Tuesday, October 16

Healthiest Pinoy Foods


By Willie T. Ong, MD

Q. Dear Doc, I want to eat healthy so I can live longer. What foods are healthy for me?

A. This is probably the most common question patients ask their doctor. For your eating pleasure, I’ll list down the top foods experts generally consider to be healthy. This list (obviously controversial) is based on a compilation of several nutrition books, and published studies and articles.

Here are the criteria we used in choosing our “superfoods”:

• Good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

• Rich in phytonutrients and antioxidant compounds, such as vitamins A and E, and beta carotene.

• May help reduce the risk for diseases.

• Preferably low in calories, meaning you can eat a bigger portion with less calories.

• Readily available in the Philippines.

• Must be affordable, too.

Can’t wait to see the results? Well, here it is.


The good: Nuts are nutritional powerfoods, packed in protein, minerals, and fats. Yes, they’re fatty, but don’t worry, the fats found in nuts are the good fats — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Instead of eating junk foods reeking of unhealthy saturated fats (like potato chips and doughnuts), nuts can reduce your bad cholesterol (LDL) while raising good cholesterol (HDL). Nuts also contain vitamin E, a potent antioxidant. Locally, we have nilagang mani (boiled peanuts) and cashew nuts. Almonds are expensive but they’re very nutritious. They’re loaded with protein, minerals, and healthy kinds of fat.

The bad: Nuts are salty and high in uric acid, which is bad for high blood pressure and those with gout, respectively. Also, eating too much nuts (it’s sooo addicting) can make you fat, around 150 calories per ounce. Ouch! Eat a handful, not a bowlful.

Coconuts (including virgin coconut oil)

The good: Dr. Conrado Dayrit’s book The Truth About Coconut Oil lists many alleged health benefits for VCO, ranging from treating bacterial infection to fungal diseases such as ringworm, and even HIV-AIDS. Dr. Dayrit lists a number of case studies and smaller studies that show VCO’s beneficial effects for heart disease, diabetes, and boosting one’s immunity.

Coconut water, on the other hand, is good for kidney stones and cleansing the digestive tract. It’s low in carbohydrates, low in sugar and serves as an isotonic beverage, which means it’s good for replenishing your body.

The bad: Did you know that Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide lists coconut oil as the “worst” oil among a list of 12, even ranking it lower than lard and butter? Harvard’s basis is its high 87-percent saturated fat (the bad fat). Some cardiologists, including myself, have also seen a rise in their patient’s cholesterol levels when taking VCO.

Conclusion: With the conflicting opinions, the safest answer is that we don’t know for sure. As more studies come in, this ranking may go up or down. We can’t ignore VCO’s health and economic benefits for our people, but this is our highest ranking for the moment.

Tea (including black, green, and oolong tea)

The good: Do you want to know why Asian people (Chinese, Japanese) have less heart attacks as compared to Western people? Experts believe it’s because of their tea-drinking habit. Hot tea kills bacteria and cleanses the body. The secret is in the catechin, which acts like an artery protector, antibiotic, and anti-ulcer agent. Tea also prevents dental cavities and may help you lose weight!

According to cardiologist Dr. Nelson Abelardo, studies show that green tea may prevent various cancers. In fact, green tea has the highest concentration of catechins, followed by oolong tea and the ordinary black tea (sold in supermarkets). But if you can’t afford green tea, black tea is fine, too.

The bad: Tea contains caffeine which may cause heart palpitation, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Don’t drink too much either.

Soy products like tofu or taho

The good: For semi-vegetarians like me, soy products are great substitutes for animal meat. Soy beans are high in protein, containing the essential amino acids. In fact, Time magazine lists soy as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Soy beans are rich in calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber. Hence, they’re good for our heart and bones. Soy also contains genistein, a weak estrogen-like substance, which may prevent prostate and breast cancer.

Wheat in wheat bread and cereals

Some breads, cereals, and muffins contain whole wheat, which can help regulate bowel movement and prevent colon cancer. Studies show that whole wheat products help control weight, prevent type-2 diabetes, and reduce cholesterol levels. Wheat may also accelerate the metabolism of estrogen and prevent breast cancer.

So next time you buy bread and cereals, look for the key words “whole wheat” and “whole grains” in the package. We Filipinos can’t live without rice, but let’s try to eat the healthier bread from time to time.

Sweet potatoes (kamote)

Our very own kamote is an excellent source of starch and contains huge amounts of carotenoids. Kamote’s deep orange-yellow color proclaims to everyone that they’re high in the antioxidant beta carotene. Sweet potatoes are superb sources of fiber, vitamins B6, C and E, folate, and potassium. It is these and other phytochemicals that make sweet potatoes a potent anti-cancer food.

And like all vegetables, they’re fat-free and low in calories — one small sweet potato has just 54 calories. And hear this: Sweet potatoes may reduce your risk for lung cancer, especially good news to the millions of Filipino smokers and ex-smokers out there. Cooking-wise, it’s best to eat them boiled, mashed or baked. kamoteque, anyone?

Oats as in oatmeal

Take a couple of bowls of oat bran or oatmeal a day, and cut down your cholesterol by around 10 percent. Oats contain beta-glucan, a spongy, soluble fiber that sucks cholesterol in the intestines and throws them out of the body. Studies suggest that oats may lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients.

Moreover, oats are one of the few grains that contain the antioxidant tocotrienols, a vitamin E­-like substance. And the dietary fiber in oats makes you feel full faster, so it can help you control your weight. Just watch out for gassiness and bloating from too much oats.


For centuries, ginger has been used in Asia to treat nausea, vomiting, cough, colds, headache, stomachache, and arthritis. Haven’t tried it? Clinical studies show that ginger is as effective as drugs (like Dramamine) to prevent motion sickness and nausea.

Ginger contains one to four-percent volatile oils. Its pungent odor comes from gingerols and shogaols, which are likely responsible for its anti-nausea and anti-vomiting effects. Ginger also acts as an antibiotic, killing bacteria in the test tube, and may have anti-cancer activity. As a first aid, try warm salabat with honey for nausea. It works!

Beans (including monggo beans)

The good: Beans, including monggo beans, red beans, and black beans, are inexpensive sources of soluble fiber, iron, folic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and thiamin. They’re also the poor man’s alternative source of protein. And to top it all, they’re low-fat, low-salt, and have zero cholesterol. A half cup of cooked beans daily can reduce cholesterol, and thus good for diabetics.

Beans contain phytonutrients that may help prevent heart disease and cancer. They also contain protease inhibitors, which help prevent the development of cancer cells. Strict vegetarians will also benefit from the large amounts of folic acid in beans, which can prevent birth defects and anemia. Not yet convinced? Beans are nutritious, delicious, easy to cook, and affordable, too!

The bad: Avoid if you have gout or high uric acid levels.

Ampalaya (bitter gourd)

Okay, I admit I’m biased. Our family members are ampalaya lovers, especially beef with ampalaya. It’s an acquired taste since childhood. But when I heard that the lowly ampalaya has recently been added to the Department of Health’s 10 approved medicinal plants, I can’t help but rejoice for my favorite vegetable.

Ampalaya (Momordica charantia) can be used to treat mild diabetes mellitus. Emphasis on mild. Ampalaya contains a hypoglycemic polypeptide, a plant insulin, responsible for its blood sugar-lowering effects. Others suggest it can help in detoxification and boosting one’s immune system.

Warning: Diabetes experts strongly advise their patients to continue their regular medications and just use ampalaya as a supplement. In serious cases of diabetes, you really need your maintenance medicines.


ann santos said...

Hi rowena! I guess lahat ng good may katapat na bad talaga. So dapat tama lang talaga yung amount na kinakain para more on the good benefits yung makuha natin. pero grabe if I think of those bad effects baka wala na ako makain. hehe. :)

rowena said...

Hi Ann, kakatuwa, while you were here leaving your comment I was in your site naman...ok ha....

Heart of Rachel said...

Talking about diabetes, I just heard that my hubby's 5-yr old nephew is at the hospital because of diabetes. Imagine someone so young has to suffer from diabetes. I feel so sorry for him. I think he has to go into a strict diet after being discharged.

rowena said...

Hi Rach, scary yan, kaya I told my kids to limit their sweets intake bec. hubby nga is diabetic and needs daily insulin na. The kids should have minimal exercise too according to hubby's doctor. Hope your nephew can go back to his normal activities soon...Wish him well.

Belle said...

you know what? i have been eating purple kamote every single morning for breakfast. i eat the whole thing including the skin and i don't any butter or brown sugar. ang sarap!

rowena said...

Hi Belle, I also love kamote like the cassava or nilupak (the one with margarine)...Sarap talaga noh...