As a culinary explorer I tend to eat a lot. A constant battle between calories and calisthenics rages in my life. But my doctor says calories should not be my sole concern – there are other health risks associated with the food I seek across Singapore. So when I heard that the Asian Food Channel (AFC) was teaming with Parkway Health to present a special evening on healthy eating and lifestyle I was pretty interested. I beat a quick path to the beautiful AFC Studio in Orchard Central to see what both an oncologist and a couple of really good chefs had to say about it.
Dr. Patricia Kho, a medical oncologist from Parkway Cancer Center, explained a sobering connection between dietary habits and cancer. She covered a broad range of cancer-causing elements found in many foods we eat, as well as things people can do to avoid them. Diet, she said, is second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of many cancers. Of attributable risks of increased cancer, dietary factors account for 30% in Western countries and as much as 20% in developing areas. Certainly I knew that a poor diet leads inexorably to heart disease, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol, but never had I realized that the connection to cancer was so great.
Through both clinical facts, stats and common sense advice, her message was direct and thought provoking: fat in the diet, and even just an extra inch or two around the mid-section, markedly increases one’s risk of various cancers, so to reduce the risk, we must improve our diet and reduce the fat. Adults should exercise a minimum of thirty minutes a day, five times a week to help burn off that tenacious troublemaker. Kids should get at least sixty minutes, five times a week. In other words, I admonished myself, turn off the TV, put down the chopsticks and get out there. But while the messages were not completely new to anyone in the studio, her detailed points raised an obvious next question: Where to start?
Enter chefs Sue-Ann Lambert and Kalic Mohamed who took to the ranges of the sleek AFC Studio kitchen to put some of Dr. Kho’s advice to work. First up was Chef Lambert, with a heart-healthy Quinoa Salad with za’atar and sumac. Originally from New Foundland, Chef Lambert, has baked and cooked in Canada, the Caribbean, Egypt and, as of a year ago, Singapore, where she is AFC Studio’s resident chef and cooking school administrator. She explained some of the exotic Middle Eastern spices in the salad, passing samples around for the guests to smell and taste. But proof of any enjoyment in eating these healthy “superfoods” would only be in the finished dish itself. And by the nodding heads and empty plates, it was a big hit.
It was them time for Chef Mohamed to cook steamed threadfin with ginger flower and wolfberry. Having grown up in some of Singapore’s finest restaurant kitchens as well as cooking for television cameras on his own TV series, Chef Mohamed gave a lively demonstration on how to steam fish like threadfin, a meaty, white-fleshed finfish often sold as “Corao” in Singapore’s wet markets. He placed herbs around the fish to ensure the flavors would mingle in the steam, infusing a fresh, herbal element in the flesh. When finished, the glistening fish made a delectable backdrop for the green herbs and pastel pink ginger blossoms.
Sue-Ann, an accomplished pastry chef, then whipped up a batch of oatmeal goji berry balls for a healthy dessert. With the only moisture added to the rolled oats being from a mashed banana and a little vanilla extract, the little balls of baked superfood promised to be bone dry and mealy. But instead they were moist and satisfying, offering a gentle chew, a natural berry sweetness and a surprise hint of salty finish. Most guests – myself included – had seconds.
At the beginning of the evening, some of us might have entered with an assumption that healthy food meant drab, insipid dining. From a diet-changing perspective, that translates into mildly-interesting cocktail conversation at best, with virtually no chance of making converts out of us flavor-craving gluttons. But by the end of the evening not only had everyone become more aware of the importance of eating healthy foods, we of the stir-fry-with-lard persuasion also discovered that such dietary discipline can taste, well, delicious. Which is the essential combination required to promote a risk-reducing diet in this island nation of foodies; including even those who like to write about it.