I was asked to share tips on how to find Vietnamese food in the community and what to order, so I decided to put together a quick beginner’s guide to give you tips on dining at a Viet restaurant and what popular dishes to order. This was a fun blog to write and, being Vietnamese, I would love for everyone to try Viet food. It always has a nice balance of sweet, acid, salty, and spicy with all textures accounted for and tends to be heavy on vegetables and herbs with lemongrass-marinated proteins.
Trying out different cuisines is fun! If you find something you love, start searching for recipes online and try to recreate them at home. Before you know it, your cooking will be influenced by the different foods you try. Pho can be easily cooked in an Instant Pot and, if you have a skillet, you can definitely make vermicelli bowls, rice dishes, and spring rolls.
What to Order
Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)
Eggrolls (Chả Giò)
Noodle Soups (Phở)
Rice Dishes (Cơm Tấm)
Grilled Shrimp Over Vermicelli Noodles (Bún Tôm Nướng)
Vietnamese Sandwich (Bánh Mì)
Vietnamese Coffee (Cà Phê Sữa Dá)
Have other tips or dish suggestions from Vietnamese restaurants? Comment below to share the knowledge!
My kitchen cleanliness used to be...questionable. Although I didn’t start cooking until my early 20’s, I did try along the way. One time in college, I left out a package of frozen, raw chicken on the counter to defrost. It stayed there for a few days before I threw it away. The problem is, I threw it away because I was too lazy to cook, NOT because of food safety. I knew nothing about food bacteria!
Fast forward nine years, I’m now a dietitian and a certified ServSafe Food Protection Manager. I cringe at that past memory but thankful to be educated in kitchen sanitation. Today, let’s talk about five kitchen fails you need to avoid to keep yourself, and anyone you cook for, safe from food poisoning and contamination.
Fail #1: Not Washing Your Hands
You are always touching things and using the restroom, so your hands can be physically dirty or appear clean but carrying germs and bacteria. Wash them with soap and warm water for about 20 seconds before cooking or preparing food. If you handle raw meats, wash your hands afterward before touching cooked foods or ready-to-eat items like salads.
Fail #2: Serving Physical Food Contaminants
Remember the last time you had hair in your food? We all do! It’s unpleasant, and you don’t want to be remembered as the person who served hair in their potluck dish. Tie your hair back before cooking and, better yet, wear a hat over your hair as well. Cover up those beards, too.
Everyone who cooks often should keep their nails trimmed and unpainted. This includes clear polish. Nails carry dirt and debris underneath, and polish can crack and go into the food you’re serving. If you desire manicured nails, wear disposable gloves while you cook. Also, take off loose jewelry, so it doesn't fall into the food.
Fail #3: Serving Undercooked Meat
In the great words of Gordon Ramsay, “Why didn’t the chicken cross the road? Because you didn’t [bleep]-ing cook it!”
If you don’t already have one, get yourself a food thermometer right now and print off the USDA’s Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Different bacteria are found on different foods, and they die at various temperatures, so this guide tells you exactly what internal temperature your protein should reach to be safe for consumption. When measuring the temperature, penetrate to the middle of the thickest part of the meat.
Fail #4: Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria spread from one area to another unintentionally. For example, slicing a raw chicken breast on a cutting board, then immediately using the same board and knife to cut fresh vegetables for a salad is considered cross-contamination. Another scenario: I witnessed someone marinating raw chicken in a container, then he tried to use the same marinade to serve over cooked chicken. I stopped him in time! The marinade is contaminated with raw chicken juices and should NOT be served over prepared foods.
Get yourself two cutting boards of different colors. Dedicate one to produce and another one to raw proteins. If you only have one board to work with, prioritize your prepping by prepping produce first, then raw meats. Wash, clean, and sanitize the board afterward.
Fail #5: Thawing Protein at Room Temperature
Let’s go back in time and teach my younger self how to defrost the chicken. Bacteria grow the fastest between 41 and 135 degrees F; therefore raw foods should not be kept at room temperature. While frozen proteins are convenient and can save you a few trips to the grocery store, it’s important to know how to defrost correctly.
Start practicing these methods whenever you cook, and they will eventually become second nature. Have a kitchen fail you want to share? Comment below.
Thanksgiving is just a week away! As you know from my last blog post, I will not tell you to change or swap any of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes. However, I will provide a few tips you can incorporate next Thursday to help you stay energized for all of the day’s activities such as Black Friday shopping, putting up holiday decorations, or cheering on the Dallas Cowboys.
Stress can cause indigestion and increased blood pressure. If you took on the responsibility of providing Thanksgiving dinner to twenty loved ones, there are a few ways to reduce your stress. Play your favorite music or movie in the background, take intermittent breaks for a few deep breaths, delegate tasks such as cleaning, dinner table setup, trash takeout, and dishwashing, and ask for help in the kitchen! If you’re traveling, pack snacks and water, take turns driving, wear comfortable clothes, and bring noise-canceling headphones onto the plane.
Add Fiber to Your Plate
While I find no need to replace your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, I do recommend adding sides rich in fiber to your plate. Fiber helps move food along your digestive tract, and soluble fibers in foods such as beans, oats, and Brussels sprouts can decrease cholesterol absorption. For an extra bonus, fruits and vegetables also provide potassium and water which are beneficial for blood pressure management.
Here are some easy ideas for fiber-rich sides:
Drink water between and during meals for hydration. Water breaks down your food, lessens bloating from excess sodium, carries nutrients to your cells, and moves waste away. Pair water with your fiber-rich sides to soften and move the foods easily through your digestive tract.
The current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for water per day is 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women. This can include water from other drinks and food sources like coffee, soups, vegetables, and fruits. Dehydration can cause fatigue and weakness, so drink up!
Take your time, eat slowly, and enjoy the food. Many hormones in your body are working while you’re eating to regulate your appetite by signaling hunger, giving you fullness cues, and releasing the necessary hormones to use up the new nutrients coming in. Because of this process, it takes your body some time to tell your brain that it’s full. Have you ever eaten so much and then a food coma hits you out of nowhere? By the time your brain received the signal, you already consumed too much! A food coma zaps your energy and can slow you down for hours. Take your time eating, and your body will let you know when it’s done. Remember, you can always have leftovers later!
Go for a Pre- and Post-Meal Walk
Just 15 minutes makes a difference! Not only will you burn some calories, but you will also enjoy the cooler weather, boost your mood, lessen stress, lower your blood pressure, and bond with family and friends as you walk together. If the weather is not cooperative outside, get some physical activity by doing work around the house or following a short workout or dance video on YouTube.
By following these tips, you will feel energized throughout the day, and your body will thank you for providing everything it needs for easy digestion. My husband and I will be completing a 5K Turkey Trot in the morning with friends, enjoying our favorite dishes with a side of roasted broccoli and fresh fruit, and catching up on movies. Tell me below how you plan on incorporating these tips!
Kevin Fredericks of Kevonstage, a social media comedian, stole the spotlight last year when he protested the addition of Brussels sprouts and butternut squash to macaroni and cheese. The vegetable tip was aired on The Kitchen, a cooking show on the Food Network, to introduce a new mac and cheese recipe for Thanksgiving. The comedian made a plea to leave the vegetables out! People who commented on his video made their message clear: DO NOT alter this traditional Thanksgiving dish.
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am an advocate for adding vegetables to macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving, but there is a missing piece to the puzzle. Macaroni and cheese was not on my family’s dinner table on Thanksgiving, so I have no emotional connection to it. On the other hand, if someone wanted to replace my favorite stuffing, I would probably fight back!
Video from Kevonstage regarding macaroni and cheese
The smell of turkey and the taste of stuffing and mashed potatoes takes me back to my parent’s kitchen. It was the one time of the year I had a full American meal at home. I remember waking up early each year to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as I waited for my mom to finish cooking. My parents were Vietnamese immigrants and never assimilated to cooking American food at home. Therefore, Thanksgiving consisted of frozen, pre-cooked turkey, instant mashed potatoes, packaged gravy, boxed stuffing, canned corn and peas, and a side of iceberg lettuce with bottled Italian dressing. I loved it, and I still do!
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I prefer to eat it exactly the same way I did growing up. As a dietitian and a self-taught cook, I can probably cook each dish from scratch and make a healthy version for each of them. But it would not taste like Thanksgiving, and there is a scientific reason behind it.
Taste, Smell, and Flavor
Together, taste and smell contribute to taste perception. You may think you “taste” your food with your tongue but, the truth is, the tongue is limited to identifying notes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, known as the primary sensations of taste. To determine a flavor, you need your nose! About 80% of flavor comes from the smell of your food.
Your sense of smell is called olfaction. Aromas from the food travel to your olfactory receptors which are located at the back of your nasal cavity. There are two pathways to these receptors: orthonasal (smelling) and retronasal (from the back of your throat as you chew, swallow, and exhale). Once the odors reach the receptors, signals are sent to your olfactory bulb and the brain for flavor identification.
Flavor occurs once you combine all of the senses of taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight. Flavor is highly individualized which makes it a subjective critique in the food critic world. To me, the perfect apple is tart, firm, crunchy, and green while the perfect apple to someone else may be red, sweet, and slightly soft.
The Olfaction Food Memory Connection
The olfactory receptors end at the limbic system of the brain, specifically associated with emotions and memories. So by smelling and identifying flavors through olfaction, we can trigger specific feelings and memories that we previously associated those smells and flavors with. The more stimulated you were when you ate the food, the more vivid the food memories become. If you make pumpkin pie every year for your family, the memories of cooking on a cold fall day, eating, and sharing your pie will be more prominent every time you smell pumpkin pie. However, you may have little to no food memory attached to the chicken sandwich you mindlessly ate during a conference call last year.
Thanksgiving is a special holiday that happens once a year. Your family probably cooks the same traditional dishes, perhaps replicating recipes carried down from generations ago. These dishes may be expected every year by family and friends! To Kevin, it was offensive to see Brussels sprouts and butternut squash added to the macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving but, if it were presented to him on any other day, perhaps he would try it.
As a dietitian, there is an empathetic side to me that understands how sacred family meals and traditions are on this delightful holiday. I will not tell you to replace your turkey with a tofurkey or to swap out macaroni pasta with cauliflower. Just enjoy the food with your loved ones, and embrace both the old and new food memories to come!
After watching many episodes of Masterchef, Top Chef, and other cooking competitions, it is common to see chefs and cooks drawing inspiration from their family recipes and using flavors from their local and regional cuisines. They even get creative sometimes with fusion dishes integrating the two. While it’s fun to watch contestants compete, their love for food and culture is truly the addicting factor on these shows.
Years ago my co-workers and I decided on Vietnamese food for our lunch break and asked others in our department to join. One woman gave a sour face but decided to go which made me excited to see her try a new cuisine. Once we were seated, her sour face returned. She opened the menu and said, “UGH! They probably grabbed whatever rat they found on the floor and cooked it.” Her statement was offensive. I was speechless and also shocked she would make such a comment knowing I am Vietnamese. Oddly enough, she ate her chicken pho - excuse me - rat pho, and we never talked about it again.
My co-worker only concentrated on the WHAT. WHAT was she eating? WHAT protein were the cooks using? While it is understandable to ask the WHAT, it is equally important to pair the question with a WHY for a well-rounded food experience. For example, "What are the most common proteins used in pho, and why is it a popular Vietnamese dish?" Asking the WHY opens up another realm of information. It introduces you to the culture, traditions, and knowledge of the types of food each region has to offer.
If you are starting a venture of becoming a home cook and getting adventurous with flavors beyond your comfort zone, I have a few tips to get you started.
Start Cooking with What’s Familiar
If you’re from Louisiana and love the local etouffee, jambalaya, and crawfish boils, start learning the basics of Cajun seasonings, ingredients, and cooking techniques. Cook with family and friends, crack open a book about Cajun cooking, and explore recipes popular in Louisiana. You already have a massive advantage by knowing what these dishes should taste like, now you just need to recreate it.
Taste It, Then Cook It
Once you’ve nailed your family and local dishes, try cuisines from other countries and cultures. You can start by exploring ethnic restaurants in your city, or you can hop in the car and drive to the next major city or state. America is so regionalized with their foods! You have famous Tex-Mex and steak in Texas, specific BBQ types for most southern states, vegetable-centric dishes along the West coast, and some of the best seafood dishes on the East coast. Tasted something you like? Try making it at home! Write down the name of the meal, look up recipes for it, and start cooking. Change it up to your liking by going heavier or lighter on the spices and swapping out for proteins and vegetables available in your store.
This is also the perfect opportunity to ask your WHY questions. For example, WHY are some countries and states more prone to spicy cuisines than others? Because food spoils quicker in warmer climates and antimicrobial properties in peppers help preserve foods and kill food-borne pathogens. Therefore, you will not see as many spicy dishes in areas where the weather is colder.
Tex-Mex dishes, banh mi pizzas, sushi burritos, and carne asada fries are lovely concoctions of different cultural cuisines. Fusion dishes are gaining popularity, but it is destined to happen considering the melting pot America has become. As you cook other cuisines, fusion will most likely occur after some time! One day you may ask yourself, “What if I top my pizza with bibimbap ingredients?"
As you start your culinary and cooking adventures, practice asking both the WHAT and the WHY. WHAT will tell you what ingredients and spices you need to recreate the dish, and WHY will help you understand the culture. What you learn might surprise you!
Have you ever been on a diet requiring you to skip meals or cut carbs and fruits? I have! What these diets have in common is how they focus on subtracting or taking things away from your plate. In reality, subtracting and eliminating specific foods or food groups will not keep you energized throughout the day or help you increase productivity at work. Most importantly, you are eliminating foods that can better your health and prevent chronic diseases. Today, I am introducing you to a concept you can quickly adopt: ADDABLES.
I want to help you see food differently. Learn to embrace food for what it is: a source of nourishment, enjoyment, and a health booster. Instead of subtracting from your plate, start adding. It might seem odd but, trust me, I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).
Addables are nutrient-dense foods that can fight cancer, build protein, promote gut health, boost your immune system, protect your heart, and keep you full for a longer period of time.
Above is a picture of my oatmeal bowl. Oatmeal is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals but will probably make you hungry again within an hour or two since it is low in calories and needs fat and protein to make a balanced meal. This is where you can incorporate addables such as berries, seeds, and nut butters. Not only will it taste 10x better, it will keep you full for hours. This way you won't have to think about food for awhile and can focus on what's really important such as graduating cum laude, spending quality time with friends and family, training for a 5K, or being more efficient at work.
As of today, start asking yourself, “What can I ADD to my meal to boost my health? To nourish me? To prevent chronic diseases? To keep me full and satisfied?"
As an RDN and a home cook, I am always trying to find ways to give my food a nutrient BOOST by incorporating these addables. If I’ve been working out a lot, I ADD protein. If my vision needs to be sharper, I ADD vitamin A sources. In general, I like to ADD food sources rich in heart-healthy fats, protein, omega-3’s, fiber, and micronutrients for overall heart and gut health, satiety, and disease prevention.
Below is a beginner's guide to help you get started with addables, specifically seeds, greens, heart-healthy fat sources, and protein. These are specific addables I tend to have in my fridge and pantry at all times except for avocados since I cannot eat them raw. I can and do eat guacamole, though! There are many addables you can take advantage of but I narrowed the list down to my top two favorites in each category.
Flaxseed Meal (1 tablespoon)
Spinach and Kale (2 cups)
*If you are on Warfarin, Coumadin, or other blood thinners, it is important to continue eating the same amount of vitamin K as you normally would. DO NOT increase from your usual vitamin K intake. Please talk to your dietitian or doctor about blood thinners and vitamin K.
Nut Butters** (2 tablespoons)
**Nut butters serve as both a heart-healthy fat and a good source of protein!
Avocado / Guacamole (1/3 fruit / 2 tablespoons)
Greek Yogurt (1 cup)
Egg (1 egg)
Start off slowly with purchasing one or two addables you feel you can incorporate into your regular meals and snacks. For example, if you tend to eat one banana a day, try eating it with a peanut butter spread. If you eat soup frequently, add a handful of spinach. Before you know it, you will be using addables without thinking about it. Go ahead and enjoy all the healthful and nourishing benefits!
Jane Pelcher, RDN
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I am providing all of the above addables information in a FREE PDF file (preview below). The nifty table gives you the specific nutrients each addable contains, what health boosts they provide, and suggestions on how to add them to your meals and snacks. Print it off and place it on your fridge, cubicle, or wall. It will come in handy as a quick reminder! Just subscribe to janethedietitian.com with your email address (subscribe link to the right) and you will receive the PDF file within one business day. By subscribing, you will continue receiving freebies and monthly updates on new articles, videos, and recipes!
In the world of technology and a gazillion kitchen innovations of Instant Pots, air fryers, Kitchen-Aids, sous vide kits, condiment guns, and robotic bartenders, it’s hard to remember a time when cooking was actually simple. Although I’m guilty of owning some of these, I did purchase them over the last few years as I was grew into a huge kitchen nerd for new tools and gadgets.
Today, I want to cover the bare basics of what you need to get started in the kitchen. Cooking can be intimidating but, with the right tools and a couple of pro tips, you’ll be confident in the kitchen in no time! I have also provided Amazon links to either the exact or the most similar items to the ones I own, in case you are interested in getting the same tools for your kitchen.
Here are my TOP 5 ESSENTIAL TOOLS AND TIPS to help YOU be successful in the kitchen.
1. Cutting Board
Cutting boards can cost anywhere from $6 to $800. Luckily, the $800 board doesn’t make your food taste any better. A basic $6 board will probably be a piece of white plastic that can last you a couple of years. My recommendation is to get TWO boards, each a different color. The reason? To prevent cross-contamination. Use one board for cutting produce and another one for cutting meats.
PRO TIP: Place a wet towel underneath to prevent the cutting board from slipping and sliding while you food prep.
2. An 8" Chef's Knife with Honing Steel
If you can only have one knife, let it be a chef’s knife. The shape of the chef knife allows you to have full control when prepping your foods and, so long as your knife is sharp, it can complete almost all tasks such as slicing, mincing, and chopping vegetables, fruits, herbs, and proteins.
PRO TIP: Use a honing steel to keep your knife “sharp.” A honing steel doesn’t actually sharpen your knife but realigns your knife’s edges to keep it in tip-top shape!
3. Food Thermometer
Next to washing your hands with soap and water before food handling, a food thermometer is your next best friend for preventing food poisoning. You don’t want to spend all that time cooking only to poison yourself and your loved ones, right? I’ll make this easy for you by giving you ServSafe’s list of safe internal cooking temperatures. Print it off and place it on your fridge for easy reference.
Understand that the safe food temperatures represent the INTERNAL temperature of the food. For example, if you are cooking a thick cut of chicken breast, you want to make sure you insert the thermometer probe into the middle of the thickest part of the chicken breast. If it hasn’t reached 165 degrees F yet, keep cooking!
4. A 12" Skillet
A 12” skillet is a frying pan with a long handle. It has a flat bottom and the sides flare out. A basic skillet is great for quick meals such as frying eggs, sauteing vegetables, browning and searing meats, and making one-pan meals like fried rice and Shakshuka.
5. Wooden Spoon
A wooden spoon is a nice cooking utensil. It doesn’t scratch up your pots and pans, it’s non-reactive to acids like lemon juice and tomatoes, and it can keep its place in your kitchen for YEARS so long as you care for them.
As you can see, the five essential tools to get started in the kitchen are simple and affordable!
Cabbage is part of the cruciferous vegetable family where you'll also find bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and radish. Cabbage, like many other vegetables, is a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. Cruciferous vegetables also contain many phytonutrients which promotes health as well as helps reduce risks of cancer, especially colon cancer.
Goi Ga - Vietnamese Cabbage Salad
My mom made goi ga (Vietnamese cabbage salad) all the time when I was growing up. It's quick, fresh, and can feed the whole family for fairly cheap. When I was shopping at Trader Joe's, I found a bag of pre-shredded green cabbage and was suddenly inspired to make this dish. Here's how to make it:
Ingredients for 1 serving of salad:
Ingredients for dressing (save extra in fridge):
To learn how to shred a head of cabbage, see my video below:
Being Asian, rice is my preferred grain/carbohydrate source at almost every meal at home. I grew up eating only white rice and didn't convert to brown rice until I started learning about food and nutrition at the ripe age of 22. I didn't prefer it at the beginning but slowly started liking it and now it's the only rice I make at home. Once in awhile I will still have white rice when I'm eating at Asian restaurants, cooking really traditional Vietnamese dishes, or having meals at my mom's house. My mom tried brown rice, but she won't budge from her daily white rice!
Brown rice is more nutrient-dense and plays a positive role in satiety and blood glucose. I break down the differences below.
A serving of 1/2 cup of brown rice provides 2 grams of fiber while the same serving of white rice provides 0 grams. While 2 grams may not sound like a lot, getting fiber from your grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds throughout the day will help you meet fiber goals of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men under 50 years of age daily. For adults over the age of 50, fiber recommendations lower to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men.
A grain of brown rice is covered in bran which is fibrous and provides additional minerals like potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium. Brown rice is converted to white rice when the bran is removed, meaning both the fiber and the minerals are removed as well making it less nutrient-dense than brown rice.
Calorically, white and brown rice has a similar amount of calories, about 100-110 calories per 1/2 cup serving.
Taste and Texture
Brown rice is slightly tougher and chewier in texture and has a nutty taste. Since white rice has the bran removed, it is softer and fluffier and tastes much more mild.
Glycemic Index and Blood Sugar Spikes
Brown rice is beneficial since it's lower on the glycemic index than white rice. The glycemic index gives you an idea of how quickly the carbohydrate source can spike up your blood sugar. With white rice being a simple carbohydrate, it dissolves into sugar and absorbs quickly into your bloodstream causing a blood sugar spike. On the other hand, brown rice has fiber so it takes longer for your body to break it down and will feed your body the glucose at a slower rate, therefore, providing you energy for a longer period of time.
Unlike white rice, the fiber in brown rice helps you feel full quicker which allows you to eat smaller portions.
An occasional bowl of white rice won't make a large difference on your health in the grand scheme of things. If you eat rice regularly like I do, switching to brown rice (or even converting to half white/half brown rice) can help you meet your daily fiber goals and help you control your portions.
Deciding on which yogurt to buy is so confusing! Generally, yogurt contains live and active cultures which is bacteria that supports a healthy gut which directly supports your immune system. Making fruit parfaits, dipping fruit into yogurt, putting them in smoothies, and replacing it for cream in recipes are great ways to incorporate more yogurt into your diet. But which one should you buy? There are a few things to consider. Take a look at my example below comparing Sunnyside Farms Non-Fat Lemon flavor yogurt to Fage Total Full-Fat Greek yogurt.
Yogurt fat is determined by the milk the yogurt was produced from. Non-fat yogurt was made from non-fat milk and full-fat yogurt was made from regular, full-fat milk. Full-fat yogurt is higher in calories and fat but tastes better, gives you more satisfaction, and keeps you fuller for a longer period of time. With low-fat or non-fat yogurts, you'll find calories and fat is lower, but companies tend to add sugar to it to make it taste better.
Yogurts naturally have about 8 grams of sugar. If you see more than 8 grams, definitely take a look at the ingredients! Most likely, the manufacturer added sugar to it. Notice in the table above, the non-fat Sunnyside Farms yogurt has a whopping 25 grams of sugar! It will definitely taste good, but it's better to buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with fruits, berries, and granola.
You want to find a yogurt with minimal ingredients. Ideally, yogurt should only contain milk and cultures. As you can see, Fage contains only milk and cultures, but Sunnyside Farms has a long list of ingredients with sugar listed twice.
Next time you find yourself shopping for yogurt, get educated and turn the yogurt container around to see the nutrition label. Look for minimal ingredients and little to no added sugars.
Jane Pelcher, RDN
I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist focused on helping everyone love nutrition through cooking! My blogs provide new home cooks with basic cooking skills and grocery shopping tips. Most importantly, I strive to teach the nutrition behind the foods you cook to help you understand how specific foods can better your health and prevent chronic diseases. I hope you embark on this journey with me!