My father told me the other day that the latest medical study recommended a greater fat intake for those who did not wish to grow old.

He said that because I was shaking my head while watching him eat an oyster omelette. And he must have felt guilty.

He had advised me against eating oily food. Yet…

…what he was eating came with very generous serving of oil – it was dripping out of the wrapper.

I asked him: “Are you serious about the medical study, Dad?”

He grinned and said: “Yes. You won’t grow old because you would die young.”

If excessive fat is bad, why do so many people indulge in it?

Is it because they can’t help it?

Or is it because they think it is not so bad to die young?

Unfortunately, dying young is a luxury accorded to only a privileged few.

Most have to face the health risks associated with consuming unwholesome food. It can have an effect similar to that of smoking.

When afflicted by a disease brought about by prolonged poor choice of food, people don’t suffer alone. They share their misery, pain and anxiety with their loved ones.

Anyone who has been sick knows about the high costs of medical treatment.

Some say that you can afford to die in Singapore, but not to be sick.

This can be true as your financial resources can be wiped out when you are suffering from poor health and require frequent medical attention.

Being healthy is vital to enjoying life and all the things you have worked so hard to achieve.

Healthy lifestyle practices such as regular exercise and health screenings are not enough to keep you in the pink of health. Your efforts can be undermined by an unhealthy diet.

That’s where food centres and restaurants can play a role.

As part of their social responsibility, they should not serve food that is not too oily, salty or sweet.

Once, I was served vegetables with so much salt that I thought I was eating salted vegetables. The cook seemed not to care. After all, he was not eating the “poison”.

I tend to view cooks who have no regard for the health of their customers as silent killers.

They lace your food with ingredients for the development of diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and other diet-related diseases with the coolness of a professional mercenary.

We cannot let them do this with impunity.

It is akin to allowing them to sell drugs.

They make the money and the consumers eventually will suffer.

Why do the authorities grant them licences if they refuse to slow down on the use of saturated fat, sodium, sugar or MSG? Shouldn’t they be more responsible, considering the power they wield?

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) already has a scheme in which stickers advising customers to “Ask For Less Gravy” and “Ask For Skin To Be Removed” have been put up at stalls that are willing to accede to customers’ requests.

In addition, upgraded hawker centres have stalls that feature dishes tagged “Healthier Choice” – those prepared with less oil or gravy and with additional vegetables – on their menu boards.

The HPB website also lists 113 restaurants that serve such dishes.

But perhaps stronger measures should be taken, to make more stalls and restaurants comply.

I am aware that ultimately, it is our responsibility to watch what we put into our body. However, in view of our modern lifestyles, we have little choice but to patronise food stalls and restaurants.

We are at the mercy of the cooks.

If the Government can curb smoking, I am confident it can do something to control the excessive use of disease-causing ingredients.

(This article can be found in TODAY of 22 September 2005)