Issue of September 16, 2018
Mt. Province

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Fighting diabetes with corn grits, a healthy staple for Filipinos

The bad news is that the Philippines is considered diabetes “hot spot” in the Western Pacific region.

But here is the good news. The Department of Agriculture is promoting the production and consumption of corn grits, a healthy and low glycemic staple that can prove to be an effective solution to the problem.

Dr. Artemio M. Salazar, former center director of the Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines, Los Baños, Laguna, said diabetes is already reaching epidemic proportions in the country.

Salazar was invited as guest speaker during the launching of the corn grits and rice-corn blend products of farmers in the Cordillera at the DA Conference Hall Guisad, Baguio City.

He said the prevalence rate of having diabetes from age 30 to 79 in the Philippines compared with the global percentage is higher.

In his presentation, Salazar said that the prevalence rate of diabetes is almost the same globally for ages 30-35 at 0-5 percent. The peak in prevalence, which is 15 to 20 percent in the Philippines, is at ages 60 to 69 years old. Globally, the same peak percentage of prevalence is at ages 75 to 79 years old.

“No wonder a lot of money is being spent on dialysis of diabetic patients with end-stage kidney disease. Last year, PhilHealth spent around P8 billion to assist patients undergoing dialysis, the majority of whom were diabetics. This is a frequent, sad story among diabetics – they never realize they are diabetic until they are rushed to the hospital for serious complications like heart attack, kidney failure, stroke or a gangrenous foot,” Salazar said.

The problem could be due in part to the unhealthy eating habits of Filipinos. “We eat unlimited rice three square meals a day. Even the recommendation of one-cup of rice per meal supplies so much carbohydrates a person needs,” he said.

DA-Regional Executive Director Cameron P. Odsey said that it is high time Filipinos learn to eat alternatives to rice like cassava, camote, banana, and corn grits, among other food.

In this way, they will not only become healthy and productive but will also help the nation achieve its food self-sufficiency campaign which is anchored on the availability and affordability of rice, he said.

“Every now and then,” the Philippines and the Cordillera for that matter, “has been experiencing rice shortage since the ‘70s,” noted said Odsey.

He added that when he was young, they have been eating corn grits and/or its rice-corn blend versions during a time when you could not buy rice in the market.

Salazar shared Odsey’s views, saying, “Sufficient public education is needed to prevent diabetes, or to detect it earlier before there is serious damage to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, brain, eyes, nerves, liver – since practically all organs and tissues of the body are affected,” he added that making corn a regular part of the Filipino diet can go a long way in helping control the disease.

Salazar said that corn grits and rice-corn blends are low glycemic foods with high fiber content. Rice is high glycemic, which means it is food that causes the blood sugar to spike and rapidly falls. They can subsequently leave you feeling hungry after a while. As a low glycemic food, corn does not cause a significant rise in blood sugar and it takes longer to metabolize, leaving you feeling satisfied for longer, said Salazar.

The launching of the rice-corn blend products was participated in by farmers, representatives from the National Food Authority, Department of Social Welfare and Development, presidents of the barangay bagsakan associations, and traders.

Gerardo Banawa, DA regional corn program coordinator, told the participants that the government’s 2018-2022 Corn Staple Development Plan is now being implemented.

The plan seeks to increase the production of quality flint corn for nutrition, secure food security, and increase the income of farmers.

Flint corn is a field corn that comes in two colors – yellow and white. Yellow corn is usually used for feeds and rich in carotene. In some areas, it is also boiled as food and is used to make kalamay. White corn is usually for food. It almost has no carotene.

The special types of corn include sweet corn or corn on the cob, glutinous corn which is usually white but could be of different colors, and popcorn which is white, hard and with air trapped inside.

In the Cordillera, the DA, in partnership with the local government units, farmers, and private sector developed the yellow corn industry in Ifugao, Mountain Province, Kalinga, and Apayao. There is an almost negligible planting of white corn in the region which is found largely in Abra.

Banawa said that there are presently 135 hectares in Ifugao and Kalinga planted to white corn. At the end of 2018, the area planted with white corn as committed in the corn staple development plan should reach about 900 hectares. By end of 2022, the area planted should be 4,000 hectares, he said.

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