Free companion iPhone App to “Eat Real Vietnamese Food”

We are pleased to announce that “Eat Real Food (Vietnam)” is now available through the Apple App Store.

No more returning from a grocery expedition
only to realize that you forgot a key ingredient!

No more wandering in the store,
pondering what to cook for your guests!

No more drifting in a daze, trying to figure out
the difference between “rice sticks” and “rice noodles”!

With this free app, your ingredient list and meal ideas are always at hand, wherever you go. The hunt for ingredients in the Asian supermarket is done quickly and efficiently.

Vietnamese cuisine notoriously requires a lot of ingredients. With a single tap, you can add all you need for a dish to your shopping list.
Eliminate from the list what you already have. In the store, check off the ingredients as you get them.
Look-up unfamiliar ingredients in the comprehensive exotic ingredient dictionary.
Also use the app for your generic shopping lists. Many normal items already listed. Add your own as needed.

How the App works:

Select a dish from Eat Real Vietnamese Food.

Select the number of servings. Uncheck ingredients you don’t need. Press to add all the necessary ingredients to your shopping list.

In the store, check items in your shopping list as you put them in your cart.

The App also contains an comprehensive illustrated dictionary of Vietnamese ingredients, which you can always take with you, so you can shop in the Asian grocery store with confidence.

Select an ingredient.

See large pictures of said ingredient.

Read detailed info about the ingredient.

How to get the App: (For now only iPhone, iPad, iPod are supported. Android version soon to come…)

1. Connect your device to the App Store.

2. Look for “eat real food vietnam”

3. Get it!

New book announcement: Eat Real Vietnamese Food!

Available immediately – “Eat Real Vietnamese Food” is the second volume in the “Eat Real Food” collection. It is written and illustrated with the same attention to detail as our first book, “Eat Real Food or Else…”

Do we really need another Vietnamese cookbook? Click here to find out, peek inside, and get a discount code.

Eat Real Vietnamese Food

This book started as a quiet, seemingly innocuous project: a few years ago, I decided to learn more about Vietnamese cooking, because, after all, it is my cultural heritage, and also, I love to eat! My mother had an extensive collection of recipes, some neatly gathered in a notebook, but most scribbled on loose sheets of paper, often presenting several conflicting versions of the same dish. So, I decided to sort it out and write down those she thought were the best version for each of her specialties.

Any undertaking of mine has a tendency toward “mission creep,” as my husband will readily tell you, and this one was no exception. As I moved along, this book evolved into a project immortalizing a disappearing cuisine and a disappearing way of life. We decided to focus on my mom’s domain of expertise: Vietnamese food from the early 50s.

Vietnam has had a long, restless history, and the 20th century was particularly turbulent. These difficult, troubled times made the 50s of particular interest in the culinary sense: in those years, many Vietnamese people emigrated from the North (including my father’s family) and settled in the South, bringing with them, among other things, different ways of cooking and eating. They didn’t always have access to authentic Southern cuisine: old classics were modified, sometimes happily reinterpreted, sometimes badly misunderstood. Later in the century, more changes followed with the American presence, and yet more with the new affluence of peacetime.

This book’s ambition is to be a time capsule from the middle of the last century, when Vietnamese cuisine was still influenced by French culture, and before it evolved radically with the arrival of immigrants from the North.

I might be partial, but I feel that the cuisine of that time is particularly refined and worthy of being preserved. It is part of my parents’ cultural legacy and, for me, it is the classic cuisine of Vietnam.

Liên Nguyên


You probably have heard of Borshch as one of the most famous Russian dishes. But do you realize what a nutritional treasure it is?

My new friend cooks this killer borshch! After enjoying it, it strikes me that this colorful dish is not only delicious and invigorating, but also the perfect nutritional powerhouse. No wonder the Russians can survive on it for days!

“In Russia we eat it as a main dish for lunch, it doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter. For hot weather, there is cold borshch; the hot one presented here is perfect for the winter. There are many variations. Some have cabbage, some don’t. Some have red beans or mushrooms. But the one constant is beets. The meat with bone, usually beef, is the perfect base to make a broth. But pork or chicken are used too. It all depends on how you like it.”


Nutrition and Color
Our bodies rely on many substances present in our food to grow, repair and regulate themselves: these are the micronutrients, electrolytes and minerals. We group them under the term “nutrients” for short. 
Nutrients, with a few important exceptions, are colorful. Eating by color is a guarantee that we’ll get many forms of nutrients.

Borshch is replete with nutrition. We could attempt to make a list of the nutrients it contains; but you just need to look at the color of the ingredients to understand it’s loaded. The addition of meat and sour cream  makes it a complete meal.


(Serves 8 to 10 as a main course)

  • 1 lb beef stew meat with bone (not too lean)
  • ½ cabbage, shredded
  • 8 small potatoes (or less), peeled and cubed
  • 1 oz butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large onion, diced finely
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 3 red beets, grated
  • ½ lemon
  • 3 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Bay leaves

Continue reading “Borshch”

Fig Chutney

Ah… Fig season… For those who are lucky enough to have a fig tree in the backyard, this means a bounty of plump, juicy, sweet, meaty fruits. But wait a minute… What about all the sugar?

Figs are delicious and full of nutrients. From their color, you can guess that they are replete with “cyans” (our generic term for anthocyanidins, anthocyanins and other similarly named purple-blue substances). But from their taste, it’s obvious that they are loaded with sugar. So you feel guilty eating them… And you feel guilty wasting them. Of course you could give them to your friends, but there is the ethical issue: is it right to feed others what you won’t eat?

We have been told time and again that fruit is good for us. And indeed, given the choice between a doughnut and fruit, one should definitely go for the fruit. However, in the context of a nutrient-rich, real food diet, fruit is not as important, since it contains no nutrient that you couldn’t get elsewhere, while packing a fairly large quantity of sugar.

IT’S WORTH REPEATING: Fruits are delicious! But there is nothing unique in them: you can find all the same nutrients, with less sugar, in the colorful nutrient-dense vegetables. Contrary to the widespread belief that fruits are essential to our diet, we don’t need fruit, provided we follow a colorful, nutrient-rich diet.


figsHere is a good way to extricate yourself out of this distressing dilemma: preserves allow you to spread the consumption of the sugary treat throughout the year, and share it with your friends too. In limited amounts, fruit relishes are an amazing way to bring nutrition and variety to the table. The spices are also an important contributor to our health and, without being magical, possess unique medicinal effects.

Fig Chutney

(Adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s recipe – Makes 8 1-pint jars)

  • 2 1/2 pounds firm, slightly underripe fresh figs
  • 4 cups vinegar of your choice (not balsamic, though)
  • 16 oz brown sugar (yes, that’s a lot…)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • ⅔ cup chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 organic lemon zests, chopped
  • 3 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

Continue reading “Fig Chutney”

Weight Loss

All the mechanisms that cause most people to accumulate body fat can be traced to one and only one cause: excessive blood glucose and the ensuing insulin production.

As we saw in the last post, a valuable lesson can be learnt from the Biggest Losers: weight loss is not a matter of willpower, and certainly not a simple matter of eating less than you burn. In order to lose weight, you need to modify your metabolism. This is not easy, but it’s not impossible either.

Body fat is regulated – How fat is stored in our cells is a complex, regulated system. The body is working hard to stabilize the amount of fat around a set value. This set value is a function of our genetics, as well as our long term nutritional behavior, environment and medical history.

It’s true that our body fat is regulated by several factors over which we have little control, such as genetics or past behavior, but there are steps that can be taken towards a healthier metabolism.

Note that being thin is not necessarily healthy, and that body fat is not necessarily a problem. It is the underlying causes of body fat that pose a health threat, as well as bringing the undesired fat.

Actually, all these causes are related to one and only one item: excessive blood sugar. We will explore a few of the mechanisms below, but there are many more.

1. Elevated insulin, a consequence of high blood sugar, puts the body in fat storage mode.

During digestion, carbohydrates are broken into simple sugars and passed into our bloodstream. The elevation in blood sugar causes the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that allows the cells to let sugar in.

The glucose (sugar) taken away from the blood and into the cells can be used to provide immediate energy. If energy is not needed, sugar is stored as glycogen. When the glycogen storage is full, the remaining glucose is stored as fat in fat cells.


Insulin activates the enzymes that enable fat storage and impairs the action of hormones that release fat from fat cells: high insulin signals that glucose (i.e. immediate energy) is available; fat is therefore not needed and should be stored for later use.

2. Elevated blood glucose induces the enzymes that favor using sugar for energy (and impairs the enzymes that are necessary for burning fat).

The bulk of our energy is generated through cellular respiration, a complex series of chemical reactions that take place in the mitochondria in our cells.

TCA / Krebs Cycle – All three types of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) behave in a similar fashion.

The body is a marvelously adaptable machine that can work with whatever it has. If there is a lot of glucose in the blood, the body will produce the enzymes to burn glucose for energy. If the body sees less glucose, it will generate the enzymes that burn the fat instead.

3. Elevated blood glucose next to fat cells locks the fat inside the cells.

Fat is travelling in the blood or stored in cells under the form of triglycerides.

The molecules in the fat tissue are in constant motion, crossing the cell walls into the blood stream and back. Since triglycerides cannot cross the cell walls, to go in and out of the cell, they are disassembled into free fatty acids and glycerol and reassembled into triglycerides on the other side of the wall.

This process is also regulated by the levels of insulin and blood sugar: insulin causes fat cells to take in glucose and burn it for fuel; this produces a glycerol-phosphate molecule, which in turn provides the glycerol molecule that binds with free fatty acids to create triglycerides.

Thus, burning glucose in the fat cells reduces the number of free fatty acids that can escape the cell and increases the proportion of fat locked as triglycerides inside the cell.

There are several more mechanisms that cause fat to be stored, all involving sugar. Very surprisingly, these facts have eluded most weight loss researchers for a century. Instead, the notion that eating fat makes you fat still prevails.

(To be continued…)

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Lessons From the Biggest Losers

A study finds that people who lost a bunch of weight after participating in the TV reality show “The Biggest Loser” gained most of it back. That’s of course no surprise. What’s more interesting are the findings about how their metabolism changed after the weight loss.

A KQED broadcast last week (May 2, 2016 – All Things Considered) reported on a study that examined what happened to the participants in the TV reality show The Biggest Loser after the show was over. A (not too surprising) fact was that many of them regained much of the weight they had lost during the show.

One of the report’s conclusions was that body weight is biologically determined and that “it’s not just a matter of willpower to produce weight loss and to keep weight off.” It seems that the body wants to regulate its fat content to a set point, like a spring: you can compress it, but as you let go, it returns to its original position.


No surprise

This finding, of course, doesn’t come as a surprise. Anybody that has been on a weight loss diet could have told you that. With the risk of sounding conceited, this result was highly predictable, not to say inevitable.

So why do most people still believe that after going on a weight-loss diet, they can return to their old ways and still keep the weight off?

This has always seemed odd to me, until I examined the prevailing weight-loss beliefs more in depth.

It turns out that most people, including doctors and health professionals, view the body as a calorie bag: if you eat more calories that you expend, you gain weight; if you spend more than you eat, you lose weight. Before people embark on their lean quest, their weight is more or less constant (maybe several pounds higher than they wished, but stably so). The logical deduction is that what they are eating balances exactly what they expend. Therefore, if they could only lose the extra pounds, they’d be fine and could resume their old lifestyle happily ever after. QED.

Logical? Well the fact that this scheme doesn’t work should be proof enough that the “calorie in – calorie out” view of weight control is incorrect.

Regulation – The Spring effect

Actually, how fat is stored in our cells is a complex, regulated system, the body trying hard to stabilize the amount of fat around a set value.

This set value is a function of our genetics, as well as our long term nutritional behavior, environment and medical history; with age our body is less resilient, and coping with excesses becomes more difficult.

Still, another sensible line of reasoning says that you can’t produce something out of nothing, and that, in order to gain weight, you have to take in more calories than you consume. After all, like gravity, thermodynamics are not just a good idea, they are the law! So how can a weight-loss contestant eat less than ever, keep-up the exercise, and still gain the weight back? Read on…

Somewhat of a surprise (but not that

One contestant interviewed explained that she had worked extremely hard at shedding the original weight: it took a grueling regimen of diet and exercise. Listening to her, one could sense that she is a very strong-willed person; nobody could suspect her of being lazy or self-indulging. Yet after she gained the weight back, she found it nearly impossible to lose it again.

The interesting “discovery” of the study was that after they lost weight, the people’s basal metabolic rate (BMR, amount of energy expended while at rest) was disproportionately low compared to the rest of the population: these people needed to burn less calories to sustain their weight than people with the same weight that have never been on a weight reduction program. Conversely, these weight-reduced people needed to eat less than the other people in order to sustain their weight.

Another interesting observation was that, after they regained their weight, the people’s BMR was still low. That contributed to make losing weight the second time around even harder.

There is a prevalent view that muscles burn more calories than fat, and that if you lose fat and build-up muscle, your metabolic rate will increase. The study’s findings go against that theory.

A conclusion

The “calorie in – calorie out” view of the body has been proven wrong over and over again. To reach your ideal weight, you need to improve your metabolism. This goes way beyond “eating less and exercising more”. It includes changing your metabolism, lifestyle and especially your nutrition.

Calorie restriction makes you metabolically weaker.

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The ERFOE Plate

Although eating a large variety of foods is our safest bet so far, we need guidance that goes beyond “Eat a little bit of everything” if we don’t want to be an easy prey for the food industry.

When considering nutrition, both macronutrients and micronutrients come into play:

Our food needs to provide enough macronutrients to supply energy and building material for our body (hormones, proteins, enzymes, antibodies, membranes, etc.).

But in a society where getting enough calories in not an issue, it makes more sense to think in terms of micronutrients and seek the most micronutrient-rich food. In fact even in countries where there is a risk of undernutrition (that is, not enough macronutrients), there is an emerging problem of malnutrition (that is, lack of adequate micronutrients).

Macronutrients play an important role, but they must be selected wisely:
– Modern diets include too many carbohydrates. Carbs should not be eliminated from our diet, after all, vegetables provide a fair amount of carbs, but the carbs we eat must be useful: they must also contain micronutrients.
Proteins portions are often diminished usually because of fear of fat. That is bad. We need proteins for the largest array of functions in our body: structure, hormones, enzymes, antibodies…
– Fats are feared because of the mistaken belief that fats make you fat and that fats are responsible for cardiovascular diseases. Don’t fear fats. Fats are needed for important functions in our body.

♦ ♦ ♦

ideal plateOur “ideal” plate is the result of years of clinical practice. It was designed empirically to provide enough micronutrients and macronutrients for most people.

Although it is easier to illustrate this concept with volumes (as in the picture), the proportions are intended in weight of cooked ingredients.

The “ideal” plate contains:
• 1/4 Proteins
• 3/4 Micronutrient-rich vegetables
• Fats
• No sugars or starches or cereal

Proteins can be animal or vegetal. They include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds.

It is assumed that vegetables are cooked or seasoned with fats. Protein generally comes with built-in fat. Fat is important: in the vegetable portion of your plate, half of the calories might come from fat (this is, however, not much in volume).

The exact quantity of fat for cooking vegetables is not important, as long as you use a reasonable amount. The window for “reasonable” is pretty wide: within the context of our micronutrient-rich diet, the body can deal with excess fat fairly easily, but it cannot cope with deficiency.

♦ ♦ ♦

On the ideal plate, the protein sets the agenda. This doesn’t diminish the importance of vegetables; it simply means that the quantity of vegetables is determined by the quantity of protein on the plate:

Whether you eat a 4-oz steak, a 6-oz fish fillet or a 3-egg omelet, make the vegetable portion of the meal about 3 times larger than the protein portion.

After you have finished your plate, if you want more food, make sure the next serving has the same 3 to 1 proportion of vegetables to proteins.

The quantity of protein required varies from person to person and also depends on the activity for the day. Younger or older people, or athletes, might need more than the general population. However, the “ideal” plate offers a good method for most people.

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Stem Soup

Here is a great way to get nutrition while making the most of your vegetables. Add a poached egg and you have a delicious breakfast to help you start the day!

On Wednesday mornings, I get my vegetable box delivered from the local organic farm. This saves a little bit of trouble with buying all the bulky vegetables that our household consumes in large quantities.

(Talking about organic, remember that “organic” doesn’t always equals “nutritious”. Check the growers’ credentials and verify that their agricultural practices are sound.)

…and after.

To save time, I fill the sink with water and wash the vegetables in bulk. After drying them, I cut them up and pack them in plastic bags so they are ready to use during the rest of the week. (This also keeps the refrigerator organized.)

While I’m at it, I dice the stems right away, and throw them in a big pot as I go. The soup cooks while I am dealing with the rest of the vegetables, a bonus.

Stem vs. Leaf
Don’t discard the stems of the leafy greens. They possess as much nutritional value as the florets or the leaves:
– The stems contain more chloroplasts and the associated chlorophyll and carotenoids, they also have more fiber.
– The maturation of nutrients in the stem and in the floret are different and complement each other.


Stem 01
Fresh beet stems and leaves are good.
Stem 03
Fennel stem and leaves are useful too!

Most stems are edible. Absolutely keep these:
♥ Beet stems and leaves
♥ Fennel stems and leaves
♥ Chard, kale, collard green and all the leafy green stems in general.

(Carrot tops are the only green stuff that comes in abundance and that I don’t know what to do with. Apparently you can eat them, but I’m not sure how…)

Stem Soup

(Proportions don’t matter much, use whatever you have.)

  • Stems from leafy green vegetables, fennel, beets
  • 1 tablespoon oil or butter or a few slices of bacon
  • bones (optional)
  • broth (optional)
  • other vegetables (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, spices, herbs

Continue reading “Stem Soup”

Food Labels: The Worst is Still to Come?

“The FDA plans an overhaul of nutrition information on packages to make it more useful for consumers.” The proposals for this much needed update are scary in more ways than one!

Wall Street Journal article (Feb. 16, 2016, A Hunger for Better Food Labels) discloses several food label updates that are under consideration. While we agree that an overhaul is needed, this is also potential for disaster.

The changes proposed by the FDA include: making the calorie information more prominent, changing the serving size to reflect the bigger portions that people eat, showing added sugar.

FDASome think that it is still not clear enough. Here are proposed “better” labels:

NuvalNUVAL score grades food on a scale of 1 to 100 based on many factors, positive or negative, including protein, calcium, sugar, cholesterol… It replaces the complex label by a single number.

TrafficLightTraffic light, developed in the UK, assigns a red yellow or green to the components that are deemed important: fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

GuidingStarsGuiding stars (developed in 2006) assigns 1, 2 or 3 stars to grade the food according to an algorithm that takes into account vitamins, minerals, fibers, sugar, fat, cholesterol.




Our Opinion

The new FDA proposal for sugar is misleading. It focuses people’s attention on added sugar (when in fact natural sugar is not better than added sugar). This line of thought makes people eat a ton of fruit, not realizing that they are ingesting sugar at the same time and no more vitamins than in vegetables.

But it is only the least of evils… The other proposals make our hair stand on end:

At first glance, simplified labels are good idea. After all, navigating the maze of nutrition is hard and most people don’t have the time. What’s wrong with helping them save time and effort in buying their groceries?

  • For starters, you’d have to trust the agencies to make the right choice for you. But, as everyone can understand, government recommendations are constrained by many factors other than pure science: practicality, the need to provide a diet affordable to all, politics, business interests, etc.
  • You’d have to blindly trust the science that’s underlying the labeling. At this point, nutritional science is still shaky and has been proven wrong many times. Take dietary cholesterol for example…
  • But most importantly, assessing ingredients using simplistic rules will not encourage people to consume a variety of foods. You could eat the same thing day in, day out, and still believe you are getting a “3 star” nutrition.
  • Simplified labels don’t allow us to think for ourselves; since all we have to work with are those silly stars, we cannot rate our food ourselves. This might help a minority but not regular people.

By reducing nutritional information to simplistic values, these systems hide the actual contents of the food and prevent people from understanding what they are eating.

Nobody will contest that food labels need improving. But the simplistic route is just not the solution.

Looking at nutrients on a broad basis and encouraging people to educate themselves about their food is the way to go.

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The Neanderthal Edge

In which we examine the consequences of inter-hominid romance.

The Neanderthal in you

We all know that some people are better at metabolizing carbs than others: your friend Giacomo can eat all the pasta he wants without apparent damage to his waistline, while you put on 2 lbs merely looking at the plate.

Many explanations have been offered to explain this frustrating state of affairs. An article in The Economist (Feb.13th-19th 2016, A Parthian Shot, page 78) is bringing a new perpective to the topic: In a recent report to Science, a team from the Vanderbilt Genetic Institute found, among other things, that “Neanderthal DNA seems to put modern humans at risk of a specific sort of malnutrition caused by a lack of thiamine, a B vitamin that is vital for carbohydrate metabolism. (…) But that same genetic variant may also make it easier to digest fats.

It has been known for a while that there was interbreeding between the homo-sapiens (us) and the now extinct Neanderthals (the big, hairy, heavy ones), and that 1% to 4% of the modern Europeans’ DNA is of Neanderthal origin. (For more on the topic see It has been hypothesized that red hair or blue eyes are of Neanderthal origin. It seems now that Neanderthal genes carry more serious consequences.

Of course, such results must be interpreted with caution: it is already difficult to run a serious experiment on humans, let alone on Neanderthals. Such studies that only observe existing data can show correlation (Neanderthal DNA and lack to thiamine appear in the same people), but cannot prove causation (is Neanderthal DNA causing the lack of thiamine? Or maybe both these things are caused by a third factor). A definitive scientific experiment would involve a “double-blind” procedure, where both the tester and tested are kept unaware of the actual nature of the test, in order to reduce bias.

This is however an interesting enough result that it deserves some attention.

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Carb metabolism is important because carbohydrates are linked to serious health problems. Just to cite a few:
♦ The nutritional value of carbs is low. Granted, they provide calories, but their micronutrient content is low.
♦Overconsumption of carbohydrates causes elevated blood sugar and elevated insulin levels.
♦ Chronically elevated blood sugar is responsible for
glycation. Molecules produced by our body in presence of a lot of sugar will be defective. Glycation leads to small vessel diseases in the kidneys, eyes, fingertips, toes and brain.
♦ Chronically elevated insulin is bad in itself: insulin directly increases arterial stiffness, which leads to high blood pressure and atherosclerosis. Elevated insulin also clearly increases cancer risks.
♦ Elevated insulin impairs the action of glucagon, thus preventing the use of stored fat for energy. The excessive presence of carbohydrates in the blood shifts the body’s energy preference to burning sugar and impairs the burning of stored fat.

The Neanderthal Edge
What was presented as a problem is in fact an advantage for those with Neanderthal DNA: since they can easily metabolize fats, it is easier for them to revert to a natural diet lower in carbs and higher in proteins and fats, thus limiting the dangers posed by the high consumption of carbohydrates that has become the norm today.

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