Common Food Myths in Malaysia



Like vegetables, fruits lose their nutrients during harvesting, storage, transporting from long distances, and during preparation. Furthermore, fruit trees grown on a commercial scale may be genetically-modified and depend heavily on chemical fertilizers with their fruits loaded with several layers of chemicals to preserve their 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 turn bad quickly. Sugar from fruits tends to be mostly fructose and most also contain some glucose. According to medical research, fructose is several times more harmful than glucose when consumed in excess of body’s requirements (Van Buul et al. 2014). Excess dietary fructose has been linked to higher incidence of high blood pressure, insulin resistance (pre-diabetic condition characterised by elevated fasting insulin level), diabetes mellitus type II (usual type suffered by adults), dyslipidemia (abnormally high blood fat), and hypertriglyceridemia (excess blood triglyceride level), hyperuricemia (high blood uric acid level), kidney damage, and atherosclerosis (heart disease) (Gray 2010).


Fruits (RAW): Fructose %

Apple: 7.6

Watermelon: 3.3

Banana: 2.7

Pineapple: 2.1

(Adapted from Hallfrisch, 1990)


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. Fructose is ineffective in stimulating leptin (appetite suppressing hormone) (Teff KL et al. 2004). It comes as a surprise to many that high blood uric acid levels tend to come from excess fructose rather than from consuming beans or nuts (Johnson RJ et al. 2013). 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 (including plain-tasting non-red portion containing L-citrulline for lowering hypertension), green 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 may be a more potent hypoglycemic (sugar-lowering) agent than some drugs (Srivatava et al. 1993).




Preserved meat from animal or poultry can contain added chemicals to make it look ‘fresh’. Consuming small quantity on an occasional basis may pose no major health hazards. However, medical research studies have linked consumption of preserved meat to higher incidence of rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is ranked the top cancer for men in Malaysia. While lean meat offers a more complete range of amino acids, its total protein content is no higher than plant protein from say dried peanuts or soy beans Regular consumption of fresh dark green vegetables, cruciferous, and fruits/berries high in vitamin C can lower this risk. A local guava has a dozen times the vitamin C content compared to imported apple. Studies have also shown that supplementing with more than 500mg of vitamin C after meal can neutralize the toxic chemicals in preserved meat or poultry. Natural vitamin C is ascorbic acid and to obtain 500mg you would need to eat two large uncooked yellow or red bell pepper, four local guavas, or about 40 green apples. In our generation, we need to recognise that nutritional values of most food items have deteriorated since the days of our grandparents. An apple a day is insufficient to keep your doctor away! Furthermore, our needs for vitamin C are even higher when coping with stressful life events and while fighting any infection or injury.




World-wide research suggest that the more milk an adult drinks the thinner is his/her bone. This fact contradicts what we’ve been told by our parents, teachers and even health professional that we need cow milk to build our bones or to keep them strong. Journal of Gerontology (2000) reported that countries that consume the highest amount of cow milk products suffer the worst incidence of osteoporosis and hip fractures. Our living bones (osteoblasts) are built not just from calcium but from almost 20 minerals and micro-nutrients. Furthermore, our body cannot absorb calcium without the presence of vitamin D3. Even vitamin C may enhance absorption of bone minerals from food. Excess calcium supplementation can lead to mineral imbalances, while promoting diabetes, digestive disorders, and possibly calcification of arteries due to depletion of magnesium which binds to calcium molecules to form or rebuild bone structure. Besides, magnesium is needed for production of the sugar-controlling hormone insulin and it is a co-factor for hundreds of bodily enzymes including those for digestion. Excess calcium intake has also been linked to higher risk of prostate cancer in men. Our blood acid/base balance is delicately maintained at around 7.4 and a drop in this pH is counterbalanced by minerals released from our bone structure and/or muscles when such nutrients aren’t being consumed and absorbed. At blood pH 7.0 one may enter coma state or be extremely sick. A diet rich in animal or dairy products, fatty foods, refined carbohydrates and sugars (including fructose from fruits) can acidify our body causing bone de-mineralization. Balancing the body’s acidity with more alkaline foods and beverages is an important area of nutritional medicine since many chronic health disorders such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer are linked to chronically-high acidity (low pH) in our body. Consequently, protein-rich nuts, seeds, lentils, and beans are considered more helpful in preventing osteoporosis than dairy or animal products. The majority of published clinical studies have shown soy products (tofu, fu-juk, soy protein, or soy isolate) help increase bone density and reduce fractures in post-menopausal women. Furthermore, soy isolate lowers production of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol where cow milk raises production of cholesterol. Caucasians rather than Asians are more likely to develop allergy towards soy or other bean products. This may be explained by genetic conditioning since Asians have consumed soy or bean products as a stable for hundreds of generation.




Freshly harvested organic fruits, cherries and berries should be consumed raw. Some individuals are allergic to some raw nuts such as cashew and peanut. Nuts, in particular raw peanuts which are improperly stored may be contaminated with highly toxic molds (fungi) which can severely damage our liver. Deep fried nuts and beans contain lots of trans fat implicated in numerous health disorders including atherosclerosis and several types of cancer. Lightly cooked meat may contain less damaged fatty acids, but there is a risk of e-coli contamination if eaten raw. Most seeds may be eaten raw, but beans may be toxic or cause allergic syndrome to some individuals. Undigested skin from beans and nuts may cause excessive gas in the abdomen. According to World Health Organisation statistics, Japan has the highest incidence of gastric (stomach) cancer in the world. It is not absolutely clear if consuming raw fish and meat is a major contributing factor for this cancer, where patients tend to have high H. pylori bacterium living on their stomach wall and gum tissue. This bacterium can be traced to raw fish, meat, milk, and vegetables.

Even vegetables classified ‘organic’ may contain inorganic chemicals. Proper storage and hygienic preparation can lower risk of further contamination by parasites and fungi. Most adults have worms, bacteria, fungi, and parasites living in their intestines. These pathogens contribute to decline in immune defence as one ages leading to higher risk of cancer.




The higher our insulin (hormone) response to our starchy meal, the more we are likely to store fat (triglyceride). The comparative insulin response scores for starchy or sugary food items are:


Grain-based Food: Insulin Response

Rice, cooked: 57

Bread, wholemeal: 256

Cornflakes: 257

Biscuits: 260

Oat: 550


Bread is the stable served in all major western restaurants and in hotels offering Western meals. The Table above shows rice being much less fattening than even whole meal bread, cornflakes, biscuits and oat which are commonly served at hotels. Besides gaining fats, the higher the insulin response, the greater the risk of developing insulin resistance and/or diabetes mellitus type II. More than 95% of our dietary fats are triglycerides converted from carbohydrates and/or sugars. Does this help to partly explain why Malaysia has been voted the most obese country in the Far East and South East Asia? Our love affair with starchy or sugary foods is deep while chronic health disorders (non-communicable diseases) continue to worsen.




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 are protective against heart disease and cancer. However, there are individuals who prefer a smoother taste with more fat content which corn-fed meat offers. It is widely known that commercially farmed animals are often given growth hormones and regular antibiotics. When beef with high omega-6 is grilled till “well-done”, more of its fat is oxidized and this can lead to higher risk of health problems such as 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 only oxidized fats and cholesterol are likely to clog arteries. Today, we know that glycated fats and cholesterol also clog arteries especially in individuals with glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) scores higher than 5.5.




Nutrient-dense wild (pink) salmon is most difficult to find in any restaurant in South East Asia. Instead, the farmed (light orange) salmon is being served. 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 meat the pinkish red colour, meat from farmed salmon would be gray without synthetic astaxanthin added to its meals. Farmed salmon has just 50% of omega-3 fats compared to wild salmon. Even wild salmon contains less omega-3 fat content compared to mackerel. This healthful fat lower risk of heart disease, reduces blood triglyceride level after a starchy/sugary meal, as well as fighting the principal cause of atherosclerosis: chronic low-grade inflammation.


Type of Fish: Omega-3 per 3.5 oz

Mackerel: 2.6

Salmon: 1.5

Sardines: 1.5

Anchovies (ikan bilis): 1.4

Rainbow trout: 0.6

(Source: Reader’s Digest: Omega-3 Rich Fish)


Based on this Table, farmed salmon is likely to contain just half of omega-3 fat compared to our Malaysian favourite seafood: ikan bilis. 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 levels the higher he suffers from oxidative stress, unless neutralised by adequate intake of relevant antioxidants or by regular blood donation (Meyers et al. 2002).




The (Quarterly Review of Biology, 1998) published a Cornell University research study of 43 plant spices used on more than 4,500 recipes for traditional, meat-based cuisines from 36 countries confirming a strong microbe-spice connection for dozens of popular herbs such as:


Spice Action: Spices Involved

Killing 100% of bacteria: Garlic, onions, allspice, and oregano.

Killing 75 – 90% of bacteria: Thyme, cinnamon, capsicums, cloves, lemongrass, bay leaf, rosemary, marjoram, mustard, tarragon, and cumin.

Killing 50 – 72% of bacteria: Chinese parsley, nutmeg, caraway, mint, coriander, dill, basil, sage, and fennel.


Spices not only enhance palatability of food but also they help destroy food pathogens (bacteria, fungi, parasites) thereby contributing to our improved health and longevity. In addition, volatile oils from freshly-harvested oregano, thyme, peppermint, and rosemary have demonstrated anti-fungal action (Hammer et al. 1998). For diabetic individuals, cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves have insulin-like or insulin potentiating action (Khan et al. 1990) which helps to reduce blood sugar levels. Garlic and onions contain sulfur compounds which have anti-diabetic properties (Sharma et al. 1977) as well as reducing risk of colon cancer by 30% (Steinmetz et al. 1994). In addition, a garlic active ingredient, allicin, reduces H. Pylori bacterium in our stomach. Allicin is a chemical created soon after garlic is chopped for use in cooking or for flavouring dishes. Dietary curcumin such as from strong curry dishes could suppress colon tumor size compared to diet without this flavonoid (Chinthalapally et al. 1995).




Soy protein isolate contains quality protein equaling that of egg white, which is of the highest quality besides human breast milk. In addition, unprocessed soy isolate is rich in isoflavones which help maintain moisture in collagen to help our skin looks young and vibrant. The plant estrogen in isoflavones is one-hundred thousandth the strength of estradiol (potent female hormone) and consequently it has long been considered as cancer protective (Cheng et al. 1954). The digestibility values of steamed soybeans, full-fat soy flour, defatted soy flour, tofu and soy protein isolate are 65, 75 to 92, 84 to 90, 93 and 93 to 97 percent respectively (Young, 1991). These values are comparable to or higher than lean beef or lamb. Furthermore, soy isolate can significantly lower blood cholesterol as well as lowering risk of estrogen-dependent cancers such as those in breast, uterus and prostate.





The health benefits of pure cocoa powder include raising good HDL cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, suppressing cough, lowering anxiety or elevating mood, slowing mental decline, neutralizing free radicals (ageing chemicals), slowing down heart disease, and even expressing the longevity gene SIR2. Research by (Lee KW et al. 2003) suggests that cocoa is more beneficial to health than tea and red wine because of its higher antioxidant capacity. Indeed, cocoa or dark chocolate contains up 400% higher anti-ageing nutrients than black tea (Arts I et al. 1999). Cocoa benefits heart patients since it can reduce oxidation of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, platelet aggregation, low-grade inflammation and blood pressure while it raises good HDL cholesterol (Ding EL et al. 2006).

Protein content of lean meat ranges from 20% to 25%, except for seafood and livestock which can have much higher protein content. Cocoa has between 17% and 22% 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. A tablespoon of white sugar – another popular food additive – could suppress our immune defence against infections for hours after consumption (Sanchez et al. 1973). Dietary fibers in cocoa is about 30% whereas sweetened chocolate powder contains about 5%.



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Cheng, E et al. Estrogenic activity of some isoflavone derivatives. Science 120:575-6, 1954.

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Johnson RJ et al. Sugar, Uric Acid, and the etiology of Diabetes and Obesity. Diabetes 2012;62:

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About Author

Dato’ Steve Yap

Masters’ in Metabolic & Nutritional Medicine (USF Med Sch);

Advanced Fellow, Anti-Aging Regenerative Functional Medicine (USA);

Fellow, Integrative Cancer Therapies (USA);

Nutritional Therapy Council Certified Practitioner (UK);

President, Federation of Complementary & Natural Medical Associations M’sia;

Complementary Medicine Director, DSY Wellness Longevity Center (

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