While largely influenced by Malaysian, Polynesian, Spanish and Chinese cuisine, the Filipino diet also carries traces of Western meals. Generally, however, it mainly consists of two important staples - rice and bread. As the country celebrates National Nutrition Month, MIMS profiles the other staples of the local diet - poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Visually, Filipino foods are colorful and a mixture of various types - seafood, poultry products and vegetables - and cooked in variety of ways including fried, boiled, steamed, stewed or grilled.

Most Filipinos typically eat five times a day, three of them are the standard, full-meal - breakfast, lunch and dinner - and the other two - called merienda - are small snacks taken mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Others throw in an additional late night snack of sweets.

Unlike certain cultures, Filipinos serve food, from appetizer to entrees, at the same time so there is usually a spread on the table. Although there are occasions or situations that call for eating with one’s finger, generally, people use a spoon and fork for eating.

The staples

Main meals typically consist of steamed white rice paired with a entree, or the main course. Leftover rice is usually fried the next day, especially during breakfast, with either just garlic or any leftover viands from the previous night. Plain garlic rice is preferred for breakfast and is known locally as 'sinangag'

Vegetables are either steamed or stir-fried. Common vegetables include young sweet potato leaves, watercress, bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots and okra. Those who can afford more expensive vegetables add green peppers, and cauliflower to their diet.

Beef and pork are still part of the Filipino diet, and the staple poultry is chicken. However, seafood, which are abundant in the country have a special place in the diet, and among the most common are milkfish, clam, anchovies, sardines and shrimp.

Bread, corn and noodles are likewise considered staples due to their versatility.

The most common fruit for Filipinos is the banana, and while there are a hundred varieties in the Philippines, there are only two often that end up in public markets or retail outlets. Fruits are usually eaten as dessert, and these include mangoes, melon and watermelon and the common orange varieties. Guava, soursop and pomelo are other popular fruit varieties. Durian, the fruit with a very strong odor, takes some getting used to and is native to southern Philippines.

The influx of imported fruits introduced apples, grapes and oranges to the Filipino palate. Coconut is popular enough that it is a frequent ingredient in soup, desserts and many local entree dishes.

Filipinos prefer their food savory. As such, sauces and condiments are staples during mealtimes. From fermented fish sauce, locally known as patis, to soy sauce or vinegar mixed with lime, ginger, garlic and onions, it adds a lot of flavor to dishes.

The more common sauces include adobo sauce, sweet and sour sauce, miso tomato and spicy barbecue sauce.

Fat and micronutrients

Adoption Nutrition (AN), a nutrition-focused international group, noted that the traditional local diet is high in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol compared with other Asian diets. It likewise added that the diet may be in need of additional calcium, iron, selenium, vitamin A, zinc and iodine.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meanwhile, pointed out that the country is mainly facing protein related malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

To address this, lawmakers passed a food fortification law - Republic Act 8976 or the Act Establishing the Philippine Food Fortification Program and for other purposes” which calls for nutrient fortification of flour, oil, sugar with vitamin A and rice with iron. It seeks to solve the micronutrient malnutrition problem.

Food-centred culture

Whatever the occasion, food is at the centre when Filipinos celebrate. And there are a lot of occasions celebrated other than birthdays. There are baptisms, death, graduations, religious festivities, not to mention Christmas and New Year. A simple family visit could already involve potluck lunch. And it is usually buffet-style dining.

And according to endocrinologist Dr Thiele Isip-Tan, there lies the problem because it is this culture that makes the country face the double burden of malnutrition and obesity.

Nutritional status

According to a nutrition status study done by the Inter-Agency Regional Analyst Network (RAN) and the Action Against Hunger (ACF), they found that 3.4 million children are stunted and about 300,000 are underweight.

The Food Nutrition and Research Institute (FNRI) in 2015, meanwhile found that 34.4 percent of children up to five years are stunted and the number is expected rise by 2030. From the same group, 21.5 percent are underweight and 7.1 percent have malnutrition.

The FNRI also noted a increasing malnutrition rate among those 0-2 years old.

National Nutrition Month

The National Nutrition Council initiates the observation of the National Nutrition Month in the country. With a different theme for its annual campaign. NNC is the Department of Health’s lead agency on nutrition.

“A healthy diet, which is part of a healthy lifestyle, is the foundation of good health. It is a diet that is able to satisfy one’s energy and nutrient needs for proper body functions, growth and development, daily activities and maintenance of health, keeping well within one’s caloric needs,” said the DOH in statement, relating to this year’s theme “Healthy diet, gawing habit - for life.” (Making a healthy diet a life habit).

The FAO described a healthy diet as having various food groups, satisfies needs for calories and nutrients, is safe, enjoyable and culturally acceptable and available year round.

The nutritional campaign will be conducted in schools and local government units where majority of stakeholders are based.

“I emphasize that adequate supply of clean, drinking water should be made available to prevent dehydration. Likewise, vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly should be given attention to prevent nutrient deficiencies,” said Secretary Paulyn Ubial. MIMS

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