Asparagus – one of the best foods you can eat

This little vegetable looks interestingly funny doesn’t it? It looks more like a green weapon than something you cook and eat. I used to always see asparagus as a dish garnish, usually for steak or other meat, and never thought of eating it. Only recently have I discovered the wonders of this amazing vegetable.

The health benefits of asparagus is quite a long list, and I believe is one of the best vegetable to be eating if you are guilty of not eating enough vegetables and fruits, because just in this one food alone it contains most of the key vitamins you need. Below are some of the health benefits from eating asparagus.

Detoxification

Asparagus have 288 milligram of potassium, and potassium is good for reducing fats in the tummy area. It has low sodium content, no fat or cholesterol, and 1 cup of serving only contains 40 calories. It also contains an amino acid named, Asparagine, that cleanses the body of all toxins. Asparagine is the culprit for making your urine smell really pungent after eating asparagus.

The diuretic effect helps in kidney related problems and water retention, making it good to eat during pregnancy or menstruation. Many pregnant women are advised to take asparagus to lower risks of birth defects too.

Anti-aging properties

Asparagus is rich in folate, vitamin A and high in glutathoine (GSH) which is a compound containing potent anti-oxidant properties and protect cells from free radicals. It also helps fight brain cognitive decline. For those suffering from hair loss, taking asparagus regularly will help stimulate hair growth as well.

Mood boosting food

It fights depression and boosts your mood in general after taking it because it balances insulin levels, ensuring a stabilized general mood.

High in folate

Because asparagus is high in folate, it is said to reduce risks of heart diseases, reduces inflammation and pain, and as a important protection against cancer.

Preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis

Being the number 1 source of vitamin K, it provides what is necessary for the synthesis of osteocalcin, which is the protein in bone tissues. Vitamin K also aids in bone formation and repair.

Ways to prepare Asparagus

I prefer mine steamed and plain. But if you like to have more flavor I would suggest lightly steaming the asparagus and then wrap a slice of smoked salmon around it. It isn’t enough to make a meal but would make an excellent healthy snack.

How I improved my eczema

I used to think having eczema was like having a certain trait of the body that I cannot change and that I have to live with it. For years my skin was sensitive, prone to itchiness and hives, and was told that because it’s genetic, there’s nothing much I can do about it. How wrong that was.

While it is true that I cannot completely eradicate eczema, I can significantly reduce its flare ups and the inconvenience that it causes. The first thing I did was replace my body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, and facial wash with organic ones and they were not only gentler on skin but also free of sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) especially. There’s also the famous ‘dirty dozen’ ingredients in the products that I replaced, but that’s another story in another post. For me, SLS was the largest irritant for my skin and I assume for most people with eczema, that would be too.

Simply by removing these items my skin seemed calmer during and after showers. There wasn’t any more ‘squeaky’ clean feeling after, which was what triggered the itch in my skin. From there, I started keeping a little notebook to note my diet whenever I get an eczema flare up. Sounds tedious, but really, it doesn’t take more than a minute just to write down what you ate.

I found out eliminating dairy, grains, and gluten and wheat free products helped tremendously in preventing an eczema flare up. Also, eating foods rich in B6 and B12 foods will boost the healing of your eczema over time. Not only did that prevent flare ups, i found that I barely needed moisturizing as much as I did before. I also avoid refined carbohydrates such as white rice and white sugar. If I have to, I’d take brown rice over white rice.

Avoid white rice if you can

Sadly, I find not eating white rice the hardest because in Singapore it seems everyone eats white rice. Whenever I’m with relatives and they see that I haven’t touched my rice, they tend to make fun of me, thinking I’m afraid to put on weight. Frustrating as it is, I stuck by it.

Only recently I realized I’m allergic to corn too, as I had quite a severe bout of eczema just hours after eating it that lasted a couple of days. That recent hiccup made me realize how much my eczema improved because in the past, I loved to eat corn and i never remembered having a significant flare up after eating because my skin was always itchy! But now it’s as clear as night and day.

If you too suffer from occasional bouts of eczema flare ups, try changing your diet instead of focusing on topical solutions. You may find that it works even faster and more efficiently.

Not all vegetarians are healthy

I, myself, eat more vegetables than meat nowadays. But I don’t believe I can eliminate from eating meat entirely even if I wanted to. Most vegetarians and people who suffer from eczema, needs vitamin B12 which can only be found from natural animal sources. I have occasional flare ups from eczema, thus, can never do without vitamin B12 and besides, I don’t believe in taking supplement pills. My point here is, being vegetarian is a healthy choice. However, just like everything else, you have to take in a good variety of foods to be healthy and this rule applies to vegetarians as well.

I’ve known a couple of vegetarians before I was food conscious and they (not every vegetarians) were always weak, tired and stressed. They weren’t exactly healthy at all, or so it seemed like it. It’s only now as I start being more aware of what I eat, that I realized those friends of mine, who are vegetarians, consume as much (maybe even more!) junk and processed foods as those who weren’t vegetarians. Yes, I understand some vegetarians choose not to eat meat because of the morals and ethics of slaughter houses. But really, I think it’s a very bad thing to do to yourself when you limit yourself to all foods that do not contain animal products, but eat everything else.

I do promote people to eat more vegetables and fruits than meat, but the message I’m sending is to be healthy, love your body, and learn to treat your body better. So whatever your diet may be, as long as you are getting the nutrients you need, that’s all there is to it. EAT YOUR VEGGIES AND FRUITS!! 😀

Are we so superficial that even foods have to look a certain way to be sold?

How many of you have heard of the wonky food controversy in 2008? No? Well neither have I, until a couple of days ago. It seems that The European Commission had a certain set of rules that were launched in 1989 regarding standardizing the quality of our fruits and vegetables. However, years and years down the road, these rules have now been distorted, resulting in tons of food wastage. Today, it seems like our never ending quest to acquire beauty has involved even the foods we eat.

Supermarkets, or rather, companies running these supermarkets, refuse to accept fruits and vegetables from farmers that do not meet their standard requirements of how they look, and this can be measured in terms of texture, height and length of it, and the size of it. Their reason is that consumers do not want weird looking foods, even when consumers say this is not the case. While it seems to be an excuse rather than a reason, I start to see a vicious cycle in that statement.

For the longest time since the late 80s, people have been used to seeing fruits and vegetables in their ‘standard’, ‘fresh’ looking states, and would probably think a product is abnormal or spoilt when faced with an odd looking one. What makes this quest of beautifying our food terrible is that these odd looking ones are perfectly edible and no different from the normal looking ones. In fact, many of these ‘defected’ fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by supermarkets, are not even spoilt or unfit for consumption, they are rejected solely by the way they look. Talk about solving world hunger issues!

After the news got wind of this situation, there have been efforts in many places attempting to do right by these fruits and vegetables by demanding they put the wonky looking ones back in the shelves. And in 1st of July, 2009, The European Commission has lifted the ban of food standardization law on 26 fruits and vegetables. This list includes:

26 items (restrictions on shape and size repealed without qualification) – apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, watermelons, and witloof/chicory.

There is another list of 10 items that the ban has not lifted entirely but restrictions lifted subject to labeling to distinguish them from ‘class 1’ or ‘class 2’ produce. These 10 includes:

Apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches/nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.

I think it is a start with these bans being lifted, but we still have a long way to go. As far as these reports are concerned, i believe it applies mainly to the U.K. Because guidelines for foods deem fit for our supermarkets are different from theirs, this ban that has been lifted may or may not have been applied to us. I have been trying to access the website of Singapore’s AVA site but hadn’t been successful, and will do an update of this post the moment I can access it.

On an end note, when was the last time you saw a wonky looking fruit or vegetable on sale in a supermarket in Singapore? Could mother nature really have been consistent in her works that none of the wonky ones ever appear in Singapore?

Tips for starting on eating healthy

There will always be a handful of people who are intrigued and want to eat healthy but have no idea where to start, and for some, it can be harder than others because of the environment that is making it harder for one to be vegetarian or to choose to eat healthy. I believe making the choice to eat healthy is a personal one and can be done, albeit tougher in the beginning of transitions. I gathered some tips on making it easier to start, because we all know that having a good foundation is important, and changing your eating habits can be rather challenging as it takes us out of our comfort zone that many of us have known for years.

Plan your meals in advance. Especially for those who lead a busy lifestyle, be it students or working adults, planning in advance makes you able to eat at the specific time and not waste any on deciding and hesitation. Plan up to a week in advance, and prepare little lunch boxes if you have to, or even bring fruits that are easy to transport around. If eating a full vegetable filled lunch won’t do, at least eat a large serving of salad before anything else, as vegetables are alkaline and will help those who are prone to gastric, not to mention increase your vitamins and fiber intake. If you don’t like to bring salads out, opt for places that has salads for appetizers. Never eat your fruits and vegetables after your meal though.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean boring meals. Spice up your meals by looking up recipe books and try making something yourself, if it turns out good you know what to cook the next time you run out of ideas where to eat out. Not only is it satisfying cooking a meal from scratch, it can be a fun thing to do with your partner over the weekends. Making your own meals also means taking a trip to the supermarket. Take that time to really have a good look at the vegetables and fruits section to see what they have in stock, and if you’re hardworking, you can write down names of vegetables or fruits that you are keen on trying and then go home to look up recipes with that food. 

Do it with a friend or a partner. Having someone to eat healthy together definitely helps because not only can you both decide on new healthy places to eat, there will be tips to share with each other and always learn about new thing related to eating healthy. It also makes it easier to stick to eating healthy food when you have someone else ‘watching’ over you.

Keep reminding yourself why you wanted to change your diet in the first place. Maybe you want to lose weight, maybe you are sick of always falling sick, or maybe you want to improve your skin and complexion. Whatever your reasons and motivations are, keep reminding yourself of it. Don’t lose sight of what made you want to change something as drastic as your diet in the first place. I find that reading books or magazines, and even websites, related to healthy living regularly works in reminding yourself why you had started this change.

Matching your mind and body. Eating healthy or going vegetarian straight away will make you crave for unhealthy food and may make you miserable at times. The best way to go about this is to be moderate in the changing pace of your diet. Do not give up so easily, but rather, set a more realistic pace for yourself in this transition. There is no point in chugging down healthy foods that you dislike and making eating healthy such a terrible affair. Don’t cause unnecessary stress to yourself and be realistic in your goals.

Change your diet slowly. Different people have different pace. Some will be able to adapt the change in diet better than others, and you have to see what suits you best. A sudden change in diet might make you feel unhappy mentally and emotionally if you aren’t used to it. You have to give yourself time to adapt. And remember, you are aiming to change your lifestyle for the better, not doing a detox. Whatever you are trying to improve will be a long term commitment, so the key is to be realistic in your goals.
It is okay to snack once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t resist a couple of chocolate biscuits once in a while. As long as you know majority of your diet is a healthy one, you shouldn’t be feeling bad for snacking occasionally. Love your body not torture it! 

It is possible to eat with people who do not have the same diet as you. You don’t have to avoid eating out or eating with friends with bad eating habits entirely. You can suggest places that sells salads and meat so both of you can have different choices on food. If unable to order individually, you can always opt for the healthiest food among the bunch and eat lots of vegetables before that or in the next meal. Don’t sweat it too much. 

Never feel guilty for your eating choices and never make others feel guilty for theirs. Eating preferences are personal choices. If you prefer to eat healthy but most of the people around you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Find a way to work around it during meal times. What really turns people off is when you start lecturing everyone at the table on how unhealthily they are eating. Not only is that rude, but it’s really making them less likely to take your word for it. You wouldn’t want them to laugh at your eating habits, so don’t do the same yourself. If someone is genuinely curious about what you eat, they will ask you about it without having you to start.

Whatever reasons and motivations you have for having a healthy diet should reflect your general wellbeing and overall, improve your health, so never ever get stressed out or worrisome when it comes to food, or it will be no different from an eating disorder. Learn to love your body and yourself. 🙂

The controversy of genetically modified foods (GMO)

Some people choose to buy organic because of the unnatural way many companies have chosen to produce their crops or livestock. We have been subtly introduced genetically modified foods since the middle of 1990s and look at us now – we cannot even tell the difference between foods that are genetically modified and foods that are planted and harvested by conventional methods. Documentary (part 2) by journalist Jane Moore went on a mission looking into origins of our foods these days and the truth will shock you if the term ‘genetically modified’ does not already.

The reason why many people shun organic food is because of the price, and because there has been no proper education given on the technology that is used on foods known as genetically modified organisms (GMO). Genetically modified foods are separated into two categories. The first one is genetically modified crops and the second is the way live stocks are being bred to produce meat that is virtually sold everywhere today. The GM crops are created by introducing genes in existing plants to produce ‘superior’ and ‘purer’ harvest that are supposed to be resilient to pests and weeds, to be easier to grow, and supposedly to be higher in nutrient levels.  Most live stocks including cows, chickens, pigs, and even some salmon fish farms, are usually injected with growth hormones and antibiotics that will make them grow faster and bigger than what was considered normal size about a decade ago.

While these GM foods are supposed to be better, they are not everything they claimed to be. Companies creating these GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are also companies that sell the pesticides used on these crops as it turned out GM crops are even more in need of pesticides and herbicides. Despite its claims, GM crops are harder and more expensive for farmers to sustain, and whether it is safe for the environment is another issue.

Government bodies would have assured you that there has been no direct health or environmental concerns linked to the use of genetic modifications, but many concerns have been raised regarding the long term side effects of consuming GMOs in accumulative amounts. Some states in Brazil have entirely banned GM crops, and the Brazilian Institute for the Defense of Consumers, in collaboration with Greenpeace, has prevented the importations of GM crops. In Europe there are large numbers of consumers unhappy with the increase in GM crops, leading them to mandate labeling of GM foods and non-GM foods so people have a choice.

A Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) in Singapore was set up in April 1999, however, all foods containing GMOs entering Singapore must be proven safe by competent national regulatory bodies of the exporting country before being allowed into Singapore. This would mean we do not have our own national guidelines regarding GM foods. In regards to labeling of GM foods in Singapore, a consumer writing in to Straits times questioning the safety of international food safety standards was replied by GMAC that “The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) requires GM food intended for sale in Singapore to be subject to rigorous assessment and approval in the developed countries.”.  This “rigorous assessment and approval in the developed countries” would include the very confused regulatory process in the United States, which has three different government agencies that have jurisdiction over GM foods.

In the United States, they have the EPA, USDA and the FDA. In a nutshell, the EPA is in charge of evaluating crops for environmental safety, and the USDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to grow. Companies creating GM crops do not require a permit from USDA if they meet these 6 criteria:

1) The plant is not a noxious weed;

2) The genetic material introduced into the GM plant is stably integrated into the plant’s own genome;

3) The function of the introduced gene is known and does not cause plant disease;

4) The GM plant is not toxic to non-target organisms;

5) The introduced gene will not cause the creation of new plant viruses; and

6) The GM plant cannot contain genetic material from animal or human pathogens (see http://www.aphis.usda.gov:80/bbep/bp/7cfr340 ).

Image from 'http://www.whatisall.com/science/what-are-genetically-modified-foods.html'

Not one of those criteria involves checking for long term effects when consumed by humans in accumulative amounts. Lastly, the FDA evaluates pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food products and additives, not whole foods. And so asking FDA to regulate something like corn, or apples and soybeans is not possible because these are considered “whole foods”.  The FDA’s take on GM foods is that they are  substantially equivalent to unmodified, “natural” foods, and therefore not subject to FDA regulation. When consumer interests groups asked the FDA to include their evaluation on whole foods, they replied that “the agency currently does not have the time, money, or resources to carry out exhaustive health and safety studies of every proposed GM food product”.

I believe consumers have the most say in deciding what foods they want. I find it highly unfair that this technology so widely used in our foods today is not being thoroughly explained or even made known to every consumers. People should be more aware and selective when it comes to food, as many people get too comfortable and trust blindly what is laid out there, instead of reading what’s on the label of their purchases.

Cooking attempt #1

I contemplated really hard as to whether I should post this up or not. I have no idea what this dish would be called, but it’s basically simmered broccoli, red bell peppers and shitake mushrooms. Along with it is some pan simmered (?) noodles. It turned out surprisingly nice actually. These pictures were taken on impulse while cooking and it doesn’t look exactly good but that’s what happens when you are cooking and trying to snap the best picture at the same time. I’d still give myself points for effort though! And my partner liked it, so I don’t think it was bad at all. 😀

What I did was make my own soup stock from scratch. I am particularly proud of being able to make my soup stock from fresh ingredients as I used to rely on packaged soup stock that can be found in supermarkets. I added chicken with bones, parsley, corriander, onions, garlic and some chili to the pot and filled it with water. I left it to boil and then simmer for around an hour. When it’s done, I removed the chicken and separated the meat from the bones, and kept the soup aside.

Next I stir fried some garlic in olive oil on my pan and added the red bell peppers and mushrooms. Then I put some of the soup stock in the pan and added the broccoli and left it to simmer. After that I used the remaining soup stock to boil and cook the noodles. When it was cooked, I put it in the pan and stir fry (?) it a little and added a little light soy sauce.

I mentioned that I stir fry, but there wasn’t any real frying just lots of stirring in the pan.. So I really have no idea how to describe it!

Well, there you have it. An attempt on stir-frying noodles and a very bad description of my dish on this blog. Today’s lesson also made me aware that I have very little utensils I can use at home, but it was really fun!

Going back to the way nature intended for us

Many of us are no longer living ‘naturally’ in today’s modern times. While we can be ‘natural’ by eating fresh, real foods that are grown from the earth, there are many things about life today that is far from natural. Living in such an un-natural world definitely deprived humans of many things, and one of those things is happiness. When you think of the word ‘happiness’, many things comes to mind. Because of how our mentality has changed over the decades, ‘happiness’ means different things to different people.

What is important is that you find what are the things that make you happy without having to sacrifice another. Real happiness should, and will, never come at the expense of another important thing. I find that the way instant gratification is being glorified in our entertainment and media industry nowadays, it blurs the line between a want and a need, and the end result is usually stress or worry.

Watch this video by Jack Lalanne, as he talks about how we should not only eat healthy but be happy as a person to live a good life. This video is in black and white, yet, the message is the same and applicable to modern times today. It’s quite sad to know that people didn’t change much from the times of when television was still in black and white till now, when television is in 3D and HD.

Are you a sugarholic?

We all know too much sugar is bad for you. But do you know how bad it is for you? Most of our daily intake of sugar exceeds the daily requirement just by the afternoon. Sugar is in your cereal, your flavored milk, your coffee and tea, your food sauce, your pie, your cookie, dessert and the list goes on. In fact, a video on CBSNews website says, the sugar intake required for a day can be found in just half a can of soda.

According to this article, consuming too much sugar has proved to reduce the production of a brain chemical known as Brain-derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF). With BDNF levels reduced, it contributes to insulin resistance which leads to diabetes and a host of other problems. Low BDNF levels are also linked to depression and dementia. And guess what? Chronic intake of sugar actually makes your brain unable to tell your body to stop eating, which is the reason for your sweet cravings.

Eating too much sugar is common sense  and everyone knows it. But to actually stop it and make a healthy change in your life is another issue. These knowledge are not newfound studies and research that are only reported recently. Jack Lalanne, was an advocate of eating and living healthy, and used his life as the best example to show the world that it works. He died at age 96 and was probably fitter than anyone in their 20s. The only regret is not knowing about him earlier or I would have bought a ticket and flown to meet this man in person. 

Jack Lalanne knew from the start that people are consuming sugar way more than what the body needs and by doing so, we are slowly eating ourselves to death. Watch the video below as Jack Lalanne explains and gives a lecture on ‘sugarholics’. Bear in mind that this is a black and white video and the sad fact is that this video is even more relevant to the way people live today. It is unfortunate that with all the advancement in technology and economy nowadays and we don’t even know how to eat to treat our body right. Guess wisdom really does not come with age.