One thing the coronavirus pandemic taught us is to be aware of the kinds of food we eat. Many became conscious of their health and changed their diets. One practice is avoiding trans fatty acids (TFA), usually found in food products that are cooked or fried with oil from animals.
The province of Palawan, regarded by international travel publications as the “world’s best island” in the western part of the Philippines, is not exempt from diets increasingly containing trans fatty acids (TFA). Many Palaweños are unaware of the dangers that food containing TFA may bring to their health.
According to data from the Palawan Provincial Health Office, cardiovascular diseases (CVD) ranked third in the causes of mortality in the province with 139 cases in 2018. The capital city, Puerto Princesa, listed acute myocardial infarction as the leading cause of mortality in 2019 with 183 cases and hypertension the fifth with 92 cases.
According to studies, these diseases of the heart may be due to consumption of trans fat. The World Health Organization reported that 540,000 people worldwide die annually of CVD.
“Cardiovascular diseases are related to lifestyle diseases, so it includes the way we eat, genetics, how you handle yourself — like do you eat properly, do you do exercise or do you have a sedentary lifestyle? So, basically, cardiovascular diseases are caused by multi-factorial reasons, kaya ti-nag namin siya na (that’s why we tagged them as) lifestyle diseases,” Palawan Provincial Health officer Dr. Ericka Labrador said.
What is Palawan’s diet?
Many assume that because they live in an island blessed with bountiful seafood, people in Palawan consume meat daily rather than marine products, which are considered valuable and usually reserved for guests and tourists.
Hue Hotel resident chef Rodolfo Rodriguez observed that many locals prefer oily meat dishes. He said that this is probably due to seafood being very common on the island and meat is a treat.
According to naturalist Daniw Arrazola, who runs retreat center Bahay Kalipay, cooking food in Palawan is traditionally basic, such as stewing and grilling catches from the sea, but this practice has changed with the emergence of modern stores and restaurants that influenced local eating habits.
Arrazola recalled that when she first came to Palawan, the food was very simple. Her staff would get vegetables directly from the garden, get seafood directly from the sea because they had a net. “Early in the morning, they have this pail and they would pick up shells and after that, they would just cook it. Very simple lang ‘yung ways of life kasi hindi sila masyado (because they are not) exposed sa sari-sari (convenience) stores or grocery stores na available na ngayon lahat ng food na unhealthy,” she said.
According to city councilor Roy Ventura, who chairs the health committee in the Puerto Princesa City Council, this habit of eating food with trans fat is not only an issue in the city or the province but a national dilemma that needs attention.
“‘Yan ang hilig ng mga Filipino, hindi lang taga-Puerto. Makikita mo naman kung gaano kasarap kumain ‘yung mga Pilipino kaya minsan napapabayaan natin ang ating lifestyle. Dahil doon po minsan kung kumain tayo four times a day, six times a day, five times a day, lalo na ngayon ‘yung mga fast food natin karamihan gusto natin madali lahat. ‘Yun ang epekto sa atin kung bakit ganoon ang mga Pinoy. Instant ang gusto ng lahat. Kakaunti na lang ‘yung concerned, ‘yung mga vegetarian na dapat doon tayo ngayon (That is what Filipinos generally love, not just Puerto Princesa residents. You will observe how the Filipino loves to eat that we neglect our lifestyle. Sometimes, we eat four times a day, six times a day, five times a day, especially now that there is fast food, many want it fast. That’s the effect on the Filipino; they all want instant. Very few are concerned, very few are vegetarian, which we must strive for),” Ventura explained.
The municipality of Araceli, according to Board Member Modesto Rodriguez, chairman of the Committee on Health of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Palawan, tops all other 22 towns of Palawan in cases of hypertension in their annual mortality record. He believes this is due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Currently, he is still checking out the said observations and will use the information in legislative measures.
“Ang Araceli number one sa hypertension, pang number two ang hypertension ng ano nila doon, dahil nagtataka ako bakit Araceli. Ano ba meron sa Araceli? Bakit number two ‘yung hypertension? Probably ‘yung unhealthy lifestyle nila at ‘yung sa food intake, or baka maraming naninigarilyo which might also affect, or maaring sa consumption ng liquors (Araceli is number one in hypertension in the province. Hypertension is number two in the municipality. I wonder why Araceli. What’s in Araceli? Why hypertension is number two? Probably, it is their unhealthy lifestyle and the food intake, or maybe many smoke cigarettes, which might also affect their health, or there is much consumption of liquors),” Rodriguez said.
A trans fat-free Palawan
Many who were interviewed for this article have little knowledge about trans fat, or are unaware of the dangers on their health. One is Emmanuel Jagmis, who lost his mother from heart disease. Upon hearing about the effects of TFA on our body, he was convinced it was a factor in her mother’s death.
“Actually, ngayon ko lang na encounter ‘yung trans fat na ‘yan, so ngayon alam ko na dapat ‘yung goberyno mismo ang mag initiate or magpasa sila ng batas na dapat i-oblige. Kunsabagay baka ‘yung mga well off lang ang kayang gumamit ng mga olive oil or whatever oil na healthy to our body, siguro i-push ng government na gamitin ito para makatulong sa bawat mamamayan. Ang daming namamatay sa heart attack na hindi natin alam na ‘yun pala ang pinanggagalingan. Ako, personally, my mother died dahil nga doon. Buhay pa siguro si Mama nasabihan ko na siya na don’t use that oil, use this one it’s better (Actually, it is only now that I have encountered trans fat. Now that I know about it, I think the government should initiate and pass a law about it. Maybe those who are
well-off are able to use olive oil, which is healthy to our body, but the government must push for its use to benefit each citizen. Many die of heart attack and we don’t know the cause. My mother died because of it. If my mother was still alive, I would tell her not to use this oil and use the better one),” a teary-eyed Jagmis said.
According to dietician Grace Parales from the City Health Department, it is hard to educate people about TFA. Their anti-obesity program already tackles this but it is not easy to explain trans fat to the masses. Most of them are familiar only with the pros and cons of cholesterol.
“So ‘yung trans fat mahirap po siyang i-layman’s-term lalo na sa community, kasi ita-tagalog mo siya ano ‘yung trans fat. So compared sa cholesterol na talagang in po siya kasi commonly used po siya, and alam na rin po ng masa po kung ano ang cholesterol at effect noon. So siguro step by step introduce na natin (Trans fat is hard to explain in layman’s term, especially to the community because you have to translate it to Tagalog. Cholesterol is a commonly used term and people know about it and its effects. Maybe, step by step, we will introduce trans fat to them),” Parales added.
The introduction of the Trans Fat-Free Bill in the House of Congress by The Ang Probinsyano partylist last July is timely, Ventura and Rodriguez believe. They swear to continue to study and monitor trans fat consumption in the province, and they are willing to file any local counterpart legislation in the province and in the city.
Being a trans fat-free province, according to Arrazola, is not easy to achieve. It will take time for Palaweños to be properly educated about it. She believes it is the media which has the power to inform everyone about it, and step by step it can be attained.
“I would say ang una nating gagawin (the first thing to do) is check what’s inside our pantry cabinet, know how to read the labels, ‘yung (the) contents sa likod kung anong (at the back of the packaging about) flavorings. In fact, ang (the) rule of thumb n’yan pag lumampas ng lima ‘wag mo nang bilhin; ‘pag hindi mo na-pronounce na may mga X, Y, Z diyan at W at hindi mo kayang i-pronunce in one reading, ‘wag mo na siyang bilhin (is that if they exceed five items, don’t buy it; if you can’t pronounce it and it contains the letters XYZ and W, don’t buy it),” Arrazola said.
Palawan is not yet a trans-fat free province, but there are efforts to create awareness. It is hoped that Palawan will be a healthy community.
Note: This feature was produced under the (Un)covering Trans Fat Media Fellowship program of Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and Imagine Law (IL). The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and IL.