Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, once said, “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” These words still hold true today. Yet, with various opinions on diet and exercise, and new foods frequently being dubbed superfoods, it can be tough deciding which advice to take.
The Asian Journal got insight from Philippine-based Harvie de Baron, a sports nutritionist and founder of the acclaimed Baron Method, on some common myths about health, exercise, and food. He also shared his thoughts on some currently trending health foods that many Filipinos may already be familiar with.
Myth: Carbohydrates make you fat
Rice, pan de sal, ensaymada, and pancit are all delicious Filipino foods. They also contain carbohydrates, which people often have a love-hate relationship with due to their misassociation with weight gain. Many end up eliminating them from their diet, but Baron advises not to.
“I have a love-love relationship with carbs,” Baron shared with the Asian Journal. He explained that carbohydrates serve many important functions in the body like controlling the level of serotonin which is responsible for maintaining mood balance. This can explain why many scientists believe that people with low serotonin levels seek out carbs.
There are things to consider though, as not all carbs are the same. “Complex carbs such as quinoa, brown rice, and black rice are very good for the body,” said Baron. “The body likes those very much.”
Myth: Stick to three meals
Merienda or no merienda? That is the question. Many believe that having three meals throughout the day is best for losing weight, keeping fit, and staying satiated. Others believe in having smaller meals throughout the day.
Personally, Baron is a merienda fan, but he makes sure to choose healthy snacks that the body can process, like fruits. “That way, the body can use the energy from the food well,” said Baron.
According to him, the body actually likes the predictability of eating regularly. He added that doing so can help prevent hunger pangs and cravings from happening at the end of the day.
Myth: Crunches or ab exercises get rid of belly fat
This is a myth because it is only true to a certain extent. There are many exercises and machines being promoted as solutions for stubborn belly fat. Unfortunately, ab exercises and machines alone won’t give you a flatter stomach. Overall exercise and nutrition really make the difference. “If you still eat poorly, that’s not going to happen,” he shared.
But that doesn’t mean you should quit doing them. “Doing crunches and ab workouts will actually build muscle in that area,” said Baron.
Myth: Weights are for “bulking up”, cardio is for slimming down
This is also only true to a certain extent. “You will not immediately ‘bulk up’ if you lift weights,” said Baron, adding that the term “bulking up” often has a negative connotation. This is a common concern for people looking to get smaller, but Baron explained that you can still have a strong-looking physique while retaining your figure. As for women, they generally don’t have enough testosterone.
It also depends on what your goals are, he added. “If you do too much cardio, you can look skinny and lean, but without muscles,” said Baron. Vice versa, focusing more on weight lifting can make you bulk up. Think of bodybuilders, for example.
“You have to find the right balance of doing both,” said Baron. “It all boils down to a combination of eating well, lifting weights, and doing your cardio.”
Try this: Jackfruit (langka) — The jack of all fruits
Filipinos have long enjoyed langka in turon, halo-halo, or in ginataang langka. In the United States, it’s quickly becoming one of the top health food trends and is popping up in stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s where they can be found canned, pre-cooked, or pre-seasoned in flavors like barbecue or teriyaki.
The fruit’s meat-like texture has made it a popular alternative to meat, and is a good source of Vitamins B-6, K, and C. When ripe, it is praised for being a diabetic-friendly carb!
“I love that it’s becoming a health trend because most fruits have superfood qualities,” said Baron. “It’s just a matter of which ones are being thrust into the spotlight at a certain point.”
He reminded that fruits, in general, are very good for the body because they have a lot of vitamins, minerals, and live enzymes that make them beneficial.
Moringa (Malunggay) — The new kale or matcha?
“I love this stuff,” shared Baron. Kale and matcha are two greens that have been embraced as famous superfoods, but can malunggay be next? The green tree is becoming increasingly popular in the states and is being sold commercially in powder or capsule form, or in bars. Many Filipinos enjoy it sauteed, in soup, or even mixed in pan de sal.
Nutrition wise, malunggay is said to have more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas. It is also said to help fight and prevent problems like diabetes and heart disease, but more research needs to be done. Baron himself has used malunggay to help people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and more.
If you’re looking for more ways to add malunggay to your diet, do as Baron does and use it in cooked meals, as a vegetable on its own, as a pure oil supplement, or in juicing.
Sleep inducing foods — Eating to a good night’s rest
We’ve heard of clean eating, but clean sleeping, or simply getting a decent night’s sleep, has been front and center in health trends lately. Foods like turkey, string cheese, sweet potatoes, soy milk, and the infamous durian all contain tryptophan — a natural sleep-inducing compound. As a result, people are turning to these foods to help get some shut-eye.
Tryptophan definitely helps with sleep, shared Baron, but he further suggests eating foods with melatonin like bananas, and herbal teas like chamomile and peppermint which help the body relax.
Making sure our body is getting enough nutrients throughout the day is also helpful, he added. “Normally, people don’t get enough nutrients during the day,” explained Baron. “That is why they can’t sleep unless they succumb to their cravings at night.”
Baron also stressed that there are many strategies outside nutrition that can help us get some zzz’s. “Putting your cellphone aside, finding relaxing activities to help you wind down, and exercising during the day also help with good sleep.”