The story of 'John' - how my quest to help a diabetic patient change his diet turned me into a passionate promoter of spiralised vegetables as 'noodles'
Let me share with you <The Story of 'John'> the story of how I became such a passionate promoter of spiralising vegetables as 'noodles' that I am today.
About 3 years ago, I was reviewing the food diary and blood glucose records of one of my patients, let’s call him John (not his real name), with poorly controlled diabetes. I had put him on a blood glucose monitoring device that would allow us to track his 24 hour blood glucose profile and also got him to take photos of his every single meal for a week. That morning, we were going through the photos of his each and every meal and his corresponding post meal blood glucose response of each meal in detail. This is what I do with almost all my patients, half of whom are diabetics and the other half are people with high cholesterol, hypertension or weight problems, who come to see me for lifestyle & dietary habits modification coaching to improve and better control their conditions. I only see patients by appointment and I normally only schedule to see at most 3-4 patients per day because I would allocate 45mins to an hour for each patient, and I only run my clinic in the morning, allocating the rest of the day working in my restaurant or conducting lifestyle & dietary habits workshops and programmes.
Let’s get back to the story of John.
John was in his 50s and had diabetes for more than 20 years. When he was first diagnosed with diabetes, it was mild and for first few years was only on one oral medication for diabetes. He, like most people with diabetes I know, became complacent about his condition, and was content with just relying on medications to control his abnormal blood sugar without making any effort to change his lifestyle and eating habits. He told me that he loved food and on top of that he was a busy businessman and had to do a lot of entertaining of clients, so he didn’t try very hard to change his eating habits. So, as would be expected, his diabetes condition gradually but surely worsened over time and he was put on more and more medications to control his ever worsening blood glucose. And by the time, he came to seek help at my clinic for lifestyle and dietary habits change coaching, he was already on multiple oral medications for diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. Diabetes complications had already begun to set in and he was already almost blind in one his eyes and his kidney had begun to fail.
So that morning at my clinic, I was reviewing together with John, every single meal he had in the week before and the corresponding post-meal blood glucose profile with each of the meals that we were reviewing. Something stood out clearly, he loved noodles, all kinds of noodles. He would start the day with Bak Chor Mee or Char Bee Hoon and may then also have other kinds of noodles dishes such as wanton mee or mee pok for lunch or dinner or supper on the same day. And from the glucose monitoring device that we had put on him, we could see the significant spike in his blood glucose following each of his noodles-heavy meals.
I looked at him and said, ‘John, you do know right? That these noodles dishes, consisting almost wholly of flour-made noodles/beehoon/kway teow, are high GI and would spike your blood glucose post meal, as you can see for yourself from your blood glucose monitor.’
John replied, ‘Doctor, to be honest with you, I am feeling depressed. I am already blind in one eye, my kidneys are failing because of my diabetes condition. I loved food, especially these noodles dishes I grew up with and which have become my comfort food. So although I know that these noodles dishes will cause my blood glucose to spike, my blood glucose monitor shows that clearly and consistently every time I eat these noodles dishes, but I still cannot help myself and must have these noodles dishes every day.’
I left the clinic that day feeling a mixture of frustration, sadness and anger. Like most Singaporeans, I have always been a foodie, and I love food. But what I saw that morning was a person who, for his love of our local food, struggled to make the necessary changes in his dietary habits, even though his health was clearly deteriorating as a result.
That afternoon when I was working in the kitchen of my restaurant, I kept thinking about him and whether I could create and entice him with lower GI alternatives to the noodles he loved so much. That afternoon, I ended up getting hold of some daikon and spiralising them to vermicelli-like strands and cooked them in a tom yum soup, I then got my wife as a guinea pig to try the tom yum daikon-'noodles' dish I created, she loved it and that was that, I immediately added the dish to the menu of my restaurant the very next day to test the responses of my customers, some customers loved it, some a lot less and quite a few were incredulous that I even dared suggesting this as an alternative to the noodles or vermicelli that they so loved. Subsequently I even invited John, the patient who inspired me to create and offer this Tom Yum Daikon-Noodles dish in my restaurant to come by to try it, and I was very happy to see, he being a big noodles fan, seemed to be like the daikon-noodles too.
And ever since that day, I could not help myself but be an ‘evangelist’ on using vegetables to replace high GI flour-made noodles at every opportunity & platform I get because I wanted to change the minds and palate of people and not have them end up like ‘John’ who could not give up or even reduce his intake of high GI flour made products even when his medical condition called for it and his health was clearly being compromised as a result of it. Up till the day I stopped operating my restaurant The Bento People in March 2019, I made spiralised vegetables a very prominent part of the restaurant menu, including ‘Doodles’ (Daikon spiralised noodles-like), ‘Zoodles’ (Zucchini spiralised noodles-like) and ‘Broodles’ (Broccoli spiralised noodles-like). I intentionally chose to demonstrate spiralising daikon into ‘noodles’ when I was invited to participate in the Mediacorp Channel 8 variety show 冰箱的秘密, I also intentionally showcased spiralised vegetables in many of the episodes of < 厨师医生送便当>, a 13-part series I did with SPH radio 96.3好FM.
And even after I stopped operating my restaurant The Bento People in March 2019 and transforming the space into ‘Habits for Health KITCHEN’ running food & health educational dining events and workshops, I have continued to use these programmes to advocate and encourage people to use using spiralised vegetables to replace high GI flour-made noodles common in many popular Singapore favourite dishes. So in the ‘Eat & Learn with What’s Cooking Doc’ programmes that I’ve running, I do demonstrations on spiralising vegetables as well as serve them dishes such as ‘Laksa Doodles’ (daikon spiralised noodles like), Curry Zoodles (daikon spiralised noodles like) and many other dishes where I reinvent popular Singapore noodles dishes using vegetables to replace the high GI flour-heavy noodles in these dishes.
Although I have no delusion that these lower GI whole food alternatives that I am advocating would ever displace Singaporeans’ common love for noodles and other popular staples made from processed carbohydrates, all I wanted and hoped to do is to introduce to people some different-but-just-as-yummy whole food alternatives to noodles, especially for those who needed to moderate their intake of processed carbohydrates products because of their changed health circumstances.
I am not saying anything about whether noodles are unhealthy and neither am I suggesting that everyone must give up or reduce their intake of their favourite hawker noodles dishes, all I am saying is that we all could do with a more 'flexible' palate, one that would enable us to still be able to enjoy what we eat even when we have to change our dietary habits, if not by choice but when necessitated by the changed circumstances of our health.
It is one thing to enjoy our favourite hawker foods occasionally and on special occasions but to have them as our daily staple and not being able to reduce the intake of them even when our changed health conditions demand that we do so is another thing altogether.
It is OK to love food, I do too but we shouId love life more, and that does not mean that we cannot enjoy our food at the same time, we just need to move away from a 'Love Food, Enjoy Life' mindset to one that 'Love Life, Enjoy Food' instead.
As for me, I shall continue to make best use of every opportunity that I get to activate people to change their eating habits for better health and to combat diabetes and other lifestyle-related diseases, including the Eat & Learn with What's Cooking Doc educational dining events that I conduct regularly as well as on whatever media programmes that I have the privilege to be invited on such as this series of 《厨师医生送便当》videos I did for 96.3FM where I shared about the benefits of exploring the use of vegetables to replace the high GI flour-heavy staples commonly found in many Singapore favourite dishes. >> Click here for link to the videos
Eat & Learn with What's Cooking Doc - Exploring Better Staples
is a 2 hour educational dining programme where I teach, do food demo and serve food in tasting portions to educate, encourage participants to explore better lower GI staples such as quinoa, spiralised vegetables (zucchini, daikon etc), cauliflower rice and tofu skin noodles as substitutes for the more common high GI flour-heavy noodles staples found in many popular Singapore dishes. For more info on >>> Eat & Learn with What's Cooking Doc - Exploring Better Staples
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I made this Tom Yum Daikon-'noodles' because I was 'angry' with how the love for noodles was affecting one of my patients.
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