By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — Filipinos are known for delicious food, but really bad for the health too. Our crispy lechon is full of fat and salt. Our desserts, biko, leche flan, name it, are ridiculously sweet. Our dried fish, which cures nostalgia, is super salty.
But how does one eat healthy and still maintain the same delicious taste of comfort foods we are used to? There are no quick answers to this nagging question.
Tristan Visconde, program manager of the Reach Far Project undertaken by the New York University noted that the cultural barriers are the most difficult challenges in changing the Filipino palate in order to have healthy hearts and overall physical and mental states.
At the town hall forum of the Reach Far Project, a community health program for Asian Americans sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, Visconde presented the progress of the program implemented for the Filipinos by the Kalusugan Coalition. Since March 2015, the KC has partnered with three local churches and three Filipino restaurants in Queens (Payag Restaurant, Kabayan, and Tito Rad’s Grill) in promoting healthy menu for Filipinos.
Education and advocacy is the main thrust of the project which informs the public to eat foods with less fat and sodium in order to veer away from heart diseases, particularly hypertension, a leading cause of death among Filipinos in the US. For a more focused-oriented intervention, it has tapped the churches where food during Sunday services are abundant. The Yeshua Worldwide Ministries, the Elmhurst Baptist Church, and the Bayanihan Seventh Day Adventist are leading the effort to promote less fat and salt in food and more fruits and vegetables and whole grain on the buffet table.
For restaurants, the KC has encouraged discounted menus on healthy recipes. Rachel Avendula of the Payag Restaurant shared during the town hall meeting that its Utan Bisaya (Visayan vegetable soup) has been well-received by clients. Utan bisaya is a mix of malunggay, squash, and chayote, a popular traditional home-made soup in the Visayas.
According to Mary Joy Garcia Dia, executive director for Kalusugan Coalition, achieving healthy lifestyles is a slow process but it can be done. “We will continue to educate the Filipinos on preparing or requesting for healthier food,” she said. Dia explained that the program takes after a research study conducted by the Kalusugan Coalition which identified hypertension and diabetes as the leading causes of mortality among Filipinos.
The town hall forum was co-sponsored by the Fil-am Press Club of New York (FAPCNY), its first kapihan for 2016. (Photos by Luis Pedron)