Start Your Kids’ Day Right

Start Your Kids’ Day Right

May 7, 2022   Return

E_Dr Tee

Dr Tee E Siong   President, Nutrition Society of Malaysia

Simple can be healthy.

Always rushing in the morning? Try preparing simple breakfasts, such as the ones listed below. You can make them healthier by picking the right ingredients.

  • For sandwiches, use whole grain bread, and add some sardines or scrambled eggs for protein, as well as salads, cucumber slices or tomatoes for vitamins and minerals.
  • Choose whole grain ready-to-eat cereals, and add oat and muesli along with milk.
  • Steamed pau with red bean or lotus paste fillings can be served alongside milk, malted beverages or soy milk.
  • Fruits are versatile additions to most breakfast meals. Add fruit pieces to cereals, or have a banana or apple on the side.

Getting your kids into the habit.

If your children have not been eating breakfast regularly in the past, you can help them get into the habit by having the family eat breakfast together. Make breakfasts fun by rotating a variety of food types throughout the week.

“But I want nasi lemak!”

If your children prefer the less healthy breakfast meals and turn their noses up at cereals and other healthy options, get them into the habit by rotating healthy breakfast options throughout the week, and slowly increasing the number of healthy breakfast as time passes. You can still serve nasi lemak and other not-so-healthy breakfast treats, but not too frequently.

Are eggs good for the kids?

Many people assume that eggs are bad for children due to their high cholesterol content. Dr Tee disagrees with this. “Very little of the cholesterol from the egg is absorbed,” he explains. He encourages parents to serve eggs to their children several times a week, if not every day. “Eggs are a wholesome and complete nutritious food, which I would encourage to be included as a breakfast food,” he says.

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Happy Tummies in an Auspicious Time

Happy Tummies in an Auspicious Time

May 7, 2022   Return

It is hard to avoid food during the Chinese New Year, not that many of us will want to. From reunion dinners to the food served to guests during house visits, not to mention the side trips to the mamak stall to catch up with friends or detours to various restaurants marked on blogs or Foursquare as “must try or die!” during the balik kampung trip … Chinese New Year is a time when one is practically deluged with food!

For people whose stomachs are prone to indigestion and other tummy problems, enjoying all that food can cause more than just eater’s remorse – it can lead to a degree of discomfort and even pain. 

The indigestible truth

Indigestion (or dyspepsia) differs from one person to another.

Some symptoms of indigestion to watch out for

  • An uncomfortable bloated or full feeling
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Growling stomach, gas, belching
  • Burning feeling in your stomach or upper belly
  • Belly pain
  • Acidic taste in the mouth

Just like its symptoms, the causes of indigestion may differ from person to person.

  • It may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as ulcers in the stomach lining, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), stomach infections and more. If you experience constant indigestion over a long period of time, or the symptoms are particularly painful, you should consult a doctor.
  • Certain medications may cause indigestion too. Pain relievers such as aspirins, birth control pills, and certain antibiotics are just some examples. If you notice that you experience symptoms after taking certain medications, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist about switching to a less irritable brand or type of medication.
  • Even your eating habits or diet may be the cause. Indigestion may occur when you eat too fast or too much, or when you eat while feeling stressed. Fatty food, alcohol and smoking may contribute to indigestion too.

Fortunately, indigestion often goes away on its own after a while. If you wish for the symptoms to go away a little quicker, there are always antacids that can be found over the counter in pharmacies.


Tips for the tender tummy

Try these tips this Chinese New Year, so that you can enjoy all the yummy food without having to deal with indigestion:

  • If you anticipate being served a lot of food, and you know that you are a quick eater by habit, have a light snack first so that you won’t be so hungry when the food is served.
  • Try to eat slowly. Chew your food a little longer, take sips of water or talk to the people around you in between swallows, take smaller portions each time – these are just some things you can try.
  • Don’t get tempted by the alcohol – cut back or abstain. Your stomach will thank you for it!
  • Wear something loose and comfortable. Tight clothing can put pressure on your stomach and hamper the smooth ‘going down’ of food into that part of your body.
  • Avoid vigorous physical activity until after at least 1 hour after a full meal. Relax, sit back, and catch up with people at the dining table!
  • Wait at least 3 hours after a full meal before you go to bed.

Foods to watch out for

  • Milk and dairy products. Milk sugar (lactose) is hard to digest, and can cause gas or bloating especially in people who are lactose-intolerant. Choose instead lactose-free alternatives (yoghurt, cheese, etc).
  • Spicy foods such as curries. They can stimulate the digestive system, possibly causing indigestion as a result.
  • Acidic foods such as Mandarin oranges and soft drinks. Just like spicy foods, they may irritate the digestive system.
  • Fatty and fried foods. All the excess oil and fat can cause your stomach to empty slower, leading to indigestion, diarrhoea and more. You can enjoy these foods, of course, but eat slowly and in small portions. Choose the less fatty or oily dishes whenever possible.
  • Chocolates. They can cause heartburn and indigestion when eaten in excess, so enjoy yours in moderate portions and space your ‘chocolate time’ over a few hours in a day.


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Fab or Fad?

Fab or Fad?

May 1, 2022   Return

To think that just several decades ago, juicing was quite a novelty. Back then, juicing was something only associated with overzealous health nuts. But how times have changed! It appears the masses have gotten onto the juicing bandwagon – and said bandwagon seems to be throttling on at full speed.

Everywhere you turn these days, you will come across juice bars offering a variety of juices and smoothies that will leave you lost for choice. Gone are the days when juicing was solely about fruits. Nowadays, you can have ingredients like wheatgrass, whey protein and chia seeds added into your orange juice, to give you that energy boost you need to kick-start your day. Or if you feel like going green, you can opt for a blend of green vegetables. How does a combination of jalapeno (now, that’s a real kick!), kale, spinach, celery and parsley sound? If you are not up for any of the blends listed on the menu, you can even mix and match fruits and vegetables according to your preference. Cool, huh?

What’s the juice on ‘juice’?

Why the juicing craze, though? For one thing, juicing can be a great way to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in the diet of people who do not enjoy eating them. Some claim that the body absorbs nutrients more easily from juices than from eating fruits whole. Then, there are others who believe juicing can aid weight loss, detox, boost immunity and even lower the risk of chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease. These claims have led many to go on ‘juice fasts’ or ‘juice cleanses’ whereby they consume nothing but juice over a certain period of time which can range from a few days to several weeks! Those who testify to the health benefits of these juice cleanses include celebrities such as actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitley.

But is juicing all it is made up to be? Are juice fasts the one-stop health solution that many are raving about? We speak to Dietitian Ms Verona Lee to separate myth from fact.

Juicing: Healthy or Hazardous?

Addressing the juicing fad, Ms Lee explains, “I wouldn’t recommend juicing for detox purposes as there’s actually no scientific evidence which proves its efficacy. Detox is a process which our body performs automatically for 24/7. Our body doesn’t need additional help to detox.”

What about weight loss, then? “Consuming juice with the purpose of losing weight isn’t recommended either. People who go on juice fasts for prolonged periods may lose weight but they are also likely to grow malnourished. Juices are mainly made up of vitamins, mineral and sugar so they end up missing out on other nutrients like protein. In fact, there’s a 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health which found that individuals who had three fruit servings weekly experience a 2% reduction in diabetes risk while their peers who had three servings of fruit juice weekly showed an increased diabetes risk of 8%.” Ms Lee cautions, “Juicing fads does our body more harm than good, especially for those with diabetes, kidney disease and heart complications as the sugar levels in fruit juices are too high for them. They should stay away from these fasts.”

Does that mean we should avoid juicing at all costs? She clarifies, “While juicing cleanses are a no-no, juicing is fine as long as you consume a well-balanced diet and ensure that your juices consists of both fruits and vegetables. Remember, the amount of fruits and vegetables in a serving of juice is very crucial. If we add too many fruits, the calorie and sugar content may be excessive. Therefore, a ratio of 3 vegetables to 1 fruit is advised.”

Eat ‘em whole

However, Ms Lee emphasizes the importance of eating fruits whole. “Although, juicing has its benefits (for example, parents can start kids off on juices if they initially refuse to eat fruits and vegetables or cancer patients with chewing difficulties can obtain necessary nutrients from juices), eating fruits and vegetables whole is the best. Juicing removes all the fiber from fruits and vegetables, which is a shame as fiber has a great many uses like aiding bowel movement and controlling cholesterol.”

She suggests eating a minimum of three vegetable servings and two fruit servings daily, as per recommended by the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines. “If you can’t meet this recommended daily intake, you can consider adding more nutrients via juicing. One serving of juice daily is alright. Don’t go overboard. Remember, moderation is key!”

Juice It Up!

Touching on the various juicing methods, Ms Lee explains, “Conventional juicing extracts juice at an extremely high velocity. It usually yields less juice and more pulp. Meanwhile, slow juicing works at a relatively slower speed. Hence, it extracts more juice. But ultimately, you’re still removing pulp (fiber) regardless of whatever juicer you use.”

Also, she says to be mindful of several things when juicing:

  • Clean juicers thoroughly. Unclean juicers are good breeding grounds for germs.
  • Make a portion of juice which you can finish immediately. Juices left for prolonged periods become unfresh and are susceptible to bacteria growth.
  • Finally drink a rainbow, eat a rainbow! Different coloured fruits and vegetables boast different nutrients and antioxidants.



It’s Still Healthy to Go Local

It’s Still Healthy to Go Local

May 1, 2022   Return


Malaysian food is the best! We frequently appreciate that when we are abroad, missing our roti canai or nasi lemak. The craving is particularly bad when we are on a healthy diet.

Most people may perceive eating healthy as boring. A reason for this is that we are so used to seeing healthy recipes incorporating Western dishes that can be too bland for our feisty taste buds. Furthermore, living healthy is frequently likened to endless restrictions. There are a lot of no-nos – cannot eat this, cannot eat that – which can be discouraging.

We are advised to “cut down on salt, sugar and oily food” – which means saying goodbye to some of the best-tasting foods out there!  However, we do not need to suffer. We can still enjoy your beloved local food. Just do some adjustments and we will have healthier varieties of those tempting delights.

Nasi Lemak


Arguably the biggest guilty pleasure of all, the name itself reveals its unhealthy fat content.

  • Use basmati rice instead of regular white rice, as it has less starch content – hence, healthier.
  • Use diluted coconut milk for the rice. Better still, replace with skim or low-fat milk instead.
  • Halve the oil you usually use to make the sambal.
  • Serve with steamed egg instead of fried egg.
  • Microwave instead of deep frying the ikan bilis.

Curry and Rendang Dishes


These are so hard to resist, but fortunately, there are ways we can make them healthier.

  • Many recipes for oil-free curry and rendang are available online. Try some and see which one you like best!
  • Use lean meat (such as chicken breast instead of thigh), with the skin and visible fat removed beforehand.
  • For curries, use either diluted coconut oil or replace with skim or low-fat milk. For rendang, use only 2-3 tablespoons of coconut paste (kerisik) to achieve that delicious rendang flavour without loading the dish with too much fat content.
  • For potatoes, use sweet potatoes as they have less starch content.

Other Malaysian delicacies to savour (with some modifications, of course):

Chicken briyani

Use low fat yogurt as the marinade. It offers similar tasty flavours minus the fat. This recipe is awesome as it comprises of a number of natural flavourings such as cinnamon, cumin, cloves and fennel seeds.


Actually a rather healthy food, as it is a high in fibre and yet low in fat and cholesterol. The trouble lies in what we consume it with. If we eat it with  dhal gravy, then we are good, as dhal is rich in protein. However, if it is curry, make sure it is a healthier version(see above). Or just go with dhal!

Tom yam

A must-have if you are enjoying Thai food, it may be fattening due to the inclusion of chicken skin in preparing the broth. Just eliminate the skin and maximize the quantity of vegetables such as cauliflowers, tomatoes and celeries for taste.

Ayam masak merah

The original recipe requiresthe chicken to be fried. However, we may modify the cooking method by baking the chicken. Hence, we can still enjoy the crispiness but with less oil.

Traditional kuih

For instance, kuih bingka jagung, pengat pisang – they are all loaded with sugar. For healthier versions, prepare your own and cut down on the sugar. If you find it more convenient to buy them from stalls, recognize which one sells kuih that are less sweet and go for that.


If you like lontong but realize how sinful the coconut milk is, do not worry. Use diluted coconut milk for only half of the required quantity while replacing the other half with skim or low-fat milk.

Curry noodles

Use skim or low-fat milk to replace the coconut milk. In addition, make sure that only leanest meat minus the skin is added.

Stir-fried dishes

For instance, chicken in lemon sauce, beef in dried chillies, mixed vegetables in oyster sauce, etc. They are all fried but what you can do is minimize the quantity of oil used for frying. Use lean meat and eliminate the skin of chicken whenever possible.


Absolutely a healthy meal particularly for dieters as there are loads of vegetables including cucumber and bean sprouts, and you could top up more. Be careful of the peanut gravy, however, as it can be loaded with too much sugar! When preparing your own gravy, use less sugar. Also, cut down on fried tofu and fried dough fritters – a few are fine, but not too many as deep fried food is never good for health..

Fish recipes

If you love fish but do not like to eat steamed fish, opt for baking or grilling instead. Baked or grilled fish uses less oil. On the other hand, if we love fish curry, add in the low-fat milk  at the last moment to prevent any lumps from forming in the gravy.

In conclusion, there is no hard rule as to what type of food is healthy. A few adjustments and modifications to otherwise unhealthy recipes will allow us to enjoy them without the guilt. So, let’s head over to the kitchen and have fun experimenting! The mouth-watering results will no doubt be worth the effort.

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Are instant noodles all that bad?

Are instant noodles all that bad?

May 1, 2022   Return


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

Do you know that instant noodles were first created by a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor? They have come a long way since then, as instant noodles have become a popular meal option due to their convenience and low cost. They are practically a staple for college and university students!

Although instant noodles are commonly consumed at home, they have also become a popular alternative to the more conventional mee in mee dishes (fried or soup), especially at Mamak restaurants.  

Oodles of noodles!

According to the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysians consumed as many as 870 million packets of instant noodles in 2004, but the amount ballooned to more than 1,210 million packets by 2008, with an increment of approximately 40% over the duration of 4 years.


The whole caboodle

Instant noodles are dried pre-cooked noodle blocks, with flavouring powder, seasoning oil, and sometimes garnishing available in separate packets.

The main ingredients used in instant noodles are wheat flour, palm oil and salt. Common ingredients in the flavouring powder are monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasoning, salt and sugar.

Instant noodles are marketed globally under various brand names, which come in 3 fundamental types:

  • Packet noodles lend themselves to modifications, with vegetables or proteins such as eggs easily added.
  • Cups and bowls are more convenient; yet more expensive than packet noodles. They are cooked in boiled water.

Instant noodles have always been the focus of much speculation. They are considered unhealthy mainly due to the following reasons:

High in sodium:

The Malaysian Dietitians’ Association suggests that individuals consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (equivalent to 6 g of salt or a teaspoon of salt), and that certain individuals (with high blood pressure) limit their intake to 1,500 mg per day. CAP found that the average amount of sodium in instant noodles was 830 mg. Hence, consumption of instant noodles can easily lead to excessive sodium intake, especially when one also consumes other processed food, meat and shellfish. An increased long term intake of sodium is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease or even kidney failure.

High in fat:

Instant noodles are high in fat, especially saturated fat. The raw noodles are deep fried in oil to eliminate the moisture and improve shelf life. Hence, deep fried instant noodles are higher in fat than fresh or air/oven dried noodles. Significantly less oil is used with the air-drying technology to deliver the ‘fried’ taste instead of the usual deep frying process.

Wax in instant noodles?

There have been rumours circulating about the wax coating of instant noodles. Contrary to popular belief, instant noodles contain palm oil rather than wax to prevent the noodles from clumping together. Wax is less likely to solve the issue anyway as wax melts at lower temperatures.

Low nutritive value:


Instant noodles are high in sodium and fat, but low in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Preservatives, additives and flavourings:

MSG and tertiary-butyl-hydroquinone (TBHQ) have been claimed as chemical preservatives derived from petroleum. They may be present in instant noodles to enhance taste and act as a preservative. The Food and Drug Administration has categorised MSG as a food ingredient that is “generally recognised as safe”. However, its use stays controversial. Regular consumption may cause severe health issues even though dietary intake of these preservatives is allowed within a limit. According to the Codex Standards (FAO standards) for instant noodles, flavour enhancers, acid regulators, thickeners, colours, stabilisers, emulsifiers, antioxidants and preservatives are allowed to be added in the making of instant noodles.

Another health concern is the reported leaching of dioxin from the plastic container of the cup noodle. Harmful substances could seep into the broth as hot water is added. Furthermore, instant noodle may produce oxidised oil and fat if the cooking oil is not maintained at the proper temperature, or the oil is not changed as frequent as necessary during manufacturing.


We can make a few modifications to our instant noodle dishes to overcome the above-mentioned disadvantages of consuming instant noodles:

  • Most of the sodium is in the seasoning. Hence, the simplest way to reduce the sodium intake is to use only part of the flavouring sachet content, or to substitute with natural spices such as sesame oil, mint, coriander leaves, basil, lime or sliced spring onions. In addition, you may cut down the sodium intake by simply not drinking the broth.
  • Add an egg – add a hard-boiled egg or crack a raw egg into the noodles when they turn soft, as a source of protein.
  • Furthermore, cabbage or dark green leafy vegetables like spinach can be stirred into the noodles right before serving to make it a complete meal.

In conclusion, consumption of processed food should be restricted to occasional treats. Overindulgence does not do one any good. The rule of thumb for healthy eating is balanced, moderate and variety. Talk to your dietitian if you need help for your diet plan!



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Herbs, Spices & Cancer Prevention

Herbs, Spices & Cancer Prevention

May 1, 2022   Return


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

Over the centuries, herbs and spices have had a pivotal place in many civilisations and cultures. . These days, they are also valued for their possible health benefits, which include antioxidant properties that can affect drug metabolism, immune-competence, cell division and apoptosis (cell death).

Prevents Cancer?

There is increasing evidence to demonstrate that cancer is preventable, and herbs and spices may play a role in this.



Ginger/root ginger (Zingiberaceae) has long been  valued for its potential to  reduce nausea experienced by patients receiving chemotherapy.



Basil is a culinary herb heavily featured in Southeast Asian and Italian cuisines.  It contains numerous substances that are said to be able to protect against free radical damage, tumour formation, gene mutation, bacteria and viruses. However, it also contains estragole, a substance that may be transformed into a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) once it is ingested. Current research suggests that the potential benefits of basil outweigh the possible risks caused by estragole.



Cinnamon is a spice from the bark of an evergreen tree from the Lauraceae family. Research suggests that cinnamon extracts can be useful in suppressing the growth of the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, a risk factor for gastric cancer.



Coriander contains linalool, which may be helpful in helping to reduce free radical damage to the liver and associated tissues and organ. Therefore, it may be helpful in reducing the risk of liver cancer



Garlic’s typical characteristics arise from sulfur, which makes up approximately 1% of its dry weight. Although it does not usually serve as a prominent source of essential nutrients, research in laboratories found compelling evidence that garlic and its related components can reduce the incidence of colon, breast, skin, esophagus, uterine and lung cancers. However, more research need to be done on its effects on humans before we can come to any strong conclusion on the benefits of garlic against cancer,

The conclusion… for now

There are still too many unanswered questions that have to be researched thoroughly before we can make any conclusions about the use of herbs and spices against cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research perhaps summed it best when they said that a healthy lifestyle, rather than focusing on specific ingredients alone, is probably the best way to improve our odds against cancer. Below are their recommendations:

  1. Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight.
  2. Be physically active every day.
  3. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks. Fruit juices should also be limited.
  4. Eat at least 5 servings (400 g) of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily. Incorporate fruits and vegetables of many different colours in your diet.
  5. Limit intake of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meat (meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives).
  6. Limit alcohol drinks
  7. Limit consumption of salt.
  8. If you are unable to meet your daily nutritional intake due to illness or other reasons, supplements may be useful.


Anilakumar, al.(2001). Effect of coriander seeds on hexachlorocyclo-hexane indued lipid peroxidation in rat liver. Nutr Res, 21, 1455-1462.

Aruna, K. et al. (1990). Plant products as protective agents against cancer. Indian J ExpBiol, 28, 1008-1011.

Chrubasik, S. et al. (2005). Zingiberis rhizoma: A comprehensive review on the ginger effect and efficacy profiles. Phytomedicine, 12: 684-701.

Farinha, P. et al. (2005). Helicobacter pylori and MALT lymphoma. Gastroenterology, 128, 1579-1605.

Jeurissen, S.M. et al. (2008). Basil extract inhibits the sulfotransferase mediated formation of DNA adducts of the procarcinogen 1’-hydroxyestragole by rat and human liver S9 homogenates and in HepG2 human hepatoma cells. Food ChemToxicol, 46, 2296-2302.

Makri, O. et al. (2007). Ocinum sp. (basil): Botany, cultivation, pharmaceutical properties, and biotechnology. J Herbs Spices Med Plants, 13: 123-150.

Muller, L. et al. T. (1994). The genotixic potential in vitro and in vivo of the allyl benzene etheric oils estragole, basil oil and trans-anethole. Mutat Res, 325: 129-136.

Pan, M.H. et al. (2008). 6-shogaol induces apoptosis in human colorectal carcinoma cells via ROS production, caspase activation and GADD 153 expression. Mol Nutr Food Res, 52: 527-537.

Sontakke, S. et al. (2003). Ginger as an antiemetic in nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy: A randomized, cross-over, double-blind study. Indian J Pharmacol., 35: 32-36.

World Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research. (2007). Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A global perspective. Washington, DC: AICR.

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The Delicious Taste of Umami

The Delicious Taste of Umami

May 1, 2022   Return

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

How many tastes can an individual taste? There is sweet, of course. Then, sour. Next, salty. Finally, bitter. So, that makes 4 tastes. Now, we have the 5th taste – umami.


The story began when Kikunae Ikeda, a chemist, was enjoying a bowl of dashi, a type of Japanese soup made from seaweed. He tasted something that was beyond sweet, sour, salty and bitter – a taste that he described to be similar to the one commonly found in tomatoes, asparagus, cheese and meat, but did not resemble any of the established  tastes.

He decided to call this taste ‘umami’. That word is a composite of the Japanese words umai (‘delicious taste’) and mi (‘taste’) in Japanese).  While many Malaysians may not be familiar with umami, this term has been used by the Japanese to describe this 5th taste since the early 1990s.

Well, what is it, really?

Describing what umami tastes like – especially in words! – can be difficult because there is no English word that is synonymous with umami. The best we can do is to compare it to an earthy “savoury” or “meaty” taste.

According to the Umami Information Center, umami is a mild but pleasant, lasting savoury taste stimulated by a type of amino acid, L-glutamic acid, and substances called ribonucleotides, such as guanylate and inosinate, that are present naturally in food such as fish, meat, vegetables and dairy products.

Glutamic acid is present in most living things, When you cook food that contains this substance (such as meat), or when you ferment it (such as the case with cheese), L-glutamic acid is produced to give such food its delicious taste. This also happens when fruits such as tomatoes ripen. We call umami a taste because studies found that our tongues have special structures (receptors) to detect it, just like we have receptors for the other 4 tastes. 

What can I eat to get this umami taste?

Glutamic acid can be found in vegetables and meats, and is generally found in food containing high levels of L-glutamic acid such as spinach, tomatoes, celery, shellfish, green tea and cheese. The amount of glutamic acid present usually increases as these foods age or ripen.

In fact, you may have tasted umami flavours without realising it. If you want to pinpoint the umami taste, try combining particular foods for maximum flavour. Some may seem gross to you, but think of it as experimentation in the name of science! (Besides, you may develop a liking for certain combinations.)

  • Cheese and bacon
  • Anchovies or parmesan cheese and tomato sauce
  • French fries and ketchup
  • Parmesan cheese and pasta
  • Dried mushrooms and your favourite dish

The MSG connection

Identifying the umami taste requires some practice, as it is not as obvious as other tastes. For instance, when tasting a chicken broth made without seasoning or salt, we may find it bland. On the other hand, if we were to add a pinch of monosodium glutamate (MSG) to the chicken broth, it tastes better. The broth is not simply saltier, it tastes … something else, something more delicious. That something else is umami.

Adding MSG is one of the simpler and more direct ways to creating the umami taste, hence the frequent association of the taste with this substance. MSG is frequently added to dishes, hence, often, when we say that a dish is not ‘delicious enough’, we are actually saying that it is not umami enough!

MSG is a flavour enhancer, recognised by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food ingredient that is safe.

However, its use remains controversial. Chinese dishes are famous, or notorious in some cases, for containing liberal amounts of MSG. Reports of adverse reactions to Chinese food – called the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome – first appeared in 1968, which includes chest pains, mouth or jaw numbness, unusual sweating, headaches and a sense of facial swelling. MSG has been blamed for these reactions, but so far studies have failed to unearth conclusive evidence that this is the case.

Still, the use of MSG remains controversial, hence the FDA requiring to be listed on the label when it is added to food. Perhaps the best approach is similar to how we approach other kinds of food – everything should be enjoyed in moderation, even that wonderful umami feeling.



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Making Sense of Palm Oil

Making Sense of Palm Oil

May 1, 2022   Return


Dr Jean Graille   Lipid Technology Consultant, Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), France

Palm oil is one of Malaysia’s most valuable natural resources, and the palm oil industry is one of the backbones of our economy. Nonetheless, its production has generated much controversy and ire, especially among the Western communities. Palm oil is bad for health, it is claimed, and yet, palm oil continues to be used in various food industries. Also, so many households all over the world cook their meals using palm oil. The situation seems contradictory at times!

Poor understanding, hence poor perceptions

Dr Jean Graille, a lipid technology consultant, argues that many of the misperceptions and wrong facts stem from poor understanding of the nature of fats and oils.

Beliefs such as palm oil causing cancer and cardiovascular diseases due to its saturated fat content are not supported by scientific evidence, Dr Graille claims. “Unfortunately, many consumers assimilate such information, few of them reading the labels on food items to get a more accurate picture, and such claims grow to unfairly demonise an entire segment of the agro-food industry,” he says.

Is palm oil as harmful as trans fat?

Dr Graille points out that there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

There are many studies which demonstrated that regular consumption of trans fat is dangerous as it induces cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“Conversely, palm oil is free from trans fat,” Dr Graille points out. In fact, palm oil is rich in tocotrienols, a type of vitamin E that can possibly offer protection against cancer.

Does palm oil increase the risk of breast cancer?

“Absolutely not!” insists Dr Graille. The claim arose as a result of wrong interpretation of the results of a report by the French research institutes Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale and the Institut Gustave Roussy. The report stated that trans-oleic acid and trans-palmitoleic acid are suspected of causing cancer. “Like all common vegetable oils, palm oil does not contain these trans fats,” he explains.

Are certain oils (e.g. rapeseed oil) really healthier and better than palm oil?

Dr Graille points out that all oils have their advantages and disadvantages. Rapeseed oil, for instance, is rich in all types of fatty acids, especially linolenic acid (omega-3), but are sensitive to heat, making them better to be consumed fresh. Palm oil is free from trans fats and contains unique properties that make it ideal for a wide range of food applications to accentuate taste and texture.

Therefore, the best option for us, as consumers, is to actually make use of a range of oils. “This is to ensure that we get a balanced intake of natural fatty acids such as saturated fat as well as omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fats.” 

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The Miracle of Garlic

The Miracle of Garlic

May 1, 2022   Return

E_Mrs Vivi

Vivi Noryati Ahmad   Lecturer, Centre of Preclinical Science Studies, Faculty of Dentistry, Sg. Buloh Campus, Universiti Teknologi MARA

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” –  Hippocrates.

Good oral health is essential to our general health and quality of life. It keeps us free from mouth and facial pain, tooth loss, infections and sores that can affect our ability to eat, speak and even breathe as well as our self-esteem.

During ancient times, people consumed natural plant sources such as herbs to maintain their oral health and to prevent and treat oral diseases.

Today, there is worldwide resurgence of interest in using medicinal plants for medicinal purposes. More than 40% of commonly prescribed medicines throughout the world originated directly or indirectly from plants. For the last 20 years, herbal medicine consumption has increased sharply in the US.

In Malaysia, medicinal plants have gained popularity as alternatives to modern medicine due to public awareness and increasing interest among consumers and the scientific community. This is further supported by the establishment of Traditional and Complementary Medicine Division under the Ministry of Health, as well as the presence of NKEA EPP#1 Research Grant Scheme under the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Goss on Garlic

One of the most popular ingredients among herbal medicines is garlic extract. Garlic (Allium sativum) is closely related to onions, shallots and leeks. It is a popular ingredient in cooking due to its strong smell and delicious taste. In fact, throughout ancient history the primary use of garlic was for its health and medicinal properties.

Allicin is one of the unstable sulphur-containing compounds found in garlic. It is responsible for the distinctive smell of garlic.  Allicin gets activated through enzymatic reactions when raw garlic is chewed, chopped or crushed. However, it is deactivated by heat, so that is why cooking garlic lowers its healing potential. Cooking should be avoided if you want to use garlic for its medicinal benefits.

Chopping or crushing garlic releases allicin, which when dissolved in solvents such as oil, can react to give rise to another substance, called ajoene.

These compounds have multiple bioactive properties, such as anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, anti-microbial, anti- atherosclerotic, anti-cancer, serum lipid-lowering activity, immunomodulatory agent and contain high levels of antioxidants. This same property in garlic can also help prevent and treat diseases in oral health.

Garlicky Benefits

  • Anti-oral ulcer. According to a study done by Novianti et al (2011), topical application of garlic extract is able to treat oral ulcers. It can accelerate re-epithelialization (a vital part of wound healing) of ulcer healing process.
  • Antibacteria activity. A study done by Bakri and Douglas (2005) reported that garlic extract has been scientifically proven to inhibit the growth and kill most of the bacteria living in our mouths, especially Porphyromonas gingivalis (which can cause inflammation of the gums) and Streptococcus mutans (a major contributor of tooth decay).
  • Antifungal activity. According to a study done by Bakhshi et al (2012), garlic extract has inhibitory effects on Candida albicans, a fungus that can infect the mouth and cause oral thrush. The results from the study showed that the treatment by using aqueous garlic extract as a mouthwash promotes the fast recovery of lesions and has no side effect. In addition, patients experience greater satisfaction with the use of garlic compared to conventional mouthwash.
  • For quick toothache pain relief. Garlic is actually a great natural home remedy for pain associated with growing wisdom teeth, abscessed teeth and tooth pain in general. Its antibacterial properties help to relieve tooth pain.
  • Anticancer activity? Oral cancer ranks as the sixth most common type of cancer worldwide. While there are claims of garlic being able to protect us from it, we still lack scientific evidence to confirm this. More research is being done on this matter.


Getting the Most from Garlic

Here are great tips on how to use garlic as a home remedy for oral health:

  • Cooking garlic to maintain its maximum healing benefits. Crush or finely chopped the garlic, then wait for about 10 minutes before cooking. This enhances the formation of allicin and makes it more resistant to heat. Cooking it on low heat for a shot period of time or adding it in towards the end of the cooking process helps retain garlic’s healing benefits.
  • To relieve tooth pain and as an antiseptic. Cut raw garlic and rub the cut edge on the tooth and gums a couple of times a day to stop toothache. Just be aware that you may experience a mild burning sensation when rubbing garlic to the gums frequently.
  • Garlic for tonsilitis. Peel a clove of garlic and cut them in half lengthwise. Then boil for 5 minutes in 1 litre of water and add in a pinch of salt and ½ teaspoon of.  Drink this mixture 3-4 times per day, for four days.
  • As mouthwash. Crush 2 cloves of garlic and mix it with a cup of cold water. Put aside for 2 minutes. Every morning and before sleep, gargle with the solution. You can also use it to clean dentures.


Osemene, K. P., et al. (2011). A comparative assessment of herbal and orthodox medicines in nigeria. Res J Med Sci; 5(5):280–285.

Mysak, J., et al. (2014). Porphyromonas gingivalis: major periodontopathic pathogen overview. Journal of Immunology Research; 2014:476068.

Bakri, I. M., & Douglas, C. W. (2005). Inhibitory effect of garlic extract on oral bacteria. Archives of Oral Biology; 50(7):645–651.

Kulak‐Ozkan, Y., et al. (2002). Oral hygiene habits, denture cleanliness, presence of yeasts and stomatitis in elderly people. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation; 29(3):300–304.

Nair, P. K. & Dyasanoor, S. (2015). Clinical efficacy of allicin–A novel alternative therapeutic agent in the management of minor recurrent aphthous stomatitis. Journal of Advanced Clinical & Research Insights; 2(6):231–236.

Bakhshi, M., et al. (2012). Comparison of therapeutic effect of aqueous extract of garlic and nystatin mouthwash in denture stomatitis. Gerodontology; 29(2):e680–e684.

Ahmad, V.N & Amin, I.M & Zubir, B.M (2016). Apoptosis and cytotoxic effects of Allicin and Ajoene on oral squamous cell carcinoma. Oral Presentation in 15th Malaysian Section IADR Annual Sceintific Meeting & 17th Annual General Meeting, 5th February 2016,  Faculty of Dentistry, UKM, Jalan Raja Muda Abdul Aziz, 50300, Kuala Lumpur.  (final year dental student research project in progression at Faculty of Dentistry, supervised by Vivi Noryati Binti Ahmad and Indah Mohd Amin.

Novianti, A.R, et al.(2011). Effect of Allicin for re-epithelialization during healing in oral ulcer model. The Indonesian J Dent Res, 2011, Volume 1, No.2, 87- 93. 

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A Matter of Fats

A Matter of Fats

May 1, 2022   Return

E_Mary Easaw

Mary Easaw   Chief Dietitian, Institut Jantung Negara

Are fats really bad?

Not really. Dietitian Mary Easaw points out that we become overweight when we consume more calories than we burn off ie, we eat more than we move. These calories also come from carbohydrates and proteins as well. It is the total of all that we eat, rather than how much fats and oils alone, and how little physical activity we are doing that is the cause of the problem.

“Our body needs carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water for survival. All these have to be ‘put in’, but in the correct proportions,” she explains in her charming, no-nonsense way. “But the biggest controversy in this is of course, the fats.”


So, let’s talk about fats.

“Fats are generally divided into two types – those of animal origin and those of vegetable or plant origin,” Mary Easaw  states.

Animal fats

  • Usually solid at room temperature eg, butter and margarine.
  • Typically saturated fats that contribute to heart diseases.
  • Some animal fats e.g., omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in oily fish, are beneficial to health.

Plant fats

  • Usually liquids at room temperature eg, corn oil and olive oil.
  • Typically unsaturated fats, said to help lower risk of heart diseases.
  • Some plant oils such as palm oil and coconut oil have a significant amount of saturated fats.

Which is the good oil again?

In the past, the saturated fats are often portrayed as the bad guys, while the unsaturated fats are the heroes. However, we are learning today that things are no longer that simple.

We need to look at the whole diet. 

Mary Easaw points out that, in the past, people ate saturated fats without suffering from overweight and non-communicable disease (diabetes, heart disease, etc) problems plaguing people today.

“This is probably because they were more physically active– what they ate, they really worked and sweated it out!” she says.

Comparatively, we are far more sedentary these days. We sit at the office, we sit through traffic jams, and we sit on the couch at home to unwind after a hard day’s work.

Therefore, it is probably too simplistic to assume that a component of a food alone is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us. We have to look at the big picture – our whole diet, as well as how much physical activity we do.

The “bad oils” have their benefits too.

Our views on traditionally ‘bad’ oils are slowly shifting as more research is done on these oils. For instance, the medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides in coconut oil have beneficial effects on our health, as these fatty acids bypass the liver and, hence, they are rapidly metabolized compared to other types of fatty acids. These fatty acids are also not stored in the body as fat.

Saturated and polyunsaturated fats can work together for the greater good.

Recently, a concept called ‘smart balance oil’ has emerged. “This describes oil blends that have a 1:1:1 ratio of saturated to polyunsaturated to monounsaturated fats. Smart balance oil has been proven to be beneficial for the heart health,” Mary Easaw elaborates.

For example, if we blend the much maligned palm oils with other good oils (such as soy and corn oils), the result is an example of a smart balance oil.

Oh, so what’s the best type of oil for me?

“There is no such thing as the best oil,” says Mary Easaw.

In addition to the type of oil, she points out that the smoke point of the oil is just an important a consideration. The smoke point indicates the maximum temperature that the cooking oil can be used – that is the temperature when the oil starts producing smoke. At temperatures higher than the smoke point, the composition of the fatty acids in the oil will change due to the effects of heat.

Some oils, such as olive oil, have a lower smoke point, which is why they are rarely used in deep frying despite being touted as the healthier oil. On the other hand, certain oils such as palm oil have higher smoke points, so they are more stable and more suitable for deep frying. “If someone tells me that they want to enjoy an occasional deep-fried food, I’d advise them to use palm oil,” says Mary Easaw.

However, that is not to say that it is fine to use oil in indiscriminate amounts as long as it is of the ‘right’ type. “Everything in moderation, so don’t drink the oil like water!” she cautions.

Fat check!

Just like how people always say that we should not bite off more than we can chew, we should not eat more than we can burn off. This is not as complicated as it sounds. With some common sense and determination, Mary Easaw assures us that it can be done without affecting our ability to enjoy our food too much.

Watch the plate.

Whether you are filling your plate at home or making your economy rice choices during lunchtime, take note of how much food you are placing on the plate.

  • Fill a quarter of the plate with rice, noodles, bread or pasta.
  • Fill another quarter with a protein-rich food, such as meat, fish, chicken or beans.
  • Make half the plate vegetables. You can also have some fruits for dessert.
  • Of course, you should not pile your food into a small mountain or until the food touches the rim of the plate, as that would be defeating the purpose of healthy eating!

Watch what you eat.

Limit fried or fatty food to once or twice a week. If you wish to eat fried chicken for lunch, for example, you should have something lighter for breakfast and dinner. It is good to know the healthier, less oily cooking methods, so that you can pick the appropriate types of dishes for your meals. Here are some healthier alternatives to frying:

  • Air frying. The air fryer is a versatile appliance that can be used to prepare a variety of dishes.
  • Baking. The microwave oven will be very handy for this.
  • Grilling. Another way the microwave oven can be useful!
  • Steaming. Who doesn’t love steamed fish dishes and vegetables?
  • Stir-frying. Use a non-stick wok so that you will only need to use a small amount of oil.

Make healthy substitutions.

Don’t worry if your favourite dishes traditionally contain unhealthy ingredients and too much oil, fats or sugar. There are many recipes available online that are healthier versions of classic favourites. These days, it is possible to have santan-free rendang and nasi lemak, for example. You can also experiment on your own. For example:

  • Try replacing butter (including ghee), shortening or margarine with vegetable oil.
  • Low-fat milk or yoghurt makes excellent substitutes for santan.
  • Instead of using an entire egg, use egg white (minus the yolk).
  • Consider pan-roasting instead of frying the meat for masak merah dishes.
  • Likewise, roast the fish for making sambal.

Admittedly, some dishes may feel less delicious without coconut milk and such. Perhaps, the best way to go is to serve them only during special occasions, such as festivals. Instead of constantly missing them, you may instead look forward to the next time you can enjoy them with family and friends!

Let’s work that body!

Don’t groan – physical activity is really important. After all, anything that is not burned off ends up being stored as fat in our body!

  • Be physically active at least 150 minutes a week, which is about 20-30 minutes a day. Try not to have two or more inactive days in a row.
  • Exercise is more than just going to the gym, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, consider other forms of activities such as dancing, yoga, tai-chi and more.
  • If you need motivation, download apps that will pit you against other people in fun activities such as who walks the most steps each day. That will keep you going!
  • Walk more. Take the stairs more often instead of using the elevator, and cycle or walk instead of using the car whenever possible. Also, if you love shopping, walking longer at the mall won’t hurt (who says walking is boring?), and park your vehicle a little farther from the entrance to go that extra mile.

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