Why are the best tasting foods always the unhealthiest? Blame over-enthusiastic salt-sprinkling cooks. Soup tulang's sodium level goes through the roof, says nutritionist Sheeba Majmudar, and the majority of that resides in the blood-red broth.
According to Charles Lew, a clinical dietitian from the department of nutrition and dietetics at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the recommended daily allowance of sodium for an adult male aged 30-59 is 1,650mg. Soup tulang gives you an overdose of the stuff at 1,658mg of sodium, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB). High salt intake has been known to contribute to high blood pressure, amongst a host of other debilitating maladies.
Usually stewed with mutton leg bones, soup tulang doesn't pack much meat on each bone, but it contains cartilage, which is comprised mainly of gelatin, a type of protein. "Glycine and proline are non-essential amino acids found in gelatin, and they do promote skin healing by increasing collagen synthesis," says Majmudar. "However, the human body already produces an abundance of proteins found in gelatin, so additional consumption will not make much of a difference." There are even reports of gelatin being able to maintain healthy joint function, although evidence of that is not conclusive.
We all know why enthusiasts attack soup tulang - for the prized, wobbly, foie-gras-like bone marrow. It's so rich and decadent you could swear that it's the worst kind of food around. However, according to the HPB, the dish has 3.2g of saturated fats and 4.7g of monounsaturated fats - the latter of which has been known to protect against cardiovascular disease.
Even so, "it's recommended that heart, kidney and gout patients avoid this dish, because it's high in sodium, phosphorous and purines," says Thomas Teh, a registered dietitian with the Commission of Dietetic Registration and American Dietetics Association, as the latter two minerals at high levels can cause heart diseases.
Bone marrow consumption is not all bad though - it's a good source of protein. A single serving of bone marrow can nearly fulfil half the daily-recommended protein requirements for an average male and provides calcium equivalent to one cup of milk. In addition, gram-for-gram, bone marrow is actually lower in cholesterol compared to red meat, says Teh. However, this in no way qualifies the dish as "healthy" just yet.
Stem the flow
So the reddish (if insanely tasty) broth is tremendously unhealthy, but could you ease the load on your body by soaking it up with bread? It's possible, says Majmudar. French loaf (which often accompanies soup tulang) might be able to delay the rate of absorption of the meal, although it's unknown how much it helps. Here's the catch - because it's made from white bread, French loaf possesses a very high glycemic index that might cause blood sugar levels to spike, says Sheeba.
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