Buy Safe, Eat Safe
The labels have been brandished amongst healthy eating advocates – natural, whole, organic, no trans-fat, gluten-free. Touted as the healthier and safer food options, this is apparently the way to eat in the new millennium.
But what do the terms mean and are they that important? In a country where food is a national fascination and eating an obsession, can eating well also mean eating right?
Perhaps the best way to control what we eat is to do the shopping ourselves. So, we bring you a guide to the terms and tell you where and what to buy if you want to eat healthy, safe and well.
Often confused with organic, natural foods are those with no hormones, antibiotics, sweeteners, food colouring, flavourings or chemical preservatives that are not original to the food. In essence, food that is minimally processed and contain limited manufactured ingredients. But the “natural” label is open to different interpretation from country to country. So, your best bet is to read the ingredients for more information.
Given these considerations, going natural is not easy. But at Cold Storage at Bugis Junction, there is a brand of potato chips that is the holy grail of natural snacks. Popchips is not fried nor even baked. Instead, the thin slices of spuds are subjected to intense heat and pressure, and popped much like popcorn. The result is a light, grease-free, crisp snack that is also fat free. Indeed, it has zero trans fat and zero saturated fat; no preservatives, artificial flavourings or colouring, and is gluten-free. Popchips also offers corn chips and rice chips that are similarly treated. The potato chips come in several flavours but the barbecue ones that are tangy, salty, sweet and slightly spicy are a riot of tastes with every bite. The rice chips that are wasabi flavoured is a nod to how big rice is in the Asian; while salsa corn chips is another natural pairing.
For breakfast, you can slurp up Wild Harvest’s naturally flavoured oatmeal that comes in maple spice and apple cinnamon. Or make a sandwich with Mestemacher natural sunflower seed bread and natural flax seed bread from Jasons Market Place at Raffles City.
Whole food is a subset of natural food and refers to foods that are unprocessed and unrefined or minimally so. Typically, they contain no salt, carbohydrates or fat. As a result, they are popular with those on diets that call for minimal carbohydrates. Whole grain and whole wheat are also more nutritious because all of the grain and wheat are used so there are more vitamins, minerals, fiber, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. When shopping for whole foods, whole grains and whole wheat are the most popular and plentiful.
Cold Storage also carries several brands of whole products for cooking like whole grain barley flour, whole grain quinoa flour, whole grain millet flour, whole grain graham flour, and whole grain corn flour. You can even pick up a pack of 10 grain (whole grain) pancake and waffle flour.
If you do not fancy doing your own baking, Mestemacher also has whole rye bread and pumpernickel bread from dark whole red rye; or go for Waitrose’s wholegrain bran flakes which will all go nicely with rice milk from Good Karma that comes in chocolate and original flavours. For a change, Mission has whole grain wraps and Old El Paso has whole grain tortillas you can have instead of bread and cereal.
Organic foods are those produced without synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Like natural and whole foods, they are also not processed using chemical food additives, industrial solvents or irradiation where the food is exposed to ionizing radiation that may damage human cells or cause mutation.
These days, organic foods abound. At FairPrice Finest at Junction 8, there is an entire organic section called Just Organic that you can stock your kitchen with. The products come with certification labels and are audited by Singapore's Agrifood Technologies.
There are more than 30 types of organic vegetables including local ones and varieties that are locally grown; organic frozen vegetables; organic fruits fresh, frozen and dried; organic dairy products including ice-cream; organic eggs from New Zealand; as well as organic tawkwa (beancurd) and organic miso paste from Japan. Organic pastas and cake mixes add variety to your organic home-cooking. Interestingly, in the refrigerated section, there are also Earthbound Farm’s organic herb purees in handy tubes - basil, cilantro, dill, chilli pepper, ginger and garlic. Whether you sauté them with your food, use them for pasta sauces, in salad dressings or on your sandwiches, they are just an easy squeeze away.
Children’s food also comes in organic varieties. There are organic baby food, juices, cereal, biscuits and rice puffs. In addition, Go Organic offers organic candy and you can have organic fruit lollipops from Yummy Earth.
If you want an easy meal, frozen dinners come in organic options, too. Amy’s has organic shepherd’s pie, cheese lasagna, and macaroni with soy cheese. Even Asian delights have gone organic. In the frozen section, you can also find organic Hokkaido choux, those cream-filled bit-size pastries.
Take Away the Trans fat
Trans fat refers to unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acids. Trans fat occur naturally and also when polyunsaturated fatty acids are processed in food production. Like saturated fats which were once thought to be the worst kind of fats, trans fat raises the LDL or bad cholesterol levels. But trans fats go one step further to lower the HDL or good cholesterol. In short, consuming trans fat increases the risk of heart disease more than even saturated fats.
The unfortunate thing is that trans fat is prevalent in a host of foods – baked goods like cookies, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, breads and buns to snacks like chips, candy, pre-packed popcorn; cake and pancake mixes; and fried foods like doughnuts, French fries, and chicken nuggets.
Thankfully, there are more and more zero trans fat options available. For cookies, try Coppenrath. The oatmeal cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies have a wholesome crunch and are full of oatmeal bits. If you are looking for chips without trans fat, Lay’s Chips and Dorito snacks contain none. Alexia has zero trans fat frozen oven crinkle fries that you can heat up in no time on your own.
Guilt-less and Gluten-free
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. For people with celiac disease, gluten gradually damages their intestines, preventing them from absorbing vitamins and minerals. As a result, they are more susceptible to disease and often feel fatigue and suffer from bad skin.
Increasingly though, nutritionists have found that there are people who do not have celiac disease but have developed a sensitivity to gluten that results in the same symptoms. For these people, staying away from gluten can greatly improve their health. Some also believe that a gluten-free diet can help weight loss but this may be because products with gluten are also high in fats and calories. Cutting out gluten alone may not necessarily lead to losing the kilograms. That said, if you are looking for gluten-free goods, here are some you can try.
Fairprice Finest also has gluten-free mixes: bread mix, all-purpose flour, pizza and pastry multi-mix, buckwheat pancake mix and buckwheat crumbs. These are organic to boot. Cold Storage has gluten-free brownie mix, and bread mix. Amy’s frozen meals have gluten-free varieties as well: pizza with rice crust, no cheese and roasted vegetables; rice crust pizza; organic rice pasta and vegetables and garden vegetable lasagna.
In a cosmopolitan city like Singapore, shopping wisely and eating healthily is something that can be easily done given the wide array of healthy food available. So, the next time you do the groceries, take charge of what you eat and buy safe to eat safe.