Month: February 2014

Superb Singapore-Style Noodles

Singapore-Style Noodle is probably the most famous dish that people recongise as originating from Singapore. The name of the dish is misleading though – the dish has nothing to do with Singapore. It was invented in Hong Kong and is hugely popular both in Hong Kong and in the Western world. However, if you travel to Singapore to taste Singapore-Style Noodles you may be disappointed to find that the dish is very uncommon in the city-state.

Singapore-Style Noodle is a Cantonese dish. It is made with thin rice noodles called Vermicelli and is stir-fried with curry powder, bean sprouts and other vegetables. Vegetarian versions exist that use a variation of vegetables and possibly tofu. Also, sometimes prawns, pork, beef and chicken are used in the dish to create a meaty version.

The closest approximation that can frequently be found in Singapore is called Sin Chew Bee Hoon. It is a thin braised rice vermicelli dish, to which vegetables and or beancurd-based delicacies may be added. Consequently, it is slightly different to the well-known Singapore-Style Noodles, but definitely worth a try if you are a fan of Asian stir-fried noodles.

Singapore Noodles Pinterest Pinch of Yum
Pinch of Yum, Pinterest

My favourite home-made, vegetarian recipe for Singapore-Style Noodles is adapted from the Hairy Bikers, originally published on BBC Food, to suit my preference for vegetarian food.


  • 300g/10oz tofu
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry (optional)
  • 2 tsp soft light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder (optional)
  • 3 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 100g/3½oz vermicelli egg noodles
  • 1 red onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 100g/3½oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 20g/¾oz fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 tsp medium Madras curry powder
  • 10 spring onions, trimmed and sliced diagonally
  • Handful of bean sprouts
  • Lime wedges to serve

Preparation method:

  1. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions and put aside.
  2. Rinse the tofu in cold water, then cut into small chunks. Pat it dry with kitchen paper. Heat 1 tbsp. of the sunflower oil in a wok or large frying pan, add the tofu, then stir-fry for a few minutes, stirring until lightly browned. Drain on kitchen paper and put aside.
  3. Place the frying pan or wok back on the stove, over a medium heat. Add two tablespoons of the oil and stir-fry the onion, red pepper and mushrooms for 5-6 minutes or until beginning to soften and lightly colour. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for one minute. Sprinkle the curry powder into the pan and cook for two further minutes. Add the brown sugar and the optional Chinese five-spice powder and pour over the soy sauce. If you wish to include the optional rice wine or dry sherry, add it to the pan.
  4. Add the tofu, the spring onions and the handful of bean sprouts to the pan. Stir-fry for one minute then add the drained noodles. Stir and mix together for 2-3 minutes until piping hot. Serve immediately with lime wedges for squeezing over the dish.
Vegetarian Singapore Noodles Pinterest Beth Gentry
Beth Gentry, Pinterest

Enjoy your home-made Singapore-Style Noodles and if you wish to try the traditional Singaporean version, go for the Sin Chew Bee Hoon when you visit Singapore. Also, explore the diversity of dishes you can find in Singapore, where Chinese, Indian and Malay influences shaped the flavours, creating a unique, cross-cultural and truly delicious cuisine.

Magical Massage

Indulging in a massage is most of the best ways to experience a pampering treat. It helps you to unwind and relax, and it also contributes to the easing of tensions in your body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there is more to massage than a simple treat though. It may have numerous health benefits if undertaken by well-trained massage therapists.

Diversity of Massages & Techniques

Massage can be applied to the full body, or targeted to areas such as the back, neck & shoulders or feet. The techniques are really diverse. Sometimes the techniques follow a traditional method and sometimes therapists offer their own signature treatments to their patients. Different massages have different focus areas and strength levels. They target different health concerns and have varied health benefits.

As far as technique is concerned, it may include light stroking movements all over the body or it may include the application of deep pressure. Massages tend to include pressing and rubbing of skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. In order to undertake massage, therapists may use their hands, fingers, forearms, elbows and sometimes even their feet.

Well-known massages include traditional ones with thousands of years of history, including Ayurvedic Massage, Traditional Chinese Massage and Thai Massage. Other famous ones are recognised for their methods or benefits, including Shiatsu, Hot Stone Massage, Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy and Balinese Massage.

Balinese Massage O2 Spa Pinterest
O2 Spa, Pinterest

Benefits & Risks

For a range of medical conditions, massage is perceived as a complementary treatment. It may contribute to pain relief and reducing muscle tension in the body. The Mayo Clinic suggests that studies about massage found that they may be helpful to treat anxiety, digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia related stress, soft tissue strains, injuries, knots, joint pain and stiffness, amongst others.

Also, massages may have numerous benefits that you may want to take advantage of. These include:

  • enhancing the state of well-being
  • stimulating the immune system
  • increasing flexibility
  • improving muscle tone
  • stimulating blood flow
  • increasing dopamine levels (responsible for muscle movement, motivation and sensation of pleasure)
  • increasing serotonin levels (responsible for mood)
  • decreasing cortisol levels (aka “stress hormone”, which is responsible for physical, emotional and mental stress)

It may not be a good idea to have a massage if you suffer from bleeding disorders or if you take blood-thinning medication. If you have burns or wounds on your skin or bone fractures, massage is not appropriate for you, either.

If you have ever had deep vein thrombosis or suffered from severe osteoporosis, cancer or pain you need to consult a doctor before having a massage.

If you are pregnant, you may need to seek medical advice with regards to having a massage. It’s most likely that you need to go for a massage designed specifically for pregnant women. Such massages avoid certain types of essential oils (including nutmeg, rosemary, basil, jasmine, sage, rose, juniper berry) that may be harmful during pregnancy.

If during a massage you start to feel uncomfortable, always let your therapist know about the source of that discomfort. You may have sensitive areas that need to be avoided during the massage. Just let the therapist know, as a well-trained masseuse or masseur will know what to do.

In extreme circumstances massage can cause trouble, including nerve damage or internal bleeding. However, it is a very remote possibility. More likely perhaps is to have an allergic reaction to the essential oils that may be used during the massage. In any case, if you are in doubt or fearful, choose a gentle massage based on advice of your therapist or perhaps even consult your doctor before you have the massage.

The most important thing is to relax, enjoy the experience and savour its health benefits!

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

The Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL) of carbohydrates can often be heard about in the context of diet & nutrition. Diets use the GI and GL values too to determine meal plans for healthy diets and for weight loss purposes. Let’s see what is the difference between GI and GL and how to use these values to define which foods are healthier for us to consume. GI vs GL

Starting Point: Simple and Complex Carbs

Carbohydrates can be classified as either simple or complex. Carbohydrates are simple if they are composed of one or two simple sugars in the molecule and they are complex if they are composed of long chains of the simple sugar, glucose. Based on a simplistic categorization, sugars are simple carbs while starches are complex carbs.

In the past, medical practitioners assumed that eating more complex and less simple carbohydrates was beneficial for humans. It was assumed that the consumption of starchy food (complex carbs) would lead to smaller increases in blood glucose levels than foods containing simple carbs.

The Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is the cornerstone of a concept developed by Dr Thomas Wolever and Dr David Jenkins at the University of Toronto in 1981. The concept was developed within a research project that aimed to find out which carbohydrate is best to consume by diabetics.

According to the outcome of the Toronto research, carbohydrates that break down quickly during the digestion process and release glucose into the bloodstream with a fast pace have a high GI. Those foods that break down slowly and release glucose with a slower, more gradual pace into the bloodstream have a lower GI.

Rapid increases in blood glucose levels by the consumption of high GI foods are potent signals to the pancreas to increase insulin secretion. A few hours after eating such carbohydrates, the high insulin levels induced by consumption of high-glycemic index foods may cause a sharp decrease in blood glucose levels. In contrast, the consumption of low GI foods results in lower but more sustained increases in blood glucose levels and lower insulin demands on the pancreas.

The definition of the GI of food happens according to an elaborate and refined methodology used by Dr Wolever and Dr Jenkins. It measures how quickly a food containing 25 or 50 grams of carbohydrate raises blood-glucose levels. GI

Based on the concept of the GI, a research team at the Harvard University developed the concept of the Glycemic Load.

The Glycemic Load

Glycemic Load is a similar concept to the GI. The idea behind GL is to simultaneously describe the quality and quantity of carbohydrate in a meal, or in an entire diet.

The GL takes into account the amount of carbohydrates in a typical serving of the food. In practice, the GL of a food is more specific as it tells us how much the given food portion raises blood glucose. It multiplies the GI of the food with the actual amount of carbohydrate that is consumed in the serving, in grams, and then divides this by 100.

According to this concept, if a food has a GL of one point, it raises the blood sugar by one gram of glucose. If a specific food serving has low GL, it implies that its GI is low too. However, if a food has a low GI, it may have higher GL, depending the amount consumed.

A full diet can be evaluated from the viewpoint of its GL, which is called “dietary GL”. The dietary GL is the sum of the GL-s for all foods consumed in the analysed diet. A low GL diet typically has less than 80 points per day. A medium GL diet is between 80 to 120 points per day while a diet is high in terms of GL if it is over 120 points per day.

Harvard University has an excellent table that contains GI and GL data for more than 100 commonly consumed food items. If you wish to analyse your diet, take a look at this useful resource:

Gruesome Gluten?

The gluten-free diet seems to be the new health & nutrition trend. Celebrities claim to have achieved perfect figures thanks to following a gluten-free diet and weight loss programmes that are designed around the elimination of gluten. A number of sources suggest that the gluten-free diet boosts energy levels, improves digestion and enhances attention span. It is applied to manage conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism.

As demand grows for gluten-free food, more and more packaged food is labelled as such. Restaurants also offer gluten-free items on their menus to satisfy growing demand.  Gluten-free cookbooks are published in an ever-growing number and thousands of gluten-free recipes can be found online.

The gluten-free diet is advertised as the new magic in the world of health and nutrition. Nonetheless, it is worth looking at gluten a bit more closely before jumping on the bandwagon.

What is gluten exactly?

Gluten is a type of nutritional composite which is composed of two different proteins, i.e. gliadin and glutenin. Gluten is found in the wheat endosperm, which is a type of tissue in seeds. It nourishes plant embryos in the course of germination. When food is prepared, gluten affects the elasticity of dough, thereby having an impact on the consistency of baked wheat products. It often gives a chewy texture to baked goods.

Gluten can be found in wheat, rye, barley, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) and in other grains. Wheat products that contain gluten include bulgur, durum flour, farina, graham flour, kamut, semolina and spelt. Gluten-like proteins can also be found in maize and rice, which are also sometimes referred to as gluten.


Gluten can be found primarily in breads, cakes, pies, cookies, cereals and pastas. Beer, candies, ice-cream, French fries, packaged gravies, sauces, salad dressings, snack foods, packaged soups may also contain gluten. Sometimes gluten is used as a stabilising, thickening and binding agent and as an additive in packaged foods.

When is it justified to go gluten-free?

There is no scientific research that would support the widespread claims about the benefits of a gluten-free diet for those who do not have medical conditions that demand the elimination of gluten from their diet.

With regards to weight loss, a gluten-free diet can be misleading. If weight loss is achieved due to following a strict, gluten-free diet, it is probably due to the elimination of carbohydrates like bread and pasta. The weight loss in these cases tends not to be down to the elimination of gluten itself but to the lowering of carb intake related to the foodstuff that contains the gluten.

It is worth noting that sometimes a gluten-free diet may be even more calorific than a normal diet, as many gluten-free food items, primarily bakery products, are loaded with fat and sugar to impersonate the original qualities that gluten creates in baked goods.

Strict elimination of gluten is nonetheless crucial for those who suffer from gluten intolerance, aka coeliac disease. It is a condition that affects 0.5 to 1% of the population of the United States and the United Kingdom. Prevalence of this disease is assumed to be similar in other wheat-consuming countries globally. Gluten sensitivity is another condition that requires one to follow a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-related conditions

Coeliac disease is a chronic digestive disorder. The condition creates an immune response to gluten. This reaction is such that it damages the small intestine of sufferers, creating gastrointestinal distress (stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and bloating) and nutritional deficiencies, weight loss and fatigue. In untreated cases it can lead to intestinal cancer, infertility and osteoporosis.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is even more common. It creates similar symptoms to those of coeliac disease, without damage to the intestine.

It is difficult to recognise both gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity as symptoms can be different from one individual to the next. Gastrointestinal pain, fatigue, anemia, abdominal discomfort, bloating, excess gas or joint pain are amongst the many symptoms that can suggest gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

If you suspect that you may suffer from gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, consult your GP. Specialised blood tests examining antigliadin antibodies, endomysial antibodies, and anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies are available to screen for these conditions. Sometimes a small intestinal biopsy is required for accurate testing for coeliac disease.

At the present time, the only available treatment to coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity is a gluten-free diet. Following a gluten-free diet requires careful meal planning and thorough nutritional understanding, as gluten-free foods are often nutrient-deficient.

Unless you are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, you’d be wise to not buy into hype surrounding the gluten-free diet. You may be far better off following a balanced diet consisting of fruit, vegetables, lean protein (preferably from vegan and vegetarian sources) and pulses, nuts and grains.