Gonzaga: Natural food as medicine

Ecoviews and Issues

I AM sure dear readers that like many Filipinos who love family reunions and special holidays, a lot of you gave in to food cravings and prodding from well-meaning family members. Yes, Christmas and New Year are seasons for food binging. This we know, is real bad, especially for diabetics and those with high blood pressure. But, 2020 is here, signaling new beginning.

So where do we begin with our natural treatment plan? Weight loss should be our first goal when it comes to managing diabetes and hypertension—both precursors of heart disease. Whatever strategy you choose for this — be it low carb, high-protein, or something else — making healthy choices is a must. Ensuring your body is necessary for a long and healthy life.

A good way to do this is to follow the strategy set out in the “Healthy Eating Plate” developed by nutrition experts at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their advice is simple and straightforward: Divide your plate in half. Huh? Well, you have to literally.

Fill one side with vegetables (preferably non-starchy ones) and fruits. Fill the other side with whole grains and healthy protein. Minimize refined grains such as white rice and white bread, from which fiber has been removed.

In Greater Bacolod, we have a good number of outlets, among them the Seacrest Foundation (tel.433-6653; 0908-8143255) where you can buy unpolished red, black, brown, and white rice—best option for diabetics. Unpolished rice has multi-vitamins in it, especially vitamin B complex. Filipinos love fine, white commercial well polished rice, unaware that eating such rice is like eating white sugar. Eating white commercial rice, loaded with chemicals in the form of fertilisers and sprayed pesticides, even after harvest to prevent weevils, has been a major cause for the epidemic like incidence of diabetes among Pinoys.

We also need to choose healthier protein sources, such as fish, poultry, and beans, instead of processed meats like hotdog, bacon, chorizo/longanisa, and cold cuts. Highly processed frozen meat products have become popular and highly saleable even among lower income Filipinos, because they “easy cooking”.

Though coconut oil is found in abundance in the country, many do not use this healthy oil. The worst is, many Pinoys resort to use of recycled cooking oil, bought from food chains, or to save on cost, resort to recycling vegetable oils from the public market. ?

Eat your way to health and wellness

For 2020, do take note that nutrition research is increasingly exploring connections between eating patterns and health. Healthy eating pattern should help you lose weight, and control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. It should also be good for your heart, your brain, and every other part of your body.

What are some common eating patterns of special importance to people with diabetes? Those that closely follow recommendations on diet from the American Diabetes Association are as follows:

Vegetarian. Vegetarians eat mostly food from plants. Some include milk (almond or coconut milk are good options) and other dairy foods (lacto vegetarian), while others include eggs (ovo vegetarian) or both dairy and eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarian). Though this doesn’t strictly count as “vegetarian”, people sometimes call themselves vegetarian if they eat mainly vegetables but with little chicken (pollo vegetarian), fish (pesco vegetarian), or the occasional serving of red meat, chicken, or fish (flexitarian). Clinical trials have shown that vegetarian diets may be better than traditional low-fat diets for helping people with type 2 (adult) diabetes, control blood sugar and cholesterol.

A vegan, on the other hand, eat only food from plants— they do not consume any animal products or byproducts: no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy foods, such as yogurt or cheese. Interestingly, a 2015 review of vegan diets and diabetes, University of Illinois at Chicago researchers showed that, like vegetarian diets, traditional vegan diets improve blood glucose and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes better than standard low-fat diets.

What about Mediterranean diet? In the 1950s and 1960s, nutrition research pioneer Ancel Keys and his colleagues studied eating patterns in 16 different populations in seven countries. They observed that people living in Crete, other parts of Greece, and southern Italy tended to live longer than others in the study and had lower rates of heart disease and some cancers.

Keys was convinced that the regional diets, together named “the Mediterranean diet”, was important reason for the good health in those populations. For the past four decades, studies have shown further that a Mediterranean-type diet can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions.

Here are the general features of a Mediterranean-type dietary pattern:

Plant foods as the main source of calories: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes (like beans, peas, and lentils), with a preference for foods that are fresh and minimally processed to preserve nutrients.

Other key elements in the Mediterranean diet are olive oil as the main source of fat, low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt with meals, moderate amounts of fish and poultry as the preferred sources of animal protein, and minimal amounts of red meat?

Fresh fruit with meals instead of desserts.

Those who drink alcohol, under the Mediterranean diet, consume wine in low to moderate amounts (no more than two glasses a day for men or one a day for women), usually with meals.

There is one other thing you need to know about healthy diet: DASH.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial, done in the 1990s, showed a substantial reduction in blood pressure from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods, and with reduced sodium, saturated fat, and total fat. In several small trials among people with type 2 diabetes, a DASH approach has been shown to help control blood sugar, blood pressure, and other cardiovascular risk factors.

The DASH didn’t examine a specific eating pattern. Instead, nutritionists helped participants create meals and snacks that each day delivered enough calories for good health and weight loss (1,200 to 1,800 calories a day). Fat provided less than 30% of calories, while protein provided more than 15%. Participants were also encouraged to replace one or two meals or snacks a day with alternatives such as portion-controlled shakes, bars, or meals that contained 150 to 220 calories. Those who used meal replacements had better diet quality and lost more weight than those who didn’t.

Finally, any healthy eating pattern should spread meals evenly over the course of the day: breakfast after you wake up; lunch in the middle of the day; dinner or supper toward the end of the day, but not too close to bedtime; a snack or two if needed in between meals. Missing a meal often means eating extra food later, which can lead to a big spike in blood glucose and put extra pressure on the pancreas to make insulin.


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