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Eating Well: How Filipinos Can Eat Better, According To A Dietitian

If you’re trying to start eating healthy, you don't need to change your whole life overnight. Small changes over time are more sustainable, and don't forget that healthy eating is a journey!

It’s not hard to come across diet and nutrition advice. There’s always someone talking about this new fad diet they’re trying, social media telling you about all the foods you should avoid, or a relative forwarding an article about why this one food will help you lose weight.

So maybe you decide you want to eat healthier, maybe lose some weight, and you decide: I won’t eat rice and sugar. You manage a healthy breakfast at home. Then you get to lunch and there’s not a lot of choice, but there’s definitely rice and desserts. You skip it, but after a few days, you get so hungry and your cravings are so strong, you cave in, eat the rice and dessert, and it tastes so good but you think: I can’t do it, I can’t be healthy, I give up.

Weight Loss Diet Trends To Leave Behind In 2022


Weight Loss Diet Trends To Leave Behind In 2022

We often feel like we are in full control of our health, so when we fail, it is all our fault. While we definitely do make choices, it's sometimes forgotten how much the food environment shapes our health. 

I definitely agree that the food environment is challenging. A lot of my work is spent strategizing with clients about their unique living situations, budgets, and the challenges they encounter trying to get healthy food on the table. Vegetables and fruits can be expensive, especially these days. The market can be a far drive or commute, and your corner store is full of packaged and highly processed foods. Plus, the restaurants close by serve a lot of tasty, fried, fatty, salty, or overly sweet foods. Not to mention the usual challenges like lack of time, or not knowing what or how to cook.

Navigating this difficult food environment does need some planning, preparation, and the right mindset. It would be so great if the healthy choice was the easy choice! Even if healthy takes a little more work, there are still small things you can do that can go a long way for health.

Healthy eating is not perfect eating

You don’t have to only eat healthy foods 100% of the time to be healthy. For starters, that can cause a lot of stress, which is also not healthy, and food is only one part of health. I keep in mind the 80/20 rule: eating more fresh and minimally processed foods 80% of the time is a realistic and manageable goal. If you have some bubble tea or fried chicken when you go out one night, it’s not going to undo all the fruit and veggies you had during the week.

Rice is not the enemy

Actually, about 50% of your calories should actually come from carbs, so a balanced plate can include rice! The key is in the portion size: filling up on the right amount of veggies and protein will help you eat the right amount of carb too. Also, the ideal choice is complex carbs like whole grains because they are less refined. So something like brown or red rice can have a little more nutrients and fiber than white rice. But if you like white rice, you can mix it, or add in whole grains in other parts of your day instead. And also as Filipinos, this is culturally our staple food so it’s really not realistic to completely avoid it!

Dining out can be challenging, but you can still choose

If you’re someone who eats out often, this matters more. Even if it can feel like there’s not many healthy choices, try and choose a place where at least some parts of the meal can be more nutritious options. Maybe more fruit or veggies, or lean proteins like poultry, fish and seafood, or more grilled, steamed, or baked food. Maybe you can even find whole grains or plant proteins like beans or tofu. It can help your health to get as much nutritional value as you can, and also feel good after your meal, so skip fatty meats, big sugary drinks, and very oily, deep fried, or fast food most of the time.

Sometimes you might be able to modify your meal, like with extra veggies, less salt, or sauces on the side. But if it’s really a struggle to find something healthy, for example if you’re someone who needs to eat close to your workplace every day, you might consider cooking even just part of your meal. It might help to bring your own veggies and pick up the protein and carbs which are easier to find, or even start smaller and just pack some healthier snacks for merienda.

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Home-cooked still wins for health

There are studies that suggest that people who cook more have an overall healthier diet. This makes sense, as you can control the quality of the ingredients like cooking oils, added salt and sugar, and cooking methods. You still do have to cook nutritious foods of course, but even if it’s just a part of your meal, or just a few meals a week, home-cooked can go a long way.

Other perks of cooking are you can save money, and cooking can be a fun hobby or something to do with friends or family. Eating together with others also adds to wellbeing!

Cooking is a skill, so you can get better at it 

Even if you don’t cook yet, it’s definitely something you can learn which is great for growth. But yes, you do need to spend some time learning and practicing, just as any skill! I remember a time when I had to search for a video showing how to cook a piece of chicken! Or when I burned the bottom of my rice pot (many times). It’s part of it, so start simple and don’t expect perfection. Luckily there are many ways to learn and quick videos to watch, so it’s easier than ever. Try to cook what you’ll actually like to eat, and foods you can actually find at the grocery.

Shop local

A lot of healthy foods talked about online are not the most accessible. You don't need to eat only those to be healthy, there are many local fruits and veggies that are just as good! I love okra, kangkong, bean sprouts, eggplant, and ampalaya, and they’re much more affordable than that single bell pepper! Fruits like papaya, apple, pineapple, and watermelon are easy to find and will also give you the nutrients you need if you can't find fresh berries.

A little prep goes a long way

Behind a healthy meal is a process. Besides learning how and what to actually cook, you also will have to find and buy ingredients, or kitchen equipment like food containers, and make time to prep. Every small step matters, so have a plan and a process. Having your pantry or fridge stocked can be the difference between making something simple and having to order out. Setting aside time to meal prep can seem like a big commitment but actually save you time during the week!

A big way I prep is using the freezer. Frozen food is just as nutritious as fresh, and often cheaper too. And you can cook and freeze meals so they're ready to go after reheating. I often freeze rice and cooked meat or fish, then quickly air fry some frozen broccoli!

If you’re trying to start eating healthy, you don't need to change your whole life overnight. Small changes over time are more sustainable, and don't forget that healthy eating is a journey!

Chella Po, MS, RD is a New York City-trained US registered dietitian who can be found on Instagram as She uses science to back up her professional advice for clients seeking to create a sustainable, healthy diet without counting calories, restrictive plans, or stress! Contact her for a free discovery call today.