The usual holiday feast is almost always accompanied by “undesirable gifts” of heart attacks, strokes and other lifestyle diseases.
The combination of eating cholesterol-rich foods like most meat dishes, binging on alcohol and enjoying all-night revelries can be deadly. No wonder some health experts call this season the “Merry Christmas coronary” or the “Happy New Year heart attack.”
Since our bodies produce cholesterol for our needs, we do not need external sources, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a US-based nonprofit organization made up of doctors, dieticians, psychologists, nurses, other science and health professionals, and lay people.
Cholesterol is found in all foods that come from animals: meat (pork and beef), poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt and so on. Choosing lean cuts of meat supposedly to avoid cholesterol is a myth; much of the cholesterol is, in fact, in the lean portion.
Filipino nutritionist-dietician Blecenda Miranda Varona says cholesterol is a nondietary essential. When we consume the “internal organs of animals (in the form of dishes) like sisig, bulalo and bopis, which contain thousands of milligrams of cholesterol,” we also consume unwanted cholesterol, says Varona.
PCRM, which promotes preventive medicine, says “every four-ounce serving of beef or chicken contains 100 milligrams of cholesterol. Also, most shellfish are very high in cholesterol. All animal products should be avoided for this reason. By contrast, no foods from plants contain cholesterol.
Animal products also contain saturated fat, which causes the liver to produce more cholesterol. Beef, chicken, and most other animal products contain substantial amounts of saturated fat. A few vegetable oils are also high in saturated fats.
Varona says that blood cholesterol and triglyceride can also go up if vegetable oil is taken in large amounts.
Every time we reduce our cholesterol level by 1 percent, we reduce our risk of heart disease by 2 percent, according to the Lipid Research Clinic’s Coronary Primary Prevention Trial Results II [Journal of the American Medical Association 1984].
Ninety percent of Filipino adults have at least one risk factor for arteriosclerosis (the thickening of the walls of the artery as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials, which can lead to heart disease, organ failure, stroke and a host of other so-called lifestyle diseases), says the National Nutrition and Health Survey, an interagency study participated in by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
The study identified the risk factors as dyslipidemia (high cholesterol level), diabetes, hypertension, smoking and obesity.
Given these facts, some health-conscious Filipinos have aimed for a “smooth and still tasty transition” to a cholesterol-free alternative to the usual Christmas feast.
They have discovered or concocted meat-free versions of the traditional meat-based favorites: Vegetarian ham, shiitake mushroom and tofu embutido, tofu sisig, no-meat spaghetti, whole-wheat shiitake mushroom siopao and the like. These are now more accessible to the public with the increasing number of vegetarian stores sprouting all over the country.
An online site has been helpful in directing vegetarians and open-minded diners to restaurants nearest their locales. The site, www.happycow.net, lists down the addresses and contact numbers of all vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants and food stores, and includes short descriptions of the establishments. Just type in your location anywhere in the world.
Support groups on Facebook, such as Pinoyvegs (composed of 800 members), enable members to network and share new discoveries or recipes with fellow vegetarians.
Vegetarian Kitchen Restaurant on Mother Ignacia Street in Quezon City (in front of St. Mary’s College) has its own take on the noche buena: Spanish callos; meatless embutido with mushroom gravy; baked vege-ham in whole cranberry sauce; meatless meatloaf; Spanish lengua in rich tomato sauce; vegan carrot cake and dairy-free cashew sansrival, and other vegan and vegetarian desserts.
Vegan lifestyle advocate Nona Andaya Castillo has her own recipe of vegetarian kaldereta, a mix of tomato sauce, coconut milk and fried or baked tofu; tofu stroganoff, which consists of tofu, shiitake mushroom (dried or fresh) and nondairy cream sauce—cashew nut with blended tofu.
Taiwan-made smoked veggie meats sold at the Daily Veggies store in Quezon City not only taste like the real thing, but have the ISO 9001 quality assurance stamp. The Taiwanese, according to Daily Veggies proprietress Susan Chua, are encouraged to submit to government-accredited laboratories any suspicious food products and report them to health authorities.
Concerned citizens are rewarded part of the cash from the penalties paid by erring manufacturers.
Other versions of veggie hams, as well as the restaurant’s best-selling crispy tao pao (bean curd) and sweet-and-sour lemon nuggets are also available.
Vegetarian noche buena staples include fresh greens, nuts, organic condiments as well as veggie meat from non-GMO products such as veggie strips from Oscar Anne’s vegetarian store.
The recommended veggie burgers in Metro Manila include those offered at Corner Tree Café (Jupiter Street in Makati) and Agico Vegetarian Café (Araullo Street in San Juan). The tofu sisig is a specialty of Greens Vegetarian Café (Scout Castor in Quezon City) and Blissful Belly (Llanar Building on Xavierville Avenue in Quezon City), which also serves arguably the best-tasting no-meat menudo.
One can also access recipes for vegan lasagna and other treats at http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2005/
Kitchen Revolution’s Marie Itchon Gonzalez holds a class for those who want to try something truly different for their holiday feast. Just send an e-mail to email@example.com.
(Tessa Salazar, a reporter of the Inquirer’s motoring, real estate, and science and health sections, has been a vegetarian for 12 years.)