Growing up in a Peranakan family, where the kitchen is the heart of the family and eating is our love language, I've always been drawn to food. Its ability to bond strangers, its complexities and traditions, even food politics. My taste buds were first honed in my childhood kitchen, and then along the years as a food writer. The first juicy chomp into a loaded burger, the seawater creaminess of freshly shucked oysters, the last lick of a perfectly risen chocolate souffle. In that world, people spent hours debating on kitchen gadgets and Michelin-starred restaurants. Excess was celebrated. And taste was everything.
Fast forward to the world I'm in now – one of yoga and wellness, with trending buzzwords like raw food and juice cleanses. A week into my teacher training, I found myself once again drawn to food, but in a vastly different way. I wanted to know about nutrition, about eating for health, about gut health, about food intolerances and just what they did to the body. I wanted to eat a million things at a time, but this time taste was secondary – health, was key. However, there were so many resources out there that I didn't quite know where to start and which camp to follow. It got exhausting picking my way through the abyss of knowledge and opinions, and keeping up with trends that came and went in a snap – what do you mean raw juices are out and bone broth is in? On top of that, eating well on the go always felt like an uphill task in Singapore, not to mention a time-consuming and expensive one. Remind me again why I shouldn't eat dairy, or sugar, or holy moly – something that combines both!
Hence, it is always nice to sit down to a session led by an expert in the general field of nutrition who offers a broader view on the subject, as opposed to an expert in say, raw food, or the Paleo diet. Fagan and I certainly made the right decision to spend our Tuesday night date attending a talk by Suj of health consultancy Biotailor. Working in the health and fitness industry, we can't lie and say we don't have any nutrition knowledge, but we always struggle to make the right food choices – because really, what IS right? And true enough, the talk's pointed out several loopholes in modern urban diets, ours included! I thought I would share the five biggest lessons I took away that night.
- Urbanites are experiencing what is termed civilised malnutrition – we live well, yet make terrible food choices like having cookies and coffee for snacks (or lunch!). Apart from fruit and greens, our diet is also lacking in good protein – think beans, tofu and white meat like chicken and fish.
- We need enzymes to digest our food, and these can only be found in raw fruit and vegetables. An easy way to fit raw food into our diets is to have fruit for a snack. According to Suj, oftentimes, excess flab around the belly is because of a lack of raw fruit and greens. "Eat more of that and it will disappear," she said. Worth a try, for sure.
- Food combination is very important, and it is a big no-no to eat fruit right after a meal! Different foods take different amounts of time to digest – for example, fruit takes 30 minutes to move through our digestive tract; chicken takes three hours. What happens when we eat an orange right after roast chicken is often flatulence and bloatedness. Why? Because the orange riding on the MRT is stuck behind the chicken, which is well, strolling.
- Vegetables are complex carbohydrates. (I never knew that.) A recommended breakdown of a meal is 40 percent protein and 60 percent complex carbohydrates (veggies, whole grains, not too much of the white stuff like white rice and bread), along with good fat like avocado, oils and nuts.
- Eat your fruit, drink your vegetables. Fruits contain natural sugars, and fruit juice is a lot of that packed into a glass. This causes insulin spikes, which over time, can result in Type 2 Diabetes, caused by our body rejecting insulin. The fibre in fruit helps to prevent the spikes, and it is also recommended that we eat fruit along with some protein, like nuts, to further level the blood sugar levels.
Fagan and I left the talk feeling super inspired, and I am slowly incorporating her tips into the way I eat, making tweaks that fit my lifestyle along the way. It is one hell of a battle to change over 28 years of food habits – I kid you not – but Suj said something that made so much sense:
So many of us save and plan for our retirement. Shouldn't we eat and 'save' our health for our old age, too?