a810a9c74cBy: Nikki Nies

False grains, also known as pseudograins, are often associated with their whole grains counterparts, such as wheat, corn, barley, rice, millet and sorghum.While buckwheat has the word wheat in it, it is not composed of wheat! Confusing right?! Yet, pseudograins–amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice are becoming more popular with the more shelf space allotted Although pseudograins have different botanical origins, pseudograins are similar in composition to grains, but often superior in nutrient content–high in protein, fiber, magnesium, potassium and more! Pseudograins are seeds and grasses that are often mistaken for grains.

Quinoa has received a lot of attention, rightfully so, but how much experience do you have with buckwheat or amaranth? Did you know you can make your own soba noodles with buckwheat? Who’s up for that challenge?

Pseudograin Description Nutrition Content Use
  • staple of Mayan and Aztec cuisine
  • pleasant, nut like flavor
  • tiny kernels–4000/teaspoon
  • Gluten free
  • Can toast the seeds prior to use to additional flavor and crunch to any dish
  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin e
  • vitamin C
  • Lysine–an essential protein
  • Breads
  • Can be popped like corn
  • Veggie Patty
  • Add to soups or chilis
  • Pudding
  • Cookies
  • Biscotti
  • Smoothies
  • Porridge or oatmeal
  • Substitute for rice, couscous, orzo or risotto
  • Without gluten, will have to mix with other flours for baking, with ratio 1:3; ¼ cup amaranth, ¾ cup additional flour=1 cup
  • Is a broadleaf crop–in the same family as sorrel and rhubarb
  • seed is triangular shape
  • Dark hull is usually removed before milling–called groats
  • Kasha: toasted buckwheat groats
  • Dark buckwheat flour includes hulls
  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • vitamin e
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Breads
  • Pancakes
  • Granola
  • Blinis
  • Crepes
  • Muffins/rolls
  • Soba noodles
Quinoa (keen-wa)
  • sacred staple of Incan empire
  • mild corn and bean flavor
  • fruit of the herb–does not contain gluten
  • most of quinoa consumed in U.S. is imported from South America–when grown above 12,000 feet, it has the whitest color and sweetest taste
  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • vitamin e
  • Folic Acid
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • As a complete protein, quinoa contains all essential amino acids
  • Stews, pilafs, salads or bread
  • Tabbouleh
  • Chili
  • As a side: i.e. to salmon
  • Quinoa crab cakes
  • Baked tomatoes with quinoa, corn and grilled chiles
  • Meatballs
Wild Rice
  • An aquatic seed found in freshwater lakes in Canada, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota
  • Has a rich, nutty flavor
  • Color can vary from medium brown to almost pure black
  • Protein
  • B vitamins
  • Folic Acid
  • Lysine–an essential protein
  • Stir fry
  • Rolls
  • Dressing/Stuffings
  • Soups
  • Casseroles/pilafs
  • Quiche
  • Salads
  • Risotto

Now that you have a better understanding of the versatility of pseudograins, make sure to add these foods to your grocery shopping list if you don’t have on hand already! I’m going to try my hand at making buckwheat soba noodles using the following recipe:

Homemade Buckwheat Soba Noodles:

Homemade Soba NoodlesServings:


  • 2 generous cups stone-milled buckwheat flour 
  • 1/2 generous cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup  filtered or mineral water
  • Buckwheat starch or tapioca starch, for rolling the soba


  1. Combine flours:  Sift through strainer into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add water to the flour: Measure water and pour over the flours.
  3. Knead until a crumbly dough is formed: Work flours and water together with hands and knead n the bowl until it is a rough and slightly crumbly dough.
  4. Knead dough on the counter until smooth: Turn dough out onto the counter. Continue kneading until it holds together easily, does not crack while kneading, and becomes smooth.
  5. Shape the dough into a disk: Shape dough into a pointed cone, like a mountain peak. Press straight down on the peak with the palm of your hand, squishing it into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. The bottom should be very smooth. This step helps ensure that the dough is even and in a uniform shape before rolling.
  6. Roll out the dough: Sprinkle counter with a little starch and place dough on top. Sprinkle the top of the dough and the rolling pin with starch. Begin rolling out the dough, working from the center of the dough outward in long, even strokes. Gently tap the edges of the dough with your rolling pin to shape them into straight lines as you roll, gradually shaping the dough into as close a rectangular shape as you can make it. Use more starch as needed to prevent sticking. Continue rolling the dough into a rectangle longer than it is wide and 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch thick (as thin as possible!).
  7. Fold the dough: The next step is folding the dough to make it easier to cut straight, thin noodles. Spread a generous handful of starch over half of the dough. Fold the dough in half, like closing a book. Spread the bottom of the dough with more starch and fold the top down. Spread starch over the entire surface of the dough and fold the top down again.
  8. Slice the soba: Place a pastry scraper, ruler, or other thin, flat utensil over the top of the folded dough. Use this as a guide when cutting the noodles. Using chefs knife, begin cutting noodles 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch thick — the same thickness as your dough. Move the pastry scraper back with every cut to help you cut noodles with an even thickness. Toss the cut noodles with a little more starch to prevent sticking. Cook or freeze the soba within a few hours.→ Make-Ahead Moment: At this point, the soba can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before cooking.
  9. Cook the soba: Set strainer in your sink. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes, and set this near the sink. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and drop in the soba. Cook for 60 seconds, then drain through the strainer in the sink. Rinse thoroughly under cool water, lifting and gently shaking the soba until the cooking film is rinsed away. Immediately dunk the soba in the bowl of ice water. Drain and serve with dashi, soy sauce, and sesame oil, or use the soba in any recipe.

Recipe adapted from Kitchn

What’re your thoughts on the soba noodle recipe? Willing to join me in the fun?

Photo Credit:Chatelaine, New Fin My Soup


‘Smart’ Frozen Meals

By: Nikki Nies

I’m a self-proclaimed realist.  I recognize that TV dinners aka frozen meals are a mainstay in grocery aisles and family households.  Instead of stating one should avoid such meals, I’ll join in on the fun and try to provide some healthier alternatives and guidance on what to parts of the food label one should discern when opting between two choices.

Prepackaged frozen meals take up more shelf space than any other type of food in the frozen aisle!  There’s no way to bypass reading the nutrition fact label to ensure you’re choosing the healthiest option! In other words, please give yourself a few extra minutes to compare meals and perhaps bring a pair of gloves down that aisle if you’re like me and get cold easily!

There are two types of frozen meals one should stick to: esq-iNWyfh-frozen-large

  1. Light Frozen Meals: Less than 300 calories and no more than 8 g of fat
  2. Regular Frozen Meals: 360-400 calories per meal and a maximum of 25 g of fat

Additional Tips:

  • When possible, go for the light frozen meal.
    Make sure to note the frozen meal portion size and grab the meal with veggies, as they tend to be lower in calories and contain more fiber and vitamins and minerals
  • Choose entrees that contain brown rice
  • Opt for lean meats–chicken, poultry and/or pork
  • Stick with lighter brand versions: Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers, and/or Amy’s
  • Hungry Man, Marie Callendar’s and Stouffer’s brand tend to be very rich in calories and fat and less nutrient dense than the lighter brands!
  • If you’re watching your sodium intake, it’s recommended to limit intake to less than 600-800 mg per meal, which is 1/3 of recommended sodium intake for average American
  • Don’t get wrapped up in the health claims the packages toot, this includes “natural” and “organic.”
  • Select meals with at least 3-5 g of fiber
  • Limit fat intake to less than 3 g of saturated fat or less per serving

I recognize these tips may seem overwhelming.  If needed, slowly start incorporating these suggested tips into your daily frozen meal choices one at a time.  Grocery shopping is one of my favorite past times and I hope it becomes and/or stays one of yours as well!


Hummus and Guacamole Showdown




By: Nikki Nies

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 is the leading regulator of supplements, defined as products that are used to supplement the diet.  Specifically, supplements can include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids and other dietary  substances. images

Critics stated that supplements aren’t regulated at all.  Part of that is true.  Supplements aren’t regulated like other types of drugs, but like foods, even though they’re not foods!

DSHEA is jointly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It should be noted that DSHEA has grandfathered all dietary supplements that were marketed in the U.S. before October 15th, 1994, considering them safe.  Due to this distinction, DSHEA has two categories of supplements: old (“grandfathered) and new (after 10/15/1994).  

I’m currently taking a Complementary Alternative Therapy class, which focuses on supplement use in American society.  It’s inevitable that people are going to try supplements, but I highly encourage you to consult your primary physician, dietitian and/or do your own research on the impact of specific supplements in academic journals.

While DSHEA is the primary regulatory of supplements, it doesn’t fully protect consumers from harm.  A supplement is considered unsafe if it’s been seen to cause “injury to health.”  As always, your primary source of nutrition should be from whole foods while supplements are used for special situations (i.e. malnourished individuals).

If you have any additional questions in regards of DSHEA and the regulation of supplements, don’t hesitate to ask or contact us at


Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)

To Supplement with Supplements?


By: Nikki Nies

When the mention of supplements arises it’s evident there’s conclusive perspectives on the need and use of supplements in daily life.  The talk of supplements even causes controversies with health professionals, as some want to avoid supplements at all costs, while others see the benefits outweigh the costs.  Defined by Congress through the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, a dietary supplement is regarded as: Herbal-Natural-Supplements1

  • Not as tobacco
  • Intended to supplement the diet
  • Contains one or more dietary ingredients and/or its constituents (i.e. vitamins, minerals, botanicals, herbs, amino acids)
  • Intended to be taken orally in the composition of a pill, capsule, tablet or liquid
  • Is labeled on the front panel of the bottle as a dietary supplement

The Federal Drug & Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements, however, not in the same thorough process as every day foods.  Supplement ingredients that that have been sold in the U.S. prior to 1994 are not required to be reviewed by the FDA prior to being placed on the market since they’re presumed to be safe.  Those ingredients that have emerged after 1994 must be notify the FDA and request permission for usage through evidence that it provides beneficial effects.

The decision for a product to be labeled a dietary supplement versus a conventional food or drug is dependent on how the product is advertised and portrayed by the manufacturer and/or the accompany literature.  However, many dietary and food supplement food labels do not provide such information.  Also, unlike drug products, there are no provisions in the law to for FDA to “approve” dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they are put on the market.

Once a dietary supplement is marketed, FDA has to prove that the product is not safe in order to restrict its use or remove it from the market. In contrast, before being allowed to market a drug product, manufacturers must obtain FDA approval by providing convincing evidence that it is both safe and effective.

Since supplements aren’t required by law to be tested for the safety and effectiveness, the amount of sound evidence of the positive impact of supplements  is limited and varies from supplement to supplement.  Drugs are different from dietary supplements as they can include claims such as the ability to mitigate, diagnose, cure, treat or prevent a disease, while said claims can not be done on a dietary supplement label.

I know many swear by the benefits of supplements.  I’m glad to see they’ve benefited from using them, but I’m still wary of their positive impact and lack of FDA regulation.  While food should be the primary source of nutrition, I can see how and why people would use supplements to aid in deficiencies.  Definitely more research and better regulation needs to occur for a better stance on supplements.


Benefits of Breastfeeding


By: Nikki Nies

One of the common first questions posed to new moms is bottle or nipple fed?  While breastfeeding may be initially thought as unrealistic for working mothers, those feeling detached or with hectic schedules, perhaps you need a little a more convincing.

 I’ve personally not given birth, but I can understand and empathize with the concept of wanting to provide the best for one’s children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommend breastfeeding, as it’s one of the first, best acts of love a mother can give.

Benefits of Breastfeeding:

  • Provides ideal amount of nutrients–provides perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fat
  • More easily digested than infant formula
  • Breast milk contains antibodies, which can help fight off bacteria and/or viruses
  • Can satisfy baby’s emotional needs–best way to keep baby comfortable!
  • Protects against Crohn’s disease
  • Reduces risk of allergies and/or asthma 762_breastfeeding-poster
  • When exclusively breast fed for first 6 months, may decrease risk of ear infections, respiratory illnesses and/or bouts of diarrhea
  • Babies are less likely to be constipated
  • Most convenient method of feeding!
  • Breast milk composition provides newborn all the nutrients needed
  • May increase intelligence in the future
  • May need less trips to the hospital and/or doctor
  • Increases maternal bond with newborn
  • More likely for babies to to stay on target on growth charts
  • Plays a role in the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • May lower future risk of diabetes, obesity and/or certain cancers
  • For mothers, reduces risk of breast and ovarian cancer, increases recovery from childbirth, reduces risk of osteoporosis, burns extra calories–>helps one lose more pregnancy weight faster
  • More environmentally friendly–less waste with formula cans and bottles
  • More budget friendly–with breastfeeding, one doesn’t have to worry about purchasing baby bottles, sterilizing and/or measuring formulas
  • Saves time!

Yes, every mother’s situation is different.  If your doctor states your baby needs to be bottle fed temporarily, of course, bottle feed.  But, if all’s clear, don’t knock breastfeeding until you’ve tried it.  Make sure to try different positions and compare notes with friends on some useful tips. Good luck!

Photo Credit: Fluffy Baby Shop and Ann elise in the big world


Snacks On-The-Go


By: Nikki Nies

Whether you’re wrapping up end of the year classes or are as busy as can be with obligations pulling in you in multiple directions, it’s always applicable to think about the snacks to keep on hand.

To decrease chances of overeating or binge eating, keeping a variety of foods stocked in your pantry is key to great snacking.  On the weekends or when you do grocery shopping, buy in bulk or at least for the next week’s activities, expecting to take snacks with you whenever out.

Snacking suggestions for all tastes and preferences:

  • Fresh fruits–apples, bananas, kiwi, pears, berries, oranges
  • String Cheese
  • Fat Free/Low Fat Greek Yogurt
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Raw vegetables and hummus
  • Peanut Butter and jelly sandwich
  • Frozen Grapes
  • Mixed salad with fat free dressing
  • Oatmeal
  • Dry Cereal
  • Low calorie, sodium soup
  • Fruit and Vegetable Smoothies
  • Rice cakes
  • Air popcorn
  • Pea/Kale Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Edamame

If you’ve already got a snack routine in place, that’s great! Never hurts to add an additional snacking option into the mix, it’ll add a different array of vitamins and minerals.

One’s snacking preferences are dictated by daily activities, availability and level of satiety. For me, I always take snacks whenever out and I can’t tell you how many times it’s helped me out of a bind.  If you’re not regularly a snack person, keeping a couple coins in your purse may be the difference between hunger and contentment.