It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when I started to nag at my parents about their health, instead of the other way round.
Possibly it’s when I realised exactly how much fast food they ate per week (read: a lot).
Or when they started poking fun at each other about their waistlines.
A turning point, however, was when they went for a routine health checkup, and — after some prodding — admitted they both had borderline high cholesterol.
It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. But still, it kind of was — it was really then that I realised that my parents, like everyone else, were not impervious to age and disease.
All of my grandparents spent most of their old age battling chronic disease, and I did not want the same for my own parents.
It was a stroke of serendipity that my colleague came to me with this product I’d never heard of before: Nestle Omega Plus ActiCol, an adult milk beverage containing plant sterols which help to lower blood cholesterol.
“Did you know that 23 Singaporeans die from cardiovascular disease every day?” she asked.
Lowering blood cholesterol
To put it out there: cholesterol isn’t a dirty word.
Cholesterol is essentially a fat-like substance either produced by the body, or derived from food. It’s needed for your body to function normally and build healthy cells.
The problem is when there’s too much of it. When excess cholesterol — specifically low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or ‘bad’ cholesterol — gets deposited in the arteries, it reduces blood flow to the heart.
This, in turn, increases the risk of a heart attack.
The good news: improving your cholesterol levels can be as simple as making some changes to your diet.
One such way is by incorporating plant sterols into your diet. A natural compound, plant sterols have demonstrated effectiveness in helping to safely lower your cholesterol levels, by blocking the absorption of bad cholesterol in the gut.
But for there to be measurable results, you need a significant amount of it. The amount of plant sterols found in the typical diet just doesn’t cut it.
Take, for instance, the Nestle Omega Plus ActiCol. While it looks and tastes like your ordinary milk, it contains a substantial amount of plant sterols too.
In fact, it’s the first adult milk powder in Singapore to contain this ingredient.
But would plant sterols really be effective in a milk product?
According to accredited dietician Derrick Ong, the short answer is yes. A study involving 71 patients with high cholesterol found that consuming between 1.2 and 1.6g of plant sterols added to low-fat milk daily over a 4-week period decreased LDL by 7 and 10 per cent respectively.
Okay, but how does it taste?
After all, plenty of older folk — my parents included — aren’t exactly the biggest fans of health food.
Nestle kindly sent over a gigantic bag of the product in various forms for my parents to taste-test.
And to my surprise, they actually enjoyed it.
In fact, they hadn’t even realised it was a special kind of milk. They’d assumed I’d bought them regular milk — for whatever reason — and happily proceeded to incorporate it into their diets.
I’m just thankful there was still enough left for a photo op.
My mum’s preference was the ready-to-drink variety, which comes in convenient little packets.
She’s a preschool teacher, so her day starts pretty early. As someone who doesn’t really eat breakfast, she’d grab a pack on her way to work and sip it while waiting for the bus.
Also, it tastes creamy and “not too sweet” — which, as everyone knows, is the biggest compliment you can get from an Asian aunty.
Meanwhile, my dad enjoyed the sachet variation.
“Tastes good with my coffee,” he commented.
(Apparently, one sachet of milk powder is just the right amount for a cup. Who knew?)
Watching your parents grow old is a part of growing up, and it isn’t always a fun ride, especially with my parents’ generation.
My dad, for instance, comes from a poor family where they never had enough to eat, which means the very idea of “healthy eating” habits — like leaving off the chicken skin or ordering your cai fan with less rice — is laughable.
My mum, meanwhile, staunchly refuses to switch to brown rice, and gives exactly zero thought to the nutritional value of her (admittedly pretty delicious) cooking.
But that’s not to say that all I can do is sit back and watch them fall into the trap of chronic disease.
It could be purchasing stuff that is good for them, but that they would never buy for themselves: gym memberships, probiotics, cholesterol-lowering milk.
It could be inviting them over for a meal, if only so they’ll get off their butts, or dragging them out shopping or on a family outing.
And if all else fails, well. There’s always fearmongering.
If you’d like to give Nestle Omega Plus ActiCol a try, here’s your chance.
In conjunction with World Heart Day and National Heart Week, Nestle will be giving out free samples, mailed directly to your house.
Register for a product sample here.
Writing this article made this writer miss her parents a little (no-one tell them).
Photos by Ilyda Chua