By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman
“THERE’S no junk food, only a junk diet,” said Divorah V. Aguila, Food and Nutrition Research Institute specialist and senior science research, at a media round-table discussion on June 28 about the Filipino diet.
She said even “junk food” like chips and chocolates have calories, which the body needs. It all boils down to the golden rule: everything in moderation and with limitations. But there is no one-size-fits-all measure when it comes to food limits and intake — these differ according to one’s weight, height, age, and body mass index.
“Junk food” like burgers, fries, and sodas — often consumed in urban areas in the Philippines — are needed by underweight children in rural places because they are rich in calories, which are needed for weight gain, she said.
Ms. Aguila pointed out that in the Philippines, two out of 10 children aged six months to 12 years are malnourished; three of 10 children between the ages of six and 12 years are “stunted” — a situation when they have stopped growing for a long period.
“We did not achieve our Millennium Development Goal in 2015, which is decreasing the number of underweight in the country,” Ms. Aguila told BusinessWorld.
She said most of the stunted children are found in Bicol, Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan), and the supertyphoon Yolanda-stricken provinces in the Visayas region. She attributed the problem to being poor and living in areas vulnerable to typhoons.
On the other hand, the majority of the overweight Filipinos are urbanites, for reasons including the increasing number of fast food joints offering unlimited rice, having sedentary lifestyles, and lack of sleep from either partying or overwork, said Ms. Aguila.
To make things worse, she said the latest FNRI study shows that eight out of 10 Filipinos do not eat their vegetables. She added that having “brunch” (breakfast and lunch combined) which is popular among busy people who have no time to eat breakfast, only “makes you over-eat.”
“Our food items are carbohydrate- and calorie-dense, but not rich in nutrients,” she added.
The latest FNRI survey in 2013 (it is done every five years) showed that rice is still the most consumed food product in the country, followed by salt, cooking oil, coffee, and sugar.
In line with this, the FNRI and Department of Science and Technology have issued nutritional guidelines for Filipinos, which has two golden rules. 1: “eat a variety of foods every day to get the nutrients needed by the body”; and, 2: “Be physically active, make healthy food choices, manage stress, avoid alcoholic beverages, and do not smoke to help prevent lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases.”
Ms. Aguila suggests eating malunggay (moringa) leaves, which abound in the country, are cheap (and sometimes free if they are picked from the backyard), and are rich in nutrients and vitamins.
Although not food replacements, supplements can work because they augment those that are low or missing in one’s diet.
The event, held at Myron’s Place, Greenbelt, was sponsored by Nutrilite, a company that sells vitamins and dietary supplements.