Inseparable is a word to describe Pinoys and food. But do we actually know what we’re eating? Maria Rivera eats her way to healthier food.
The fact cannot be denied: Filipinos love to eat. Whether it’s on a Sunday after going to church where the entire clan gathers at their ancestral home to feast, at a friend’s birthday party, or at the mall (aka our favorite hangout), one thing’s for sure – we eat like we mean it! Save for the fact that we actually love the art of eating, we do it for a deeper reason too, and that is to spend time with our friends and family in celebration or in the mere mundane days of our lives.
But has anyone ever stopped and thought about this: yes we love to eat, and yes we love to celebrate over food with the ones we love, but are we actually eating quality food? By quality, we don’t mean expensive, we mean nutritious, healthy food.
We Filipinos today go for affordable meals (hello, P50 value lunches!), super-tasty treats (read: excessively sweet and/or salty snacks and desserts), and the latest food craze.
It’s time we become aware of what we put in our mouths, and start doing a little research.
Here we break down some of Pinoys’ favorite go-to foods and meals both in Manila and in Dubai to help you decipher what is good from bad, what you can continue eating, and what you should start avoiding. Don’t think of this guide as a restrictive list, but instead, see it as an opportunity to try new things.
WHEN IN MANILA
1. When it comes to noodles, don’t go instant.
Eat this: Opt for high-quality ramen instead – there is a ramen craze in Manila right now and some of the restos have a pretty impressive way of preparing their noodles. They are way more delicious and definitely not fake.
Not that: Sad to say, no one can live on instant pancit canton or mami alone. Sure, the idea of preparing your meal in less than five minutes sounds enticing, but think about what you are actually eating: processed white flour, made into noodles by deep frying, plus a mixture of mystery ingredients including MSG, tons of saturated fat, and sodium.
2. Good ol’ fried chicken, who doesn’t love it? Who has not had a bite of fast-food chicken? We have grown in a culture where fried chicken is the ideal pick for lunch or dinner.
Eat this: Substitute your chicken craving with the lean type – chicken breast fillet that’s either grilled or baked. Some restaurants serve this, but if you have the time, making your own could save you some money, and you could tailor fit the taste! Have it with a green salad and you’re good to go!
Not that: Avoid deep-fried chicken. Save for a few measly grams of protein, all you are left with are a ton of saturated fat and a growing belly. As far as fast food in general is concerned, it’s time to go back to home cooking when meals were made with love and care. Home cooking rules!
3. Chips: We all love a salty snack! But there is a better healthier way to have them.
Eat this: Try making your own chips instead. They taste much, much better and are excellent at giving you nutrition that you need. Good options are baked kamote fries or carrot chips. Google some recipes and a million will pop up!
Not that: Regular chips, just like everything you eat that is deep-fried, your bad cholesterol content soars to levels that could be potentially harmful to your health when taken in the long-term.
Milk tea – Just because there’s the word “tea” in there does not mean it’s healthy.
Eat this: Try ordering a cup of iced green tea with honey from your favorite coffee shop instead. Antioxidants for way less calories? Yes please!
Not this: We are not fooling anyone but ourselves if we drink large cups of milk tea with an extra serving of pearls and expect to be svelte and in tip-top health. These drinks are laden with the bad kind of sugar, plus those pearls are incredibly high in empty calories. And no, tapioca starch is not a vegetable.
WHEN IN DUBAI
1. Shawarma – This Middle-Eastern favorite has been here all these years, and it definitely isn’t a craze!
Eat this: Time to opt for whole grain varieties instead. Enjoy your Shawarma with a ton of vegetables and less bread next time!
Not that: All that white pita bread could hurt your health and weight if overly consumed. White, processed carbohydrates such as white rice, white pasta, and white bread are not good for us as they are laden with empty calories, virtually no vitamins, and they make our blood sugar spike after a meal. Ever feel like your energy has been sucked out of you right after lunch? This is the culprit.
Chicken tikka, lamb chops, broast chicken – Did anyone say meat fest? Yes, Filipinos in Dubai are spoiled rotten with rotisseries left and right, at such affordable price points.
Eat this: You can enjoy these treats one to two times a week, then opt for “No Meat” meals on other days. Feast on fish and vegetables instead–cheaper and way healthier!
Not that: Having meat all day, everyday could take a toll on your health, as consuming large amounts of animal meat has been linked to serious diseases such as cancer and heart disease. No one said you should cut it out totally.
White rice – Otherwise known as “what-completes-a-meal”, white rice seems to still capture the hearts of Filipinos the world ‘round! We’ve been taught that rice and an ulam makes for a complete meal.
Eat this: It’s time to shift to whole grain varieties such as brown, red, or black rice. They may taste a bit different, but give it a chance to grow on you. Knowing that it’s healthier makes up for missing white rice.
Not that: White rice is a highly processed carb that is lacking in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, and is one of the main reasons a lot of people’s bellies are so big.
The rules are simple: find out what’s in your food, eat in moderation, and best of all: never deprive yourself. Enjoy your favorites once in a while, but stay disciplined 90 percent of the time. That 10 percent makes it all the more exciting to eat anyway.