New Jersey Food Journal

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Healthy Cooking Wins in Triglyceride Battle

Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, can lower triglyceride levels,
according to the American Heart Association. | Photo Credit.

By Menger Zheng

I am notoriously known as the crazy health-nut or health-food junkie. I don’t deny it. Yes, I munch on celery sticks and I prefer almond butter over Skippy’s. My philosophy on food can be summed up by Ann Wigmore’s renowned quote: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”

Growing up, I was lavished with an endless supply of Asian noodles, fried rice, dumplings, etc. because my family owned a Chinese takeout restaurant. I stuffed my face daily with these delicious but not-so-healthy menu items. Although I did not struggle with any weight issues (I inherited a fast metabolism from my father), I began to see how these poor daily food choices were taking a toll on my overall health.

During my freshman year at college, I was diagnosed with high triglycerides. The number was a whopping 380—three times the normal/desirable amount. My doctor explained that high triglycerides—or the body’s essential fat cells—can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. But she couldn’t figure out why an 18-year-old girl weighing 104 pounds could have such a high fatty-cell content. But I knew. I knew exactly what triggered this dangerous imbalance. My diet.

I was scared after hearing the news but I was not surprised. I had always known my awful eating habits would come to haunt me. That day, I decided to change my diet completely. I stopped eating the so-called Americanized Chinese food and taught myself how to cook through various Food Network programs (“Chopped” was a favorite). In the first few weeks, it was a big challenge to watch my family eat all the foods that I conveniently loved. I felt like throwing in the towel, and wanted to dive into a heaping pile of succulent honey ribs and crispy fried wings. But I stopped myself. I reminded myself why I needed to change my diet and fought on. In the end, I was victorious in this personal battle of “Man v. Food.”

I still remember the excitement that pumped through my veins when my first heart-healthy dinner—baked salmon with garlic and Dijon—was successful. I still relish the thrill of that moment. It wasn’t the dish itself, it was the self-achievement. Despite that I am the daughter of a chef and restaurant owner, I had never handled a vegetable peeler, let alone a chef’s knife, before my diagnosis. Making an appetizing meal from scratch marked an epic milestone.

From that day, I developed a passion for cooking and started preparing my own meals. A year later, my triglyceride levels dropped to 130, but I feel that my body, too, has reached its optimum state in health and fitness. I was never athletic as a child, but now I can run a half-marathon. Due to skin blemishes, I was always shy of leaving the house without makeup, but now my skin is clearer than ever before. I am more energetic and positive. I’ve come to understand the healing powers of food, and I am proud of myself for turning food from being my curse into my blessing.  

Menger Zheng is a Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in English and food science.