How healthy is your diet?

“The more colorful your plate is the more nutritious it will be…. People are healthy if they eat healthful food. Healthful food [intake results in] healthy people.”

This was said by Dr. Glenn Gregorio, director of Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) during the online launching of “FLEx PHD: Food is Life Exemplified Promoting Planetary Health Diet” on November 16.

The project promotes the consumption of more plant-based food in the planetary health diet (PHD). It is being spearheaded by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) and Searca.

The campaign also launched the competition for the development of mobile application (app) for PHD.

30-year campaign: Generational challenge

It was conceptualized by NAST Interim President Dr. Eufemio T. Rasco Jr., who pointed out that PHD is a 30-year effort in order to help solve the three interconnected existential problems of the Filipinos.

The first, malnutrition and the increasing incidence of chronic diseases that are linked to unhealthy diet; second, poverty among farmers and fisherfolk that is linked to lack of demand for nutritious food; and third, the deteriorating condition of the environment due to disfunctional food system.

Rasco explained that the campaign is set for 30 years because it is promoting the shift in food habits from the current that is “progressively unhealthy” to one that is “science and Filipino-culture based.”

“This is a generational challenge as it takes at least one generation, or 30 years, to effect this kind of behavioral change,” he said.

Rasco expressed optimism that the campaign is doable “because we have done it before.”

He cited smoking, which was rampant before but said that the smoker is now becoming an “extinct species.”

“We believe that we need a change in food habits from one that is highly processed, dominated by unhealthy sugar, salts and fats to one that is more diverse, fresh and rich in dietary fiber,” he said.

He added that food habits ultimately impact on the rural economy.  “If consumers prefer locally grown food, farmers will be assured of a market,” he said.

The PHD as the core idea in making food choices because so far “it is the only dietary pattern that addresses both nutritional and environmental concerns,” he explained.

He pointed out that the campaign needs active advocacy and collaboration of many sectors of society, including education and civil society.

Diets risk factor in diseases

DOST-PCAARRD Executive Director Reynaldo V. Ebora said their vision is a food system that considers the wellbeing of the people and the planet, adopts to the changing environment and accommodates the diversity of food culture.

“The global trend in food preferences is changing in ways that are becoming harmful to the environment and human health,” Ebora pointed out.

He said diets are now becoming the risk factor in the global burden for disease, accounting for one in five deaths globally.

In less-developed countries, nutrient-dense food like eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables can be very expensive, which is much difficult to diversify, he added.

At the same time, he said that processed, high-calorie and low nutritional-value food items like junk foods and canned goods are more accessible and affordable than fresh foods and vegetables.

“This indicate that there is no room for complacency. This necessitate a whole industry approach,” Ebora said.

Fruits and vegetables

Gregorio said the campaign aims to promote PHD as a global preference diet for adults that is symbolically represented by half plate of fruits and vegetables.

“The more colorful your plate is, the more nutritious it will be,” he said.

Gregorio explained that the diet is “flexible and allows for the adoption of dietary needs, personal preference and cultural traditions. Vegetarians and vegans diets are two healthy options in the PHD but are personal choices.”

He said the contest to develop a mobile application will help guide consumers to have informed food choices based on individual biological information or needs, the nutritional and healthy benefits of various foods and values, such as impact to farmers, income and to the environment.

Doctor of 2 patients: People and planet

Dr. Renzo R. Guinto, director of Planetary and Global Health Program at St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine, told the online event that six out of nine planetary boundaries have already been violated.

The boundaries are critical for the survival of the planet and of the people. Among them are climate change and loss of biological diversity.

Guinto pointed out that there is no single disease group that is immune from climate crisis. Infectious diseases like dengue or malaria, cardio-respiratory illnesses due to pollution or extreme heat, and mental health are also impacted by climate emergency.

“As a physician, I am now treating two patients. Not just the people but also the planet,” Guinto pointed out.

“We need the collaboration of different disciplines and sectors because we are addressing multiple interconnecting problems,” he noted.

He said planetary health is “Agham ng Lahat” (Science of All). Lahat is the acronym for Lupa, Araw, Hangin at Hayop, Ako, Tubig and Tao (land, sun, air, animals, myself, water and people).

Because “we have to address all, we need to address across sectors and across disciplines, including the food system that we are producing and consuming,” he said.

Quoting “You are what you eat” of German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, Guinto said there is a need to address the food that we produce and eat, and our health.

PHD: Half of plate with veggies and fruits

He explained that PHD was introduced by Lancet medical journal and Eat Foundation.

“It is symbolized by a plate that is good for the health of the people and of the planet. It contains mainly green vegetables and fruits, with a very little portion of meat,” he explained.

He noted that the current “defective food system” contributes to climate crisis, producing pollution to air and land.

He cited that in the Philippines three of 10 children under 5 years old are stunted; while 9.2 percent of adolescents and 28.8 percent of adults are overweight; and 25 percent of pregnant women are nutritionally at risk.

More benefits of PHD

Guinto said PHD dramatically reduces the contribution of the meat industry to the total greenhouse emission. It should be noted that cattle raising is among the top emitters of greenhouse gas.

It also reduces the incidence of cancer and other noncommunicable diseases because red meat is identified as carcinogen.

Future pandemics are likewise prevented because pathogens jump from animals to humans, explaining that the production of meat to food involves a lot of interaction of animals and human beings.

It lessens antibiotic misuse in the production of meat in agricultural animals, such as pigs, chickens and cattle that worsens antibiotic resistance, Guinto said.

Local veggies: Delicious, nutritious, cheaper

Juana Manahan-Yupangco, founder and editor of  “Mesa ni Misis” promoted in her message the eating of more local vegetables, saying that they are equally nutritious and delicious as the more expensive imported ones.

At the same times, they are cheaper than meat products.

Manahan-Yupangco said the public should appreciate the eating of local vegetables, which she has been campaigning in public schools and hospitals.

She said a 30-day plant-based challenge results in low cholesterol and low blood sugar.

“We suffer from bad diets. We consume too much fats and protein, but less fruits and vegetables. We are killing ourselves,” she pointed out.

She clarified that beans are not the cause of joint paints or uric acid.

“It is an urban legend,” she said. The culprit is the “bagnet” or pork in the “mongo,” or eating of too much meat or fatty food.

She urged the public to look at the “Bahay Kubo kitchen which has 18 vegetables that are all healthful.”

She said as alternative to meat, there are many locally available plant-based protein, such as string beans, pigeon pea and cow pea.

She said the “Mesa ni Misis” has delicious recipes of local vegetables that can be used as alternative to many known dishes, like “upo” lasagna, banana heart “adobo,” “kangkong” pesto or “kadyos” ala Cubana.

Manahan-Yupangco said women or housewives can lead in the lifestyle change of their family because they can decide what their family can eat by trying local vegetables.

“People think western vegetables are more nutritious. We have local vegetables which are equally nutritious,” she said.

She added that with the current higher costs of agricultural products, vegetables are still cheaper compared to meat.

“The challenge is the eating habits and preferences. It is still more affordable to eat vegetables,” she said.

MOA signing on PHD

Rasco, Ebora and Searca Deputy Director for Administration Joselito G. Florendo (representing Searca) signed the memorandum of agreement for the competition for the development of PHD mobile app.

Rasco explained that the idea behind the competition began in 2020 when NAST competed for the Rockefeller Foundation Food System Vision Prize and proposed the creation of a nourishing food system for 30 years.

He said the NAST entry was among the top 1 percent of the more than 1,300 entries, and received the prize money of $25,000.

Rasco said PHD is supported by more than 30 scientists from many disciplines and experts from all over the world, including India and South America.

“The recommendation is not only from rich people. There is scientific consensus on it. PHD is a science-based diet,” Rasco said.

Contest mechanics

Prof. Glenn N. Baticados, program head of Searca’s Emerging Innovation for Growth Department, said the competition is open to all Filipinos of school-age, companies, nongovernment organizatios, cooperatives or associations with three core members.

The deadline of entries is on December 30 at 5 p.m., Philippine time.

A total of 40 teams from 10 regions of the country with be selected, and will be trimmed to eight teams for the finals.

The Rockefeller Foundation prize money was the source of the prizes for the PHD app competition of P500,000 for first prize;P200,000 for second prize, and P100,000 for the third prize.

The goal it to have a free app that is user-friendly for mobile phones with web interface, Baticados said.