For many of us Filipinos, no meal is complete without rice. It doesn't matter what's on the menu; rice will make it to the plate whether you're eating meat, fish, pancit or even lasagna.
But with rising rates of obesity and chronic disease in the Philippines, many people are rethinking unli-rice and trying to cut down on pasta and dessert in an effort to lose weight and stave off disease.
Multiple studies show that reducing carbohydrate consumption supports weight loss. And when the carbs in our lives come mostly from wheat, grains and sugar, we're consuming food that is calorie-laden but doesn't really have much to offer in terms of nutrition.
The problem is that reducing rice intake when it has been such a huge part of your life is easier said than done. Here are some tips for the die-hard rice lovers who need help letting go:
1. If you can't quit cold turkey, systematically reduce intake over time.
A gradual approach might work for you. If you currently consume 1 or more cups of rice per meal, try cutting down to less than 1 cup at every meal, or skip rice at breakfast and have a maximum of 2 cups for the entire day. After a couple of weeks, cut down further until you become comfortable with smaller amounts: 1/2 cup per meal, or maybe 1/2 cup for the entire day, or none at all.
2. Find substitutes.
I get it. Some meals "just can't be eaten without rice" especially flavorful dishes like sisig or kare-kare. Rice typically serves to temper the strong flavors of Filipino or Asian cuisine. In its absence you can:
Try vegetables with a neutral taste: green leafy vegetables, squash, sayote, eggplant, green papaya and mushrooms are some options that do the trick
Eat dishes that make you think you're eating rice like cauliflower rice, broccoli rice or shirataki rice. Cauli in particular is super versatile and can easily pass for garlic fried rice to pair with your favorite ulam.
What about quinoa? Quinoa, despite its appearance, is not a grain but a relative of green leafy vegetables that is gluten-free and contains good levels of essential proteins. It is, however, still quite high in carb content, so just like sweet potatoes and yams, it must be consumed in moderation if you're trying to sustain a low-carb diet.
3. Know that it WILL get easier.
When our daily diet consists mostly of carbs -- with rice, pasta or bread taking up most of our meals, chips for snacks, milk tea for dessert and sugar in our coffee, then we can easily fall into a cycle of glucose dependency. We ride sugar highs and sugar crashes and our bodies are constantly craving for even more carbs throughout the day.
Breaking this cycle is a good thing. In the beginning, you may have to summon your willpower, but as your carb intake lessens, your body becomes better at releasing and using up stored fat for energy instead of relying on a steady supply of glucose. Eventually, the constant carb cravings will subside, and you may even become more sensitive to sweetness and notice that desserts are suddenly too sweet.
Rice will probably always be part of our lives, but we need not have it with every single meal. With just a few adjustments to our eating habits and choices, you CAN lessen your intake of grains, wheat and sugar over time.