Unhealthy foods we love to eat

EVEN during the Biblical times, people were given instructions as to what kind of food to eat and what not to eat.

In the book of Leviticus, God was very specific: “Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: animals that have split hooves completely divided and those that chew the cud… Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat those that have fins and scales… All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you.”

In the modern times, there are foods, which are considered unhealthy—as they are the sources of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, stroke and cancer. “They’re the kind of foods we can’t resist eating,” says Dr. Willie T. Ong, an internist-cardiologist and author of several books.

In his book, Stay Younger, Live Healthier, Ong lists 10 of the “not-so-healthy foods,” which, Filipinos should avoid eating, if possible.

  • Soft drink: Each bottle of regular soft drink contains eight teaspoonful of sugar.  “It’s like eating pure sugar and taking in water,” points out Ong, who serves as medical consultant at Manila Doctors Hospital and Makati Medical Center.   Even diet soft drinks must be avoided as they have more unhealthy artificial sweeteners.

Unfortunately, the soft drink has become a staple in many people’s diets. “I could not eat my meal without a soft drink,” said a college student.  In the United States, a study, which appeared in the journal Pediatrics, found that 56 percent to 85 percent of children consume at least one bottle soft drink a day, and 20 percent of adolescent males drink four or more bottles soda a day.

“Parents and health officials need to recognize soft drinks for what they are—liquid candy—and do everything they can to return those beverages to their former role as an occasional treat,” says the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an American consumer group.

A scientific study links the amount of soft drink one gulps to the development of diabetes and heart disease.  Kidney specialists claim that diet soft drinks contain phosphorus, a substance that is harmful to kidneys.  Phosphorus can also make a person lose calcium in the urine and make the bones brittle.

Who says diet soft drink can make you lose weight?  A study by Sharon P. Fowler and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio found that, for every diet soda you drink in a day, you increase your risk of gaining weight—by 41 percent!

Potato chips and French fries: Because of the potato, Filipinos can now munch on delicious snacks like chips and French fries.  Unknowingly, these popular snacks contain acrylamide, a known carcinogen and neurotoxin that is formed when foods are baked or fried at high temperatures.

When CSPI conducted tests on some popular brands of French fries and chips, they found that the acrylamide in a large order of fast food fries was at least 300 times the amount allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency in a glass of water.

Scientists have proven that acrylamide, which is used to manufacture plastics, dyes and chemicals, causes cancer in laboratory rats and nerve damage in humans.

  • Fatty sauces: These refer particularly to gravy, mayonnaise and lemon tartar sauce.  “For fast-food chicken, it’s the gravy that makes the chicken taste good,” Ong says.  “But it’s high in calories and fats, too.”

As for mayonnaise—a thick, creamy sauce or dressing that is made of oil, egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar and seasonings—it’s also loaded with too much calories for so little amount. “Spread it thinly and it’s bland,” Ong says.  “Dab a wadful and you’re bound to get fat.”

Not too many know that fat is an acquired taste.  “We are not born to like fatty foods,” says Dr. Liza Ong, a general practitioner who studied nutrition at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “If you abstain from fat for two weeks, you will lose your taste [and craving] for fatty meals.”

  • Alcoholic drinks: Generally, alcoholic drinks are divided into three classes: beers, meads and ciders (generally up to about 15 percent alcohol), wines and sake (12 to 20 percent alcohol) and spirits (20 percent alcohol or more, distilled alcohol).

A little red wine may theoretically be good for the heart, like a bottle of beer or a shot of wine. However, doctors still do not advise nondrinkers to start drinking for the health benefit.  This is because of the real danger of alcohol abuse.

“Alcohol abuse can lead to a score of medical problems, such as liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, stomach ulcers, oral cancers, brain damage, dementia, nerve damage and vehicular accidents,” Ong says.

  • Junk foods: A derisive slang term for food that is of little nutritional value, junk foods typically contain high levels of calories from sugar or fat with little protein, vitamins or minerals. Foods commonly considered junk foods include salted snack foods, gum, candy, sweet desserts, fried fast food, and sugary carbonated beverages.

A study by Paul Johnson and Paul Kenny at the Scripps Research Institute in 2008 suggested that junk food consumption alters brain activity in a manner similar to addictive drugs like cocaine or heroin.  After many weeks with unlimited access to junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized, requiring more food for pleasure. After the junk food was taken away and replaced with a healthy diet, the rats starved for two weeks instead of eating nutritious fare.

A 2007 British Journal of Nutrition study found that female rats eating junk foods during pregnancy increased the likelihood of unhealthy eating habits in their offspring.

  • Half-cooked meat: How do you want your meat to be cooked: rare, medium-rare, or well-done?  “Eating medium-rare meats can lead to various parasitic diseases,” Ong says.  “If you don’t cook the pork well, you can get infected with icky pork tapeworms [called taenia solium].  Steaks should be prepared well-done to kill the beef tapeworms [called taenia saginata].”

There are also fish tapeworms for those fond of eating kinilaw. As much as possible, avoid eating chicken still with blood, because that’s how you get birdflu.  “The common-sense approach is that, if your food is still bloody, have it cooked again.”  So, next time, tell the waiter: “Well done!”

  • Street foods: There are many types of foods sold in the street and here are certain favorites found in almost every place in the Philippines: kwek-kwek (quail eggs covered in batter fried), isaw (barbecued chicken innards), fish balls (minced fish rolled into balls), balut (developing duck embryo), betamax (a cubed, curdled blood of a chicken), adidas (marinated and grilled chicken’s feet), atay (marinated and barbequed liver of chicken) and helmet (grilled head of a chicken).

Other fillers of hungry stomachs are: maruya (a combination of bananas and flour, deep-fried until golden brown), kikiam (made of ground pork and vegetables wrapped in bean curd sheets then deep-fried until golden), calamares (deep-fried battered squid rings), mais (corn on a cob, but it could also be salted), and green mango with bagoong (unripe mango with salty, fermented sauce or paste made from small shrimps or fish).

For drinks, the following are common: buko juice (coconut juice that can be drunk directly from the coconut itself), iskrambol (a simple shake with artificial flavors), and sago at gulaman (a refreshingly cold drink made out of tapioca and jelly).

“Eating street food is a dangerous habit,” says Ong.  “If food handlers don’t wash their hands, don’t wear gloves, or don’t use purified water, the parasites and bacteria can so quickly be passed on to you through these delectable and tasty street foods.”

  • Organ innards: Filipinos love to eat liver, kidneys, lungs, stomach, intestines, hearts and brain tissues.  These are also the possible contents of the best-selling sisig.

“If you think about it, it’s easy to suspect that it is unhealthy,” Ong says.  “[it contains] high cholesterol, high fat and high uric acid.  In addition, some experts suspect that these may cause bowel cancer.  Since pork intestines are the organs where the animal’s waste products are stored, then why should people eat it?”

  • Pork ‘chicharons’ and ‘chicharong bulaklak’:  They’re so tasty and so fatty.  “All these unhealthy oils can accumulate and block your arteries and put you on the road to a heart attack,” Ong points out.  “I used to like chicharong bulaklak.  But, when I found that they are made of the small intestine, the omentum and lymph nodes, I changed my mind.  You don’t have to be a doctor to realize that you are better off avoiding these.”

Lechon, crispy pata and pata tim: “Lechon” originated from the Spanish term that refers to a suckling pig that is roasted.  “Crispy pata,” on the other hand, is a dish consisting of deep fried pig trotter or knuckles served with a soy sauce-vinegar dip.  “Pata tim,” is an adapted Filipino recipe made by slow boiling a front pork leg and serving it with a delicious, and thick sauce.

“These are the most favorite of Filipinos,” Ong says.  “And they are the fattest that can cause colon cancer.  They are also high in calorie and very yummy, too.”

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