PINS Well Being Center

Rediscovering Local Health Traditions to Recover People’s Health

By: Dr. Susana M. Balingit MD
Chair, Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine
De LaSalle Health Sciences Institute

As a result of experiences in many developed and developing countries and societies during the past century, there has been an increasing volume of evidence directly linking the foods and eating patterns of people to their state of physical and mental health. This has brought about a widespread and growing interest among scientific/medical/health professionals, as well as a wide range of groups, institutions and individuals, in adopting changes in diet and lifestyle as a relevant, appropriate, and cost-effective solution for promoting health and preventing disease.

Given the pervasive influence of Western culture in the country, we only need to look at the ever-growing popularity of American-style foods and the proliferation of fast-food stores and their Filipino counterparts to realize the gravity of the problem. What is doubly tragic is that while infectious diseases often associated with poverty continue to be the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the country, there has been a growing and alarming increase in the incidence of chronic degenerative diseases that affect all sectors of the population from the rich, the middle class and even the poorest of the poor.

Clearly, scientific medical research is now at a crossroads. The major killer diseases can no longer be addressed by modern medical procedures using both established and experimental techniques. In order to win the battle against pernicious infectious ailments and today’s major killer diseases, medical/scientific researchers must look at new technologies and doctors and other health professionals are left with no choice but to learn new approaches and alternatives.

A lot of academic as well as practical solutions to various health problems have already been formulated and implemented to improve the lives of many disadvantaged Filipinos. Among them is the concept of rediscovering local traditions and indigenous knowledge to promote health and prevent disease.

The idea of rediscovering local health traditions and indigenous knowledge has long been introduced in the Philippines as an approach to health development. Its practice, however, has been quite limited since there is not much area for implementation due to lack of skills, structural and organizational obstacles, lack of tried and tested methods for setting criteria and measuring progress or success of related programs.

The health conditions of Filipinos has rapidly deteriorated over the years. Some of the reasons cited for such deterioration is poor access to health services and the prohibitive cost of quality health care. As a consequence, people are now relying more and holding on to their traditional practices for health care. And it is now apparent that these traditional practices have enabled them to overcome many serious health crises and have compensated for the scarcity of material and financial resources in their communities.

In the Philippines, like other parts of the world, there are ample local resources and a wealth of experience that can be harnessed to support health development activities. Various institutions are now bringing together the knowledge and resources of formal, professional health structures and local people, to bring about substantial and meaningful change in the health conditions of Filipinos

What Is and What is Not Healthy Eating

Traditional Filipino diet is based on healthy food. It is a diet that includes food which nutritionists and health authorities around the world are pretty much in consensus about. Things like whole grains, organic vegetables, and beans. It is a diet that is very much in harmony with the environment. And the idea is to use locally grown, in season vegetables with less or no food that can be hazardous to your health, like high fat foods, highly sugared foods, and heavily chemical laden foods.

The first things we ask people to do is to look at what they eat everyday. Because, as modern nutrition and medicine are discovering, food is a key factor in health and sickness. There is plenty of evidence linking the modern high fat, highly processed diet with heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. So as a first step, we would suggest that people begin to review how they eat and start to return to a more
traditional Filipino diet.

Does this mean that meat should be avoided? There are ecological, environmental and health problems with the way the meat industry is conducted today. There are very clear problems like the use of fatteners, growth hormones, and sex hormones. Many people now agree that a high meat diet is not going to benefit your health. Your risk of heart disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and many other illnesses increases when you eat a high fat, high meat diet. Nowadays, if you go to a restaurant and order meat dishes, practically all that comes out is a huge chunk of meat, maybe with a small salad and some French fries. That's a big problem. So if you are going to keep eating meat, that's your choice, but at least try to reduce the amount and balance it with some healthy foods.

In relation to food supplements, especially those highly advertised as “natural” and “organic”, our goal is to get all the nutrients we need from our daily foods. If we are eating a well balanced diet, with plenty of variety, then we don't need to supplement artificially. As a temporary measure, people eating a modern, unbalanced diet may sometimes use them. But for long term health and well-being, it is not recommended.

If we go back a couple of generations, there were very few chemicals in the food supply before World War II. Now there are several thousand. At the turn of the century, everyone was pretty much eating organic food. And if you look at their health patterns back then, you will see that heart disease was a very rare condition, believe it or not. Cancer struck one out of twenty seven people at the turn of the century Now it strikes one out of three. These changes correlate to the shift away from a more traditionally based diet to the modern, high fat, highly processed diet. Such a dietary pattern very simply doesn't work for our personal health or for the health of the planet.

Healthy Eating: Some Basic Principles

The first principle is to eat along the lines of traditional dietary practice, what people all over the world did for thousands of years. If you look back, even in biblical times, whole grains and vegetables were considered the staff of life. Agriculture was self sustaining. The second principle is to change or modify diet according to climate. Be flexible and adapt the food you eat according to the place you live and work.

Main food should be complex carbohydrates, especially whole grains like unpolished rice and other high fiber grain products like corn. Secondary foods would be vegetables, or plants that can be grown on backyard gardens. The third category of food would be vegetable protein sources like whole beans. And then various supplementary foods. But the intake of animal food would be much less than what most people are eating at present. It has been observed that animal food is now the main food in the Filipino diet, although there are a growing number of people who are now moving away from it.

Meat increases the risk of heart disease. It's well known that foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol, meaning most animal foods, will increase risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. That's well known. As it is also a known fact that putting people on a traditional diet will decrease blood cholesterol, and even reversed severe cases of arteriosclerosis. Heart diseases could be reversed without drugs or surgery but with diet and lifestyle can.

In my practice as a natural healing specialist, I have worked with many people with established illnesses who were able to experience remission or recovery as a result of adopting a traditional diet.

There are many different opinions as to the efficacy of the suggested diet, just as there are many opinions as to what type of approach to take for a certain illness. There is no unified consensus yet. While some feel that there is not enough
scientific evidence to prove that modifying one’s diet can help in the recovery from illness, others have recommended a change in diet to their patients. There is no unified approach yet. But we hope that a consensus will emerge. Because nutrition is an area of medicine that has been neglected for many years, and is only now getting the attention it deserves.

With the knowledge learned from this course, the student Naturopath will be able to choose which modalities of naturopathy he will choose to add to the basic tools of Naturopathy. Many of the modalities can be used to enhance clinic ambiance like aromatherapy, speed up healing like any of the manipulation techniques among others.

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