I adopted the Mediterranean diet

Why I researched and adopted the Mediterranean diet started with a silly story.

A few weeks ago, I felt a little bit on pain on my left chest and noticed that my heart rate was a bit higher than it usually was. For good measure, there was a little bit of pain in the area right above my left elbow. I Googled the symptom and the results said that it could be a pinched never or it could be a harbinger of a heart attack. Paranoid and scared, I scheduled a visit to a doctor at a nearby hospital, despite knowing that I would have to pay out of my pocket. I don’t want to have a heart attack and how silly it would be to die from saving a couple of hundred bucks!

I explained to the kind doctor how I felt. He did a few checks, pressed on the painful area on my chest and asked a few questions on what my routine was. After some 20 minutes, he told me that I simply had inflammation on the area, that I got a pinched nerve on my left elbow, that my high heart rates might just be because I was under work stress and he didn’t think I was at risk of a heart attack. The inflammation could be due to exercise or just because my 13lb cat had a habit of walking on my chest every morning to wake me up. He prescribed me some pills to deal with the inflammation and sent me on my way. My little scare went away a few days later, but my relief was soon replaced by the $140 bill that the hospital sent. I spent all that money just to know that my cat might have given me chest inflammation!

But then it hit me that deep down I am really concerned about the health of my heart and the risk of a heart attack. I needed to do something to make sure I gave myself the best chance at living with my newly wed wife as long as possible. In addition to regular exercise, food is an equally , if not more, important factor. So I went down a rabbit hole and it led me to Mediterranean diet.

What is Mediterranean diet? It describes the way that people in the Mediterranean region have consumed food for centuries and still to this day. Their way of life features a high emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, legumes and white protein meat such as fish or other seafood. The Mediterranean diet discourages the consumption of red meat, processed meet, butter, eggs and sweets. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 – Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Source: Domestic Dietitian

Numerous studies have linked Mediterranean diet with lower cholesterol and lower risks of heart disease. According to Harvard, a study involving 26,000 women over 12 years associated the Med diet with a decrease of 25% in risk of cardiovascular disease. Plus, elderly women who followed this diet were 46% more likely to age healthily with no chronic disease. More studies on this subject could be found at National Library of Medicine.

While the evidence seems abundant, I would be intellectually dishonest if I didn’t say that not all study was properly conducted. Healthline reported one study of more than 7,400 individuals that lasted more than 4 years showed that Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of a stroke and heart attack by at least 28%. This study; however, was found to be flawed in its design and conclusion.

Nonetheless, I don’t think that all the studies on this subject are flawed. And I do believe that a plant-based diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits like the Med diet is healthy for us. The trick is to actually put some figures on the effect.

One concern regarding the Med diet is how we can substitute the benefits of red meat. Red meat offers a high amount of protein, iron and B12, the latter of which is crucial in generating red blood cells. The problem is that various studies show a clear link between a high intake of red meat (more than 3 servings per week according to The chair of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition) and a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. The association between heart disease and processed meat is even stronger as processed meat can come with additives and chemicals. While we do need protein and B12, we certainly do not need the additional health risks. For the maximum health benefits, we just need to find plant-based food that is rich in B12 and protein. Fortunately, there is no shortage of that.

The American Red Cross says that the likes of of kale, broccoli, peas, spinach, sweet potatoes, dates and watermelon are rich in iron. The National Institutes of Health lists clams, tuna, salmon, fortified cereals, milk and yogurt as good sources of B12. Additionally, you get fulfill the daily intake of protein with protein, beans, yogurt, walnut, pistachio or hemp seed. Nowadays, food comes in much more diverse forms; which helps us design an interesting meal plan. For instance, this Edamame spaghetti from Aldi contains 24g of protein per serving. Instead of eating cooked beans, you can spice up the meals with this spaghetti

Figure 3 – Protein rich spaghetti from Edamame. Source: Aldi

In short, I have been on Mediterranean diet for 3 weeks and I feel good physically while losing a couple of pounds already. I can still run 5kms or finish 30 minutes of HIIT without disruption. Anecdotally, I notice that since I cut back on red meat, I have saved some money on grocery every week (likely due to the increase in red meat’s prices). In the midst of historic inflation, that’s an additional benefit that I didn’t expect.

Nonetheless, my goal is to share my story and what I found while researching on this topic. I understand that food and diet are highly personal. What works for me may not work for you. If what I wrote can pique your interest enough that you do your own research or talk to your doctor, I will be already happy.

A 750-year-old soy sauce secret and an iconic product design

As an Asian, I love soy sauce. That’s what I grew up with and continue to use it regularly in my own cooking. So it was a pleasant surprise that I came across two very interesting clips. The first one talks about how a method to make soy sauce has survived centuries and generations in the birthplace of soy sauce in Japan. The second one discusses the iconic product design of Kikkoman. Not only is their dispenser’s design recognizable without any logo or branding, but it also bolsters customer experience.

Isn’t the world interesting? The design that we usually take for granted took the original designer, Kenji Ekuan, several years to develop. The sauce that we dip our sushi or pour on our food has been around for centuries. This is the main reason why I want to travel the world, to learn about new things.

A bit about matcha, how it can benefit your health and why it’s expensive

I have recently taken up a habit of consuming matcha. It is refreshing in this hot weather to drink an iced latte matcha that mixes plant-based milk such as soy or almond milk with the green matcha powder. Apparently, matcha can be pretty good for your health for several reasons, as follows:

Each food has been measured for their antioxidant capacities, in a unit called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). List of ORAC-rich food items – Source: matcha

It can be expensive

There are two main and popular grades of matcha: ceremonial and culinary. Ceremonial grade is the highest grade of matcha that is made of very young tea leaves and requires a lot more care during the process. Hence, it’s quite expensive. Ceremonial grade matcha reportedly has a delicate flavor and should be used in tea ceremonies only. On the other hand, culinary grade match is cheaper because it reportedly is made of tea leaves that are young, yet older than those used to make ceremonial grade. Culinary grade can be used in baking, cooking and beverages.

To get a sense of how expensive matcha can be, take a look at the listings on Amazon for “matcha green tea powder” keyword

Source: Amazon

I buy my matcha from a local shop called The Tea Smith in Omaha. One ounce of culinary grade matcha from The Tea Smith costs $4.5. There is a cheaper alternative that costs only $2.5 per ounce. It is cheaper because it mixes matcha powder with sugar cane. It baffled me as to why matcha is expensive. I did a little research and apparently, the process of producing matcha is quite laborious and unique. Tea leaves have to be shaded from sunlight a couple of weeks at least before they are picked. After they are picked, they go through several steps of steaming, air-drying and removing stems & old leave parts. In the end, there are only soft particles left, which weighs about 1/10 of the original leaves. The particles are then stone-grounded, using uniquely crafted and carefully maintained stone mills. Each mill produces only one ounce or 30-40 gram of matcha per hour.

There is also a Chasen

A Chasen is a whisk specially used to mix matcha powder with water. I bought my whisk for $18.5! I was shocked at the price at first, but would soon understand the reason why after I learned how Chasens are made. Watch the videos below to know how they are created. Trust me, you’ll be blown away by the craftsmanship, patience and incredible talent of the Japanese

This video touches a little bit more on the hachiku bamboos used in the matcha whisks.

In sum, even though regular consumption of matcha can cost a bit, I do think I will continue with this habit in the future, unless there are scientific studies proving that matcha is hazardous to humans. I think given that matcha is linked with a lot of health benefits, it’s a cheap investment into the most valuable asset one can have. Also, as I learned about the art of producing matcha and Chasen, my already big admiration and respect for the Japanese craftsmanship and culture only grew bigger.

Let me know what you think about matcha. Stay safe and have a nice weekend!

America consumes the most sugar per capita

Among what I have to be conscious of while living in the US is not to be drawn into the excessive sugar consumption here. Food & drinks are a bit too unhealthily sweet for my taste and it’s not really uncommon to find items whose more than 50% of their weight are sugar. It’s not that different from pour sugar straight into your mouth!

According to WHO, the recommended daily amount of sugar for consumption is about 11 grams and the figure shouldn’t exceed 25 grams. Below is the list of the top 10 countries where citizens consume the most sugar

Source: World Atlas

Americans on average consume more than 10 times the absolute recommended limit! I have seen folks get sweet spice pumpkin latte instead of black coffee at Starbucks, a boba tea with 70-100% sweetness instead of none, a normal coke instead of a diet one or a big haul of pop corns instead of just drinking water at a cinema. Even though I am aware that sugary items bring instant gratification, we should stay away from them so that we can live a longer and more healthy life, given the dramatic risks that a heavy sugar diet comes with.

Around 3:22 of this clip will you see the harms sugar brings to our health, including brain damage

Simple home-cooked meals

In the past two weeks, I wasn’t a bit indisciplined in eating. It was either dining out which could be expensive and unhealthy or eating quick meals that were not as healthy or nutritious as they could have been. So I decided to redeem myself today with the following recipes and give a thank-you shout out to these two sources. I hope I help you guys a bit in SEO as you guys help me and others with the recipes

Lemongrass Chicken

Shrimps marinated in soy sauce, ginger, honey & garlic

Home-cooked meals are definitely healthier, cheaper and can be therapeutic.

McDonald’s and Burger King’s failure in Vietnam

CNBC released a short video clip on McDonald’s and Burger King’s failure in Vietnam despite glowing success in other countries and particularly other Asian countries such as China and Japan. While McDonald’s and Burger King have struggled in Vietnam, Pizza Hut and KFC have managed to attain some success in the market.

The video mentioned the following as the main reasons for the failure:

  • A lot of substitutes at a much cheaper price from street vendors
  • Burgers don’t fit Vietnamese cuisine preference of sharing food during meals

Personally, I have lived in the US for more than two years and I can count on one hand the number of times I have been to chains such as Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King or Chipotle. All of them were with friends or on our way back from trips. Burgers don’t appeal to us. We have a quite similar dish in Banh Mi, which is very delicious, quick to prepare and significantly cheaper. I lived in Danang for a year, the 3rd biggest city in Vietnam. It is half an hour of a scooter ride from Hoi An, where you can find some of the best Banh Mis in Vietnam. The price for local is about 50cents (maybe 1 dollar for foreigners), but the price at McDonald’s or Burger King’s restaurant is several times more expensive.

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Banh Mi Hoi An (Credit: Hoi An Fun Bike Tours)

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This is how Banh Mi is prepared and delivered, in about 1-2 minutes maximum. (Credit: Hoi An Tour Food)

I still remember the buzz when McDonald’s came to Vietnam the first time. People lined up to experience it. Nonetheless, when the hype wore off after a while, it comes down to whether McDonald’s offerings are competitive and whether they fit the culinary buds of the Vietnamese people. Apparently, they don’t. This is a failure of not understanding the end users’ preferences.

Towards the end of the clip, it was mentioned that McDonald’s is trying to localize the menus with Pho and Broken Rice. Well, I am not sure that will work because the same thing will happen. There are hundreds of street vendors whose product is so tasty and much cheaper than the well-known chain’s.