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

Price of freedom

Before I arrived in the US, I planned to learn to drive and get a car within the first 6 months or one year at the latest. Fast forward to now, I met the target two years behind the original plan.

To a person who hadn’t driven before and lives alone in the US, learning to drive is challenging and expensive. I paid $350 to take classroom lessons and 6 hours of training to drive in order to get the permit. Once I got the permit, I needed a car to practice and get a license. But I was in no financial position to afford a car and all the expenses that come with it such as training, parking, insurance, gas, registration and maintenance.

So I aborted the plan to drive and arranged myself so that I wouldn’t have to drive to either school or work. The arrangement saved me money, but incurred a great deal of inconvenience as I relied on the infamously terrible public transit in Omaha.

Finally, when I got my driving license and bought a vehicle, I felt liberated. No more waiting for the buses in the cold. No more rushing to make it to the bus stop in time. No more inconvenience when the destinations are out of the buses’ reach. No more asking for favor from friends. I gained much needed freedom, freedom that comes with expenses and constant risks. It doesn’t matter how well you can drive, there is always a risk of accidents. Since I purchased the car, my expenses have gone up significantly every month.

That’s the price of freedom. As true as sun rises in the East and sets in the West, freedom is hard and expensive to come by. We have to work and pay for it. Yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s too sweet. Too precious.

Do you want to live in a society like that?

I never drove before in my life. Since I have been taking lessons with an instructor and some of my friends who are experienced drivers, I really appreciate knowing the signs, the rules and nuances in driving. Otherwise, the consequence could be very expensive financially and potentially fatal.

Imagine a society where anyone above 18 could drive outside without taking any class or license. Everyone could just drive outside with a state ID to prove that they are 18 or older. Even those whose track record is blemished with DUI or multiple accidents due to reckless accidents are allowed to drive. Would you want to drive or even live in that society? Would you feel safe? Would you want your kids to live in that world? Luckily, we live in a world where everyone needs a license to operate a vehicle. The bigger and more powerful vehicle, the higher license is required. We don’t take away vehicles. We just require everyone to prove that they are capable of operating the vehicles safely.

Well, replace cars in the example above with guns and you pretty much get something very similar to the US nowadays. This weekend saw another mass shooting in Texas that killed 8 people. The shooter used a military grade weapon and didn’t pass the background check. How does it make any sense that this kind of horrifying tragedies keeps happening and worse, at an alarmingly fast rate? If we require everyone to prove they can operate a car safely and take away that privilege if they have a DUI or a terrible record, why aren’t we doing the same for guns?

Gun lovers argue that background checks or measures to ensure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands will take away their guns and freedom. As mentioned above, a driving license doesn’t take away any car. Why would it be different in the case of guns? Because cars are a necessity in our life and still require driving licenses, why would it be easier to own an unnecessary material such as guns?

New York Times has an excellent article explaining steps taken to own a gun in different countries. Here is how it looks between the US and Japan. Take a look and see if you can spot a difference.

United States 

1-Pass an instant background check that considers criminal convictions, domestic violence and immigration status. 

2-Buy a gun.

 Japan 

1-Take a firearm class and pass a written exam, which is held up to three times a year. 

2-Get a doctor’s note saying you are mentally fit and do not have a history of drug abuse. 

3-Apply for a permit to take firing training, which may take up to a month. 

4-Describe in a police interview why you need a gun. 

5-Pass a review of your criminal history, gun possession record, employment, involvement with organized crime groups, personal debt and relationships with friends, family and neighbors. 

6-Apply for a gunpowder permit. 

7-Take a one-day training class and pass a firing test. 

8-Obtain a certificate from a gun dealer describing the gun you want. 

9-If you want a gun for hunting, apply for a hunting license. 

10-Buy a gun safe and an ammunition locker that meet safety regulations. 

11-Allow the police to inspect your gun storage. 

12-Pass an additional background review. 

13-Buy a gun.

Results?

Source: NPR

It is absolutely mind-blowing that we still let this happen and that nothing has been done

Only 3% of this decade left

We are a few hours away from saying goodbye to August and welcoming September. If we split a year into three parts and look at the second decade of this century as a whole, around 97% of it is already gone.

It was like yesterday that I hit the beginning of my 20s. Now I am almost heading towards the magical 30. The last decade has seen me study abroad in Finland, Canada and now the US, and go back & work in Vietnam. I used to be a hot-headed rash dude with a severe lack of patience and a poisonous ego. Though I believe I got better, I am still a work in process and there is indeed a lot to be done.

I used to place a lot of value on titles and income. Now, being healthy and free to choose matters a whole lot more.

I used to love going to parties and getting drunk with friends. Now, a quiet uneventful night to work and think means a lot more.

I’d like to believe that I became wiser than when I was 20. Wiser, not still wise yet. Wisdom comes from experience which comes from decisions and usually painful regrets. The older I am, the more I believe that you come to appreciate certain lessons only at a certain phase in your life. If you had told me to focus more on inner peace and happiness instead of flashy materialistic things when I was fresh out of college, I wouldn’t have listened as much as I do now. Nor would I have appreciated the value of patience as much. It’s like you come to understand a book better only when you are older.

Ideally, I would prefer the same amount of gained wisdom with fewer painful regrets. Sometimes, it’s hard to get over some moments when I ponder “what ifs”. Still, if I have to measure the progress I made as a human-being over the last decade, a positive number is still better than a negative one or a zero. At least, there is that.

Summer is crawling to a close. A pity since I enjoy the energy, warmth and light. I am ready for what awaits in the remaining months of this decade and for the next. I hope it will be good. I am not sure I can say I am ready for Midwestern winter.

Soaring student debt

The Walls Street Journal had an unbelievable and scary article on the state of student debt in this country

A record $89.2 billion of student loans was in default at the end of June, New York Federal Reserve data show. Of the $1.48 trillion outstanding, 11%, or $160 billion, was at least 90 days behind on repayments—and the true rate is likely double that, because only half the loans are currently in repayment.

Source: WSJ
Source: WSJ

It never stops amazing me how students in this country can get into so much debt by trying to acquire education and the means to make ends meet. A high school friend of mine has a 6-figure student debt with monthly INTEREST payment of $500. I personally know people from my university in Omaha who accumulated debt and struggle to find jobs. Jobs may wait to meet us, but the bills and interest usually can’t wait to break us.

There is a proposal from some politicians to wipe out student debt. It’s impractical and what problem does it solve? The debt will fast pile up again for the next generations. I don’t think anything will change unless there are solutions to the issues:

  • Ridiculously expensive tuition fees for degrees that fast decrease in value
  • Laughable expensive books that benefit no-one but publishers and professors who work with them
  • Lack of knowledge on personal finance by students

Of course, the reality is highly complicated. Yet, I believe it would be hard to think of a worse scenario than what we currently face. Real solutions should be in place, yet the graph above shows that none has been since 2004. Else, the amount would have gone down instead of going up. If other countries such as those in Nordic countries, France or Germany or many other in Europe can get it done, why can’t the US?

9 out 10 Americans willing to swap money for fulfillment

I came across an interesting article on Harvard Business Review about how Americans are willing to trade money for meaningful work

More than 9 out of 10 employees, we found, are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. Across age and salary groups, workers want meaningful work badly enough that they’re willing to pay for it.

If you could find a job that offered you consistent meaning, how much of your current salary would you be willing to forego to do it? We asked this of our 2,000+ respondents. On average, our pool of American workers said they’d be willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful. The magnitude of this number supports one of the findings from Shawn’s recent study on the Conference for Women. In a survey of attendees, he found that nearly 80% of the respondents would rather have a boss who cared about them finding meaning and success in work than receive a 20% pay increase.

To put this figure in perspective, consider that Americans spend about 21% of their incomes on housing. Given that people are willing to spend more on meaningful work than on putting a roof over their heads, the 21st century list of essentials might be due for an update: “food, clothing, shelter — and meaningful work.”More than 9 out of 10 employees, we found, are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. Across age and salary groups, workers want meaningful work badly enough that they’re willing to pay for it.

Source: Harvard Business Review

It’s personally relatable to me. When I was young, I used to feel jealous of and compare myself to others in terms of title or salary. I resolved to earn a high salary as quickly as possible, which usually goes with a good title. I achieved my goal at the age of 24, earning a top bracket salary for people at my age and working for one of the biggest corporations in Vietnam. But only after three months, the work was meaningless and the working environment was so stifling that it felt suffocating to get up in the morning and go to the office. Plus, life in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City was no longer enjoyable. I needed a change.

So I took a 50% pay cut to relocate to Danang, Vietnam and work for a much much smaller company. I learned a lot during my time in a 2nd tier city and a smaller organization, as well as enjoyed my life much more with less money. I felt lucky to learn the lesson quite at the age of 25. Till this day, my time at that corporation was the worst I have ever had. Ironically, for a time in the past, it was all that I wanted. How dumb I was.

We give away 8 hours and a significant amount of mental power to our job. In many cases, it involves other sacrifices such as living away from family or daily long commute. I consider it unlucky to be stuck in a meaningless job with no joy. So if you can have a meaningful job at the expense of a portion of income, my experience is that you should. But of course, life isn’t just that simple. Not everybody is lucky enough to have options.

Almond Milk or Soy Milk

Looking for a tasty and nutritious drink besides cow’s milk and store-bought juice. 90% of which is made from concentrate, I decided to do some research on almond milk and soy milk to see which one is the better choice.

One of the benefits of these two choices is that they are great for those who want to lose weight. Both almond and soy milk contain little saturated fat, sugar or calories.

Source: Healthline

Unfortunately, neither of them naturally contain much calcium, though store-bought milk can be calcium-fortified.

Compared to almond milk, soy milk is richer in nutrition, especially protein (the stereotype that almond milk is a good source of protein is false) and more environmentally friendly as soy requires less water than almond.

Soy milk is allegedly related to weakened fertility in men. A Harvard study in 2009 reported that soy milk consumption might have detrimental effects on male fertility.

The soy study was part of a long-term investigation of environmental factors and fertility. The subjects were 99 male partners of sub-fertile couples. Each man had a medical evaluation and complete semen analysis, and each provided a detailed three-month dietary history that evaluated 15 soy-based foods, ranging from tofu and tempeh to soy milk, veggie burgers, and “energy bars” containing soy protein.

The study found that the men who consumed the most soy had the lowest sperm counts. And it didn’t take much soy to do the trick — as little as one portion every other day was linked to a reduction in sperm count. All in all, the men who ate the most soy had counts that averaged 41 million fewer sperm per cubic milliliter than men who ate the least. The impact was greatest in overweight men, and the results remained valid after age, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, body mass index, and the time between specimen collection and the preceding ejaculation were taken into account.

Harvard Medical School

However, the view was challenged by a study by Harvard School of Public Health in 2015 and another study in 2010. A definite conclusion on the matter remains to be determined. Given all the factors above, soy milk looks to be the winner in this contest.