A lot of people are skeptical when I tell them healthier eating is easiest in the Philippines. Understandably, a culture that prides itself in its unique ability to meld South East Asian, Spanish, and American flavors into one very unique, imaginative palette would have high standards for style over substance. Three food-loving cultures colliding brings a myriad of flavors and new innovations to a strong traditional cuisine, but modern developments like deep-fryers, refined sugar, and highly processed grains or packaged foods have had a pervasive adverse effect on so many of the country’s people.
My name is Jessie McGuire, and I’ve lived in the Philippines for the better half of those three years, during which time I studied nutrition and holistic health religiously. I earned a certification in holistic nutrition with the Nutritional Therapy Association, over 500 hours as a registered yoga teacher, a training in prenatal health and education, as well as an avid passion for all things health, wellness and nontoxic beauty.
I work remotely online with clients all over the world, from Manila to London and my hometown of Portland to my newfound home in LA, coaching them to make healthier food, product and lifestyle choices to heal chronic conditions like migraines, hormonal imbalances, weight management, chronic pain, skin issues, mood disorders, and even addiction and substance abuse.
I have gone through three very radical transitions before I found what I believe to be the most ideal, well-rounded diet for achieving optimal health: vegetarian to carnivorous, sugar-hopping foodie, to vegan, then raw vegan, and eventually found my ideal balance in what a lot of people call Paleo, but what I like to think of as a whole foods, nutrient-dense, traditional and unprocessed diet with modern-world flexibility.
Paleo stands for Paleothic or primal, and it’s a nod to the way our ancestors would have eaten, before the food industry became industrialized and before mass agriculture overtook hunting and foraging as a means of sourcing food. A paleo or primal dietary template focuses on how the food was properly raised, sourced and prepared, including food such as: grass-fed meats, wild-caught seafood, organic vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, animal fats, seasonal, non-gmo fruits, and occasionally, sparingly, even properly prepared traditional grains.
The Philippines has an amazing sense of taste when it comes to flavor, and the local ingredients, such as malunggay (moringa), sinkamas (jicama), and kangkong (water spinach), are only loaded with beneficial nutrients, but absolutely delicious and excellent culinary options. But as one of the only third world countries in the world to suffer from alarmingly high rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, I have to wonder whether the beauty of traditional preparation techniques and local ingredients have become less and less common, replaced by the convenience and normalization of fast or processed foods.
Whenever I went through dietary transitions in the States or UK, I found myself having the convenience of still eating out at restaurants and delis, many of them catered to vegan or gluten-free food; the catch is, most food that can be labeled or marketed as “vegan,” “gluten-free,” or “sugar-free,” can still be incredibly processed and usually not a much healthier option. But living in the Philippines, especially in the province of Cebu, I was given the opportunity of cooking all my food at home and experiencing what worked best for me in terms of diet.
I had to get creative with substituting local ingredients and using what I could find, of networking with friends and farmers for farm co-ops where I could source pasture-raised meats, relying on local flavors to give my paleo recipes a palatability of which my friends and family would approve (or daresay, even prefer!).
Working with so many local clients, one of the biggest commonalities has been an addiction to high-glycemic foods, causing blood sugar disregulation which cascades into a slew of hormonal issues such as PCOS or dysmenorrhea, as well as hypoglycemia which inevitably develops into diabetes.
I’ve seen this happen too often, but the great news is that science and experience both support the notion that a change in lifestyle and diet can have the dramatic effect of completely healing these issues so that those who were once suffering can live often symptom-free. High-glycemic foods include both processed and unprocessed foods that cause a spike in blood sugar that, when repeated often enough, causes blood sugar disregulation.
In my experience, the most successful stories come from clients who under-plan and over-achieve, rather than the ones who try to do an overnight complete change or who restrict themselves so much from the get-go; these changes should be a bit challenging, but they should not be stressful. My best general recommendation for this common issue would be to eat unpackaged, unprocessed foods first, but start with a small, achievable goal and build up from there.
Choose one meal per day to prepare yourself. My easy go-to is bacon or ground beef, sauteed in butter or coconut oil, along with an egg or maybe avocado; throw in a handful of kangkong or chop up some sinkamas to add a crunch factor with beneficiary fiber. Protein and fat are the essential nutrient components that our bodies cannot manufacture themselves, unlike carbohydrates, so these are the two most important nutrients to slowly begin incorporating into every meal. Getting that protein in first thing in the morning sets the course for the rest of your day, both mentally and physically by balancing blood sugar from the get-go.
For bonus points, dedicate one morning of your weekend to stopping by your local farmer’s market, where you’ll be able to find farm-fresh ingredients at the most affordable prices. Something about taking the time to mindfully select your food also creates a positive relationship with food rather than one of fear or confusion. Social media might make it seem like you need a specialized meal plan, trendy “superfood” powders, specialized restaurants or a smoothie every morning to be healthy.
The best approach to impacting your own health is to incorporate more real, whole foods every day, in whatever capacity you can. Real food doesn’t need to market itself as healthy; be far more skeptical of any labels that try to sell you health claims. Get back to your roots, back to traditional foods, and I promise you will see a positive difference in your everyday energy and overall well-being.