Archive for the ‘food’ Category


A rude, wrong cancer doctor

June 8, 2008

Time to resume posting on this blog. The last time I posted was in August 2007. I had been busy and also doing other things.

I must thank Dr Ang Peng Tiam, who is described on one website as “a medical oncologist who is regarded as one of the best in his field in Singapore and in the region” for giving me the, er, “incentive” to start blogging again.

The background is this: On Wednesday, June 4, Dr Ang wrote a column in Mind Your Body, in which he advised:

“Don’t listen to old wives’ tales. Cancer patients often think they cannot eat dairy products, meat or sugar because these will make the cancer grow faster. Some start taking only organic foods or become vegetarian. I tell them a balanced diet is especially important when they are undergoing chemotherapy.”

I sent a letter to STForum. It was quite strongly worded, so I wasn’t surprised that my letter was not published.

Here it is:


Dr Ang Peng Tiam is rude, wrong, unscientific and grossly irresponsible when he describes as “old wives tales” the beliefs that cancer patients should best avoid sugar, meat and milk products, adopt a vegetarian (or near vegetarian) diet and eat mostly organic foods. (It takes two to fight cancer, Mind Your Body, June 4)

He is rude to the entire community of natural health practitioners and a section of the medical profession that subscribe to such beliefs, by referring to them as “old wives”. Such name calling has no place in any discussion on any subject.

He is also wrong to say that such beliefs are old. The idea that diet is linked with cancer (and other illnesses) became popular only recently, arising from scientific research.

Nancy Appelton PhD, author of Lick the Sugar Habit, lists 76 harmful effects of excessive sugar consumption, giving scientific references mostly from the 1980s onwards. Apart from being directly associated with various types of cancer, sugar weakens immune function – and this allows cancer cells to spread.

Dr Colin T Campbell led The China Health Study – the biggest, long-term nutritional study ever undertaken. Dr Campbell grew up on a dairy farm, drinking a gallon of milk a day and believing that milk was wholesome and necessary. Today, he is a leading voice that warns against the great harm of milk.

The US-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has more than 100,000 members, including thousands of medical professionals, led by Dr Neal Barnard. It recommends a pure vegetarian diet and its website, is packed with scientific references about the harm of meat, milk and dairy.

Against all these, there is a great body of scientific literature about phytonutrients – plant nutrients – helping the body prevent and fight degenerative diseases, including cancer. And the few studies on organic foods generally show them to contain more nutrition, particularly phytonutrients.

Dr Ang dismissed all this science and more. Instead, he highlighted one isolated case of a young commando who survived toxic chemotherapy while adopting a high-calorie, high-protein diet that included milk shakes. Medical science calls such examples “anecdotal evidence” and rejects them.

By dismissing science as “old wives tales” and focussing on a single anecdotal evidence, Dr Ang is being unscientific in his approach. This makes him grossly irresponsible as a doctor and a man of science.



The kampong chicken factory

June 3, 2007

What do you understand by “kapong chicken”?

If, like me, you believe it refers to chickens that roam about freely in kampongs (villages) – that is, the local equivalent of free-range, more or less organic, chicken –as opposed to those kept in cages in factory farms, well, you will be in for a disappointment and a shock.

According to more than one kampong chicken seller at the wet markets whom I have spoken to, there are at least two types of kampong chicken – the “real” type and the “fake” type.

The real type costs about $8.50 to $9 per kg and is a much bigger bird, so you will have to end up paying maybe $15 or more for a chicken. At the Ang Mo Kio Ave 4 market that I sometimes go to, this is called “mountain chicken”.

The one that generally sells for $5.50 per bird, in wet markets and supermarkets, is the fake type. These chickens are reared in cages in factory farms, where up to tens of thousands of chickens are confined in a covered shed. They do not get exercise or sunlight. Presumably, they are also regularly given antibiotics, because chickens raised under such conditions cannot be allowed to get sick. If one does, the sickness will quickly spread to the rest of the factory farm and tens of thousands of chickens will be destroyed.

So why are these “fake” kampong chickens called kampong chickens?

“They are the same species as kampong chicken,” the chicken seller at the market explained.

And so we have another case of misleading food labelling / food description that our health authorities seem to allow.




Cardboard or corn flakes?

May 24, 2007

I am back… It has been two months since I last posted. Times flies. I had been busy and so quickly got out of the habit. Hope to be a bit more regular again.

 A friend was asking about corn flakes and cereals, as he remembered hearing something that they are not all that great for health.

Well, I remembered reading about it and it did not take me long to find the article. Here’s an excerpt:

Researchers at Ann Arbor University were given 18 laboratory rats. They were divided into three groups: one group received corn flakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the corn flakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water.

The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. But the rats receiving the corn flakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The last corn flake rat died the day the first box rat died.)

But before death, the corn flake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. The startling conclusion of this study is that there was more nourishment in the box than there was in the corn flakes.

Read full report at the Weston Price Foundation, by clicking here.

So if you are hungry and offered a choice of card board or corn flakes, you know which to choose.


O! The organic price difference

March 20, 2007

A short while back, I wrote about Naturally Marketplace and mentioned that they sell O Organic coffee, at $24+. I was at Carrefour just now and I saw the same brand of organic coffee selling for only $15.80!

Now that’s a huge price difference. It is one reason why Carrefour is my favourite supermarket. They have good quality stuffs, mostly at very reasonable prices.

Here’s another reason… I found out today that Carrefour at Plaza Singapura — which I prefer to the outlet at Suntec City which I find to be too huge and out of the way — has reduced the price of its house brand organic dark chocolate.

That used to sell at $3.20 at Plaza Singapura and $2.85 at Suntec. Now it’s $2.85 at Plaza Singapura. Even if it now costs less at Suntec, I am not complaining.

$2.85 for a 100 gram bar of organic dark chocolate, with 74 percent cocoa, is a steal! Even Cadbury’s non-organic and not-so-dark chocolate costs nearly as much ($4+ for 200 grams).

Go give yourself a treat.




(Relatively) healthy, trans-fat free margarine!

March 19, 2007

Last weekend’s forum on trans fat, as it turned out, was a lot more enlightening than I originally realised. I now say it was revolutionary. And I am not being sarcastic here. I am serious. Because it has completely transformed my view of margarine.

Well, not the entire forum, but just one small remark that came out of it.

If you recall, I had reported that, according to Mr Wong Mong Hong from the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association, there are no hydrogenation plants in Singapore and Malaysia and he said that local margarines / vegetable shortenings are mostly made by a process called fractionation.

It took me a while to find out what this is. Originally, I remembered the word as “factorisation” and, when I did a Google search, all I found was mathematics! And saltwetfish made the same mistake too 😉

Later, when I got the word correct, I found an article in Wikipedia and it was not very re-assuring. It said:

Fractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture (solid, liquid, solute or suspension) is divided up in a large number of smaller quantities (fractions)… Mixtures of liquids and gases are separated by fractional distillation by difference in boiling point.

I was thinking… What? They boil the oil? What sort of crazy high temperatures do they use? Surely that would make the oil super rancid — and far more harmful than trans fats!

How wrong I was! It is actually the exact opposite. They chill the oil!

When I searched further, I was led to an excellent website called Hydrogenated News and there, I found an interview with Edgar Hernandez, consultant with the American Palm Oil Council, and there, he explains what it is all about:

Fractionation is basically a process by which you can separate the oil into two main fractions – one solid, one liquid. It’s a physical process; there are no chemicals involved in that.

Basically, what they do is chill the oil, so when the temperature goes down, the solid fraction starts to crystallize. Then, you remove that solid fraction by filtration, so that’s why you come out with the fractions – one solid, one liquid.

There are no trans; you won’t get any trans fat unless you do hydrogenation. So, the benefit of those fractions is that you can formulate them in specific ratios and final quality to get the functional properties that you’ll need for different applications – for cooking or for cake or bread. There are different specifications for each, so you obtain those specifications by blending those fractions with the liquid or to come out with the final product.

Reading this was like Eureka! A new enlightenment.

It finally answers a lot of questions that I – and, I am sure, others who had been following the trans fats issue – always had.

Questions like why…

  • Some brands of margarine claim zero or very negligible amounts of trans fats?
  • Some brands of margarine don’t mention partially hydrogenated oils in their ingredients list? (I’ve since discovered, they list “palm oil fraction”!)
  • Some brands of bread, biscuits, cookies, etc claim to have zero trans fat even though the ingredients’ lists say they contain vegetable shortening?

I had also heard it mentioned that there are “trans fat free” shortening, but simply assumed that they, in fact, contained small amounts of trans fats – ie, less than 0.5 grams per serving as allowed under US trans fat labelling laws.

Worse, I suspected that they contained interesterified fats, made from fully hydrogenated oils, which appear to be even more harmful than trans fats.

Finally, I reaslised how mistaken and ignorant I had been all along.

I hereby repent. (This is an excuse for me to explain that the original meaning of “repent”, from the Greek word “metanoia” is to change one’s way of thinking, not to beat the heart in regret!”)

And so, I have to stop declaring that margarines are all deadly poisons. Some of them still are, depending how they are manufactured – by hydrogenation or fractionation.

I won’t say they are absolutely healthy either, because they still have some of the other problems associated with margarine – possibly made with poor quality, rancid oils; containing far too much omega-6 relative to omega 3, and so on.

Plus, they are artificially coloured and flavoured. I had read, I forgot where, that food laws do not allow margarine to be artificially coloured, meaning they must use natural colouring. But it seems those laws don’t apply here. The label on most margarines I saw said “artificial colouring”.

So I will not start eating margarine. They still taste awful anyway.

And butter still has lots more goodness, especially if it is organic butter from grass-fed cows. More on that later. For now, you might want to refer to my website article about butter vs margarine.

Even if you disregard the parts about margarine being partially hydrogenated and containing trans fats, butter is still better 🙂


Hydroponic vegetables “like watching TV”

March 15, 2007

While the Assistant Director of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority tells us that vegetables grown in water and suspended in air are natural, let me share with you a somewhat different comment that I will always remember.

About 10 years ago, my partners and I at Brown Rice Paradise once organised a public forum by a biodynamic farmer. If I remember correctly, the event was held at the NUS Guild House at Kent Ridge Campus.

This is quite a long story, pardon the lengthy preamble but you might learn something new from it…

Biodynamics is a system of natural farming that goes beyond organic. It might be even called “cosmic farming” as, among other things, it makes use of cosmic forces. Crops are planted, fertilised and harvested according to the cycles of the moon and stars to produce food of the best possible quality.

For example, one unique feature of biodynamics is a special fertiliser called Preparation 500. It is made by staffing cow dung into cow’s horns, burying them in the snow during winter and then taking them out in spring. The dung, now totally transformed, has to be mixed with water, stirring in one direction until a vortex forms, then changing direction and stirring until another vortex forms. This is repeated for hours. Finally, it is sprayed between dusk and midnight on a full moon night.

Now this might sound like hocus pocus to some people, but it works. One handful of Preparation 500 can fertilise one acre of land! It’s like homeopathic fertiliser. Very tiny amounts would create a big impact.

I remember watching a documentary on biodynamics once. An Australian farmer bought a piece of barren land for very little money. In nine months, using Preparation 500, he transformed the land into a lush, fertile farm. He also kept a small corner in its original state to show the vast contrast.

I remember the first time I ate biodynamic brown rice, it tasted so much better than regular organic brown rice. And, our customers who bought whole wheat berries for sprouting into wheat grass would buy biodynamic wheat berries, because they produced the highest yeild and the strongest sprouts.

There is something special here. Look for biodynamic food, sometimes with a logo that says “Demeter” in health food stores and the organic section of supermarkets.

Biodynamics was introduced by the late Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian who might be called a scientist, philosopher, spiritualist and more. His ideas has influence in areas that include:

  • agriculture (biodynamics)
  • education (Waldorf schools)
  • dance (eurythmy)
  • medicine (Androposophy)
  • architecture
  • and so on.

Rudolf Steiner also had interesting views about the evolution of religion and about Jesus Christ being at the centre, the vital turning point, of this evolution.

And so these varied topics were mostly covered in the talk by the biodynamic “farmer”. Some of the concepts discussed were quite cheem – deeply profound, philosophical, esoteric.

Finally, the farmer ended his talk and it was time for questions and answers. And after various equally cheem questions were asked and answered, one elderly gentleman stood up and asked: “Excuse me… what about hydroponics?”

The answer given by the farmer stunned us all. He said: “It’s like watching TV?”

Huh? What is this guy saying?

Then he explained… When you watch a nature documentary on TV, it looks very nice and even quite real, but it is not the real thing.

A plant is a transformation of the environment. When you eat a plant, you are “eating” or taking in the entire environment — the soil, water, air, sunlight and other elements — that created it. So if the plant is grown in an artificial environment — without soil, with synthetic nutrients, in a temperature controlled environment, and so on — it is artificial, not the real thing.

Like TV!


Click here to read more articles about hydroponics.

Click here and here to read more about biodynamic farming.



Hydroponics / aeroponics are “natural”. Period.

March 15, 2007

In any discussion / debate / argument, we may sometimes reach a point where we feel there is simply no point in pursuing the subject further, because the other person is either on a totally different wavelength, or being absolutely unreasonable.

I reached that point this morning (technically speaking, yesterday morning as it’s past midnight as I write this) when I read the following letter in the ST Forum:

Labelling of vegetables

I REFER to the letter, ‘Organic labelling for vegetables misleading’ (ST, March 12). The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority does not object to the use of the words ‘natural’ and ‘grown naturally’ to describe fresh fruit and vegetables produced using aeroponics or hydroponics, as these methods of farming adopt the same basic principles as conventional farming.

The methods of farm production are also not required by the Food Regulations to be labelled on prepacked fresh fruit and vegetables. However, fresh fruit and vegetables which are labelled as ‘organic’, ‘organically produced’ or words of similar meanings should meet the standards established by the Codex Alimentarius Commission for organically produced food.

Goh Shih Yong
Assistant Director
Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority


The above was in reply to my letter published on Monday, about organic labelling of vegetables at the NTUC Fairprice Xtra hypermarket in Ang Mo Kio.

I was stunned and left speechless to read Mr Goh’s response. If our (highly paid) senior civil servants wish to assert that vegetables grown in water or grown suspended in air are “natural”, then I really don’t know what else to say.

Perhaps some of you who are less stunned and speechless than I would take the discussion to the next, higher or lower, level. Or maybe in a day or two, I might recover sufficiently to think of something non-expletive to say.

For now, let me share with you what I discovered this morning.

I went to and typed in “natural”. I was led to 22 results, of which the first had 38 meanings and definitions. The closest that comes to explaining how vegetables grown in air or water might possibly be considered natural was definition #34:

An idiot!