Talking points: Are Filipinos eating healthy diets?

Ma. Eileen B. Blanco, Region 1 Nutrition Program Coordinator, said that this year’s Nutrition Month celebration is anchored on the theme “Healthy diet, gawing habit – FOR LIFE” and focuses on the promotion of healthy diet covering all age brackets

But what is a healthy diet and why is it of primary importance to make it a habit…. for life?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a healthy diet:

a. includes a variety of foods from different food groups;

b. meets the individual needs for calories and nutrients;

c. is safe, with no risk from toxins, bacteria, mold or chemicals;

d. is enjoyable and culturally acceptable; and

e. is available and sufficient each day and all year round.

Moreover, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, root crops, fat-free or low fat milk, lean meats, poultry, fish, egg, beans and nuts. It is also low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.

A healthy diet is also consistent with the following principles in nutrition:

a. Balance – refers to consuming foods from different food groups in proportion to each other.

b. Variety – refers to eating different kinds of food from the different food groups every day. No single food provides all the nutrients in proper amounts needed by the body; therefore, a wide selection of food is vital to obtaining a healthy diet and achieving good nutrition.

c. Moderation- refers to eating the right proportions of food, that is, not consuming too much or too little as compared with what the body needs.

Extremes in food consumption may lead to various repercussions. For example, a certain amount of fiber is good for digestion, but too little intake of fiber may increase the risk for constipation, heart disease and weight gain.

On the other hand, too much fiber may lead to certain nutrient losses.

But are Filipinos eating healthy diets?

It has been observed that there has been a shift in the dietary pattern of Filipinos in terms of quality and quantity over the years. The typical diet consists mainly of cereals which are sources of carbohydrates. The consumption of meats and eggs has also increased. However, the consumption of vegetables and fruits has continued to decline. Per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables is only 41 grams and 114 grams per capita per day, respectively, or a total of 155 grams per day. This, despite the recommendation of the World Health Organization that we consume 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day.

In terms of adequacy, 7 in 10 Filipino households do not meet their dietary energy requirement and that only a small proportion of households met the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for certain nutrients such as vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin C and thiamin.

The Global School-based Student Health Survey conducted in the Philippines in 2011 showed that among students aged 13-15 who participated in the survey, 42% usually drank carbonated soft drinks one or more times per day during the past 30 days.

The Nielsen Shopper Trends Report in 2014 showed that there was a 13% decline in the monthly grocery spending of Filipinos compared to 2012. The decrease in grocery spending was accompanied by the increase of Filipinos eating out, with 25% of consumers eating at fast food restaurants at least once a week. Convenience stores are also encouraging Filipinos to dine away from home by offering prepared meals, catering to the increasing demand for convenience. In the 2016 Global Ingredient and Out-of-Home Dining Trends Report of Nielsen, it was noted that ice cream and salty snack sales were growing in the Philippines.

Guys, we must not only celebrate Nutrition Month this July but also start the habit of eating a healthy diet… for life! (Source: National Nutrition Surveys, FNRI-DOST)