How many of us actually spend time thinking about what we eat?
No, not the times you spent at the hawker centre, contending a plate of scissors-cut Hainanese curry rice against Park Bench Deli’s Grilled Cheese for lunch. How many of us actually spend time calculating the amount of processed carbohydrates, processed sugars, and preservatives we are consuming? Likewise, are we getting sufficient nutrients into our body?
We don’t. Neither did I.
Lapsys, together with his wife and children, relocated to Singapore last August in a bid to further his wife’s career. When they settled down, Lapsys got a little culture shock — food culture.
“It’s really interesting because I do all the shopping for my family. I go to Tiong Bahru market every Saturday morning and do the whole week’s shopping. I look at what’s available — fantastic, affordable, local, and fresh produce,” says Lapsys. When he stepped into the hawker centre, he saw promotional posters and stickers put up by the Health Promotion Board. However, as he watched on, he realised, “No one is doing it.”
To Lapsys, this is not a problem that’s unique to Singapore. “Just like everyone else in the world. The messages are there, coming from the government. The infrastructure is there,” referring to the promotional material and availability of fresh local produce. “Yet, what is everybody doing? Lining up to the toast and bread places — full of highly-processed carbohydrates and sugars from the minute you wake up to when you go to bed.” Little wonder why diabetes is one of Singapore’s greatest health concerns — in 2014, about 440,000 Singapore residents were diagnosed with diabetes. The numbers are expected to double to a million in 2050, according to statistics by the Ministry of Health.
Instead of troubleshooting our diets, we drop by our doctors and hospitals in seek of medication to help alleviate the symptoms. For many Singaporeans diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure, they are prescribed to a life-long dose of medication — whether it be Western or Traditional Chinese medicine. This reliance on medication boils down to the way our healthcare system is structured. Whenever a health issue crops up, it’s either a medical issue or not — there’s no middle ground.
“That’s always been the medical approach [in Singapore],” observes Lapsys. “It’s always going to be medication unless you have a doctor who wants to take a more holistic approach, and say to you, ‘I could give you all these medications but I’m going to give you this diet instead.'”
It then makes sense that Lapsys starts every consultation documenting health concerns before he takes detailed measurements of every client’s height, weight, and bodily composition. He then goes through the client’s lifestyle in detail, from Monday to Sunday — every activity and meal, he carefully plots them out on his iPad.
Finally, he asks for your goals — are you looking to lose weight for a wedding or holiday, for an athletic competition, or are you looking to alleviate any health concerns such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, or eczema? Lapsys asks for honesty. If you’re looking to lose weight fast within five days, he is here to help — he’d rather you do it safely under the eye of a professional than to have you starve yourself silly.
“I want to feel healthy,” I told him. I had enough of feeling lethargic at the start of every morning and feeling bloated at the end of the day. I wanted, too, to feel light in my body, be energetic and focussed throughout my work day and weekends.
After doing the math in his head, he told me a couple of things. One, to have a nutrition structure, meaning to eat regular portions at regular times. Second, to stave off the breads, toasts, and biscuits — all the highly-processed carbohydrates and sugars. Finally, to get more cardio-intensive workouts.
What’s wrong with my breads, toasts, and biscuits?
Growing up, we were taught a food pyramid where carbohydrates such as rice, breads, and noodles were right at the base of it — our diets were to be largely dominated by carbohydrates.
Lapsys explains that at that point in time, in the ’80s and ’90s, those were the findings of nutrition researchers. They thought it was healthiest that way. However, decades have passed and these breads, polished rice, and noodles are now dubbed “highly-processed carbohydrates”. The ideal meal plan, too, has changed several folds over the decades.
“So, no bread, rice, and noodles?” I asked, astounded.
“Yes, if you could avoid it,” he replied, explaining that from a nutritional perspective, these highly-processed carbohydrates are not giving you any substantial amount of necessary nutrients.
Wow, I’ve been eating wrong my entire life.
The universe of nutrition science changes at breakneck speed, he explains. There’s a new piece of research or finding that comes up every other day. Unless you’re a PhD like himself, there’s no way you can keep up. That’s why back in Australia, people check in with their nutritionists on a regular basis, he concludes. And maybe we should too.