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How to make Filipino foods healthier

Quick tips for the health conscious Filipino

By Anna Rosales, RD, Yakult U.S.A. Inc.

In a Filipino home, the kitchen is the heart. There is rarely a gathering that doesn’t require eating – and we all know you really can’t say no. With obligatory and voluntary consumption of delicious ensaymada, puto, and ube rolls, my stomach is happy but my waistline is not.

Lately my husband has been asking me if I could make some of his favorite Filipino dishes healthier. My first thought was, how can you make crispy pata healthy? As a registered dietitian and professionally trained chef, I’m constantly at war with myself when I cook and eat Filipino food. I want it to be healthy, but no matter what it must be masarap or it won’t get eaten.

With a lifetime ahead of me full of celebrations and weekday dinners, I want my family to know and enjoy Filipino cuisine, but I don’t want this to impact our long-term health. Much of the traditional Pinoy diet is comprised of meat, fried foods, heavy starches and sometimes sugars and sodium. Throw it all together with American portion sizes and you’re at risk for heart disease and diabetes – just by reading the recipes.

I’ve risen to the challenge of finding ways to tweak traditional recipes and staple foods to shave off calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar but not skimp on flavor.

Here’s a look at a few of the healthy changes we’ve made in our house:

Rice

The rice switch was a sticky situation. Telling any Asian they should eat brown rice will most often come with a mountain of resistance. I’ll admit – there’s nothing quite like white, fluffy rice that slightly sticks together when you push it onto your spoon. At first it’s best to meet this challenge half way, mixing both brown and white rice to get half your grains whole. It’s not quite the same but it’s not as drastic a switch as going to all brown rice.

After doing that for a while, we took the plunge to get our fiber intake up and keep our cholesterol in good standing by only eating brown rice at home – except when we have arroz caldo.

Adobo

Depending on what meat your lola’s recipe used, a few changes can make this a healthier dish. If making pork adobo, choose a lean cut of pork like pork loin; if it’s chicken make sure it’s skinless. No matter what the meat is make it lean. Switch the soy sauce to a low sodium version to help keep hypertension at bay. These little switches can be made in many of the stewed recipes from calderata to bulalo for a healthier profile.

Merienda

When it comes to afternoon snacks, we try to keep it light and easy, steering away from baked goods and sweets. This is an easy opportunity to increase our fruit and vegetable intake for the day and we’ll often have just fresh produce for our merienda. Making this change keeps the calories in check and helps us increase our vitamin and fiber intake. If it’s a warm summer day, we might make a mango shake (see recipe).

Spice it up

With family from the Bicol region, we’re not afraid to spice up our dishes. Research suggests that eating hot peppers may help elevate metabolism (every little bit counts). We get our fix with a side of suka at sili with our meals.

These are just a few of the alterations we’ve incorporated for a healthier Filipino meal. I haven’t found a way to alter the crispy pata just yet, but with our other small changes and moderation we’re able to fit it in!

Mango Shake Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup of Sofúl Mango (you can find this is the yogurt section of your local Asian retailer)
3 halves ripe fresh mango or frozen mango
1 cup skim milk
½ cup crushed ice
2 Tbsp whipped topping (optional)

Directions:

Place all ingredients in a blender. Pulse on high speed until mixture is smooth. Pour into a glass, top with whipped topping and enjoy!

Makes 2 servings.

Nutrition breakdown per serving:

Calories: 173 calories
Fat: <1g
Carbohydrate: 33g
Protein: 7g

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