Coffee, Caffeine, and Civets in Da Lat, Vietnam ??

I love learning about new food while I travel and I always hope something will inspire me to write a blog. If I can tie in travel with nutrition and fitness somehow, it’s a double bonus seeing as that’s one of my goals with this whole blog deal. I mean, many people have a food blog, a fitness blog, or a nutrition blog, but there are very few that fuse them all! I’m here in Vietnam and while I’m not going to write about something you may have never seen before, I’m going to give you some new information on something you already know and likely love: coffee!

A coffee machine for your coffee mug!

Are you a coffee lover? Do you enjoy it every morning or maybe even during the day? If so, you are not alone. Coffee is a commodity and many people consume copious amounts the world over. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), over 7 million tons of coffee was consumed in 2010 and numbers continue to increase. Latin America and the Caribbean is the world’s largest coffee producing region, with Brazil in the top spot for coffee exports. Vietnam is just behind them and well known for their robusta, arabica, and moka beans (not to be confused with the mocha drink, made with milk and chocolate ). reported that 54% of Americans aged 18 and over drink an average 9 ounce cup of coffee everyday and there are over 100 million coffee drinkers in the United States but in Vietnam, it must be much more (I don’t have statistics). There are coffee shops everywhere, and by that I don’t mean every corner, but lined up one right next to another. I don’t know how they all stay in business.

There’s a coffee shop in that Artichoke Flower! Da Lat, Vietnam.

While you may often hear it’s not good to consume too much coffee, it does have some benefits. There have been various studies conducted that show coffee consumption reduces the risk for various diseases. Science cannot always say why these phenomena take place, or what specifically in the coffee reduces disease, but it is also not proven that coffee will prevent disease. Keep in mind that studies typically do not show a cause and effect and it is possible that when analyzing data, coffee drinkers have other healthy lifestyle habits that may also help ward off unwanted health issues. On that note, let us have a look at some of the perks of a daily cup of joe.
Coffee consumption may help reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Coffee drinkers have a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and more specifically, Alzheimer’s disease. There is also evidence that coffee can reduce rates of certain kinds of cancers.
Avoiding disease is a good reason to keep that daily cup or two, or even three cups of Joe. Yes, three. In fact, some studies show benefits when up to five cups of coffee are consumed daily! The caffeine in coffee, however, is not always a good thing. While it does deliver some energy and is a known ergogenic aid (many preworkout supplements contain caffeine), it can also keep us awake at night, especially if we drink too much or too late in the day.

Have coffee, workout.

Monitor your intake and sleep habits and ensure you are able to get a good night’s rest. If you feel jittery, you are likely consuming too much caffeine. Another issue with excess coffee consumption is not necessarily the coffee itself, but what is added to that cup. While a cup of brewed coffee does not provide any calories to the diet, milk, cream, sugar, and other additives add up calorie wise. That’s a big thing with Vietnamese coffee because the main thing in it is “milk.” I put milk in quotes because when you ask for it, you automatically get sweetened condensed milk, and a lot of it. If you want regular milk, you have to ask for fresh milk, but you’ll often get it in conjunction with the condensed milk. It’s hard to escape the sweetness. Sometimes I “forget” to ask, secretly, or actually not so secretly. I love sweetened condensed milk, but it’s too much and I’m limiting myself to one typical cup a day, either in the morning, or before I workout. It has seriously become my main source of carbohydrates these days (and it needs to stop). Overall, a little bit of “milk” or artificial sweetener is ok, but moderation is key.
There are many compounds that are attributed to the noted health benefits of coffee, some even yet to be discovered by science. In a summary about Coffee and Health, Harvard Health states that drinking coffee has various health outcomes. Because of the variety of compounds found in coffee, it may have positive effects in some components of our health, but negative effects in others. These benefits are found with both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, so it isn’t the caffeine that’s responsible.

Sweet smelling coffee flowers.

If you enjoy your morning mug, there is no need to feel you should “quit” coffee. But remember, all things in moderation and certain populations, such as pregnant women and people with high blood pressure should limit their intake. Don’t forget about what you may put into your coffee- cream, sugar, and sweetened condensed milk all add excess calories to the diet that are often overlooked. And if you are one of the rare persons who does not like coffee, don’t worry, you don’t have to start drinking it if you don’t enjoy it!

Green coffee cherries. They are ripe when they are red.

You may be familiar with arabica, robusta, and moka coffee beans, but what about “weasel” or “civet coffee?” This coffee comes from partially digested beans consumed by civets. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world and according to my tour guide, Bang, a kilogram of natural weasel coffee goes for up to $3,000 a kilogram (2.2 pounds). Civets naturally consume the coffee cherries and they become partially digested. It is said that these digestive mechanisms enhance the flavor of the coffee, but once passed, they must be collected, cleaned, and roasted like other coffee beans. This type of “natural collection” is possible when someone actually seeks out weasel excrement in the wild.

There are farms though, and while I’m not a coffee connoisseur, I did try a cup, mostly to say I’d done it. I tried it without all the bells and whistles. Ok, I tried a spoonful without the “milk,” but it was bitter to me, just like any other black coffee I drink, so I doctored it up with some liquefied sugar and even added some fresh milk because that’s how I like my coffee. Was it good? Sure was, but I wouldn’t buy the beans, even farm produced “weasel coffee” goes for $180 per kilogram in Vietnam, and the variety produced in Indonesia is much more expensive. The ethical component of such coffee is not the point of my blog, suffice it to say I don’t need to purchase such coffee. At least in this regard, I’m not concerned that my habits worsen the lives of at least these animals.

Civets in captivity to increase production of “weasel coffee.”

It was neat to see the coffee trees, how they first produce a white, sweet smelling flower where eventually a “cherry” will grow. In Vietnam, all the beans are hand picked when ripe and dried in the sun for two to four weeks. The thick skin is then removed and the beans are roasted, some batches have oils added to them to enhance flavor. Butter, chicken, and even fish oil is used. The coffee here is good, although I’m no expert, it has a deep, rich flavor. It’s served quite strong, through a filter like device placed atop a small cup. Add in some sweetened condensed milk and you’ll have a mug of awesome in the palm of your hands. Get ready to take on the world. But, in moderation, like with all things! ?

P.S. I stayed at the Oscar Hostel in Da Lat. At the time of writing, the hostel was opened two weeks ago. I have to say this was one of my best Hostel stays. Bang, the manager and Linh, his girlfriend and owner have done a great job with making the place welcoming. I arrived at 5 am and Bang picked me up from the bus station. They make breakfast every morning, and one evening, we even had dinner together with some other guests. It was nice being able to speak to a local who knows English well. We shared some stories about life, politics, history, and the Vietnamese outlook on America, which is of interest to me. I did a day long motorbike tour with Bang as well. It’s one of the things to do in Da Lat, and while others had recommended specific companies, at the end of the day, I think they are all similar. Plus, seeing as Bang and Linh did so much for me, I didn’t mind paying them the money for the tour. It was great and again, I learned so much. I loved Da Lat. I’ve been a lot of places but I can honestly say if I wanted to live in Asia, this would be place on the top of my list. If you ever come, check out the hostel:


Why I paid $210 for a hotel room and how I got a free plane ticket home.

A free ticket home?!

I received an email from United MileagePlus. It was about a partnership with an app called RocketMiles. Earn miles every time you book a hotel room through the app. As a budget traveler, I figured the available hotels wouldn’t be in my budget, but I downloaded it anyway.

Rocket Miles View- Mobile Version

When I got the email, I had 20,800 frequent flier miles with United. I know some are not United fans, but I’ve flown them quite a bit over the years. I’ve amassed and used my miles over and over for different award tickets. I even went round trip to Peru (for two) using those miles.

Machu Picchu, Peru. 2013

Every dollar I spend on my United credit card I get a mile. I looked at hotels via the RocketMiles app in all the cities I’ve yet to visit: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh, and more. Of all those places, there was one hotel in Siem Reap that would give me 6,000 miles. But, it costs $210 per night. Yikes, that’s not within my budget.

I researched, did math, thought, researched some more, thought harder… Then I got yet another email. “Book by Friday and you’ll get an additional 3,000 miles.” So wait. I’ll pay $210 for the room and get 210 miles = about 21,000 miles. 6,000 for booking at this one hotel that’s offering more miles for the per night stay price than seemingly any other in SE Asia = 27,000 miles. 3,000 bonus miles = 30,000 miles.

Guess what 30,000 miles can get? An award ticket from Santiago, Chile (where I plan on finish up my travels next year) to Boston. Well, it costs 30,000 miles and $53. My “research” was checking regular ticket costs from Santiago to Boston. The cheapest ones are currently $540. So I based my decision on the following:
Hotel Room: $210
Award ticket: $53
Total: $263

Reg ticket: $540
$540-263=$277 savings AND, I get a fancy place to spend the night. Not that I need it, BUT it will help later when I need a ticket to go home. Furthermore, I spent the last ten days house and dog sitting via workaway, so I didn’t spend money on a place. I allocate myself about $30/d, but if I break up this expense over 2 months, it doesn’t reduce my daily budget by too much. Lastly, I’m still hoping to do a workaway volunteer opportunity for three weeks in Laos. If that works out, it will greatly help my budget!

My dog for 10 days.

While house sitting, I didn’t use the AC much as it turned out to be quite expensive. I was often over heated and woke up drenched in sweat most nights. I developed a heat rash, and had no relief from the high temperatures. In just a short time in AC, my heat rash miraculously improved in record time.

Not going to lie, I love breakfast buffets!

Fitness center. Breakfast buffet. Swimming pool. Lounging in bed. The epitome of laziness and I somehow managed to save nearly $300 on a plane ticket home.

Just my big bed in an air conditioned room at the Royal Empire Hotel!

I don’t think I’ve ever paid this much to stay somewhere for one night. Well, there was that one time I had surgery at Bumrungrad International Hospital. I’m sure that was the most expensive stay of my life, but my 23 hours at the Royal Empire Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was by far the most I’ve ever paid for a hotel. I took full advantage, enjoyed it, and barely even left the place while there. All in all, it was worth the stay because of the frequent flier miles I earned. Was it worth $200? For what you can get in Cambodia, definitely not. The staff was nice, but people are nice even at the cheap hostels. It was good totally have my own space, cool off, and relax, but unless I can get another free plane ticket out of the deal, I won’t be spending any more nights in fancy hotels!

Whats your biggest travel splurge?


Get lean or lose weight? Which do you choose?

I recently completed a webinar put on by Dietitian Central, a website that is certified to offer continuing education units for registered dietitians. Because I love sports nutrition, I’ve purchased credits to participate in the webinars of my choice. I don’t need anymore CEUs to renew my registration come 2018 as I’ve collected many over the last 4 years, but I enjoy learning and engaging my brain.

This webinar was conducted by Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, an RD practicing in the Dallas Ft. Worth area and although we don’t have to complete a test or questions at the end of the webinars, I always like to take notes.

Here are some of the take aways from this webinar. A lot of it is info I’m familiar with, but it never hurts to take these courses, and of course, I do learn new information.

So many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have been for general weight loss. Athletes have different requirements, but anyone looking to lose body fat or change up their body composition can benefit from this information.

Our bodies are made up of four main components when looking at what makes up our weight: lean body mass, fat mass, water, and bones. A common goal of not only athletes, but many average gym goers, is to gain muscle and lose body fat. If your goal is simply to “lose weight,” can you be more specific? Do you want to lose body fat, or do you want to lose overall body mass (both fat and lean body mass, LBM)?

Would you rather have 5 pounds of muscle or 5 pounds of fat? Muscle makes up lean body mass.

A great way to know what our body composition looks like is to do a DXA scan or jump into a bodpod, but that’s not always accessible to most people. If your gym has an in body analysis device, you can use it, but always ensure to use the same machine at the same gym as there is variance between machines. While they are not 100% accurate, you can use your first reading as a baseline and go from there to monitor results.

Here’s a chart to see where you stand if you’re able to analyze your body composition:

Female Male
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32%+ 25%+

As you can tell, I took this photo from somewhere else!

Athletes have more to factor in when considering diet and meal plans. They typically need to consume more calories than the average gym goer and often their particular sport will dictate what types and how much food should be eaten. If you’re an athlete, you may have a difficult time getting in all the calories you need and if you’re in the leaning out phase, restricting energy, losing weight can be difficult. Actually, losing weight can be difficult for anybody! When we restrict energy, our drive to eat is stronger. More ghrelin, a hormone that signals hunger, is produced. When more ghrelin is produced, people may eat more, leading to weight gain, the opposite of the intended goal, weight loss. A common issue or reason for people to not stay within a calorie restricted diet necessary for weight loss is because they feel hungry. If this happens to you, there are some measures you can take. Ensure you’re getting adequate fiber in the diet. Fiber leads to a feeling of fullness and slows digestion. Some low calorie sources of fiber are in low carb vegetables. Adding some greens is a great way to not only get fiber, but other vital vitamins and minerals, so feel free to get some in with every meal. Another trick is to ensure adequate protein at mealtime and with snacks. It also digests slowly and has proven benefits when consumed over the course of a day.
On the flip side, leptin is the hormone that signal fullness. Eat slowly and pay attention to these cues to prevent over eating.
When it comes to energy expenditure, or simply, burning calories, there are four components.
RMR: Resting Metabolic Rate- the rate at which the body burns calories to sustain life. This is what you’d burn in a given day doing nothing. It costs calories to think and breathe. Our organs also burn a lot of calories.
TEF: Thermic effect of food: Eating food burns calories, but only to an extent. It comprises about 10% of calories burned per day and some foods burn more than others. Protein burns the most calories during digestion, about 30%, because of it’s complex process of metabolism. Carbohydrates about 5-10%, and fats, about 0-5%. To clarify, I looked this up on line and found a more specific breakdown for an example on actually, but it makes sense. The author writes, “If you eat 200 calories of protein, your body will use between 40-70 of them in digestion.” In that example, those numbers fall within that approximate 30% range.
EEE: Exercise Energy Expenditure: This accounts for how many calories are burned during exercise. This is the most variable component. The more we exercise, the more calories we burn.
NEAT: Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis: Energy expended through typically uncalculated movements and activity throughout the day. This can include walking up and down stairs, getting up to get something, even body posture contributes. Some people may expend more it they fidget often, tap their toe, bounce a leg, etc.

Something to think about: as we age, our RMR slows. Females can experience a 2% decline per decade and males, 3%.

Of the four components mentioned above, EEE is the most variable and depends on frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise. Furthermore, high intensity exercises will increase the amount of calories burned over the course of the day via EPOC, excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. According to ACE, the American Council on Exercise, “EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function.” This process requires additional energy so the more intense your workout, the more calories you’ll burn in a day. (But you don’t need to do high intensity workouts every day, allow the body time to recover).

So, what’s the best way to change your body composition? Do you want to lose weight? Add lean muscle mass? First, determine how many calories you need by figuring out your RMR and basic activity level. I shared a link in another post about this very subject, refer back to it here:
If you want to lose weight, subtract about 400-500 calories, but to start, don’t take in less than 1,500 per day (women). If you hit a plateau in the future, you’ll need something to manipulate, and calories are one of those things. Also, it’s difficult to get all the nutrients you need on a lower calorie diet. If you want to gain body mass, eat a few more hundred calories per day and lift weights. Look at how much protein you need. A good calculation is 1.5 g/kg body weight (one kg=2.2 pounds). Ensure you distribute your protein intake over the course of the day. You also need fat and carbohydrates, but this ratio is better chosen with goals and preferences in mind. Carbohydrates provide energy and can fuel an athlete for optimal performance. Fat can play a tasty roll in a low carbohydrate diet, but that route is not for everyone. Either way, make sure fat comprises at least 20% of the calories in your diet. With a standard 2,000 calorie diet, if minimum fat intake is 20%, then 200 calories, or 22 g of fat would be a guideline and I’d even say that’s a bit low (but I’m an avocado and peanut butter lover, so I need my fats)!

PB and Avocado

A few tips for weight loss: eat small meals frequently, don’t skip meals, (not eating enough calories is not the optimal route to weight loss), after exercise, ensure you have a snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein to replenish glycogen and aid in muscle repair. Avoid refined carbohydrates, fried foods, and alcohol and also watch beverage intake. Drinks can be a source of added calories.

A few tips for weight gain: increase calories, eat small meals over the course of the day, make sure you eat breakfast, add some high calorie foods such as 2% milk, nut butters, high calorie protein supplements, have a pre and post workout snack, and you can even have something mid-workout to fuel you even more. Have a high calorie meal or shake before bed (I prefer casein shakes) and make sure you get quality calories!

Whatever your goals may be, whether it’s adding lean body mass, losing body fat, or training for optimal performance, you can achieve them. Monitor your workouts, calories in and out, and make sure to rest and recover!

There’s no place like home. Or is there?

“Home, the spot on Earth supremely blest, a dearer sweeter spot than all the rest.”

What is home? What is home to you? It’s an interesting concept and one that can change depending on who and where you are, I’ve found.
Since my recent trip to the United States via Dubai, Prague, and Barcelona, I find myself rethinking the notion of “home.”
I mean, I was just “home,” but my home has always been more than one place in my mind. New Hampshire is where I’m from, always has been. When people ask me, that’s my answer. But I have to add I lived in Texas for 13 years. That’s where I owned a house, earned my master’s degree, worked, and have roots. But lately, home seems to be and feel wherever I end up in this world.

Home sweet home!
My old house in San Antonio, Texas.

When I went back to my friend’s apartment in Bangkok, it kind of felt like “home.” I even had some stuff there, my backpack, and for a nomad, that’s my house, kind of anyway. All my stuff goes in it and I take it places, the same way a turtle takes his shell wherever he goes. Same same, but different, I know. I can navigate through that bag fairly well. I have a system to make packing a convenient breeze. My bright blue packing cubes double as pillows or leg props when necessary, and each houses certain items. The side pockets allow me to separate and organize my toiletries and a few other things I use on a daily basis. And while I sometimes pull everything out with the resulting mess looking like an explosion, it’s quite easy to tidy up and put back together, especially when I compare it to cleaning the 1,721 square foot abode in which I once lived.
When I have more than a few days in a place, I set my things up in a neat, orderly, accessible fashion. My shorts carefully folded next to a pile of shirts and tank tops, and along side, a small bag full of matching socks. The less you have, the easier it is and the more you learn to live without, the less you realize you need.

Just a pile of clothes.
Pretty much all of my clothes for 6 months.

I’ve been traveling for so long, anywhere has begun to feel like home. Cheap hotels (because I’m on a budget), friends’ flats, an unexpected week in an apartment, crashing on someone’s couch… Even hostels feel like home. When I arrived in Siem Reap, I checked into my $9/night accommodations. I pulled out my packing cubes and placed them on my bed for easy access. I grew accustomed to having them with me at night after I had surgery because I needed to elevate my leg somehow and they did the trick. It’s also handy having all of your clothes in bed, but unlike before, they all fit into a small area. They are not left in an unwanted pile of laundry waiting to be put away! So, sleeping in a room full of strangers with my few belongings by my side has somehow become “home” to me. When did that happen?! HOW did that happen?

Rooftop pool in Bangkok.
At “home” in Bangkok. I could have easily gotten used to that place!

They say “Home is where the heart is.” I guess my heart is in travel and so that has become my “home.” I still think about my decision to finish up this adventure come next January and I still feel ok with it. But I wonder, once I settle back into the familiar, will I be bored? Will I need my packing cubes by my side? Will I dream of far off places? Will the rat race be enough?

Tonight’s sunset definitely made this spot sweeter than all the rest.


What unconventional places have served as your home?

Try Some Tempeh Today

I was inspired to do some research on tempeh when I was in Malaysia and Indonesia. While I’d had it in the states before, I’d only ever made some recipes I had found on line. It’s so common in Indonesia, so I was able to experience it in a variety of ways. Some of the best meals I had there included tempeh and the ones with peanut sauce, like gado gado were a double bonus (because I like peanut everything so much).

Tempeh Sate from a place called the Sate Bar on Gili Air in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any personal recipes to share with you as I’ve yet to be able to experiment on my own because I’ve been busy on the road, but I’ll link a few good ones in case you want to get adventurous.

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy based food. It is naturally cultured with a controlled fermentation process where soybeans are pressed into a cake form. While you may be familiar with other soy based products like tofu, tempeh is unique because it is one of the few soy foods that does not have origins from Chinese cuisine.
Tempeh is used as a vegetarian based source of protein and a three ounce serving (about 85 g) provides 140 calories, 16 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrate, and 7 grams of fiber. Values may vary based on the brand, and you can find tempeh in the cold refrigerator section of your local grocer, next to the tofu. Not all grocers carry it, as it is still a largely foreign food.


This vegetarian delight incorporates the whole soy bean compared to tofu and thus it has a different texture and nutrient composition. It has more protein, fiber, and is higher in vitamins like manganese and copper. It is fermented with a mold called Rhizopus oligosporus and according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website, when foods are fermented, some of their carbohydrates, alcohol, and other molecules are broken down. This process can make the food components more easily digested and better absorbed by the body. When conglycinin and glycinin, storage proteins found in soybeans, are broken down, the smaller peptides act as antioxidants, improve immune function, and lessen the inflammatory response. Because tempeh is made from soy beans, a plant based food, there are other health benefits as well. Plant based foods, including soybeans, tempeh, tofu, and other foods made from beans, can help reduce blood pressure. Some of the peptides in it “inhibit angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), which more easily allows the cardiovascular system to regulate blood pressure.” It also helps protect the blood vessels from inflammatory and oxidative damage. In some studies, soy beans have been shown to be able to lower LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, and there maybe other cardio protective properties.

My breakfast at the airport when I left Bali. Eggs, veggies, and tempeh, some of my favorite foods.

Some of the phytonutrients in soy may be able to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, and there is some research that suggests it may aid in cancer prevention. Some of this is controversial and “real life factors” come into play as opposed to being analyzed in controlled studies. Genistein is a phytonutrient in soy that may aid in not only slowing tumor formation, but in triggering the death of cancer cells. Certain factors related to lifecycle and metabolic factors, however, affect the anticancer benefits of soy. In some pre-menopausal women who have developed certain types of tumors, genistein and soy have not reduced cancer risk. It has been noted that in order to maximize the anti cancer benefits, plenty of other fruits and vegetables should be consumed on a regular basis. When consuming soy products, it is recommended that we choose whole food sources whenever possible. Highly processed versions differ greatly from the whole bean product which is known for its greater health benefits and tempeh, as mentioned, is a whole bean food.
When you buy tempeh at the grocery store, it may have a few gray and dark spots. That is completely normal. It shouldn’t, however, have any yellow, blue, or pink spots. If that’s the case, it has been over fermented. When you unwrap your tempeh, it should smell mushroom like and have a firm texture. It can be cooked in a variety of ways from steamed, to broiled, stir fried, and fried in oil, Indonesian style, which gives it a nice crunch. You can use it in place of meat in any dish and it pairs well with a good, spicy, or BBQ sauce. Next time you’re planning a meatless Monday meal, consider some tempeh. It’s so delicious and will add some food variety to your week!

I like the layout of the ingredients and photos in this gado gado recipe. Looks tasty!

I used to make something like a tempeh sloppy Joe. I have no idea now what the recipe was, but this looks pretty good and something like I’d make.

If you have any go to tempeh recipes, feel free to share!