May 8, 2022   Return



With the enforcement of Movement Control Order (MCO) during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been living by ourselves, away from families and relatives for months and even a year.

During this period, many people especially college students who are living away from homes have developed unhealthy eating behaviors among them. Usually for those who live alone, their diets are high in sugar, salt, preservatives and fats. The existence of food deliveries makes it easier than ever to obtain unhealthy foods.

Many also tend to feel greater amounts of emotional stress due to lifestyle changes imposed by the MCO, which can further propagate unhealthy eating habits.

Given the prolonged nature of the MCO, such unhealthy eating habits may increase one’s risk of health complications such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and weakened immune system.




The concept of quarter-quarter-half or “’suku-suku-separah’ is a simple way to visualize the proper portions of food on a plate.

A quarter of the plate is for carbohydrates (rice, fried mee, etc), while another quarter for protein (poultry, fish, legumes, etc). The remaining half of the plate should be filled with vegetables and fruits.

Follow this simple principle to ensure that every meal contains all necessary nutrients, regardless of whether the meal is cooked at home or bought from the outside.




It can be hard to decide what to eat at the spur of the moment when one is demotivated or stressed. Hence, preparing a weekly meal plan in advance allows for proper coordination of meals even when one is feeling the blues.

Once a weekly meal plan is done up, it is a simple matter of preparing a list of necessary ingredients for that week and purchasing what is needed in a single shopping trip.  

Need ideas for a meal plan? Look up ideas and recipes from the Internet or YouTube. Remember, each meal doesn’t have to be fancy or sophisticated—just keep it simple, delicious, and healthy.




Cooking in bulk can be a huge time- and energy-saver for those occupied with work or studies, especially when working or studying from home sometimes sees one stuck at the desk far longer than a usual work or study day!

For example, try cooking a few days’ worth of food and allocate the food into meals throughout next few days. Cooked dishes can be stored in containers and placed in the freezer until needed.

This reduces future meal preparations into a simple matter of taking some time to thaw and heat up the food. Saves time, saves electricity!



Keep an eye out on leftovers. Some of them can be saved up for later uses such as to make delicious stews, stir-fries, or salads.

Pramila Mani Maran is a Student of Master’s Clinical Nutrition at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and Dr Nurul Huda Razalli is a Dietetics Lecturer in the same university.


  1. Bjarnadottir, A. (2017). 19 clever ways to eat healthy on a tight budget. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-ways-to-eat-healthy-on-a-budget
  2. Brug, J. (2008). Determinants of healthy eating: motivation, abilities and environmental opportunities. Family practice, 25 Suppl 1, i50–i55. https://doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmn063
  3. Chae, W., Ju, Y. J., Shin, J., Jang, S. I., & Park, E. C. (2018). Association between eating behaviour and diet quality: eating alone vs. eating with others. Nutrition journal, 17(1), 117. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-018-0424-0
  4. Elmacıoğlu, F., Emiroğlu, E., Ülker, M. T., Özyılmaz Kırcali, B., & Oruç, S. (2021). Evaluation of nutritional behaviour related to COVID-19. Public health nutrition, 24(3), 512–518. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980020004140



May 8, 2022   Return



When you hear the word “protein”, what is the first thing that crosses your mind? Most people would associate protein with foods like chicken, beef or fish and how it functions to build our muscles. But protein is so much more than that. Protein is the building blocks of life! In fact, protein is the second most abundant compound in the body after water. It is a type of macronutrient that is essential at every stage of life and serves many important roles in our body. 


Interestingly, despite the important roles that protein play, the Herbalife Nutrition Asia Pacific Nutrition Myths Survey 2020, indicated that up to 37% of Malaysians believe that our body requires less protein as we grow older. This shows that many still have mixed misconceptions about protein. This article aims to shed light on protein, especially concerning soya, which is also a substantial source of protein in our diet.





Not all soya products are made from GMOs. Various non-GMO tofu, tempe, and soya milk are widely available in the market. And even if the product has GMO-origin, there is currently no clear evidence that eating GMO soya beans or products would have any adverse health effects.



This saying came from the belief that isoflavones (plant oestrogens) found in soy can increase the risk of cancer.  Studies have shown that soya isoflavones, regardless of the source, do not exert any harmful effect on breast tissues. On the contrary, high intake of soya may actually decrease the risk of breast cancer. A prospective study on 300,000 Chinese women and meta-analysis of dose-response showed that a higher soya intake may in fact provide considerable benefits for the prevention of breast cancer.



Various studies and comprehensive reviews have actually showed that neither soya foods nor isoflavones have any adverse effect on thyroid function in men or women with normal thyroid gland function. Plus, European Food Safety Authority has also concluded that isoflavones do not adversely affect the breast, thyroid or uterus functions of postmenopausal women.



Extensive reviews have indicated that consumption of soya proteins or isoflavones has shown no effect on male reproductive hormone levels in the body.

Overeating at Festivals

Overeating at Festivals

May 8, 2022   Return


I have high cholesterol levels, and I tend to eat a lot especially during the festive season. With the Raya celebrations around the corner, is there any way for me to limit my food intake?


According to the National Health Morbidity Survey (NHMS) findings released in 2015, the prevalence of high cholesterol levels is very high – almost 48% of Malaysian adults have high cholesterol levels. The prevalence has been increasing over the past decade. 

When you eat too much fatty foods, the cholesterol in these foods is absorbed into your bloodstream. When the cholesterol levels in the bloodstream become excessive, cholesterol starts accumulating on your blood vessels walls if nothing is done. 

If you eat too much of high-fat foods like fried foods but you still exercise, your body will burn the excessive fats. So, set aside more time to exercise a few hours after a heavy meal. 

Also, bring your friends along when you go out so you all can share the food. This way, you’re more likely to eat in moderation. Don’t eat like there’s no tomorrow! 

It is not necessary to leave out the foods that you love. Instead, discipline yourself to eat moderate portions and exercise regularly. That way, you can keep your cholesterol levels under control.

 Nurul Iliani Ahmad   Senior Nutritionist

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It Is Really Good, I Fig You Not

It Is Really Good, I Fig You Not

May 8, 2022   Return



How It Started

Figs are a general term for over 850 species of woody plants.They are rather variable, with some being climbers and others growing into full-sized trees. The fruit we commonly eat comes from cultivar (strains) of the species known as Ficus carica or the common fig. The common fig is believed to have originated in the Middle East and western Asia. It was spread into the Mediterranean region by Greeks and Romans. Today, widespread human travel has brought the fig to every possible country.

Fig is possibly one of the oldest plants to be cultivated, as far back as 9000 BC. The ease of culture and its hardiness is probably the reasons for its early domestication. Due to its long history of cultivation for human consumption, there are over 700 known varieties. They come in various colours, shapes and sizes.

In general, the pale figs are usually milder in taste and fragrance while the dark ones are usually the sweetest, with stronger taste. An interesting trait of fig is the taste—different varieties can have different tastes. Some varieties can have melon-like fragrance while others are taste like strawberries.

Regardless of the variety, all figs are packed with fibre and natural sugars. These complex sugars are healthier in comparison to processed sugars. So, figs can be sugar substitutes in cooking in soups, stews or even curries for that sweet aftertaste.


Now For The Evidence

Figs really are quite remarkable fruits and there is plenty of scientific evidence for their health claims. We go through recent studies and try to corroborate the common health claims associated with figs and fig leaf tea. Studies as recent as 2017 and 2018 reveal that extracts of the common fig leaf may influence carbohydrate metabolizing enzymes and thus help in blood sugar maintenance when tested on rats with diabetes.

A recent clinical trial found that eating figs regularly can alleviate constipation among those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Another study on mice also found that extracts of the fruit had a natural laxative effect but without inducing diarrhoea. At the same time, the extract could improve stomach and bowel movement disorders. The latex of the common fig is also being tested as a potential curative agent against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and genital warts. The researchers suggest that latex from the common fig has the potential to be developed into therapies for the treatment, cure and prevention of HPV- related cancers.

Furthermore, early studies on the extracts and components of the common fig leaves were found to suppress the survival, cell cycle and movement of breast cancer cells. The researchers believe Ficus carica leaves may be a good source of medicines for cancer treatment.

However, one must be careful when consuming naturally prepared substances. This is because the active compounds which cause a desired health effect eg, lowering of blood sugar or blood pressure, is not standardized. This means in each portion consumed, you may have more or less of a particular active compound. This is the main problem with naturally prepared products.

As such, while it is fine to take natural products such as fig-leaf tea for their health properties, they may be better used with precaution and at low doses. Should you feel unwell, visit a doctor immediately and always tell the doctor about your natural supplements as these may interfere with medications being prescribed by the doctor.


The Fig Scene In Malaysia

About 3 to 4 years ago, the fig planting fever caught up with Malaysians. As typical of any craze, there was a mad rush to plant and collect these remarkable trees. Prices shot up to a few thousand ringgit per plant for the collector varieties such as coll de dama rimada (CDDR), ponte tresa and bordissot negra rimada (BNR). Cuttings for these fig varieties cost as much as RM800 for a length of eight to 10 inches. For many, there was a sort of get-rich-quick rush to plant and propagate these trees, so to speak.

This led to the setup of many fig farms and an entire industry surrounding fig popped up literally overnight. The tree grows easily in Malaysia and fruits year-round. However, there is a problem associated with fig growing in the country and it is fig leaf rust, which is a fungus growing on the bottom of fig leaves and appears as small bright yellow spots. It causes the leaf to drop prematurely but does not kill the plant. Another problem is the introduction of the Asian long- horned beetle, which probably came with the cuttings imported from overseas. This beetle lays eggs on the branch of woody plants and the larvae burrow into the trees, causing massive damage and potential death.

While the fig craze has tapered off, some commercial farms have established and are now producing figs for local consumption on a regular basis. As mentioned, the tree fruits all year round in the  country  and can potentially generate multiple harvests each year compared to temperate countries. The  best type of setup for fig farming would be one which is fully covered, with automated water and fertilizer drips. With the price of a box of fresh figs going for RM80 or so, the business is still lucrative. As a business minded acquaintance once said: “One acre can fetch a million a year if done properly”—it’s easy to see why anyone would be lured by the lucrative prospects. We will leave that decision to you, as the saying goes ‘the leaf is always greener on the other side of the fence.’

Fig leaf collection for tea production has also grown into a stable industry. Other downline products include jam, drinks, powder, fragrances, candles and cosmetics! Who knew fig is such a versatile plant? HT


Did you know?

There are four types of fig categories.

  1. The common fig does not require pollination for the fruits to form. These are the ones that can be planted in Malaysia.
  2. San Pedro types are figs that have two crops in a season. The first crop or breba does not require pollination but the second crops does.
  3. Smyrna figs bear all- female flowers and require pollination from male flowers of caprifigs in order to bear edible fruits.
  4. Caprifigs produce male flowers and never bear fruit.

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Noodles, Noodles In The Bowl… Which Is The Healthiest Of Them All?

Noodles, Noodles In The Bowl… Which Is The Healthiest Of Them All?

May 8, 2022   Return

Edna Loh

Accredited Practising Dietitian (Aus) Unicare Pharmacy (Petaling Jaya)


Before we begin, Edna Loh points out one should keep in mind that comparisons of nutritional content among different types of noodles – see part 1 in the April issue – are not the only factor that should be taken into consideration. The presence of existing medical conditions can also be a determining factor. For example, someone with food allergy may be better off avoiding noodles that contain a trigger ingredient, while people with type 2 diabetes mellitus should opt for noodles with low glycaemic index.

Having said that, let’s get to some common frequently asked questions!


Edna Loh: This depends on the types of noodles, and the choice depends more on the mouthfeel and taste of the dish.

For example, when it comes to wheat noodles, expert chefs may be more concerned on the twisting, stretching and folding of noodles to create better mouthfeel. In this case, thicker wheat noodles are the better choice as they tend to give a chewier texture when served.

Egg and alkalized noodles, on the other hand, have a firmer texture due to their wheat flour to egg ratios. When it comes to stir-fry or soup dishes, most will prefer thinner noodles as they do not  take too much effort to chew and swallow. Thinner noodles also take a shorter time to blanch and cook, and they allow for a more thorough coating of sauces.

“Interestingly, the length of noodles sometimes has a cultural role. Some cultures, such as Chinese and Korean, believe that it is bad luck to cut long somen noodles!”



Edna Loh: Contrary to some people’s beliefs, this is not necessarily true.

While white-coloured noodles may look cleaner to some people, whether they are hygienic depends on the manufacturer’s quality control when it comes to food production hygiene and safety. The majority of the reported food poisoning cases are caused by inadequate or unhygienic preparation and storing, which promote the growth of microorganisms such as Salmonella. One example occurred recently in October 2018 whereby the laksa produced at a manufacturing facility was contaminated because of improper storage, and the problem was worsened by inadequate reheating of these noodles at various restaurants. The result was an outbreak of 83 food poisoning cases!

As for the health benefit of white noodles, this depends on the ingredients used to manufacture the noodles.

Most commercial ‘white’ noodles are made with refined white flour or bleached flour; this means the noodles contain mostly refined carbohydrates, sodium and preservatives. As a result, the nutritional content of the noodles will be low.

On the other hand, coloured noodles may be made using natural colouring from vegetables such as spinach. These noodles will contain small amounts of added nutrients aside from carbohydrates. In the case of spinach noodles, these noodles will contain small amounts of dietary fibre, B-vitamins (spinach is rich in folate, thiamin and niacin) and small amounts of iron.

Therefore, it is not accurate to judge a noodle solely by its colour. What goes into the noodles as well as whether they are manufactured, stored and cooked properly are the factors that we should be taking into consideration instead.


Edna Loh: Both rice and noodles are important sources of carbohydrates. Table A below shows a brief comparison of nutrients between 100 g of rice and noodles.

Table A
White Rice (100 g) Wheat Noodles (100 g)
  • 140 kcal
  • 2.8 g protein
  • 0.4 g dietary fibre
  • 31.1 g carbohydrates
  • 5 mg sodium
  • 95 kcal
  • 3.1 g protein
  • 1 g dietary fibre
  • 19 g carbohydrates
  • 200 mg sodium


As we can see, nutritionally 100 g of wheat noodles seem to trump 100 g of rice.

However, many of us overlook the fact that the actual portions that are served in eateries are not standardized. On average, there are roughly 300 g of noodles in a soup bowl compared to 200 g of rice in a rice bowl. So, if person A eats a bowl of noodles while person B eats a plate of rice, both will very likely be consuming similar amounts of energy and carbohydrates, but person A may end up consuming a significantly higher amount of sodium as well!

In summary, just the nature of rice versus noodles alone is not enough to determine which one is the healthier choice. We need to consider the portion sizes of each dish. We shouldn’t overlook the presence of pre-existing medical conditions too – someone with high blood pressure may want to avoid noodle dishes that are high in sodium content, for example. We can discuss with a dietitian to better understand how much rice and noodles we should eat to avoid overconsumption.



Edna Loh: Similar to the previous question, the answer lies in portion control – the key in determining whether a meal is ‘healthy’ leans more towards the portion size rather than the nature of the dish.

Having said that, some noodles such as spaghetti can have their GI lowered when cooked al dente (firm to the bite) rather than too soft.


Edna Loh: There is a misconception that all fresh noodles are more superior in nutritional value compared to commercially produced noodles.

Take pasta for example: fresh pasta uses whole eggs to make (whole eggs are higher in cholesterol) and contains higher amounts of sodium. If the individual is watching out for his or her blood pressure and cholesterol levels, then dried pasta is likely the better option.

Having said that, the reality is that the mushrooming numbers of highly processed instant noodles sold in hypermarkets and grocery stores may have detrimental effects on one’s health.These instant noodles contain preservatives, additives, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and artificial colouring to extend their shelf life. In 2014, Korean researchers surveyed 10,711 adults and found that a dietary pattern rich in fast foods such as instant noodles poses greater cardiometabolic risk and increases the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. While more research is needed to find the link between instant noodles alone and cardiometabolic risk factors, it is always a good idea to limit one’s consumption of instant noodles.



Edna Loh: There is always room to be creative when it comes to noodles!

  • Use fresh foods instead of processed foods to reduce total fat content of the dish. Common processed extras in noodle dishes such as commercially sold fish balls and meatballs tend be high in fat and sodium and may contain trans fats. Instead of these ingredients, let’s go for fresh chicken or fish slices, eggs, or minced lean meat for some good quality protein. These fresh extras can also help to increase the feeling of satiety!
  • For stir-fried noodle dishes, stir fry using a non-stick pan so that less oil is needed. Additionally, use oils and fats containing unsaturated fats (canola or olive oil, for example) as they are a good source of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Select whole-wheat noodles instead of refined grain noodles. The former contains more dietary fibre.
  • Feeling hungry? Instead of adding another helping of noodles, bulk up the dish with vegetables. This is especially relevant for people with diabetes, as it will help to improve the feeling of satiety while reducing the carbohydrate load. Green leafy vegetables are great choices for both soup-based and stir-fried noodles, but for variety, one can also go for cauliflower florets, celery, carrots, onions, broccoli, turnip and zucchini.
  • Use fresh herbs and chopped chili for condiments rather than sambal sauces for lower calorie intake. Sambal sauces are commonly made with cooking/ chili oil, palm sugar and fish sauce. Two tablespoons of sambal contain 1 teaspoon of sugar and according to myfitnesspal, this takes 14 minutes of physical activity to burn!


Edna Loh: To date, many reports have commented that the contamination of noodles or noodle dishes is not considered a food safety issue in Malaysia.

As for other parts of the world, we have mixed opinions. For example, in Australia and Europe pasta dishes are placed on the list of foods at potential risk of contamination. Bacteria can multiply very easily in these foods, and contaminated dishes usually still look, smell and taste normal. HT

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May 8, 2022   Return



Food delivery services are now more efficient than ever. With the tap of a button, we have access to almost any kind of cuisine imaginable. With that convenience however, it’s all too easy to treat each takeout order as an occasion to over-indulge.

As the pandemic still goes on, we should be prioritizing the nutritional value of our food, to support a healthy body. Thankfully, this is perfectly possible with takeaway food if we make the right choices. Here are a few pointers on how:

1. Order smart

Before you order, compare online menus beforehand. Search for restaurants that serve healthy dishes like lean proteins (grilled chicken breast or steamed fish are good options) and vegetables. Then, build the rest of your meal around those items.

2. Note that some foods may seem healthier than they actually are!

For example, certain sandwiches may be filled with fried meats, cheeses, mayonnaise, and other sauces can be high in calories. Still, such sandwiches can be made healthier if portion sizes were kept small, and if you choose whole grain bread with lean meats and fresh vegetables as fillings.

The same goes for salads. Salads topped generously with croutons, pasta, and heavy dressing can rack up in calories!

3. Make your own side dishes

If your favourite takeaway eateries do not offer a wide range of vegetable options, avoid ordering starchy and fatty side dishes (like French fries) to make up for it. Instead, consider streaming your own vegetables while waiting for the delivery to arrive.

4. Resist the upsell

Upsizing and set deals may be tempting, but they may increase your portion sizes by incorporating sugary drinks, fried appetizers, or starch-filled sides. It may be to resist the offer.

Think of it this way: you’ll still be spending more money when you upsize. Plus, you’ll be consuming more calories than you really need, and that can lead to unwanted weight gain.

5. Swap out for healthier options

With some tweaking to your orders, you may be able trim unnecessary calories off your favourite meals.

Ordering pizza? Thin crust pizza topped with lots of vegetables are lower in calories. If you’re having a burger, swap out the fries with a size salad.

6. Take note of portion sizes

Remember, restaurant portion sizes can be bigger than what you normally eat. If portion sizes are too big, share it with your family members, or save the leftovers for next day.

Baby’s Best Brain Food?

Baby’s Best Brain Food?

May 7, 2022   Return




Dr Catherine Limperopoulous, Ph.D.

Director of MRI Research of the Developing Brain

Children’s National

Washington, D.C., US


BREAST MILK is called liquid gold for a good reason. It is a nutrient-rich food constantly changing in composition based on the baby’s nutritional needs, as well as a source of antibodies to help the baby fight off infections. Remarkably, a baby can grow and thrive solely on breast milk alone for the first 6 months of his or her life. That’s how complete breast milk is as a source of energy, nutrients and protection  from infectious diseases.

Another fascinating thing about breast milk is how, even today, we are still learning something new about it. This month, let’s take a closer look at some evidence that it can very well be baby’s best choice of nourishment when it comes to brain growth and development.

During the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2019 Meeting, Dr Catherine Limperopoulous, Ph.D. presented an interesting study in which she was the principal investigator.


Basically, infants who were born prematurely—or preterm babies— tended to have very low birth weight (VLBW). Limperopoulous’ team studied VLBW babies and found that:

Infants who were breastfed showed significantly higher levels of inositol in the frontal white matter part of their brain.1

They also had higher levels of creatine.1



We will get a little technical here, so please bear with us.

There are two types of cells in the brain.

We have the nerve cells or neurons, and everything else called the glial cells. You’ll be surprised to know that glial cells have an important role in our brain health. Increasingly, studies are showing that abnormalities in the glial cells are linked to autism, schizophrenia and other neurological disorders!2

Many nerve fibres are clustered in the region of the brain called the white matter. This region is primarily associated with important functions such as processing of sensory stimuli (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell) and responding to these stimuli. White matter is also linked to emotional and intellectual development.3


How is all this linked to the study?

Like every other part of the body,  the brain is like an engine that has many parts and components, which include the abovementioned inositol and creatine.

Inositol is a substance that helps to regulate fluid balance in the brain. How much inositol is present corresponds to the number of glial cells present in the brain. Hence, higher levels of inositol show more glial cells have been formed in the brain.4

Meanwhile, creatine allows the brain cells to recycle energy. If we observe higher creatine levels in the brain, we can also reasonably deduce that there is greater activity in the brain related to cellular development and maturation.

So, that means …

Yes, this study suggests that babies who are breastfed exhibit improved brain metabolism compared to other babies of similar age who are not breastfed. Brain metabolism involves both the creation of new cells and tissues as well as breakdown of old ones, hence babies who are breastfed are likely to have improved brain growth and cognitive development. HT

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Why Meatless Mondays?

Why Meatless Mondays?

May 7, 2022   Return


Believe it or not, there’s a way that you can minimise global warming, stop killing animals and at the same time become healthier citizens of the earth – just by the mere act of eating. This movement is called Meatless Monday, a non-profit initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns hopskins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. By reducing meat consumption, you can “improve your personal health and the health of the planet,” as stated on the Meatless Monday website.

In an article found in the Blie Cross Health Book titled “10 Habits of Healthy People,” item 4 reads: “Healthy people eat lots of fruits and vegetables. An all-natural, organic and colourful diet of fresh fruits and vegetables ensures that your body is getting the right minerals and vitamins. This kind of diet also lessens your chances of being overweight or obese, since fruits and vegetables are high in nutrients and low in fat.” From the 2010 edition of the Bahay Kubo Diet, the startling reality is, “several of the world’s mightiest rivers no longer reach the sea… Producing a pound of animal protein requires about 100 times the water to produce a round of vegetable protein. It takes about 1,300 gallons of water to produce a single hamburger. Seventy percent of the water that is pulled from the world’s rivers, lakes and underground wells goes to agriculture (that includes raising livestock), and 43% of the world’s grain foes to feed animals for meat.” Plus, Eric Schlosser’s best-seller Fast Food Nation mentions in graphic detail the horrible unhygienic raising and handling of meat in the meatpacking industry.

Suzy Lee is the owner of Spring by Ha Yuan, a Chinese fast casual vegan-friendly restaurant along Benavidez St., Makati. The menu is any vegetarian or pescetarian’s dream: No more exhausting explanations with servers on food and its ingredients and method of cooking! The items are marked, such that a leaf means that it’s vegan, a fish means the food is pescetarian while the image of a smiling pig means that the meat is probiotic. Lee expresses her sentiments on the movement: “I save the environment and reap great health benefits by eating less meat. I felt it myself when I did that. There are other rich flavours from non-meat, like varieties of mushroom. It gives you a chance to experience something different, to be more creative in different ways of cooking.”

Abby Martinex, the open-minded mother of Amelia,1, says, “I’m lucky that my baby loves to eat anything. While she’s enjoying her bits of veggies and mashed fruit, I will let it stay that way until she grows up. Though she eats meat, it’s mixed with vegetables most of the time. I think that’s a good trick for moms with toddlers and moms-to-be, you start them young so eating fruits and veggies won’t be such a burden to impose on kids later on.” Trixie Crame, mother of Franco, 7, won’t touch food that has even a morsel of veggie, what I do is boil all the vegetables I can find under the sun and make my son drink the vegetable broth, which he likes a lot.”

My personal tip: Play around with the favourite food of your kids while slowly incorporating more veggies together with it. My son loves barbecued chicken. Little by little I included potatoes and carrots with it and he didn’t mind. Eventually I fried just the potatoes and carrots with cabbage in the barbeque sauce and he ate it. Since he loves spaghetti, I made puttanesca, and to satisfy his love for cheese I made cheese pizza. They were a success!

Lee shares some vegan recipes, saying, “I want to help others eat healthier. if we’re going to feed people, we might as well feed them better.” So goes the Meatless Monday movement that makes the earth – and our more immediate home, the body –  a better place to live in.


Stir-fried tofu with mushrooms

Serves 4-6


2 blocks fresh tofu

½ cup vegetarian oyster sauce

1/8 cup light soy sauce

3 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp rice wine

½ tsp black pepper

2 tbsp cornstarch

1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil

80g leeks, cut lengthwise

150g shiitake mushrooms

60g button mushrooms

150g wood ear mushrooms, chopped into 2-3 pieces

200g baby corn

100g carrots, sliced into 1/8-inch thick conins

4 cups vegetable stock or water

200g beancurd sheets (optional)

1 tsp sesame oil


Cut tofu into 1 ½-inch blocks.

In a bowl, mix oyster sauce, light soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, black pepper and cornstarch.

Heat wok on high heat until waterevaporates when sprinkled on it. Put 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Add tofu, cook for about 2 minutes until browned. Frying prevents tofu from turning into mush during stir frying. Transfer tofu into a lined plate and set aside.

Add an additional ½ tablespoon of oil. sauté leeks, shiitake, button and wood ear mushrooms until fragrant.

Add young corn and carrots, add sauce mixture and vegetable stock, stir fry until tender. Add in tofu and beancurd sheets. Add sesame oil.

Reduce heat to medium high, and cook until sauce thickens.


Breaded tofu with minced vegetables

Serves 4-6

Breaded tofu


1 block fresh tofu

vegetable oil

1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup cornstarch

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper


Cut tofu into 8 triangles approximately 2 inches thick each.

Heat vegetable oil in a wok or saucepan approximately 2 inches deep to coat tofu.

In a bowl, mix bread crumb, cornstarch, salt and pepper.

Dredge tofu in bread crumb mixture.

Deep-fry breaded tofu until golden brown, take out from pan and set aside, preferably on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb excess oil.


Vegetable sauce


2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce

1 ½ tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp vegetable oil

20g onions, chopped

20g shiitake mushroom, fresh or reconstituted, diced finely

10g wood ear mushrooms, cut into 1/8-inch pieces

1 tbsp rice wine

30g bell pepper, diced finely

15g tomato, diced finely

1 cup vegetable stock or water

½ tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp cornstarch or flour, dissolved in 2 tbsp water or stock


Mix the oyster sauce, light soy sauce, sugar and salt.

Heat wok or sauté pan on high heat until a drop of water evaporates when sprinkled on the wok, then put in the vegetable oil.

Saute onions, shiitake and wood ear mushrooms until tender.

Add rice wine.

Add bell peppers, then stir fry for about 20 seconds.

Add in tomato, then stir fry for about 10 seconds.

Add oyster sauce mixture, stir fry, add vegetable broth and adjust seasoning to taste.

Add sesame oil.

Add cornstarch until sauce thickens, then remove from fire.

Plate breaded tofu and pour vegetable sauce over. 

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Parboiled or basmati, madam?

Parboiled or basmati, madam?

May 7, 2022   Return

Dr. Chee Huei Phing   Assistant Professor & Clinical Dietitian, Faculty of Science, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman

Malaysians just love rice – it is hard to imagine a main meal without it! There are many types of “healthy” rice in the market at the moment, catering to health-conscious Malaysians who are seeking an alternative to milled or “white” rice as part of their daily diet.

Basmati is best?

Basmati (“full of aroma” in Sanskrit) is famous for its distinct fragrant aroma and its long slender grains. The grain originated from the Indian subcontinent, and currently India and Pakistan are some of the largest producers of basmati rice

Like most rice, basmati rice is available in white or brown forms, depending on the degree of the milling process. Brown basmati rice is generally regarded as the healthier option compared to white basmati rice, due to its higher nutrient and dietary fibre content.

The brown and the white

To understand why brown basmati is considered a healthier option, let us take a look at what happens when rice grains are processed.

For brown rice, only the outermost layer of rice, named the hull, is discarded. The hull is simply a dry husk, and is inedible, so there is little nutritional value lost in its removal. The rest of the rice – the part packed with nutritional goodness – remains intact.

On the other hand, “white” rice requires the removal of the bran layer along with most of the rice germ during a process called milling. The aleurone layers that are found under the bran layers are also removed in a process called polishing.  Many rice manufacturers do this because the white appearance of rice is traditionally considered more appetising by many people. Also, the bran, germ and aleurone contain fat components that will greatly shorten the shelf life of rice. Removing these components allow the rice to be sold in the market for a longer period of time.

Unfortunately, the bran, germ and aleurone layers of rice have most of the  fat-soluble vitamin (vitamin E) content along with dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium). Therefore, picking white basmati rice over brown ones means losing out on these nutrients!

Thus, if we wish to include basmati rice in our diet, it is best to pick the brown or whole grain variety. If the colour or taste is hard to get used to at first, try mixing brown basmati with white basmati at first. As we become accustomed to the taste of brown basmati, increase its amount whole while decreasing the amount of white basmati.

Good for diabetics too

Generally, most rice contains approximately 20% amylose and 80% amylopectin. Basmati rice, on the other hand, has with a high amylose ratio of about 28%, and as such, it has been demonstrated to produce a lower blood glucose and insulin response. Therefore, it is a good choice for rice-lovers who have diabetes or those wishing to reduce their risk of diabetes.

How about parboiled rice?

Parboiled rice, also called converted rice, is actually

rice that has been partially boiled in the husk. This process allows the starchy endosperm (the white part of the rice) to absorb some nutrients (like thiamine) naturally found in the bran and germ before these outer layers are removed by the manufacturers. Hence, this process allows the resulting “white” rice to retain some B vitamins.

While parboiled rice may have higher nutritional content compared to ordinary processed rice, the most nutritious rice will always be whole grains that retain the nutrient-packed outer layers. Therefore, as to the choice of basmati rice or parboiled rice, the best option would be brown or whole grain basmati rice.

If brown basmati rice is not to your liking, there are other varieties of brown rice in the market, so try them and see which one is more to your taste!

Parboiled rice for diabetics?

The glycemic index value differs widely between assorted parboiled rice varieties. Glycemic index of parboiled rice depends on the severity of processing. Specifically, severely pressure parboiled rice reduced the glycemic index by approximately 30% compared to non-parboiled rice. Discuss with your dietitian if you plan to include parboiled rice in your diet.



Brand-Miller, J., et al. (1992). Rice: A high or low glycemic index food? Am J Clin Nutr;56: 1034-1036.

Larsen, H.N., et al. (2000). Glycaemic index of parboiled rice depends on the severity of processing: study in type 2 diabetic subjects. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 54: 380-385.

Miah, M., et al. (2002). Parboiling of rice. Part II: effect of hot soaking time on the degree of starch gelatinization. International Journal of Food Science and Technology ; 37(5): 539-545.

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Breakfast Is Important!

Breakfast Is Important!

May 7, 2022   Return

The MyBreakfast Study of School Children is the first nationwide breakfast study of its kind. It was first initiated in 2013 by the Nutrition Society of Malaysia with contributions from the Cereal Partners Worldwide and Nestle R&D Centre, Singapore. Almost 9,000 school children aged 6 to 17 years from all over Malaysia were involved.

The results of the study were revealed in December 2015, and here are some of the key findings.

In this study, ‘breakfast’ is defined as the first eating occasion after an overnight sleep, until 10 am on weekdays and 11 am on weekends. Choosing to avoid eating until after the time stipulated is considered ‘skipping breakfast’.

How are our kids these days?

Our kids are getting heavier.

  • About 28% of our school children are overweight or obese. More than 30% of boys have excess kilos while almost 25% of the girls face the same issue.
  • The prevalence among urban and rural school children are similar.

Some kids however, are not growing up at a normal rate.

  • About 7% of our school children experience stunting, and the prevalence is higher among those in rural areas.

Recommendations by the Research Committee:

  • Parents should become more involved in encouraging and supporting their children to adopt healthy eating and active living. They can act by example, by adopting these habits themselves.
  • The relevant government bodies should implement urgent intervention programmes to address the weighty problem of our increasingly overweight and obese school children population. Nutrition education and nutrition-related activities should also be implemented in schools.

The importance of breakfast 

Findings of studies such as Rampersaud et al (2005) found that the inclusion of specific nutritious foods at breakfast, such as ready-to-eat cereals and milk, has been associated with increased intakes of fibre, calcium and other micronutrients (vitamin A and C, riboflavin, zinc, iron, etc).

The MyBreakfast Study results support such study findings.

  • Breakfast contributed about 25% of the school children’s total energy intake from meals.
  • It also contributes a significant amount of micronutrients, therefore helping school children meet their recommended daily nutrient intake.

What are Malaysian school children eating for breakfast?

  • Bread (38.9%)
  • Eggs (30.1%)
  • Chicken and other types of meat (22.5%)
  • Nasi lemak (21.5%)
  • Fried rice (20.6%)

Whole grains need more love.

  • Whole grains can bestow protective benefits against certain diseases (including diabetes) in adults, and it is possible that they will also be beneficial for school children.
  • However, only 25% of primary school and 19% of secondary school children consume whole grains.
  • Almost all the children surveyed (97.7%) do not meet the recommended daily whole grain intake (2-4 servings a day)!

Recommendations by the Research Committee:

  • Serve breakfast foods that are not too sweet, salty or oily.
  • Breakfast portion sizes should also be appropriate.
  • Add more whole grains into breakfast as well as other meals of the day. For example, serve whole grain bread instead of ‘white’ bread; whole grain cereals instead of refined cereals.  Whole grain noodles, rice and pasta are all good choices to consider.
  • The trick to getting used to the taste, texture and colour of whole grains is to start by mixing a small amount of whole grains with the processed grains school children normally enjoy. Over time, increase the amount of whole grains while decreasing the amount of processed grains.

Skipping breakfast linked to overweight & obesity

Despite the benefits of breakfast, 1-in-4 school children tend to skip it for 3 or more days a week.

  • More girls (26%) skip breakfast compared to boys (23%).
  • More secondary school children skip breakfast compared to primary school children.
  • The prevalence of breakfast skippers is similar in both urban and rural areas.
  • Breakfast skippers are 1.34 times more likely to be overweight or obese.

Recommendations by the Research Committee:

  • Parents should make an effort to prepare breakfast for their children and encourage them to eat it before going to school.
  • Interventions should be implemented to promote regular breakfast consumption, such as through schools, as part of our country’s efforts to address the overweight and obesity problem among school children.

Our kids are not moving enough

  • One in three school children have low physical activity level. This is more prevalent among girls.
  • Low physical activity is higher among breakfast skippers (42%) compared to breakfast eaters (32.5%).

Therefore, breakfast plays an important role in helping school children lose excess kilos and maintain a healthy weight. In addition to encouraging their children to be more physically active, parents should also play a more active role in ensuring that their children start the day with a healthy, balanced breakfast!

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