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Sunday, March 28, 2010


I have a book my mother purchased years ago titled "Healing Foods (The Ultimate Authority on the Curative Power of Nutrition" by Patricia Hausman & Judith Benn Hurley. It is an 'A to Z compendium of the foods that can save your life' as written on smaller type at the top of the front cover. I have devoured this book endlessly. Every time I feel (or imagine) I have an ailment I consult the book's index to see if there's anything that can alleviate my symptoms or ailment at that particular moment. For instance I've checked 'bleeding gums', 'gout', 'hair loss', 'weight management', etc. in the past. I will get to gout later...

My mother, as influenced by her grandmother, raised us on natural remedies and old wives' concoctions for everything from fever (a foot rub of crushed garlic and coconut oil), colds (warm, unsweetened calamansi juice) to scars (rubbing aloe vera on specified area) and thinning hair (again, rubbing aloe vera on specified area). I grew up with no dependence on drugstore medications, partly because I was also allergic to penicillin and most antibiotics as a kid. I would like to think my mother was wise in raising us the way she did. I also believe our vegetarianism during our Ananda Marga/Yoga years in the 70s helped boost our immune systems. While most of my friends would down a painkiller for the slightest of headaches, or aspirin for fever... I have through the years been virtually sick-free. I also brag that I have never been confined in the hospital in all my 42 years.

Going back to the book, it is but natural that up to today I gravitate to natural remedies. I am a great fan of Dr. Andrew Weil (I've read his books. I've subscribed to his website. I've never seen him on Oprah) and I try my darnedest to eat sensibly and healthily (no fast food, soda-free since 1997, limit meat intake to once or twice a week, veggies and fruits galore, etc.) and to walk at least 30 minutes everyday. 'Healing Foods' is a well-researched book that lists food items and explains why these are good for you -- eg. the entry on "Alfalfa Sprouts... although low in protein, vitamins and minerals, they rate the superfood label because they balance the scales with three other attributes: amazingly few calories, no fat, and virtually no sodium". Aside from extolling the virtues of a given food entry, the authors also give tips on how to prepare these food items in your kitchen. Recipes in the book are therefore provided sometimes an entire two or three weeks' worth of meals from breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks if say, you're on a cholesterol-lowering diet or suffer from a disease like anemia. Pen and ink illustrations of each food item complement the entry. And on it goes with other entries like acerola, apricots, artichokes, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, cereals, cowpeas, figs, kiwifruit, kohlrabi, lamb, millet, oranges, parsnips, to name some. The entries are not limited to food only -- the book also tackles ailments or diseases that may be alleviated by diet like Allergy, Anemia, Angina, Appendicitis, Arthritis -- and those are only with the Letter 'A'.

My sister recently lent me five magazines (More, Real Simple, Vogue) and while reading these I have come across health/diet/exercise articles that really say what we already know: Eat less meat, eat more vegetables and fruits, exercise regularly, and manage stress properly. Here now is my conundrum: 'Healing Foods', like those other magazines, is geared to western lifestyles and while I am consciously trying to be more healthy I have also decided in the past two years to buy locally. It is indeed better for the environment and easier on the budget. Besides where in the Philippines do I find fresh acerola or apricots? What for heaven's sake are buckwheat and bulgur? You see, like Sophia Loren, I have decided to NOT eat anything that comes canned or packaged but try to eat only fresh, and if possible, organic produce. The only imported stuff in our larder is olive oil. Okay, I also have vegemite (rich in Vitamin B) in the fridge given to me by a friend based down-under. (I sometimes give in to imported cheese and chocolate -- but mostly when they're given to me -- HA! Pass on the carbon-guilt to somebody else!)

So I got to thinking, why doesn't/hasn't anyone in the Philippines come up with a book on nutrition as easily digestible as 'Healing Foods'? We have all the able nutritionists and doctors here who could research on local produce. If I were to publish said book I would call it 'The Healthy Pinoy' -- contract the leading experts on Filipino Health and Nutrition and maybe commission Laida Lim to kitchen test and whip up delicious, healthy recipes. The song 'Bahay Kubo' alone has all the backyard vegetables our grandparents told was good for us. I especially like 'malunggay' fruit not the leaves which my dad would include in his 'dinengdeng' or even 'patani' and 'sigarilyas'. I am sure these vegetables are rich in fiber and vitamins.

An aunt once told me about her coming across a study on Regional Filipino Nutrition in the mid-80s and the study found out that the Ilocos Region was the healthiest overall in the Philippines. This was attributed to their daily intake of vegetables. Yes the Ilocanos have bagnet, longganisa, pinapaitan, etc. (all fatty and cholesterol laden dishes) but I'd like to think
the Ilocano lifestyle could be our equivalent to the French Paradox. Ilocanos like their vegetables and rarely are they cooked with meat (grilled fish is the preferred sahog in dinengdeng or pakbet), they are heavy on fish, low on dairy, and typically eat their meats on special occasions. My grandmother upon migrating to California had a vegetable garden wherein she planted ampalaya, talong, kamatis, etc. just so she can have her pakbet when she desired.

Sadly, McDonald's and Jollibee are scattered in every province in the Philippines couple that with a sedentary lifestyle (due to computers and cable TV), the ordinary Pinoy today is no longer as healthy as his parents' and grandparents' generation were. Obesity especially in urban centers among children and teens is a growing epidemic.

How I wish 'The Healthy Pinoy' will become a reality (attn: Anvil Publishing). I would like to read on and try new recipes for ampalaya, alugbati, bamboo shoots, not to mention our local fruits like caimito, makopa, singuelas, or the variety of seaweeds we eat and other exotic foodstuffs only found in the Philippines or Asia. And yes, guavas are rich in Vitamin C!

Now back to gout. I had a bad case of gout attack in 2007. I remember having drank beers three nights in a row and on two of those nights I had calf's brain with pita from my favorite Persian restaurant and the succeeding night had callos (the Spanish dish of ox tripe). Not to mention that I hadn't been walking for a week prior to my beer binge. On the fourth morning my left ankle was swollen and I was in so much pain I stayed in bed for two days. I also had fever. My first impulse was to drink lots of water to flush out the uric acid. While bedridden I got a hold of 'Healing Foods' and read the entry on Gout. The following is what is written:

"Gout is actually a form of arthritis that settles in the joints of the body -- usually the big toe. For many years the pain was blamed on eating rich foods, but today we know that not all gout victims eat high on the hog. Just how much diet plays a part on the disease is a matter for debate. What is well established, however, is what causes all the pain -- a buildup of uric acid in the joint. Gout sufferers, for some reason, produce more uric acid than their body can handle. The result is the formation of needlelike crystals that get dropped around the affected joint.

"Like other forms of arthritis, gout hurts -- some say even more than other joint diseases. So when the pain strikes, the gout victim's only care is getting rid of it -- not settling academic debates about its origins.

"Obviously, keeping uric acid under control is the key to beating gout. That's where diet comes in. Experts established long ago that uric acid is a breakdown product of substances called purines that are found in certain foods. So it stands to reason that if you eliminate purine-rich foods, you'll eliminate gout.

"But it turns out that that's only part of the story. According to British nutritionist Sir Stanley Davidson, diet contributes, at most, 50 percent of the uric acid present in the blood of normal people. Apparently much of the uric acid comes not from food but from the body overproducing it on its own.

"For all that remains to be learned about gout, one thing is certain: This is not a disease that strikes indiscriminately. To the contrary, most patients share certain characteristics that no doubt have much to do with the development of the disease.

"Here are some typical characteristics of the gout patient.
  • Male. Most gout patients are male. In the United States, women account for less than 10 percent of all cases.
  • Over 30. Gout is more common among older age groups. Among males, few develop it before puberty; of those women who do succumb, the disease rarely strikes before menopause.
  • Family History. At least 25 percent of gout patients have a relative who also suffers from the disease.
  • Overweight. Many gout patients are overweight. J.T. Scott, M.D., a British authority on gout, reported that about half of patients are 15 percent or more above ideal weight.
  • Presence of certain diseases. Some patients develop gout as a result of other illnesses that compromise their ability to handle uric acid. Chronic kidney failure; high blood pressure; and the blood-related diseases of leukemia, polycythemia, and myelofibrosis are among the diseases that predispose their victims to gout. For these patients, gout is a complication of another disease, not a disease that exists on its own.
"Here's how to take a strong stand against gout.
  • Avoid both feast and famine. Meals rich in fat or high-purine foods raise the uric acid levels and can trigger gout attack. The other extreme - - fasting -- also causes a sharp increase in uric acid. Thats' why gout patients should avoid drastic approaches to weight reduction.
  • Minimize stress. Stress can precipitate an attack, so do what you can to avoid it. You can't avoid the stress of sudden illness or necessary surgery, but you can take steps to curtail stressful lifestyle.
  • Lose excess weight -- slowly. Your weight affects the amount of uric acid in your blood. As Dr. davidson and his co-workers point out, as weight creeps upward, so do uric acid levels.
  • Drink water, not alcohol. Alcohol is double trouble. It not only interferes with the body's efforts to excrete uric acid, it also encourages it to produce too much. Water, by contrast, offers benefits to gout sufferers because it helps discourage kidney stones from forming."

High purine foods listed in the book include: Anchovies, Brains, Gravies, Kidney, Liver, Meat Extracts, Sweetbreads.

I am guilty of the first three typical characteristics of a gout patient and so I have, since that first gout attack, cut back on eating internal organs. I still drink beer because God knows I'll die if I didn't. And I walk everyday. I drink lots of water (aside from beer) and have quit soda. I never drink coffee only take iced tea occasionally (brewed, not powdered instant tea).

I also googled 'natural remedies for gout' and found out that black bean soup is one of those listed and several testimonials from readers attest to this. It would seem a paradox because beans are known to cause gout but apparently black beans contain similar if not the same compounds that are found in blueberries and grapes (phenols?! am not too sure now, but I advise reader to google the same) and are good for circulation. I gave the black bean soup a try, and yes, it works.

Most Filipinos frown on beans as these may cause arthritis or gout but don't balk at the sight of dinuguan, chicharon bulaklak, or even sisig. But I love beans! Beans are a ggood source of vitamins and fiber. I love chilli. I eat munggo once a week -- it is one of my favorite comfort foods. On occasion I will cook pig's trotters with either white beans or black beans.

I've never had a gout attack since then. I have given up on dinuguan and chicharon bulaklak. Although I am really wary when I eat callos during Christmas time. But beans I take regularly. I tell my skeptic friends -- "Look, vegetarians eat beans and tofu almost everyday, show me one who has gout!"

But the real breakthrough on my health would be if I quit smoking. I have been scarce on facebook lately (due to guilt) because I had announced in February that I would quit cigarettes.

I confess: I still smoke. But I'm down to ten sticks a day. A great reduction considering I used to consume a pack and half or sometimes two packs a day.

Marlboro is like my Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain -- I just don't know how to quit it!


  1. It must be a recent phenomena (the last two decades) - fastfood, processed food adverts targeted to impressionable kids, economics (instant noodles and de lata), overpopulation (the lack of land for planting) - this unhealthy eating....because when I was young (as in I am still young) there were days when EVERYTHING we ate came from the tiny house with the tiny plot of land in Trancoville where I grew up (native chicken, sayote, amti, sili, camote tops....)

    All those rich foods - dinuguan, chicaron - weren't exactly bad either, since who would eat such things more than once a month? Now, with all the 'food courts' serving 'cheap' and quick fixes it's a different story.

  2. hmmm... where did nashman's comment go?

  3. oh there it is... yes, nashman... growing up we'd only have papaitan for special occasions or even kare-kare... now they're everywhere.

  4. Eating healthy are that we will stay physically fit, feel better, and have fewer illnesses.