B for BANANAS!

Bananas are good for you in more ways than it is widely known for. They are one of the superfoods you can integrate into your daily eating habits. Compared to the more popular fruit, the apple, bananas have five times as much vitamin A and iron, three times as much phosphorus and is very rich in potassium. Here are some of the benefits of bananas you might not have known.

Image taken from ‘http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20464846,00.html’

  • Bananas give you energy boosts that are better than caffeine and sugary snacks
  • Potassium in bananas give you maximum performance when exercising or doing tasks that requires physical exertion
  • Potassium is also good for regulating blood circulation in the body, reducing stroke and maintain a regular heartbeat
  • Bananas have fiber that regulates bowel movements
  • Bananas have a chemical called Tryptophan that boosts your mood and makes you feel happier (note to guys: feed your partner bananas when it’s nearing *that* time of the month)
  • Bananas greatly reduce menstrual cramps
  • Bananas help you focus better at work
  • Bananas cure fatigue and hangovers, again, it’s a healthier alternative to coffee
My favourite way of preparing bananas is making it into a smoothie! Here are a couple of recipes you can try using bananas with.
Banana and honey smoothie
Add 2 bananas, 1 tablespoon of organic Manuka honey, and 3 tablespoon of organic yogurt with 4 ice cubes and mix in blender. This takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and it tastes sooo good. Even typing this recipe out now is making me crave for it! This is best taken before or after exercising as it replenishes your body after losing fluids through sweat.
Banana and berry smoothie
Add 2 bananas, 1 cup of frozen blueberries, 3 tablespoon of organic yogurt (optional) and mix in blender. If you want it colder just throw in a couple more of ice cubes. This is perfect for a morning perk-me-up in summer (which is practically everyday here in Singapore. Pfft.)
Frozen banana “ice cream”
I just peel the banana, put it in a ziplock bag and freeze it in the freezer. When it’s thoroughly frozen, the texture is almost like ice cream and tastes delicious and it’s a natural food! You can mash it up in a bowl and put some real ice cream with it if you’re in for a real treat.
*UPDATE* After typing this delicious entry, me and my partner both ended up indulging in ice cream!!!

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.

The new drug of the century: Junk Food

The struggle with preventing and controlling obesity is nothing new. In Singapore, more and more people are having health problems even before they reach obesity. It doesn’t take an obese person to be unhealthy in today’s times. An average sized person who eats badly, can be inviting a host of physical problems very quickly in the near future.

Some of the main reasons people cite as to why they are not as food conscious as they should be, points at the lack of time in their lives. Processed, packaged foods are much faster to prepare and requires almost no washing up after, according to busy working adults. It seems like convenience is the key to the choice of foods these days. 

Apart from convenience in preparation, taste could be a factor in buying these junk foods, as they often contain high sodium and sugar levels. Working adults aren’t the only ones consuming more junk food, it seems that children are exposed to consuming junk in younger ages and in larger amounts in recent years.

Researches have found that burgers, chips and sausages have built the human brain into craving more sugar, salt, and fat laden foods as our taste buds adapt. It is found that overconsumption of high calorie foods actually trigger an addiction-like response in the brain that is similar to that of drugs.

A three year research on rats have presented “the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms”.

The rats were divided into three groups. The first were fed healthy amounts of food to eat, the other was given restricted amount of junk food, while the third had unlimited amount of junk food. The third group, as you would imagine, got fat very quickly and started bingeing.

Apparently, eating junk food registers as ‘pleasure’ in the brain, and the more they ate over time, the larger the quantity it takes in order to reach the same amount of ‘pleasure’ registered by the brain. The brain practically got immune to the intake of junk food, and needs more to reach the same ‘high’ it felt the first time, just like drug addicts. This pretty much sums up the act of overeating, and may very well be the cause of obesity.

The addiction to junk food, whether we acknowledge it or not, has even been compared to the famous tobacco history, as smoking was not always admitted as a health risk especially the misinformation through advertising and marketing by the large companies.

However, not everyone thinks the research results are enough. Lobbyists for food industries insists there’s no such thing as a food addiction. Richard Adamson, consultant for the American Beverage Association said, “I have never heard of anyone robbing a bank to get money to buy a candy bar or ice cream or pop.”

Well, yeah sure, those people are too busy getting fat and stuffing their face with foods to do that, in case you didn’t notice, Mr Adamson.

What’s a good life to you?

Image from 'http://blog.tmcnet.com/blog/rich-tehrani/4g/att-wireless-service-improves.html'

My question to you today is exactly what my title presents – what is a good life to you? It’s nothing new that everyone wants different things in life, and if you get to choose, what kind of life do you want? I think it’s safe to be practical, but once in a while it’s good to take a breather and do something that makes you happy.

It’s also not uncommon to see tons of massive advertising and  marketing on the streets of Singapore. It’s at every bus stop and every train station to say the least. The message these adverts send out is “consume, consume, consume”, and sometimes, they use fear to target your insecurities, and in turn, you buy their products to assure yourself and feed that fear that never existed in the first place. It’s these subtle things that gear you towards a direction that is far from what you wanted in life as a kid.

Why do you think girls are piling on more and more makeup and products on their face these days? It irks me to no end when I see young girls with makeup so thick you aren’t even sure how she really looks like, and ladies who dresses like they work the streets at night. What about that worker drone who does nothing with his life but clock in and out of work daily? And of course, a good family that isn’t aware of what is in their food, stocking up on processed food for the week, feeding their lovely kids these junk.

Image taken from 'http://georgiem-onster.deviantart.com/art/Zombie-Doesnt-Like-Dumb-Girls-266262247'

What I’m trying to say here is, the generation today is one that I can’t say I fully agree with. To me, a good life is when one is brought up with good morals and beliefs (no matter what our beliefs may be), is smart and able to think with common sense (you’d be surprised at how this is severely lacking today with the younger generation) and not needing to spend and want excessively in order to feel happy.

I’m suspecting this is a strongly written article because of my bad encounters with a group of teenagers last night that led to this build up of angst. Despite all that angst, I understand that it’s this difference in thinking that makes the human race distinct and interesting from the other species, I guess. Don’t wait till your mid life crisis before you realize what you really, really want to do with your life. Start realizing yourself today.

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?

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.