Root for Red!

In my early days in Singapore, my dear Granny would cook her wonderful chicken and beetroot dish every Friday. On an aromatic base of lightly fried onions, turmeric, garlic and ginger, the chicken was browned and the thinly sliced fresh beetroot added last of all … 

I forgot all about Gran’s delicious dish when I came to live in Sydney. We seldom had beetroot – when we did, it was for a salad or a sandwich and out of a can.

A few years ago, my lovely friend Debbie (of Thermomix fame) and her partner Phil invited us for lunch. Deb is a wonderful cook – and knowing how I love a good, healthy salad, made one topped with raw, grated beetroot. I never thought raw beetroot would taste so good. It was crunchy, even sweet, and full of fabulous FIBRE. I had 2 servings and copied her recipe. 

That week, I bought a huge beetroot at the supermarket. I scrubbed it thoroughly and grated a quarter of it raw to have with my salad, cutting the rest in 3 pieces and putting them in a saucepan half-filled with salted water to cook on a low flame. (Remember to slightly lift the lid when the water starts to boil to avoid spillage and splashing red all over your stove!)

It should all be done in about 20 minutes. Leave the beetroot to cool, peel the skin, slice and store in a wide-lipped glass jar. Add apple cider vinegar, and with the cap shut tight, turn it upside down and shake to let the vinegar soak through. A large 500g beetroot will give you at least 3–4 servings in a salad, a sandwich or added to a chicken dish similar to Gran’s.

You can avoid the can

I’ll never have beetroot in cans again – not with all the added sugar, food acids, salt, and so-called “herb and spice flavours”. 

But I wanted to know more about the beetroot. I found this in my Health folder:

The Romans apparently took beetroot for constipation (they were right!), and Hippocrates used its leaves as bindings for wounds. Rebecca Flavel, an accredited practising dietician had this to add in her article

“Beets are rich in a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains which have powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification properties. Beetroots contain vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre. They are also high in vitamins C and B6 (pyridoxine) folate, manganese, betaine and potassium. 

“They are also rich in nitrates which help muscles use oxygen more efficiently. Keep in mind these are naturally occurring nitrates which are healthy and not the ones found in processed foods like hot dogs and luncheon meats.”

More recently, beetroot has taken on a ‘power food’ status. A US study found daily beetroot juice (approx 250–300mls diluted with water) improved exercise endurance and significantly reduced resting systolic blood pressure in elderly patients.

Adding nitrate-rich beetroot juice to your workouts can enhance athletic performance in both short duration and longer, more endurance-based events. 

Betalains, the red pigments in beetroot, are strong antioxidants. If not completely absorbed by your colon, it may show in your pee or poo; but please don’t be alarmed – it lasts no more than 48 hours and is harmless. 

TIP: Having beetroot juice at least 40 minutes before a meal allows its super nutrients to be absorbed much faster and more efficiently. 

I invite you all to “Go Red” – and root for this vegetable!

Best breakfasts #2: Eggs & toast

Now, how beautiful are our chickens? They give us their eggs. But what’s actually in an egg?? 

For a start, there’s vitamins A, D and the B group, calcium, Omega 3, magnesium, iron and selenium. Just one egg makes 11 out of the 20 essential amino acids necessary to sustain life!

Eggs are also a significant source of choline – providing more than double the amount of choline per 100g than any other commonly eaten food. It’s contained in the egg yolk and not the egg white. Read more info on choline.

Australian and international studies are increasing our awareness and understanding of this essential nutrient, but many people still don’t know what it is or why it’s so important for our health.

Choline is essential for a range of reasons, including:

  • Helping to create and maintain healthy cells 
  • Helping liver function and cholesterol transport in the body
  • Helping to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter needed for muscle control, memory, focus, and heartbeat regulation. 

I was thumbing through an old nutrition book by Ruth Adams from Mum, and there was a whole chapter on eggs and choline: 

“Eggs are especially rich in lecithin and choline is one of the ingredients of lecithin … The lecithin apparently keeps cholesterol in such an emulsified state that it does not settle on artery walls or collect as gall bladder stones.”

Adams, R. (1976). The Complete Guide to All the Vitamins, p.208. Larchmont Books: Atlanta, Georgia.  

Adams cites Adele Davis’ book Let’s Get Well

“ … it is not entirely the amount of food eaten that causes obesity, but the lack of nutrients required to convert fat into energy.”


And choline is one of these nutrients!

Versatile eggs

It’s the one food I never get bored with – there are just so many ways to cook it!

  • You can have it soft or hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, fried or in an omelette. 
  • You can actually make an omelette in a microwave. Add butter, milk, cheese and pepper but no salt (there’s enough in cheese!) For 2 eggs, 2 minutes on high is fine. Check for any liquid remaining; if there’s still some, then cook for another 30–60 seconds. Watch my video.
  • Have your eggs with full grain toast – preferably sourdough or rye. It makes for super-duper breakfast! 
  • The high protein in eggs and the low GI fibre in healthy breads will keep you full till lunchtime. Who needs artery-hardening fatty pastries for morning tea? 

TIP: For those who don’t fancy eggs for breakfast and walk out the door having just a cup of coffee and slice of toast, know that consuming “empty carbs” does not give you a good start for the day. Please spend a minute or two to spread peanut or almond butter; they’re rich in protein and magnesium, will keep you full for longer, and are also excellent for heart health.

It’s fine if you love cheese – it’s another good source of protein. Mozzarella is lower in salt and calories than most other cheeses and also contains probiotics. If you want even lower carbs and higher protein, I recommend ricotta which contains high quality whey to promote muscle growth, lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s all in this video.

My breakfast lesson?

“ … make every mouthful of food count for good nutrition. Protein is the food element most likely to be lacking. You will certainly get enough of carbohydrate and fat … but you must watch protein to be certain you get enough of it.” 

Adams, p.174

Folks, I’ve immersed you in a sea of healthy yellow and white – so go have your eggs!!

Best breakfasts #1: Oats

Not for a moment did I, my family or friends think that DIET was in any way linked to our health (or lack of it). It took many more years – and it wasn’t until my early 30s that I realised we were all WRONG! 

Dr Walker’s Diet & Salad made it all clear: I had to eat well to live well.

I didn’t follow Walker’s diet entirely, but kept to his basic philosophy on eating raw and fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthy food not found in cans or bottles. The key was how to combine and when to time meals: this made a huge difference to my digestive health. 

I’ll start with breakfast. What we had in Singapore was not much different to the traditional Western idea of a “good breakfast”: 

  • Fruit – papaya
  • Cereal – cornflakes or porridge
  • Eggs – fried, soft-boiled or in a greasy omelette
  • Tea or coffee
  • Toast with cheese,  jam or a local sweet coconut spread. 

You’re probably thinking, “Wow – a lovely tropical breakfast!” But note the slush of starches, protein and fruit in one sitting … and in less than 30 minutes, I had acid burbs, stomach gurgles and bloating. The remedy? Of course! An antacid tablet from the bottle that was always on our dining table. 

My breakfast is quite different now – and I’ve never felt better! I either have an “oats”, “egg” or “toast and cheese” day. But I always have fruit, e.g. grapefruit and papaya, 30 to 45 minutes before breakfast. 

Oats day

  • ROLLED OATS: It has a lower GI compared to instant oats, and I soak it while I’m having my fruit. A serving for 2–3 only takes 5–8 minutes to cook on low heat. Avoid cereals – their key ingredient is sugar. Added “vitamins, folate and iron” make you think you are having a “healthy” breakfast when you’re not. It bothers me to see such cereal touted as what you “must have” to be smarter and fitter through the day. Did you know that wily manufacturers “… transform a few pennies of grain, sugar and salt for $5 worth of breakfast cereal? (Raubenheimer, D. & Simpson, S. (2020). Eat like the Animals, p.152. HarperCollins Publishers: Sydney.) Wise up!
  • Rolled oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They are gluten-free with essential fibre, protein, most of the B group of vitamins, calcium and iron. They lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It’s the perfect food for keeping your weight down
  • Try bananas, LSA (ground linseed, sunflower and almonds now available in supermarkets) and sultanas with your oats, and add kefir or plain Greek yoghurt to top it off for calcium, protein, probiotics and prebiotics. 

  • Rolled oats will keep you energised and satisfied until lunchtime. There’s no need for a sugar hit with banana-bread or a pastry at mid-morning.  

Next week, I’ll tell you all about my “Egg Day”. Spoiler alert: IT’S DELICIOUS!

Health nuts

For most of my early years in Singapore, I snacked on peanuts – which Singaporeans love – whether in shells, salted or with a drink at the bar. But hold the peanuts for now.

Almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios were imported and sold in 200g cans, and cost much more then. Pistachios were especially popular – I suspect because they were generously salted, and the most expensive and impressive at dinner parties. But it was not until I lived in Sydney in the 1980s that I saw almonds and walnuts sold loosely at some fruit and vegetable markets and delicatessens. I tried a few then and only ate them occasionally. 

Fortunately In the last 10 or so years, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamias and pistachios – mostly imported from the USA and Vietnam – are now much cheaper, very fresh and abundant at supermarkets. Paula Goodyer’s 2012 article “Salute the Kernel” in The Sydney Morning Herald got me interested: 

“A handful of almonds, cashews or pistachios each day can be good for your heart and waistline.”

I never knew. Paula quoted Lisa Yates in the article, a dietitian and a Fellow of Dietitians Australia:

“Nuts also contain an amino acid called arginine that’s important for producing nitric oxide. This helps keep the artery walls relaxed, which in turn helps keep blood pressure healthy.” 

Now that plant protein is becoming popular, nuts must be included in a vegan and dairy-free diet for our bodies to function properly. Professor Luigi Fontana in his recent book The Path to Longevity, explains why nuts are so beneficial to the cardiovascular system:

“Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses that most of us forget to consume regularly. They are a great natural source of amino acids and fatty acids (mostly healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and dietary fibre as well.

“They also provide a wide variety of essential vitamins (B group vitamins, folic acid, Vitamin E); important minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc (including the antioxidant minerals selenium, manganese and copper); plus other key phytochemicals such as flavonoids, resveratrol and plant sterols.” 

Fontana, L. (2020). ‘The path to longevity: How to reach 100 with the health and stamina of a 40-year-old’, p.119. Richmond, Victoria: Hardie Grant Books.

Fontana recommends soaking harder nuts like almonds in water overnight to make them easier to digest.

Incidentally, you will have noticed the promotion of resveratrol as the key antioxidant in red wine, which only encourages people to drink more! Obviously, you shouldn’t be doing that – but maybe try the new ‘Zero Alcohol’ red wines on the market: such as this one with added grape skin extract (GSE or resveratrol) and which is low in sugar.  

I take my container of almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds everywhere, whether out shopping or travelling. I snack on them in between meals rather than on a pack of chips or banana bread; this has kept my weight in check, and will do the same for you. Adding nuts to a slice of cake or portion of dark chocolate lowers the glycaemic index (GI) which might also help keep your blood-glucose levels healthy – especially important for controlling the ‘sugar rush’ we get for something sweet. 

AVOID PEANUTS. They aren’t nuts but legumes (like beans and peas), and most destructive to the human system … [for] their extremely acid action not only on the digestive system but on the whole body.”

(Walker, N.W. (1940/1970). ‘Diet & Salad’, p.146. Norwalk Press: Summertown, Tennessee.)

The good nuts 

The most nutritious nuts for overall health (including gut health) are: 

  • Walnuts – highest in antioxidants & Omega 3 fatty acids, helps fight cancer, including colon and breast cancers
  • Almonds – highest in calcium, vitamin E & monounsaturated fats (eat with skin-on!) 
  • Pecans – rich in plant sterols, with heart-friendly oleic acid
  • Pistachios – lowest in fat, rich in phytosterols, lutein & zeaxanthin (both protect the eyes)
  • Cashews – rich in magnesium & plant sterols
  • Macadamias – high in monounsaturated fats to help manage cholesterol
  • Brazil nuts – richest natural source of selenium, supports immunity & helps wound-healing (but only 1–3 per day)
  • Pine nuts – rich in vitamin E, supports healthy skin & is anti-ageing.

Nuts make great snacks because they are already a highly concentrated, natural food with a high fat and protein content – and best taken on an empty stomach. This allows their nutrients to be absorbed more efficiently. And always eat them RAW: never salted or roasted. Isn’t it time you were a health nut?? 

Citrus nice and early!

It’s now nearly 40 years since I first began my day with a freshly squeezed orange, lemon and grapefruit – which I have at least 30 minutes before breakfast. But why 30?

I always knew citrus fruits were rich in vitamins A and C, but what I didn’t know was that while citrus tastes acidic, it has an alkaline reaction in the body when eaten on an empty stomach! I also learned that fruits in general pass through the digestive system within half an hour, and are the body’s BEST CLEANSERS!  

In particular, low glycaemic fruits, including citrus, blackcurrants, apples, papayas and kiwifruit are rich in vitamins and phytochemicals – giving your immune system a tremendous boost. As nutrition professor Luigi Fontana says: 

“These phytochemicals seem to play a synergistic role in decreasing the risk of multiple human disorders including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and cognitive impairment”

Fontana, L. (2020). ‘The path to longevity: How to reach 100 with the health and stamina of a 40-year-old’, p.127. Richmond, Victoria: Hardie Grant Books.

Importantly, I also learned that the pith of oranges and grapefruits contain just as much Vitamin A and C as the fruits themselves (pink grapefruits have little extra), plus much more fibre: so important in cleaning out debris in your large intestine. 

From then on, I skimmed the outer skin of the grapefruit and ate the fruit with the pith, together with a large tumbler of water with lemon juice. (If you’re taking statins, know that the drug does not react well with grapefruit; oranges work just as well.)

Dieticians, nutritionists and medical practitioners don’t think it matters, but it’s when you have your fruit (citrus especially). Dr Norman Walker maintains that fruits eaten together within an hour or two of a meal “ … have a tendency to ferment in the digestive tract and sooner or later a chemical reaction, frequently called acidosis … is likely to result.” 

Walker, N.W. (1940/1970). ‘Diet & Salad’, p.25. Norwalk Press: Summertown, Tennessee.

Having fruits only on an empty stomach (or at least 2–3 hours after any meal) and not having them as part of a dessert cured my gastritis. No more bloating! And with my metabolism working well, it kept my weight in check. 

My citrus regime first thing in the morning has also kept me fit and protected me from harsher strains of colds and flu. The colon absorbs and utilises yellow or orange fruits rich in alpha-carotene far better than any vitamin pill. 

“Some phytochemicals are heavily marketed as food supplements, often because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Evidence that these supplements actually work, however, is limited at best. Far better to get your phytochemicals by eating fruit and vegetables.”

Raubenheimer, D. & Simpson, S. (2020). ‘Eat like the Animals’, p.213. HarperCollins Publishers: Sydney.

While it’s alkaline in your digestive system, acid from citrus can wear down tooth enamel – but some water with your own saliva will neutralise the acid. Try it!

Ageism (the “too-old” type)

Two years after I retired in payroll, an ex-colleague and good friend called to ask if I would like to come back to work. She sounded desperate!!

The job was being re-advertised, and no-one applied. She was alone, doing a job for 2 people. Our payroll department had undergone “restructuring” the year before, and most of our colleagues took redundancies offered to them. They had the choice of being offered another payroll position on lower wages; those who took the payout either moved out of Sydney or found other jobs.

“Restructuring” = corporate-speak for “It’s time to get rid of the oldies and recruit younger staff”. WHO KNEW?!

Why would you spend time and money training over 55s in digital literacy and new technology? Our invaluable knowledge became worthless, simply because we were “too old”. We were farewelled with a morning tea, gift voucher, and a “So long, good luck and it’s been good to know you” speech. 

Personally, I welcomed this opportunity to finally realise my dream to write, but my other colleagues who were desperate to work did it tough. They found well-paid payroll jobs very quickly – only to find their new workplaces had staff at least 20 years younger! The usual “Shouldn’t you leave the workforce and make way for us younger ones?” glances were there. My friends had to deal with it, without support from their team leaders.

When I received the call from my work colleague, I responded out of sympathy – and the reassurance it would only be “for 6 months”. I went for the interview and was called the next day. “Congratulations, Shirley – you’ve got the job!” “Are you sure? I’ll be 69 in a few months”. They replied: “People with your skills are as rare as hen’s teeth. So, when can you start?”

It was February 2018. The same office now had younger people, some of whom appeared agitated at my presence. “Why on earth is she back? Shouldn’t she be at the Leagues Club playing bingo?”

Well, I bravely took it on, and learned new skills. I was slow but accurate, and put in an extra hour each day getting used to Excel. As my confidence and skills improved, I got through my tasks much faster. I survived – but was relieved when a replacement was found in mid-2021. So much for 6 months … I was there for over 3 years! 

Here’s a quote from authors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton: 

“When it comes to cognitive jobs, the crystalline intelligence of older workers can be a real advantage. This was clear from a study of productivity at a BMW manufacturing plant in Germany which found that older workers were more productive than younger ones. They discovered that while older workers were slightly more likely to make mistakes, younger workers were more likely to make big mistakes. There are no surveys to suggest the over 50s and 60s can’t use Zoom. The so-called digital divide does not exist.” 

Trinca, H. (2020, September 5–6). ‘It’s the New Job: How to Grow Older’ & ‘Ways and Means’. The Weekend Australian. [From the Scott & Gratton book ‘The New Long Life’.]

And from Charlotte Wood’s novel The Weekend:  

“So often in books and on TV, anyone over 70 is this kind of immobilised, depressed, sick, lost, static figure.” 

Hooton, A. (2019, October 5). ‘More people are alive over 65 than under five: it’s time to rethink old age’. Good Weekend, in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Sound familiar??

Today, more and more of us are living longer – and needing to support ourselves. Older people in good health can still support the economy; multigenerational workplaces can and do work! 

Recruiters, HR, interview panels are ALL guilty of ageism bias. If governments are serious in reducing underemployment, ageism must be addressed at the core. Now’s the time to let us in the job market.  

As part of Team 70, I am confident that we can do our bit building relationships with young people. Thanks to modern medicine, good nutrition and exercise we are ageing extremely well. We are indeed fully functioning human beings! We don’t sweat the small stuff. We’re wiser, more accepting, good at problem-solving and in a perfect position to help our younger workmates realise they need us as much as we need them. 

Of course, there are still things that irk us older folk: it’s in full force when we walk into a tech store. How should we respond when asking for assistance and told:

“Do you know what you’re looking for??”
“You could have done this online and saved a trip.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Your phone is too old – you should have got rid of it.”
“I don’t think you understand how this works!”

My advice is not to take this too seriously. 

The Alphas, and Generation Ys and Zs are generally a kind lot, and I know would be the first to offer you a hand if you had a fall. They grew up watching their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts using their smartphones. Their world belongs to “the cloud” – and we need to bring them down to earth! 

Now why not cut them some slack with humour? 

First I observe the customer service crew first and check their name tags. Then I say: 

“Harry, I heard you talking to the last customer – and I think you are just the right person to help me choose my … I know I’m old (I smile and shrug my shoulders) – it’s just one of those things that happen to people. If you’re patient with me and speak a little slower, I’ll be so grateful. But first could you give me a glass of water? I need to take my memory pills”. (Poor Harry thought I was serious, but he saw me smiling and burst out laughing!) 

I always get good service when I make them laugh – and I never forget to write a nice email (or a store review) naming and complimenting their staff members. Folks, it’s not that bad: we can connect with our young folk and make them laugh!

So if you’re over 55, don’t stay silent. Ageism needs to be talked about. Have fun with it … you may meet a lovely 18-year-old who’ll be happy to show you how to text with your thumbs!

I’ve asked my dear cousin Efrem to speak on ageism. A big THANK YOU for his wonderful talk spoken from the heart. Here it is, with some guidelines on Positive Ageing that he’s provided.

“Ageism is negative discrimination against people because of their age”

In the 18th century, Princess Elizabeth Charlotte of France was asked when sexual desire ended. She’s said to have replied: “How would I know? I’m only 80!”

Tame your taste buds

In sickness and health, we pledge allegiance to that most mischievous of organs: the TONGUE. We crave TASTE. Sweet, salty, fatty, spicy … all combine to make what we eat delicious and “to die for”. Premature death is precisely the result if we continue on the unrelenting path of eating mostly to satisfy our taste buds!

You’ve heard it all before: “You’ll live longer if you limit sugary and diet drinks, eat more veg and fruit, drink more water, and exercise”. And you’ll be thinking, “Why should I? I’m in my prime, work hard, support a family, juggle tasks, do 10K steps daily (sometimes), eat healthy food”. But when you tell me what your “healthy” is, I learn that your reasoning is likely based on what you’ve heard, read and seen.

Conveniently ignored are the facts of how food is digested and processed. We eat in ignorance without the slightest concern that we’re putting on weight and shortening our lives!

Mind the fine print

Wellness experts, media personalities and even celebrities tout their anti-ageing products and endorsements – which, in case you haven’t read the fine print, only “may” work … “and if symptoms persist, see your health-care professional”.

“Age-defying”, “liver-cleansing”, “anti-inflammatory” and “bloating” are words that entice – and you part with your money just as I did. Worse still are the claims of “no added sugar” or “no added hormones”. They don’t say “no sugar” or “no hormones” because there already is sugar and there are hormones. “No added” means they’ve not added any more. Got it??

‘Health’ … Singapore-style

As a curious 9-year-old in the late 1950s, I would browse through my mother’s many books on vitamins (she was a supplements addict) and physiology. Together with her monthly Woman’s Own with its own smattering of health news, I understood how vital food nutrients were for good health. I also learned from grown-ups’ conversations about “high blood pressure”, “diabetes” and “high cholesterol” – all linked to “old age”, it seems. Nothing’s changed!

‘Sampan’ boats on the S’pore River with the city behind, 1960s
(From left) Me, Mum, baby sister Gloria, Ah Chai & Gran, 1955

Apart from that, my life as a Singaporean youngster was, well, blissful. Both parents worked, and we had live-in Malay cooks and maids. But one lady stands out in particular: Ah Chai, my beloved live-in Cantonese nanny (they were called majies or amahs). She was devoted to me and my younger siblings, dressed in her traditional white and black starched samfu uniform. Ah Chai remained with us for over 15 years, a huge part of all our lives.  

I’m carefree in blissful late ’50s Singapore

My parents constantly entertained, never having to worry about household chores. There was lunch, colonial High-Teas with fine porcelain, and dinner. We feasted on Malaysian curries with saffron pilau rice and all things fried, followed by local desserts and the freshest fruit. There was also our fabulously rich, aromatic Iraqi-Jewish cuisine to the delight of our Singaporean friends – my father would goad them to eat even more and ‘drain the plate’.

While not a big eater in my Dad’s footsteps, I still enjoyed the pleasure of having meals laid out for me. With cratefuls of soft drinks and sweet cordials, exotic ice-creams and icing biscuits in large tins, we were oblivious to the damage such ‘food’ was doing to our bodies. And in one way or another, we all paid a price.

An unusually calm family mahjong session, 1960s (nicotine helped!)

In the evenings, my mother’s family team would arrive for high melodrama-mahjong, while my father would talk shares and property with his armchair cronies. After dinner, the men would nod off and snore. I hated the ‘fat’ tag then and more so now, but saw that most of them were just that – though a large man-tummy in Asian culture spelt prosperity. Men proudly patting their distended stomachs bulging over stretched trouser belts was a common sight.

Women didn’t escape from the tummy-bulge either. I would ask my mother: “Is Auntie having a baby?” Mum would smile and say, “No, it’s only wind” (in Asia, this word usually meant any pain below the waist!).

Aged 13, with my parents & Gloria

Really, the only time my family would arise from their seats was to go to the bathroom. This they did in turns, usually an hour after eating. When in a room next to the toilet, burps and farts would often grace my ears. I still squirm at the word ‘fart’, but don’t know why. Maybe it’s because my prudish mother hated it too, and invented the word ‘poot’ as a substitute. So it was either ‘Did you make a smelly poot?’, ‘Who pooted?’, or ‘Why are you pooting so much??’ I laugh as I write this! 

Still, looking back, I’m grateful my parents didn’t drink, apart from a glass or two of whisky-soda or brandy-ginger-ale at dinner parties. Wine was never drunk with meals, except the kosher variety on religious occasions. What’s more, Dad didn’t smoke and Mum only had a few cigarettes a day, insisting she didn’t ‘inhale

Granny Azizah, the family angel

But of all my many relatives, Granny Azizah stood out. She remains an inspiration for me, and even for Shirl’s Pearls. I would see her every day after school, always welcomed with a big hug and smile. We’d have our Milo, and I’d make the milk bubble with a stick frother she called her ‘chop-chop’. Her chicken ‘bone soup’ was glorious – served steamy hot in a blue and white china bowl. Wouldn’t you know, it cured all our coughs and colds. Now we learn it’s rich in collagen too – and so easy to make at home!   

I do visit Singapore often; my taste buds still love the old familiar foods and I make sure that I have just enough to make me happy. But I’ve noticed Singaporeans’ idiosyncratic eating habits haven’t changed much at all, despite the Singapore Government’s frequent health campaigns. 

Singaporeans, like us, love their vitamins and herbs. Most popular are ‘Horny Goat Weed’ for men to boost libidos, antioxidant, fibre and multivitamin supplements for women, caffeine to boost hair growth, and pills to “break up the wind” (i.e. bloating and acid-reflux!).

WELL … the secret to better health is out. Start with Raw REAL LIFE!

Dr Norman Walker: A life-changing message!

In 1980 after I moved to Sydney, I was given books written by Dr Norman W Walker, DSc, PhD. He established the Norwalk Laboratory of Nutritional Chemistry and Scientific Research in New York as early as 1910. His books Raw Vegetable Juices, Diet & Salad and Colon Health (written between 1936 and 1979) were life-changing for me. 

Dr N W Walker in his early 80s

I write this to tell you what all of us should have been told decades ago:

It’s the COLON. Your GUT. Rob it of its function and you rob your life. 

Dieticians and health practitioners constantly quote evidence from medical research – telling us what we should do to lose weight and live longer. ‘Wellness’ is the buzz word – but do we really need social media, manufacturers and celebrities telling us about supplements, wonder herbs and superfoods?  

They’ve failed to explain how our digestive systems process the foods we are eating. So we continue putting on weight, and rely on drugs to regulate high blood pressure, diabetes, unclog arteries and fix diseases in our immune systems. The excuse? “It’s old age, dear”, or “Just bad luck, I guess.” 

Here are 2 key extracts from Dr Walker’s Diet & Salad

… the very purpose of the colon as an organ of elimination is to collect all fermentative and putrefactive toxic waste from every part of the anatomy and, by the peristaltic waves (contractions) of the muscles, removes all solid and semi-solid waste from the body.  

“The best of diets can be no better than the very worst if the sewage system of the colon is clogged with a collection of waste. … or can I dare describe it as … ‘impacted faecal matter.’ ” (my emphasis)

Walker, N.W. (1940/1970). Diet & Salad, pp.11–12. Norwalk Press: Summertown, Tennessee.

Simply put, the colon is the body’s sewage system. Dr Walker’s diagram shows a colon ‘in trouble’:

A diseased, putrefying colon (Walker, Diet & Salad, p.13)

The source of our existence – apart from oxygen and water – is the quality of your food. The 3 essential components in it that we should look out for are:

  1. Phytonutrients
  2. Phytochemicals
  3. Polyphenols

Simply, they are nutrient-rich compounds and chemicals found only in PLANTS – and are absorbed more efficiently only when eaten RAW, and not when cooked, canned and processed. They help us fight diseases naturally, without depending on drugs for a cure.  

Nature has made the colon extremely efficient: in fact, it’s our very own garbage disposal unit. How do we keep it unclogged if, in Dr Walker’s words, ‘impacted faecal matter’ gets stuck in there? I’ll summarise his findings:

  1. Processed, fried and overcooked food, sugar and excessive salt all starve the colon of its ability to nourish nerves, muscles, cells and tissues within its walls. 

  2. Cooked and canned foods, bottled drinks, processed cereals and flour-laden foods expose the body to sickness and disease. Such foods actually starve the colon. 

  3. We need BULK (or fibre), which is essential for proper and complete digestion of our food; this is only derived from raw foods. Fibre acts like a MAGNET when passing through the intestines, retrieving residue of undigested food. This is what the colon depends on for its proper function as our ‘intestinal broom’.

  4. To replenish and re-invigorate our cells and tissues, we need more raw LIFE-GIVING foods whose ultimate purpose is to cleanse and remove dead cells and tissues. The resulting waste matter can then be carried to the colon for evacuation.

I’m 73 this month (May 2022). I’m physically fit, mentally fresh, motivated and hungry for the next challenge. I have a healthy weight, strong bones, and no chronic diseases. I wake up each morning with a song in my head and in my heart! 

For nearly 40 years now, I’ve learnt what to eat and when, to move and not stay still, to make new friends, to spend more time in the kitchen preparing fresh food. And I’ve been eating superfoods for all of that time: have you heard of plain old raw fruits and veg, grains, nuts, eggs and oily fish?

So everyone: Please spend your money on fresh food and at the gym – not on the advertising juggernaut. I can’t guarantee the results as we’re all different … but there is NO question in my mind that the food you eat and when you eat it holds the key to leading a good life!

Plant-based milks: which is best?

Baristas now have cartons of oat, almond and soy milks ready for your order. So which do you choose if you’d like to ditch full-cream dairy for any of these? 

[Information for this post was sourced from Sophie Aubrey’s article ‘Plant-based milks: which one is better for you and the planet?’, Sun Herald, June 6, 2021]. 

Good (old) dairy

One of the best sources of Vitamins A and D, zinc and calcium vital for bone health. But it’s higher in saturated fat than plant-based milk, so reduced fat dairy milk is an option. 

Goat’s milk

Sophie Aubrey’s article didn’t mention goat’s milk – but I’ve heard good reports about it. My research in WebMd and Healthline found that 65% to 72% of all dairy consumed worldwide is in fact goat’s milk. It’s creamier and easier to digest than cow, soy or nut milks, and is a good source of calcium, potassium and vitamin A. Importantly, it also has higher, more easily digestible protein (9g) in a single cup serving. Those intolerant to cow’s milk may find that goat’s milk doesn’t trigger allergies, and is lower in lactose when cultured into yoghurt. (However, it’s best to check with your doctor if you’re allergic to lactose.)  


It’s low in kilojoules and saturated fat, but has very little protein. If you look at the labels, some products contain as little as 2% almonds! Look out for sugars as some are sweetened. Buy almond milk that is calcium-fortified and has added vitamins. I say – make it yourself – all you need are raw almonds, water and a blender!


The oldest plant-based milk on the market and the most popular. A 2017 study found soy was nutritionally the best alternative to cow’s milk when compared with almond, rice and coconut.

Sophie Aubrey cites dietician Jane Freeman who ranks soy milk as “the better of the dairy-free options” – and recommends we only consume milk made with Australian soybeans. 

It contains similar protein levels to cow’s milk with much less saturated fat. Look for the organic brands (with no-GMO soybeans) that’s fortified with calcium and vitamins, and avoid any added sugars. 


It’s now overtaking soy milk in the US to become the second-biggest plant-based milk. It’s low in saturated fat and the only milk to contain fibre which can help lower cholesterol. (I hope you’re now having rolled oats for breakfast instead of processed breakfast cereals!)

Freeman says it has slightly higher protein than almond milk, but it’s still low. Unsweetened oat milk has 50% more carbohydrates than dairy. Look for brands fortified with calcium and vitamins.


Freeman doesn’t “rate rice milk highly”, and says the only benefit is that it’s lowest in allergens. 

This is made from milled brown rice blended with water, with almost no saturated fat. It’s very low in protein, has the highest carbohydrates (more than double the amount of dairy), with a high glycaemic (GI) index – meaning it can cause blood sugar spikes. Again, it’s best to buy calcium fortified brands.


It’s generally not liked with coffee, and it’s the last of the current plant-based milks on offer. Comprising flesh of the coconut and water, it’s perhaps best for only the “odd smoothie rather than as a daily staple”, according to Freeman. It has less saturated fat than full-fat dairy, but double that of low-fat dairy – far more than any of the other plant-based varieties. But it’s very low in protein and naturally low in carbohydrates; some brands add sugar to it.  

It’s important to know that plant-based milks are processed foods: their nutritional value depends on the formulation methods and the extent to which additional nutrients are added. The vast majority of products on the market contain a variety of thickeners and gums to create a creamier texture.

What do I drink?

Full-fat dairy – but only half a cup with my cappuccino and with my 2 daily cups of tea. Rather than dairy or plant-based milks with my oats, I have nutritious kefir yoghurt, with its abundance of probiotics. Some brands of kefir like the one at left include prebiotics like inulin.

I get my calcium and protein from cheese, raw vegetables, eggs, fish and moderate amounts of red meat and chicken

SO HERE’S MY TIP: If it’s fortified, modified or emulsified, LEAVE IT ON THE SHELF!

Overcoming Loneliness

You don’t need to be lonely! 

I’d like to introduce you to my cousin Efrem. He’s is in his ’50s, and an MA Honours graduate in English, Literature and Anthropology. He has taught in high schools and coaching colleges in Sydney for over 20 years. Observing psychological aspects of education has helped him to better understand people and address their needs. His professional career and lengthy volunteering experience have given him the necessary empathy to positively impact people’s lives. 

Efrem now works for a major Sydney charity, helping people with chronic illnesses. We both share the same interest in people; we love to know how they tick. We have talked over this for hours at his favourite Surry Hills café in Sydney – with our extra large cappuccinos, cheese toasties and a jug of water. I have yet to meet someone with such an infinite understanding of human nature, rich knowledge of history, literature, philosophy and religion. I don’t need reference books or Google, I just call Efrem!

So I’ve asked Efrem to talk about loneliness (so prevalent at this time), explain its causes and what we can do to avoid pitfalls of depression, anxiety and hopelessness which can result.

Efrem discusses ‘Loneliness’ in the first of his talks on Shirl’s Pearls
As Efrem says, ‘loneliness’ is defined by psychologists as “feeling lonely more than once a week”
The 3 forms of loneliness – existential, emotional & social, can hugely undermine our health

What a pet can do for you by Jeff

I’d like to show you the benefits of living with a pet. I’m a single pensioner in my 60s, and I absolutely LOVE dogs! (sorry, cat people). You really couldn’t ask for a better companion!

Dogs love you unconditionally: you’re their life, and they are yours. They just want to be with you. Apart from their obvious gestures of love towards you, just look into your dog’s eyes their love for you is obvious, and they recognise your love for them in return. It becomes a privilege to care for this most loving and loyal creature. Make the most of this precious gift! To me they are family – period.

Rosie’s last months on her pram
My Rosie as she was – snug on her bed

But alas, dogs don’t live as long as us. In early 2021, my beloved Shih Tzu, Rosie, had to be put down due to cancer after 12 years of us bonding together. We had the most perfect 12 years – she chose me at the pound, not the other way around. I was blessed to have her in my life. Rosie was initially given a month to live, but my love and care and the doggie pram I pushed her around in, extended her life by 2 years and a month. The cancer then got worse, and I had to do the right thing (by her, not me) to have her put down.

My grief was overwhelming. I’ve felt a loss of purpose in life and felt more alone. I no longer had a loving companion, no snoring in my room at night, no Rosie chasing her teddies or sitting happily at my feet. And then the COVID lockdown reared its ugly head.

The loss was such that for my own health and wellbeing, I needed another dog-companion. I knew my Rosie, whose presence I felt, wouldn’t want her Daddy suffering like that. With so much love left within, I really needed to love a new companion! 

Before the lockdown, I tried every pound and animal rescue place imaginable, both up and down the coast and out west to Dubbo in New South Wales – but to no avail. I was exhausted just trying … filling out application forms in case there was a suitable dog for adoption – only to be then told I was No. 30 in line. 

It was all due to the 2020 lockdown – there were absolutely no small dogs available. I was told the cost for a Shih Tzu, poodle or Cavalier Spaniel puppy was as high as $5000 and even $6500, which I simply couldn’t afford. Whilst I knew my problem was minor compared to the toll of lockdown on others and the horrible loss of life, in my own sphere, it wasn’t. I was simply not travelling well.

Pet insurance?

Adopting a rescue dog or puppy may also mean getting pet insurance – as your dog may have or develop future health issues. 

Pet cover? Think twice

My Shih Tzu Rosie was a rescue dog, and within 3 weeks of adopting her, she needed intestinal surgery due to maltreatment from her previous owners (including feeding her the wrong food). It cost $3K, but I paid $2K with insurance. No pet insurance company offers 100% coverage. Over the years, Rosie developed more health problems (e.g. a kidney issue which costs $4K, but $2.5K with insurance). But by then my faith in pet insurance began to wane.

When Rosie turned 10, my insurance premium rose from $90 to $130 a month! But because she was insured earlier, she was still covered for existing ailments. You can’t get insurance if your dog turns 10 without previous cover. Some conditions are excluded, and the disclosure statement is often not very clear in this regard. For example, teeth are not included, and there are yearly limits on some procedures depending on your level of insurance. Most insurers offer 80%, 70% or only 50% coverage. I thought my insurance would help when Rosie was diagnosed with cancer, but NO. Most of her new ailments were not covered; not once in the 2 years of her cancer did I actually use my insurance. I decided to cancel it, save money and self-fund her care. And it made a huge difference. 

Some clinics such as ‘Greencross Vets’ in Sydney offer their own pet plans, which I took up; I kept that going until her death. The $16 monthly plan gave free vet visits, saving about $80 a visit. Vaccinations were free, with formal appointments rather than lengthy walk-ins.

Overall, I think insurance can be important early on, but a total waste of money after that. You’re far better putting money aside to fund your pet’s healthcare. Insurance doesn’t offer value for money. Rosie meant everything to me and wanted for nothing – and I felt no guilt cancelling her insurance. We love our dogs, but in reality have to consider what we can actually afford.

I persisted – and found my beautiful boy, Elroy

So for those of us who are alone and lucky enough to have a canine, feline or bird companion, I wish you all well. To those of us who don’t, hang in there and keep trying to find one – as I eventually did, in my lovely little Elroy (also a Shih Tzu). In the meantime, it won’t be easy – but I know the memories of our lost loves will tie us through!

Closing words from Shirl

Many years ago I attended a seminar where the speaker talked about affirmations. We had A4 sheets and a pencil on our chairs, and were told to write what we wanted to “be”, “have” and “become”. I was in my late 30s then, extremely shy and lacking in confidence. But I knew exactly what to write. At the top of my list was “I want to have many friends, and be a public speaker.”

I still have that list today, 40 years on. We were told “nothing changes if nothing changes … take action!” So I did. I read books on personal development, joined a business network, visualised and verbalised the list everyday on my morning walks. And you know what? Eighty percent of my affirmations have come true! Today we have so much more expert support.

We CAN overcome loneliness. Efrem and Jeff have helped us understand what it’s all about, and what we can do to manage it. If this sounds like you, please reach out to professionals and friends who can help. Use the tools. Be consistent with your action plan, and rewards will come sooner than you think.