• Lydia Chu

What I eat to stay healthy

It was 2016, right as I was turning 50, when things started to change with my health.



Ramen with stir-fry veggies in vegan broth at Menya Ultra in San Diego

I was living in West Davis with my two daughters at the time. It was a rough year for me as far as my health. For my 50th birthday, I wanted to treat myself to something special and took my daughters to Monterey, California for the weekend to celebrate my 50th birthday.


We stayed at one of the hotels for just one night and had checked out early Sunday morning to go hiking. Right away, I noticed something itchy on my right arm and down my legs. When we got home and after close examination, we realized that I had brought home bed bugs from the hotel we stayed in. I had all the symptoms and found signs of them in our apartment. I ended up treating the whole apartment and took a long time to get rid of them. So, I did end up having a memorable 50th birthday but not the way I had intended.


Around this time, I was developing some signs of depression. I was having trouble getting out of bed and lost my motivation to do anything. I was feeling sluggish, lost my appetite (but still gained weight) and desires to stay active. At the same time, I was also diagnosed as having gallstones and could possibly be facing surgery to have them removed if they were blocking my bile duct. (I talked about this on my previous blog, how I got rid of my gallstones naturally without surgery).


I also started having problems with my left leg. All of sudden, I was having trouble bending my left leg due to the tightness on the back of my leg. It came on suddenly and I was having trouble getting dressed in the morning since I couldn't really bend my left leg. I tried a lot of different things but nothing really helped until I discovered yoga a year later. It only took about 2 -3 weeks of doing yoga to completely eliminate the problem.


This all might sound trivial to some people but at the time, it was a big deal for me especially since I've always been pretty healthy with no serious illnesses or frequent doctor visits. Even though I was told that it might just be a part of aging process, it was hard to accept, and I didn't want to go down without a fight. I decided to something about it and went on to develop a new way of healthy eating and lifestyle that has changed my life forever.


Immediately after reading "How Not To Die" by Michael Gregor, which I discovered by accident, I cleaned out my kitchen by getting rid of everything that I knew to be unhealthy. Even though my diet had never consisted of a lot of red meat, I was eating lots of eggs and seafood. My typical breakfast was scrambled eggs or egg sandwich with sausage or turkey bacon and cheese, a typical SAD diet (Standard American Diet). I used to cook my eggs in pure butter to make them soft and buttery. I learned this from my friend who is a passionate cook who is also very overweight and unfortunately deals with a lot of health issues.


I used to love seafood typically shrimp and any kind of seafood like clams, oyster, and calamari. Instead of red meat, my freezer was always well stocked with frozen seafood and our meals always included a lot of seafood. Fried shrimp was one of our favorite dishes. My girls and I would make about 30 -40 large fried shrimps frequently and had no problem finishing it all. Well, all that stopped and I started replacing my breakfast eggs with smoothies and seafood meals with lots of legume, vegetables and fruit.


For me, it was pretty drastic and fast. I didn't take time to gradually ease into it. I wanted to feel better fast and avoid taking medications. Most of all, I didn't want to grow old and be sick all the time. The thought of not being able to enjoy my golden years in good health and putting a burden on my love ones to take care of me if I ever got sick was a real wake-up call.


So, I stopped eating all animal products and eliminated all processed food as well as most of the frozen food. Even though I never ate out much, I almost entirely stopped dining out so I can control what went into my food.


When I did have to eat out, I chose vegetables dishes and started making special requests to cut down on sugar and oil that are high in fat and calories. I found that even if I ordered salads, there was enormous amount of oil and sugar so I started asking for the dressing on the side so I can control the amount I put on my salad.


I have to admit, when I first started eating like this, I had to make a lot of adjustments and made a lot of errors. Unknowingly, I would buy things like vegan mayonnaise to make salad dressings, thinking that it was healthy when it had a lot of unhealthy oil and additives. Now, I carefully read the labels when I shop. I've realized that being "vegan" does not necessarily equal to healthy eating. There are a lot of vegan processed and frozen foods out there and they can be just as unhealthy as any other food. A good example is Oreo cookies. Oreo cookies are actually vegan but it doesn't mean it's good for you.


Even after two and a half years of being a plant-based eater, I'm constantly discovering new ways to eat and making improvements on healthy cooking.


Meals


Oatmeal with fresh berries and homemade granola

As I said, I used to use a lot of eggs in my cooking especially for breakfast and baked goods. For my two girls and I, we would typically consume about two dozen eggs a week. I have no doubt that that was the one of the contributing factors to my high cholesterol level which was 177 mg/dL at the time.


Since then, I have replaced scrambled eggs and sausages for fruit and vegetable smoothies made with homemade almond milk or oatmeal topped with fresh berries and homemade granola for breakfast. I replaced my lunches of eating seafood dishes with leftover vegetable soups and salads from the previous nights. For dinner, I often make Korean dishes that are loaded with vegetables like kimchi or miso soup that has vegetables like bok choy, spinach, kale, and onion (my husband and I love onions). Some of my favorite non-Korean dishes are homemade corn chowder soup, avocado sandwiches (my husband's favorite), curry with brown rice, lentil soup and huge salads typically topped with avocado, nuts and fresh fruit with light dressing (typically lemon or lime juice, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper).


Vegan Parfait Korean spicy salad Kimchi soup with tofu


Alcohol & drinks


Alcohol


Just like most of us, I was a heavy drinker in my twenties. Even though I never liked the taste of alcohol, I drank a lot to be sociable and to have "fun". Well, as I got older, it was no longer fun to drink even in moderate amounts and only gave me headaches so I was drinking occasionally before I decided to stop drinking completely to get healthy.


Most people think that it's acceptable to drink occasionally but the way I see it, when you drink whether it's beer, cocktails or wine, you're consuming plenty of empty calories with absolutely no health benefiting nutrients. It can also be very bad for your organs especially liver. For me, drinking alcohol definitely added unwanted calories and pounds to my diet and now that I don't drink, I feel much healthier and lighter for sure.


Soft drinks


When I was younger, I had my share of drinking soda drinks. Even though I didn't drink excessively, I would occasionally drink Coke with my dinners especially when dining out. I was never big on other soft drinks like Dr Pepper or sprite or any other fancy drinks that are out there, but I decided to stop drinking them completely after I found out that they were loaded with sugar with no nutritional value.


Now, I only resort to drinking water and tea. My favorite is green tea with brown rice, and I drink it once or twice a day. I couldn't be happier to have eliminated all soft drinks from my diet, and with the money I would've spent on soft drinks, I buy fresh fruits to have it as dessert which is a lot better for my health. There are some things I miss being a plant-based eater but as far as soft drinks, I don't miss it one bit.


Coffee and coffee drinks


I was never a coffee drinker, but when I was in college, I did try to drink coffee to stay awake when I had to stay up to study. It never worked for me (I still fell asleep and never got any studying done 😊). So, I never got in the habit of drinking coffee. Then, as I got older, I tried to drink it occasionally but only got headaches and would feel sick to my stomach. So, about 10 years ago even before I started eating healthy, I stopped drinking coffee completely. Honestly, I'm so glad I'm not able to drink coffee drinks. Even though there are a lot of studies out there claiming health benefits on coffee, when a load of sugar and milk are added to make some fancy coffee drinks like mocha and cappuccinos, they can be loaded with unhealthy fat and empty calories, and the price tag for these drinks?? I rather put that money into savings for a nice vacation.

Desserts


I used to be a dessert lover and still am. I have a very sweet tooth so I grew up eating

Homemade Mango smoothies with almond milk

ice cream almost every day. I used to indulge on cakes, cookies, pastries and candies regularly. When I went plant-based, I immediately started cutting out all the sweet desserts and started substituting with fruit smoothies like mango or banana smoothies. My favorite dessert when I get the craving for ice cream is banana smoothie with flax seed and when I get a craving for some chocolate, I add some cocoa powder to my banana smoothie to satisfy my chocolate cravings. It totally taste like chocolate milk shake!


Most of the time, when I'm not having my favorite banana smoothie dessert, my desserts consist mostly of fresh fruit. I stock up on fresh apples, oranges, bananas, pineapples as well as fresh berries like blueberries, raspberry and blackberries. We never run out of these fruits and always take advantage of the seasonal fruits like mangoes, persimmons and strawberries. Even though we can pretty much purchase all fruits all year around nowadays, it's no match when they're in season. I have experienced this with papayas. They taste so much better when they're in season.


Even though I have plenty of people telling me that I'm missing out on things by being on plant-based, I feel good about my choices. I don't believe it's fun when you get sick and have to rely on medications to get you through the day or have no energy to do all the things that you enjoy doing. I don't want to spend all my hard earned money going to medications and hospital bills. I want to be able to travel and be active well into my 80's like my dad. I believe my rewards are waiting for me, and I feel good knowing that I'm increasing the chance to have a healthy and active life well into my golden years.


When we're young and healthy, we think it can never happen to us. We feel great and feel like we can live forever. (I sure did!) It's hard for us to appreciate the gift of health when we have it and easy to take it for granted. I don't want to wait until it's too late when my bad diet and lifestyle catches up to me. I've seen a lot of sick people, young and old, and it's not where I want to be. I want to be healthy enough to see my kids graduate from college and have a happy life without burdening them with my poor health. I feel that taking care of myself and staying healthy is my gift to them, and more importantly, the most important gift I can give to myself.

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