Archive for June, 2010

This guy is loyal, hard working and your bread winner. He works long hours, keeps you alive and energetic, and never expects much glory for himself. And yet you may have never shaken his hands and thanked him. You live with him for so long that you sometimes forget his existence.  Your expectation of him is high but you seem to have little time to find out his needs, what he likes or doesn’t like, not to mention about his feelings. This guy is your digestive tract. And yes Gut  has feelings too! (It is called  “gut feeling” for a reason– believe it or not the gut has more neurotransmitters than the brain!)

To my opinion, the digestive tract is the most important organs in terms of longevity and wellbeing. The body’s tremendous healing power is only activated upon  the feeding of right nutrients by the gut. The most difficult patients to treat are those with a severely compromised digestive tract that rejects any therapeutic nutrients introduced to it. Start getting to know your digestive tract and even better learn to love it. The reward is priceless.

There are three phases in digesting food. The first one is the cephalic (of the head) phase. You may not realize the importance of senses  in our digestive function. The plating and look of the food, the aroma of the food and the texture of the food stimulates the visual nerves of the eyes,  olfactory nerves of the nose and sensory nerves of the hands even before the food is put in the mouth. The information gathered by these senses gets sent to the brain which in turn sends signals down to the  mouth to start producing saliva containing digestive enzymes.   Once the food is in the mouth, it starts getting digested straight away. Thorough chewing leads to food mixing with digestive enzymes in the saliva and being broken down into small particles as much as possible both mechanically and chemically, ready for the second phase of digestive action in the stomach. In real life, taking time to appreciate food by smelling it, looking at it, touching it, and not to mention chewing it  is essential in initiating the digestive process. Ask when was the last time you paid full and undivided attention to a meal?

On the note of food related senses, now there is sound we are told. UK renowned chef Heston Blumenthal has a signature dish called “sound of the sea” recently featured in “Masterchef”. The dish is eaten while the sound of ocean and seagulls played in the background. The sound apparently brings the enjoyment of the seafood dish to an other level. That is the power of senses taking part in our digestion. Check out the web www.thefatduck.co.uk for a fun sensory trip if you are interested.

The second phase of digestion is the gastric phase. As the name implies, it is happening in the stomach. The oral and gustatory stimuli as well as the distension of the stomach wall by the food bulk trigger the release of gastric acid and juices to further break down food particles. This phase is particularly important for protein digestion. The nerve that controls the gastric acid production can only work well when a person is relaxed (parasympathetic). Have you noticed bloating and discomfort in the stomach area if you eat fast or eat under stress? That is because the stomach struggles with the job at hand. Many people have the habit of having a cold drink with their meal. Remember trillions of microcapillaries supply nutrients needed to the gastric cells to produce gastric enzymes. Both capillaries and enzymes are super sensitive to temperature changes. Blood vessels constrict (become smaller) when come in contact with coldness and lead to decrease supply of blood and nutrients to the stomach cells. On the other hand, enzymes work only in a certain temperature (that is why the body temperature is always kept at around 37 degree).  An icy cold drink immediately inactivates those enzymes. Besides, drinking copious amount of fluid dilutes the power of the digestive acid. So a cold drink with meal is the perfect recipe to disaster: UNDIGESTED FOOD, the culprit of many digestive problems.

The third phase is the intestinal phase. Food is further broken down to absorbable nutrients here with the aid of pancreatic enzymes and bile. There are special pipes connecting the pancreas and the gall bladder to the intestine so that upon the entry of food particles into the small intestine, enzymes can be transported to the gut from the pancreas and bile can be transported to the gut from the gall bladder. Many people have their gall bladder removed and are made to believe that this little organ is useless. This can not be further from the truth! Without the gall bladder, bile acid is constantly draining away into the small bowel and waste away even when one is not eating. When fatty food gets eaten, the gall bladder is not there to “squeeze” out a good dose of bile to make fatty food absorbable. So many essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins miss out their chances and get passed out in the stool. Remember people without a gall bladder need bile acid supplement to help digest fat!

It is here in the small intestine that nutrients are absorbed. The absorption relies on the integrity of the intestinal lining. The cells that line the intestine get renewed 3-4 days in the small bowel and about 10 days in the large bowel. These cells are fed vitamin D, vitamin C, omega fatty acids, zinc, glutamine and nutrients that are produced by the good bacteria living in the gut lumen. Any deficiency of these nutrients and disruption of the gut ecology(by the eg undigested food) lead to breaking down of this important lining and hence the absorption process.

By now you should know who has been supporting you all along: your digestive tract. I have come across recently a type of meditation where people practice smiling to their body parts and organs to consciously thank them every day. It sounds crazy at first, but deep down I resonate with the idea that making peace with the body and appreciate what we have ultimately activate the body’s powerful healing mechanism.


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A group of my friends decided to be good and washed up after a meal. Two volunteered. We immediately realized even a simple task like this would cause dispute. One said, “Wash first (with detergent), then rinse (in clean water).” The other said, “Rinse first (away the left over food), then wash (with detergent) ” The latter guy won in the end as he declared his method was indeed the most professional one because he once worked as a kitchen hand in an upmarket hotel. So there we were, rinsing off the food remnants from the plates before cleaning them in dish washing liquid. The plates were dried by a clean cloth immediately after they were removed from the sink full of detergent, bubbles and all.

I watched in horror. I would have agreed with the first guy. I hope no one else washes dishes like that, although I know this is quite a common practice.

Detergent works by attaching itself to grease and dirt particles to form water soluble compounds. These water soluble compounds need to be dissolved in water to be washed away. A piece of clean tea towel would never function as a solvent like water to take away the grease-detergent compounds. Try washing your hands with soap then dry them without rinsing. You will see what I mean. Without rinsing away the detergent compound with clean water, we are left with dishes that are now covered in a film of detergent for the next meal. It is not so much of a worry if the film is made up of only left over grease or someone else’s saliva. They may not sound very hygienic but at least they are biodegradable. Unfortunately, we are now dealing with detergent. We are practically eating or drinking detergent. So far I have yet discovered a detergent that is eatable.

I  looked up one of the most common dish washing liquids in Australian households. On the manufacturer’s product safety data sheet, it is indicated that “acute or chronic (meaning repetitively—added by author) ingestion of the product can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, irritation of eyes on direct contact”.  In another word, it says please do not eat it. Do not make your delicate internal mucosa (like the inside of  the eyes, the inside of the mouth, and not surprisingly the intestinal track, etc) in direct contact with it. If you do, seek medical attention.

These are the main ingredients in that dish washing liquid: Water , Ammonium C12-15 Pareth Sulfate , Magnesium Isododecylbenzenesulfonate , Lauramidopropylamine Oxide , SD Alcohol 3-A , Sodium Xylenesulfonate , Sodium Chloride , Fragrance , Pentasodium Pentetate , DMDM Hydantoin , Sodium Bisulfite , D&C Orange No. 4 (active ingredients: Triclosan 0.12%). I would be very surprised if someone tells me these are food grade ingredients!

Our liver does a  damn good job cleaning these foreign particles out, after all, the amount is minute, one might say. I can’t agree more. I am not so sure though when we add pesticides, preservatives, medications, stress hormones, late nights, and more to the list if the liver would thank us. At least the detergent can be washed away while a lot of others may not be avoidable.

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You may be greatly disappointed if you think this is going to take 2 minutes to cook. But it is a recipe I invented for use when I am pressed with time.  It is relatively quick and  has all the nutrients I want for a meal packed in one bowl.

If you are really in a hurry, chicken thigh fillets or breast can replace the drumsticks. I just like the idea of making some simple stock from the drumstick bones. Fish fillets can also be replaced by other seafood of choice, like prawns or mussels. The noodle I use is made from 100% sweet potato flour so it is suitable for people who are allergic to wheat. Sweet potato has a low glycaemic index so it is good for weight control. You can find this noodle in Asian or Korean grocery stores but make sure you check the ingredients. Don’t be afraid to cook more noodle than you need as they can be stored in the fridge for the next meal. Omit mushroom if you have an allergy to it.

Ingredients: (For 4)

Chicken drumsticks x6

White fish fillets of your choice x2 (about 400g)

Shiitaki mushroom 1 pack (100g)

Chinese Buk Choy x2 bunch

Sweet potato noodles x 1 pack

Soy sauce 4 tablespoons

Sugar 2 tsp

Celtic sea salt 3 tsp

Five spice powder 2 tsp

Shallot sliced for garnish


1. Bring 2-3 litres of water to boil in a pot and add whole pack of sweet potato noodle. Cook until soft. Drain and set aside.

2. Using a sharp knife remove the chicken flesh  from the bone. Do that with all 6 of the drumsticks

3. Put bones in a stock pot and add water to just cover them. Let it simmer while preparing other parts of the dish

3. Cut chicken flesh roughly in to strips. Marinate with the soy sauce, salt, sugar and five spice powder. Stand a side.

4. Slice fish fillet into thick strips. Lightly season with sea salt

5. Slice shallot

6. Wash Buk Choy and tear it into small pieces. Let them soak in water while waiting for other things to get ready. Wash mushroom and remove stems.

7. Remove now the drumstick bones including the debris form the stock. Add chicken to it and bring it to boil again

8. Add mushroom and Buk Choy and bring it to boil.

9. Add fish strips and shallot cook for 1 more minute.

10. Season the soup generously with salt as the flavour will get absorbed by the noodle later.

11. Divide noodle in 4 bowls and ladle soup and its contents on top of the noodle and serve

Left over of this soup is great for breakfast the next morning.

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“Cook! As if your lives depend on it!”  The ever popular TV cook show “Masterchef” judge George Calombaris barks at his contestants in the high pressure elimination test.

I smile to myself, cook indeed, because your life DOES depend on it. In fact, our future generation’s health depends on it!

The days are gone when our mothers cooked everything from scratch and eating in a restaurant was a sheer luxury. The readily available fast food outlets and gourmet eatery places mean that cooking at home has become non-essential, not to mention the sweat, the labour, the grocery shopping and the time “wasted” during cooking chores!

A young couple told me recently that they eat out in a restaurant every meal. The wife had breast cancer at the age of 30. And they tried very hard to pick “good” restaurants.

A young man I knew had take-away food every night since moving out of home as he had no idea how to cook and was too busy on the computer to cook anyway. He developed early diabetes. He knew something was wrong and made every effort to hunt me down and asked my advice.  My answer was  very simple, “start cooking please”.  He returned 3 months later, thanked me for my time and said,” I can’t cook even if my life depends on it.”

Commercial cooking differs from home cooking in that decision making in a business is largely commercial based rather than health based. Chefs are not nutritionists. To let someone else who has a commercial interest in you determine what goes in your mouth is, in my opinion, risky. By no means I am against dinning out. Risks require risk management not total avoidance. But try to remember our body is a banking system (see post “Balance”) and dinning out is an activity that often has a “withdrawal nature”.

I am increasingly worried that home-made food and home cooking have become a lower and lower  priority in our daily living. The demands are high from our jobs, our children’s schooling, our relationships, our social life and even our computers!  To me, those who are able to resist the urge to go with the flow and stand firm on what is truly important will be the winners ultimately in the rat race. Those who could not will keep me and other medical professionals in business for years to come.

I am also concerned about our children. We are children’s role models. Seeing us cook at home sends a positive message to them about healthy eating. Forget about ipod, ipad, piano lessons, even education,  teaching them to cook and making cooking fun would be the best life skill ever we can give our children.

Sincerely hope that we would start cooking today and leave a legacy of healthy eating for the generations to come.

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Western culture has soup. Soup is usually thick and chunky. In the good old days, soup is made using home made stock. Nowadays home made stock is replaced by cartons of “real chicken stock” from supermarkets as they are advertised on TV. I always wonder how they keep “real” stock fresh on unrefrigerated shelves.

Eastern culture has broth. Broth is usually thin and clear, like home made stock. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes broth has medicinal and nurturing properties. Chinese from southern part of China has a practice of drinking broth every day, not as a meal but as a compliment of a meal or as a beverage any time of the day when one feels a bit empty in the stomach. Broth is made by putting meat or chicken often bones included in water and cooking them under low heat for long period of time say 5-6 hours. Only the clear fluid is served and the solid parts are discarded. Herbs are often but not always added to the broth to enhance the nutritional effect.

Modern science has confirmed the wisdom of drinking broth. Slowly cooking meat, chicken or fish in water at around 90 degree for a long period of time breaks down tissue cells and releases vital protein nutrients into the water. What is more, these protein nutrients get broken down into their basic units (amino acids, oligopeptides and poly peptides)  that are easily absorbed by the human digestive tract. Minerals are also released during the cooking process. Similarly, slowly cooking bones, skin or tendons releases gelatin like substance containing mucopolysaccharides that are essential for collagen synthesis. For those who are interested, collagen are the matrix structure of our 1) bones, therefore vital for strong bones; 2) skin, therefore vital for preventing wrinkles; 3) cartilage, therefore vital for healthy joints; 4) blood vessel linings, essential for cardiovascular health.

I believe broth is an excellent type of natural protein tonic that provides readily available  nutrients for absorption to generate energy and  induce healing. For those who are running a busy life style, those who are compromised in their digestive function or those who are recuperating from an illness, broth might be the magic you are looking for.

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