Would imported food be more nutritious?

SEPTEMBER 11 — Fruits

Like vegetables, fruits lose their nutrients during harvesting, storage, transporting from long distances, and during food preparation. Furthermore, fruit trees grown on commercial scales may be genetically-modified and depend heavily on chemical fertilizers. Their fruits are likely to be loaded with chemicals to preserve freshness before arriving at their destinations. It is extremely difficult to find organic fruits or fruit juices imported from overseas. Freshly-cut fruits with high sugar content may attract fungi from the air or from contaminated fruits nearby causing them to rot quickly. Sugar from fruits tends to be mostly fructose and also contain some glucose. According to recent research, fructose is more harmful than glucose when consumed in excess of body’s requirements. Excess dietary fructose has been linked to higher incidence of hypertension, insulin resistance (pre-diabetic condition characterised by elevated fasting insulin levels), diabetes mellitus type II (usually suffered by adults), dyslipidemia (abnormally high blood fat), and hypertriglyceridemia (excess blood triglyceride level), hyperuricemia (high blood uric acid level), kidney damage, and even heart disease.

Fruits (raw)                        Fructose  per cent

Apple                                 7.6

Watermelon                     3.3

Banana                             2.7

Pineapple                         2.1

Fructose reduces satiety resulting in increased food intake from unsuppressed hunger. Consequently, having a bowl of sweet fruits before meal is unlikely to be healthful. Unlike protein-rich food, fructose is ineffective in stimulating leptin (appetite suppressing hormone). It surprises many that high blood uric acid levels tend to come from excess fructose intake rather than from consuming beans or nuts. Nutrient-dense locally-grown fruits include guava, jampu air, papaya, pineapple, star fruit, banana, kedongdong (buah long long), mangosteen, sour sup, mango, jack fruit, durian, durian belanda, chempedak, custard apple, passion fruit, watermelon (its white portion containing L-citrulline that may lower hypertension), green mandarin orange, red dragon fruit, pomelo, and avocado.  Other popular therapeutic food items belonging to the fruit family include bitter gourd, cucumber, bell pepper, chili, noni, coconut, and tomato. Bitter gourd — a melon of Asian origin — contains the protein charantin which is a sugar-lowering phytonutrient.

Fish

Nutrient-dense wild (pink) salmon isn’t widely sold in South-east Asia. Instead, the farmed (light orange) salmon is common. There is no way to determine the levels of pesticides and other contaminants likely to be found in salmon farms. Whereas wild salmon consume plants rich in natural astaxanthin giving its flesh the pinkish-red colour, meat from farmed salmon would be gray without synthetic astaxanthin added to its meals. Farmed salmon has just 50 per cent of omega-3 fats compared to wild salmon. This healthful fat may lower risk of heart disease and reduces blood triglyceride level after a starchy/sugary meal, as well as fighting chronic low-grade inflammation.

Type of fish                       Omega-3 per 3.5 oz.

Mackerel                            2.6

Salmon, wild                    1.5

Sardines                           1.5

Anchovies (ikan bilis)     1.4

Rainbow trout                   0.6

Salmon, farmed               0.7

Eel contains very high iron. For growing children and women having menstrual cycles and without bone marrow damage, iron helps generate more of the needed red blood cells to overcome anaemia and tiredness. However, excess iron or serum ferritin in men can lead to much higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The higher a man’s blood iron/ferritin level the higher his oxidative stress, unless neutralised by adequate intake of relevant antioxidants or by regular blood donation.

Grain-fed vs grass-fed beef

Meat from grain-fed cattle contains much less of the healthful omega-3 fats than if the animal is grass-fed and free range. If you’re what you eat, then the food items on which cattle are fed on determines their meat nutritional values. Oil from either corn or soy contains higher levels of polyunsaturated fats (omega-6) than omega-3. Grass-fed beef also doubles the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content compared to grain-fed beef. Both omega-3 and CLA fats may lower risks of heart disease and cancer. It is widely known that commercially farmed animals are often given growth hormones and regular antibiotics. When beef with high omega-6 is grilled, more of its fat is oxidized which can lead to higher risk of atherosclerosis and other inflammatory disorders. Consuming food items rich in antioxidants such vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid, and selenium may reduce the adverse effects of oxidized fats. Decades of research have shown that oxidized fats and cholesterol are more likely to clog heart arteries.

Chocolate drink vs cocoa

The health benefits of pure Malaysian cocoa powder are numerous including lowering blood pressure, suppressing cough, lowering anxiety, elevating mood, slowing mental decline, neutralising free radicals (ageing chemicals), slowing progression of heart disease, and even expressing the longevity gene SIR2. Research suggests that cocoa is more beneficial to health than black tea and red wine because of its higher antioxidant capacity. Cocoa benefits heart disease patients since it can reduce oxidation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, platelet aggregation, low-grade inflammation and blood pressure while it raises the good HDL cholesterol.

Protein content of lean meat ranges from 20 per cent to 25 per cent, except for seafood and livestock which can have much higher protein content. Cocoa has between 17 per cent and 22 per cent protein. Sweetened chocolate and chocolate drink powder contain less than half of this protein content but double the calories due to high amount of added sugar/starch. Dietary fibers in cocoa is about 30 per cent whereas sweetened chocolate powder contains about 5 per cent. This may suggest that imported chocolate powder is being diluted six times over with sugar and other starchy ingredients.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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