This is not a secret: Eating healthy is a main contributor to a long and happy life. Together with exercise, these are the major ways that we can make a big difference to our own health. If you do not eat right, you will have to work extra hard to undo the damage done, if it can be undone at all.

Why do people not eat right? There can be many reasons. One is a lack of awareness that our current diet contains too much of stuff that is bad for our health. In order to help members of our community eat healthier, we have prepared a series of articles that aim to inform: what are the food ingredients that we should watch out for, where to find the healthier alternatives, and what the currently popular lifestyle diets are about:

  • Kitchen for healthy cooking in The Fort - healthy cooking ingredients and where to find them in The Fort
  • Going Organic in The Fort
  • Vegetarian dining places in The Fort
  • Healthy Eat Outs in The Fort - criteria in choosing restaurants for health
  • Eat Like a Caveman in The Fort - explains paleolithic diet and other lifestyle diets

In addition, we have put our research results about healthy eating in an exhibition that will be held in Serendra Piazza from October 15 to 18, 2015. There will be health talks and booths on October 16th (Friday) and 17th (Saturday). Do visit us and be part of our sharing.

In the first article of the series on Eating Healthy in The Fort, we will discuss the three most commonly used kitchen ingredients, and how to make sure that they are consumed in a way that contributes to our good health. We will also introduce three healthy food ingredients that can be used as staple in our diet.

Ingredient for seasoning #1 - Salt

Too much salt is not good for you, we know. Salt is made from sodium chloride, and if consumed at high levels it will elevate our blood pressure, leading to strokes, heart failure and heart disease. However, too little salt is also bad for us. Salt supplies electrolyte sodium to your diet (maintains fluid balance within your cells, for contracting your muscles and for transmitting nerve impulses). A 2010 Harvard study linked low-salt diets to an immediate onset of insulin resistance (precursor to type 2 diabetes).

The best approach is therefore to control the amount of salt intake. Gradually reducing the amount of salt used in a dish is a good way to achieve that. The use of naturally flavored salt, such as garlic salt and celery salt, or sea salt which contains flavors from the mineral content, may reduce the need for larger quantity of total salt intake.

Salts which contain a combination of sodium and potassium chloride are now available in Metro Manila. One of the available and used products is Pan Salt. Pan salt contains less sodium and more potassium than regular salt.

Sodium salt alternative: potassium salt can be found in Rustan's Marketplace at Central Square, BHS.

Ingredient for seasoning #2 - Sugar

Admit it, we love sugar. We cannot live without sugar. Yet too much sugar is bad for us for so many reasons, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high triglyceride levels. All of these boost your risk of heart disease. And refined sugar is the worst kind of sugar. It contains a lot of calories and no nutrients like vitamins, fiber or minerals. It also causes spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels (high glycemic index). Somehow, our body has trouble coping with such spikes and they make us sick (a high glycemic index increases the risk of breast, prostate, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers as well as developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease).

If we are looking for a sweetener to be used for general cooking, refined white sugar is the most versatile. It is also cheap, because of the large scale of production. Substitutes are likely to be more expensive. However, if we can adjust our palate to enjoy food with lower level of sweetness, we do not need so much of refined sugar or its substitute.

We do not recommend using artificial sweeteners, as they have their own health issues and taste problems. For cooking, we would suggest using raw sugar. Yes, it is still made from sugar cane, but it is less refined. There are also other less refined sugar such as Muscovado sugar that contains more nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. Coconut palm sugar, which is plentiful here in the Philippines, is also a recommended refined sugar substitute by Organic Lifestyle Magazine. At the end of the day, though, these alternatives still have high calories and we should try to consume less.

Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni), a sugar substitute that comes from a plant that is native to Paraguay and Brazil, has a very low glycemic index. Stevia has no calories, and it is 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration. But there are some health concerns surrounding the stevia plant. Stevia may cause low blood pressure, which would be of concern to some taking blood pressure medications. It is also quite expensive by comparison. Use in moderation.

Stevia can be found at Robinsons Select at Burgos Circle, although they are placed in the tea section, not in the sugar section.

Ingredient for cooking - Oil

Cooking oil is often used to raise the temperature of food ingredients so as to bring out the flavor of the food using different cooking methods, such as stir-frying, deep frying, and sauteeing. However, cooking oil can become a health hazard when it reaches its smoke point. Oil in unrefined form contains substances such as minerals, enzymes and other compounds that will burn or produce bad taste when heated. Toxins may be produced when these substances break down, either through time or as a result of heating it. To raise the smoke temperature of a cooking oil, manufacturers use industrial methods to remove these substances, e.g. bleaching, filtering, and high-temperature heating. The objective is to extend the shelf life of the oil. Often, the refined oil has its flavor removed, leaving a neutral taste, which can be either a good thing or bad, depending on its use.

To slow down the degradation of cooking oil, keep it air tight in a dry place, and away from light and heat.

Thus, one health aspect of cooking oil is to take into consideration its smoke point when using it for a particular cooking method, so that we do not hit the smoke point and create toxins in the oil.

Another health aspect of cooking oil is the content of different types of fat in it. While new studies question the established wisdom that saturated fat is bad for the heart, no study has disputed that trans fat increases the risk of getting heart diseases. Trans fat is found in margarine, because margarine is made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which in turn contains trans fat. We should also use oil that is low in saturated fat (bad fat), high in monounsaturated fat which promotes HDL (good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Polyunsaturated fat is also better than trans fat and saturated fat, but not as good as monounsaturated fat. Any oil, however, has high calories level and should be consumed in moderation.

The two most recommended cooking oils are : extra virgin olive oil (smoke point of 180 degrees Celsius), which, when used in salads and sauteeing, has high monounsaturated fat (78%) and low in saturated fat (14%), as well as antioxidents called polyphenols; canola oil, which has high monounsaturated fat (61%) and the lowest saturated fat among vegetable oils (7%).

Extra virgin olive oil can be found in nearly all major supermarkets in Bonifacio Global City.

Trendy Healthy Food Ingredient #1 - Quinoa

This food gained tremendous popularity in recent years. According to Huffington Post, "It's a complete protein -- meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food". Also, it is a seed, not a grain (but who really cares). It grows from a plant in the goosefoot family, which also produces edibles such as chard and spinach. Quinoa has long been a staple ingredient, dating back to pre-Columbian civilizations in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. While Quinoa is originated from Bolivia, Quinoa cultivation is spreading and now occurs in more than 70 countries, including France, England, Sweden, Denmark, Holland and Italy. It is also being developed successfully in Kenya, India and the United States. The United Nations announced 2013 as the international year of Quinoa.

When cooked, Quinoa is like a translucent rice, only that it is disc shaped rather than oval shape. It has little or no taste, but can be a little chewy. When used in a salad, it can acquire the flavor of the dressing and become tasty.

Quinoa is sold in healthy food stores as well as supermarkets like Rustan's, Robinson's Select and SM Aura.

Trendy Healthy Food Ingredient #2 - Soba

Soba is a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. Buckwheat is the fruit of a plant that is related to rhubarb. "Buckwheat contains more protein than grains and is not deficient in the amino acid lysine as most grains are, so the protein is more nutritionally complete. That makes it a particularly good choice for vegetarians. It's an excellent source of magnesium, a boon to your blood pressure. A phytochemical in buckwheat may be beneficial in the management of diabetes; studies show it may have the ability to lower blood glucose levels. It's also a good source of fiber."

Soba can be found in some supermarkets as well as Japanese and Korean convenience stores in BGC.

Trendy Healthy Food Ingredient #3 - Brown Rice

Brown rice is technically rice which has undergone milling only once and whose bran and germ are still intact.

Polished rice losses substantial nutrients including 80% of Vitamin B1, 67% of Vitamin B3, 90% of Vitamin B6, 50% of the phosphorous, 50% of the iron and all the dietary fiber and essential fatty acids.

In terms of taste, brown rice tastes less sweet than plain rice, but it does not mean that it tastes bad. In fact, after a while, you may prefer the taste of brown rice to plain rice. It takes more water to cook brown rice, else some people may find brown rice too hard compared to white rice.

Image below is a comparison of the health benefits of quinoa versus those of brown rice, from the conclusion is that both are very good for our health, especially when compared against the usual staple food like white rice, white bread or potato.

Quinoa vs brown rice: both are winners.

Brown rice can be found in several supermarkets in BGC. Some restaurants also serve brown rice.

We do not need to replace all our familiar cooking ingredients, or stop eating rice or other grain products such as bread. If we can substitute some of our regular food items with those listed above every now and then, and reduce the consumption of sugar and salt, we are already on the way to a healthier eating habit.

Please remember to visit our Healthy Yummy Campaign event at Serendra Piazza on October 15 to 18, 2015 in which you will find even more information on healthy eating. See you there!

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