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Plate police

Manage your health by micromanaging your meals.

By Adrienne Dy, M.D.

JULY 2013

For many, eating right can be an intimidating endeavor. There are so many factors to consider: calorie count, food labels, ingredients, cooking techniques, right proportions, and an overload of nutrition facts. We all know that a balanced diet plays an important role in our health—it’s how to achieve it that stumps us.

Hitting the targets for nutrition seems to be a nationwide problem. The Philippine Nutrition Facts and Figures 2011 released by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute reveals that a good number of Filipinos miss the mark. One out of 10 adults is chronically energy deficient; on the other end of the spectrum, two out of 10 are overweight, and six out of 100 are obese—a trend that’s increasing over the years. Of the regions, NCR leads when it comes to the prevalence of obesity.

Pyramid or plate?

There have been many strategies to that elusive balanced diet, the most famous being the food pyramid. Anyone can call to mind an image of it: foundations of breads and cereals; middle ground for proteins, fruits, veggies; and the tiny tip for sweets and fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has come up an alternative— illustrates how the proportions are all laid out accessibly on one’s plate.

“At present, what is still recognized nationwide is the Philippine Food Pyramid [by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute], and the ten nutritional guidelines for Filipinos [by the National Nutrition Council], which was recently edited to make it more simplified,” says registered nutritionist and dietitian Maria Bernadette Platon. The vice president of the Philippine Association of Diabetes Educators says some local institutions do also adopt the “My Plate” method.

Whichever strategy is employed, the important thing is to create a culture of “conscious eating.” This doesn’t necessarily require meticulous calorie counting or obsessing over the amounts of sugars and fat—we all know how that can do wonders for sapping appetite. It simply means that we become more conscious of the types and proportions of food we eat—so we can enjoy our meals without going to extremes of excess.

Go Sustansya!

The U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics assures, eating right isn’t complicated. According to their Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating plan:

• emphasizes fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products;

• includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and

• is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.

Our local Department of Health is not one to be left behind. In its recently-launched Pilipinas Go4Health campaign, nutrition is emphasized in Go Sustansya, one of the four identified key health habits. Acknowledging that healthy meals are the best source of energy, vitamins and minerals that people need every day, it declares, “Eating healthy is easy and need not be expensive. The first step is understanding better and healthier meal options … and [establishing] a positive attitude about food.”

Platon shows us how.

Plate up!

A basic grasp of fractions can help you get the right proportions for health. The general rules are simple enough, as Platon explains: “Half of the plate will be your vegetables and fruits, a quarter portion of the plate will be rice or starch, and the remaining quarter will be your protein source.” Need details? Platon acts as our resident plate police to show you exactly how to “get your plate on.”

A. Vegetable and fruits: “Half a plate from fruits and vegetables [can be] rich sources of fiber, vitamin A, C, even calcium.”

Plate police: Fresh fruits and vegetables are best for their fiber content. If they must be cooked, “minimize [the] use of oil. If you must, stir fry or mabilis na gisa instead of sauté, and make sure that the oil you use is never recycled.” Grilling is okay, too, as long as you don’t burn it, as the char can be carcinogenic, Platon cautions.

B. Proteins: red meat (pork, beef); white meat (chicken, fish). “Protein sources also contain iron, zinc, iodine, folic acid.”

Plate police: White meat is healthier than dark meat due to cholesterol content. A three-ounce portion of skinless chicken breast contains 142 calories, 3 grams of fat and 0.9 grams of saturated fat, while the same portion size of skinless chicken thigh contains 170 calories, 9 grams of fat and 3 grams of saturated fat, according to the U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Another way to police protein is by the type of cut of meat. “Lomo or sirloin has lower cholesterol content compared to liempo or pata. Tenderloin [is leaner] than more marbled cuts,” details Platon.

For non-meat protein sources, tofu is a good alternative.

C. Rice or starch: “[These] contain B-vitamins and fiber.”

Plate police: Stumped by starches? Platon helps us out: “Rice is one of the staple foods for Filipinos. While white and brown rice have about the same carbohydrate content, the latter has higher fiber content, so it’s more filling. Wheat bread is better than plain white bread. A half cup of rice is equivalent to one thick slice of bread. Potatoes, kamote, cassava are good options, too. Corn is a healthy choice because it’s more satisfying, plus there’s the challenge of eating it [that makes you eat less].”

For more plate patrolling tips, grab a copy of the July issue of HealthToday.

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