Healthier Noche Buena Alternatives


The Philippines is famous for celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols played starting at the crack of dawn of September 1. This 3-month yuletide celebration culminates with a midnight mass on Christmas Eve  (Bisperas ng Pasko), which is followed by the traditional Noche Buena feast—an important family gathering filled with love, sharing, laughter and sumptuous food, which can tempt you to make unhealthy, calorie-packed food choices.

Many countries, including the Philippines, experience a sharp increase in cases of heart attack and stroke during the holiday season. The culprits? Stress, failure to take prescribed medication, the cold weather and, you guessed it, overindulgence in food and alcoholic drinks.

Cheer up. You can still enjoy the holiday season while managing your risk for cardiovascular diseases by making healthier food choices for your Noche Buena feast and other holiday gatherings:

  • Pass on the traditional “Pinoy spaghetti” with ground beef, hotdogs, sweet tomato-based sauce and grated cheddar cheese. Instead choose tuna, shrimp or chicken pesto pasta and other olive oil-based pasta dishes, which have fewer calories and are heart-healthier.
  • Instead of white rice and white bread, choose brown rice and wheat bread, which have more fiber and don’t raise blood sugar levels as much.
  • Instead of the calorie-rich fruit salad, opt for fresh fruits and vegetable salad with a light dressing.
  • Go easy on soda, fruit juices and other sweetened beverages. Drink alcohol moderately—or don’t drink it at all. Take your coffee black or, better yet, choose green tea. As much as possible, drink water. Keep in mind that a cup of fruit juice (orange, pineapple, apple, grape) has between 100 to 200 calories. A 12-ounce bottle of beer has 148 calories. Water has zero calories.
  • Avoid dips, gravies, dressings, and sauces. Choose healthier alternatives such as pesto, herbs and spices, salsa, and even moderate amounts of fish sauce or soy sauce.
  • Eat typical holiday offerings such as ham, fried chicken, lechon and other red meat in moderation or—if you have the fortitude—don’t eat them. If you can’t resist however, choose the leanest cuts of red meat. Of course, the healthiest choice is white meat such as fish and chicken (without the skin).
  • Eat reasonable portions. Learning to eyeball serving sizes is incredibly helpful in keeping your portions in check. A one-ounce serving of cheese is about the size of four dice. A half-cup serving of whole grains such as brown rice or whole grain pasta is similar to the size of half a baseball. A three-ounce serving of lean meat is the size of a deck of cards. A serving of fruits or vegetables is about the size of your fist.

There’s a common misconception that eating healthy means settling for bland, unappetizing dishes. The Department of Health (DOH) recommends the following healthy and delicious Filipino dishes that you can consider for your Noche Buena spread:

  • Laing
  • Pinakbet
  • Tinolang Manok
  • Lumpiang Ubod
  • Ginisang Munggo with Ampalaya or Malunggay leaves
  • Ginisang Sitaw
  • Adobong Kangkong
  • Ensaladang Talong


-Medical Observer

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