Lunes, Hulyo 9, 2012

Feature: Green, leafy diet, and the healthy Filipino

The folk song “Bahay Kubo” has become a popular Filipino household song because of the distinct picture it paints particularly about Filipino rural life. The song’s upbeat tempo makes it more memorable to the average Filipino listener. But what makes the song truly popular is its rhythmic yet humorous listing of agricultural products commonly seen in the “bahay kubo” -- the pre-globalization representation of the average Filipino home.

“Singkamas, talong, sigarilyas, kamatis, sitaw, bataw, patani. . . .”

The song should be made popular again-- at least this month of July-- as the National Nutrition Council (NNC) is spearheading the country’s celebration of Nutrition Month. Not surprisingly, the agency has chosen the eating of vegetables as the official message of this year’s celebration. The exact theme of the 38th Nutrition Month is: “Pagkain ng gulay ugaliin, araw-araw itong ihain.”

This year’s celebration has these objectives: to increase vegetable consumption as part of a healthy diet to address micronutrient deficiencies and non-communicable diseases; and to promote vegetable gardening as a source of additional food and income, and to increase demand for vegetables to help local vegetable farmers.

This year’s focus on vegetables stems from the recent studies by the Food and Nutrition Research Institutes (FNRI) that over the past 30 years, Filipinos have been eating less vegetables. FNRI said that from 145 grams of vegetable consumption in 1978, Filipinos eat only 110 grams (2008 study) on the average, or only about 2 servings of vegetables every day. Infants 6-11 months old had an intake of only 2 grams of vegetables, while 1 year old children had an intake of 8 grams per day on average.

This is alarming considering that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), low fruit and vegetable intake is among the top ten risk factors for global mortality.  WHO recommends eating a minimum of 400 grams of vegetables and fruits per day which is equivalent to 5 servings, with 3 servings of vegetables per day.

The FNRI also reported that only 67.7% of Filipino households have vegetable gardens or fruit trees. Having a ready supply of vegetables in the household or school backyard could actually help reduce malnutrition and alleviate hunger among the poor families.

What are the benefits of including vegetables in our daily diet?

Fruits and vegetables are considered very healthy, and nutritionists have always advised people to have a high-vegetable diet. Vegetables are a good source of dietary fibers that aid in proper digestion and may help lower calorie intake which help in maintaining healthy weight.

They are also a rich source of micronutrients --  vitamins A, B, C, E and minerals such as selenium, iron, zinc, inositol, biotin,  etc. which promote physical and mental growth. They also contain antioxidants and protectants such as carotenoids, lycopene and phytochemicals which can help strengthen the immune system, improve skin texture, and fight premature ageing.

For young children, vegetables are important sources of vitamin A and iron which are important nutrients that improve children’s immune system, growth and development. 

What makes Filipinos dislike vegetables?

Some Filipinos do not eat vegetables because of different reasons: Some are not just used to eating veggies since childhood, usually because family members do not consume vegetables as well; others find the texture unpalatable for their taste; some just have a limited knowledge of the dishes that could be made from vegetables; and others find vegetables expensive especially in urban areas where greens have to be bought in the countryside.

Having readily available vegetables and fruits is one of the goals of the NNC as this will make Filipinos include greens in their diet. This is also the reason why NNC is promoting the planting of veggies in the backyard and schools.

The Concepcion Elementary School in Marikina City has already started this activity last July 2 when school children planted vegetables in their school yard.  Thousands of school children are also expected to do the same as the Department of Education issued a memorandum encouraging “all schools to celebrate Nutrition Month with the simultaneous planting of vegetables as part of its share to promote consumption of vegetables among children as part of a healthy diet.”

Let us celebrate Nutrition Month this year with a festive gustatory banquet of vegetables and fruits as we fill our body with the necessary nutrients for better growth and development! (RJB/AKG-PIA-NCR)

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