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National Nutrition Month: Deconstructing the Pinggang Pinoy

I just learned that July of every year is National Nutrition Month in the Philippines! This year's theme is "Healthy Diet, Gawing Habit -- for Life!" which I completely support. According to the 8th National Nutrition Survey done in 2013, 3 out of 10 Filipinos are overweight or obese and there is a rising incidence of Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes even among children.

This is why the Primal Blueprint recommends that carbs should come from healthy, non-toxic sources (ie no refined sugars, no wheat and grains) AND be limited to 150g or less per day depending on your starting point and weight goals. This carb curve can work for most people, though of course one can dial intake up or down depending on activity levels. More details can be found at Mark's Daily Apple. ​

And so I was quite upset to see that the Food and Nutrition Research Institute's (FNRI) recommended diet for Filipinos, the "Pinggang Pinoy," will have the typical adult getting 55% to 75% of their daily calories from carbs (!!!).

They go on to present a sample meal plan (see below), featuring 1.5 cups of rice per meal for the average male adult and 1 cup for the average female adult. That's great, given that several studies including these 1, 2, 3 from the National Center for Biotechnology Information link white rice to an increased risk of diabetes in Asia.

So let's break down what's on the Pinggang Pinoy...

Let's say we've got Jun, a 35-year old Pinoy at 5'6" at 150lbs. At that weight he's got a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) of about 1,600 (using He spends a lot of time sitting at the office all day but he does make an effort to run twice a week and visit the gym to lift weights on weekends. That makes him moderately active so it bumps up his daily calorie needs by 880 calories to about 2,480 per day.

The PInggang PInoy meal plan above is for 2,450 calories, so If Jun follows it, then the carbs he will consume in a single day will be as follows (values taken from

That brings Jun's total carbs for the day to 330g not including the carbs from the veggies. This places him squarely in the Danger Zone of the Primal Carb Curve. Pretty soon he'll be among the increasing number of overweight Filipinos and he'll be wondering why, despite working out, he starts gaining fat around his middle.

Yes, yes, I know how difficult it is for Pinoys to be separated from their rice. I have people asking me all the time how I manage to go without, and really -- it's a matter of finding good vegetable substitutes, and mixing things up so it's always interesting and yummy.

I often think about how lucky we are in the Philippines to have year-round access to a variety of vegetables and for them - even organic options - to be so affordable. Whenever I order pako salad or a side of kangkong from a restaurant I always remember how people have told me this just grows in their backyard or other random places, and nobody pays any attention.

Sometimes I wonder if our national issues around hunger and food shortage could be solved if people could just consume more local vegetables that are way more nutrient-dense than rice could ever be? Hmmm...

So what might be a better Pinggang Pinoy?

Let's Change up the Meal Plan!

Let's flip it around. Instead of 55-75% of calories from carbs, let's load up the plate with vegetables and make sure there's a good amount of healthy fat (such as coconut oil, or olive oil or grass-fed butter) to make sure we absorb as much of the nutrients as we can. The rest can be 17% good quality meat (nothing processed or full of additives or chemicals please) and 17% healthy carbs (including fruit). We can change up the sample meal plan as follows:

  1. Take out the rice. Add an egg fried in coconut oil to turn that bangsilog into a bangsalog (bangus-salad-itlog)!

  2. Double or even triple the vegetable servings per meal.

  3. Replace the carby snacks with primal options such as a pack of cashews, some cheese or a hard-boiled egg. Eventually as Jun gets more fat-adapted, he may not even be hungry for snacks.

  4. Take out the banana and replace the mango with avocado

Jun's daily carb count then becomes as follows:

That's a total of 11g + whatever's in the veggies. He could even bring back that slice of mango and still be within the weight loss sweet spot.

A Primal Pinggang Pinoy?

So here's a proposed Primal Pinggang Pinoy, which I think would be much better in terms of nutritional value and helping us manage our weight. What say you?

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