Nurturing healthy, happy children with indigenous foods

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development, and health and should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods using indigenous foods while breastfeeding should continue for up to two years or beyond.  

What are indigenous foods?

Indigenous foods abound in the environment, a testimony of God’s wisdom and generosity. Nature, with its own rhythm based on the country’s climate and seasons, creates food that is appropriate for the human body. With its perfect design, it provides the suitable fuel that enhances our bodies’ tremendous capacity to nurture, heal, and regenerate. During summer, for example, nature produces succulent vegetables and fruits to provide extra water needed during that season. During rainy season, nature produces vegetables and fruits that are sour (high in vitamin C to strengthen the immune system against cough and colds) or high in fat (to keep us warm). Leafy vegetables abound the whole year round.These traditional crops:      

• Grow abundantly without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides so their cultivation is not harmful to people’s health and the environment.        

• Are readily available so there is also no need to use preservatives and other harmful food additives; they stay fresh longer even without refrigeration and there is no need to waste fuel to transport them.     

• Are very cheap and affordable, that is why rich or poor, everybody can become healthy! Combining leafy and fruit vegetables, beans, root crops in one dish provides excellent nutrition that mothers need to recover from the rigors of pregnancy and birthing.

Indigenous foods are also known to help mothers produce more breastmilk.The indigenous way of cooking these vegetables can be found throughout the country. Concocted by our forefathers and mothers, it is also an amazing testimony of our ancestors’ wisdom. For instance, a study of the Aetas’ (an indigenous group living in the mountains) diet shows that they are nutritionally superior compared to the lowlanders.

Consider these regional specialties:         

• Northern Luzon: pinakbet, dinengdeng, buridibud. (For this vegetarian group, we recommend the use of soy sauce. To avoid allergies for you and your breastfeeding baby, omit bagoong.)         

• Tagalog Region: sinigang, bulanglang.  

• Visayan and Mindanao Regions: laswa, law-uy, nilapwa-an, utan.      

• Bicolanos cook their vegetables with coconut milk and ginger that are also good sources of calcium. Indigenous foods are also potent medicines as they bestow many healing properties that cannot be found in imported and processed foods like cow’s milk. 

Unpolished Rice

The consumption of indigenous foods is combined with the intake of unpolished rice and other whole grains like corn. Aside from preventing constipation that is especially important for a mother who just gave birth, unpolished rice and whole grains provide more nutrients like complex carbohydrates for the extra calories needed during nursing. To emphasize the importance of combining breastfeeding and providing children with indigenous foods and brown rice, we have coined the term “breastfed brown rice babies.” Mothers who abide by this nutritional advice notice that their breastfed brown rice babies grow a lot healthier, are hardly sick (some reported not even a single bout of fever for one year!) or recover from illnesses much faster using indigenous food as medicine (some reported not going to their pediatricians for three straight years!). 

How to Cook Unpolished Rice

Boil 1 cup of rice with 2 cups of water for 20 minutes. Turn off the stove or rice cooker. Allow the rice to be soaked in the hot water for 15-20 minutes. Turn on the stove or rice cooker to slow fire or low heat until done. You can add pandan, gata, kasuba (saffron flower), sesame seeds, beans for different flavors. Both rice and beans can be soaked overnight to shorten cooking time.

An important reminder for parents in preparing babyfoods: Salt should not be added to a baby’s diet until he/she turns one year old. However, oils like coconut, sesame or olive oil should be added to complementary foods or solids.  

Let me also tell you about the Breastfeeding Clinic, a joint project of Children for Breastfeeding and Nurturers of the Earth to provide support to parents. It is managed by two International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and holds pre-natal classes on pregnancy and birthing; infant and young child feeding including re-establishing breastfeeding (relactation), and sustaining breastfeeding beyond two years; natural family planning to achieve or postpone pregnancy; earth-friendly parenting. It also provides specialized massage for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and trains the father or a parenting partner on how to do it.

The Clinic offers assistance during actual childbirth delivery until the first breastfeeding. For Metro Manila residents, set an appointment by calling 444-4716, 889-1105 or text your name and landline to 0919-839-5555. For inquiries on breastfeeding, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

source: Philippine Star