Latin America

Indigenous vegetables and the Filipino diet

Jodesz Gavilan
Indigenous vegetables and the Filipino diet
The decreasing number of Filipinos consuming vegetables is alarming and might lead to bigger problems related to malnutrition

MANILA, Philippines – Do you know that the song Bahay Kubo is not meant to be sung only?

The lyrics of the famous song taught during most Filipinos’ childhood actually include vegetables that are healthy and indigenous.

Indigenous vegetables, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), refer to types of vegetables that are native to a particular region or environment.

These vegetables are abundant in rural areas as they can be planted even in small plots of land by small farming families.

Filling the lack

The Philippines is fortunate enough to have an abundance of vegetables – considering its status as an agricultural country. Unfortunately, the prices of these products hinder people from getting the benefits of greens.

The small consumption of vegetables can take its toll on one’s health. People who do not eat enough vegetables can suffer from micronutrient malnutrition or lack of the essential vitamins needed to function.

What is very alarming is that the existence of micronutrient malnutrition is often undetected. Its effects can, however, be seen in the long run as the body deteriorates. (Read: Nutrition facts: Hidden hunger)

The FNRI promotes the consumption of these vegetables because they are a perfect addition to the Filipino diet. Based on the institute’s Pinggang Pinoy, a daily meal guide for adult Filipinos, one healthy meal should have 33% vegetables to provide the proper amount of nutrients. (READ: What a Pinggang Pinoy should look like)

Indigenous vegetables are very rich in vitamins and minerals. They also pave the way to other health factors such as anti-oxidant activity which can definitely help the body.

According to the FNRI, the indigenous vegetables are as follows:

  • Alugbati
  • Alukon
  • Katuray
  • Kulitis
  • Kadyos
  • Kalabasa
  • Labanos
  • Labong
  • Malunggay
  • Mustasa
  • Pako
  • Patola
  • Pipino
  • Saluyot
  • Sayote
  • Sigarilyas
  • Sitaw
  • Talinum
  • Talong
  • Upo

Fighting poverty

Aside from helping end hunger and malnutrition, the Bureau of Agrictural Research (BAR) said that indigenous vegetables can help alleviate poverty among farmers. 

The planting of indigenous vegetables in convenient areas such as backyard gardens or family farms can be a great source of additional income. (READ: Family farms crucial fight to eradicate hunger: UN)

This alternative livelihood opportunity can increase the resources of impoverished households and may, in fact, help them crush poverty.

Bigger ‘looming’ problem?

However, there might be a problem when it comes to the intake of vegetables in the country.

According to the FNRI’s latest Food Consumption Survey (FCS) results, only 3 types of vegetables made it to the top 20 most consumed products of Filipino households and 3 of these can’t even stand alone as a food product: garlic, onion, and eggplant. (READ: What are the top 20 food products consumed by Filipinos?)

The survey also discovered that indeed, rural settlers consume mostly vegetables compared to their urban counterparts. However, there are recent efforts pushing for “urban farming”. (READ: Making farming work in the big city)

The government is implementing measures to promote the use of indigenous vegetables. (READ: Toward a healthy Cagayan De Oro)

Several local government units (LGUs), especially in areas with vast lands, highly encourage their residents to farm in their backyards as part of action against the hunger problem. 

Meanwhile, some feeding programs in select regions include indigenous plants as ingredients.(READ: How local crops can end malnutrition–

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.