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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Filipino Food Alternatives to Junk Food

You're starving after a long day at work, but there's nothing in the fridge. So you run to the nearest store and grab something to eat-a bag of chips, a candy bar, or a can of soda. This is what a typical afternoon is like for a lot of kids and young adults. Unfortunately, it can hardly be called healthy eating. Junk food is loaded with empty calories-calories that have no corresponding nutritional value. Basically, they make you fat but don't make you any healthier. Before you know it, it can take its toll on your health.

If you need to munch in between meals, Filipino food is a much better way to fill up. Native snacks are a lot cheaper than store-bought foods, and they can satisfy those cravings without piling on the pounds. Here are some Filipino food recipes you can try in place of your favorite junk foods.

Junk: Burgers

Better: Spring rolls

Many parents argue that burgers aren't all bad. After all, they're basically a one-dish meal: you've got your starch, protein and vitamins in one bite. But you also get an unhealthy dose of trans fat, the leading cause of heart disease, obesity, and a host of other conditions. A lot of Filipino cooking recipes are also one-dish meals, but few of them have as much trans fat. With fresh lumpia, you can throw in your choice of meat and vegetables and control your serving portions. Cut off even more fat by going vegetarian or choosing regular flour instead of egg wrappers.

Junk: Candy bars

Better: Banana cue

The average candy bar has 300 to 500 calories; a two-piece banana cue has 250 or less. That's because chocolate bars are loaded with high-fat ingredients such as nuts, caramel, sugar, and of course, chocolate. The sugar will give you an energy boost, but you're not likely to burn all those calories before you're tired again. Bananas are sweet, but its main ingredient is starch, a much better source of energy. Before eating, blot out some of the oil to further reduce the fat content.

Junk: Soft drinks

Better: Sagot' Gulaman

A glass of soda contains the equivalent of 12 tablespoons of sugar-that's more than you consume in one whole day! Soft drinks are a major cause of obesity in developed countries. Even diet sodas aren't completely safe; the aspartame used in place of sugar is linked to a number of health problems, including cancer. If you need to freshen up, get a glass of sagot' gulaman-a banana-flavored beverage with bits of gelatin and tapioca balls. It goes well with banana cue, turon, and other light Filipino recipes.

Junk: Doughnuts

Better: Puto/Kutsinta

It's nice to have something sweet to go with your morning coffee, but there are healthy wys to get that sugar fix. Instead of those fat jelly-filled doughnuts, have a double treat of puto and kutsinta instead. These little cakes are made from rice flour, which is infinitely healthier than the white flour used in commercial breads and pastries. Because they are steamed, they retain most of their moisture, making them more filling as well. To maximize your calorie savings, skip the cheese and salted egg toppings.

Junk: Milkshakes

Better: Taho

Next to soda and beer, milkshakes are one of the unhealthiest drinks invented in our time. The combination of milk, sugar, artificial flavoring, and whipped cream topping pack a dose of fat and calories that will take three hours of exercise to burn off. Instead, help yourself to a cup of taho-a warm drink made from soft tofu, sweetened with sugar syrup and garnished with sago (tapioca balls). It's a little heavy, but several times healthier. It's also a lot cheaper-10 pesos will get you a large cup, while a regular milk shake can cost over 100.

Junk: Ice cream

Better: Tropical fruits

Often, when you've topped off a great meal with a bowl of ice cream, you find yourself craving again in less than an hour. That's how this sweet treat works: it sends a handful of fat down your system, and makes you hungry so that you'll want even more. It's great at children's parties, but on regular days, it only works up your appetite. If you're craving an after-meal treat, grab a mango, pineapple or some other fruit instead. Mix them together to make your own Filipino desserts recipes. Fresh fruits fill you up fast, so you can curb your cravings for more than half the day.

Carlo Villamayor is the owner and co-author of the Filipino food blog, A devoted cook, he makes it his personal mission to spread the joy of Filipino recipes with food lovers the world over. Bon appetit!

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