MANILA, MAY 5, 2006 (STAR) COMMONNESS By Bong R. Osorio - I can’t help it, but every time I read or hear about someone I know who has just passed away – particularly those younger than I (I’m no spring chicken, but not a candidate for a retirement home, either) – I think to myself: there but for the grace of God, go I.

Not that my mortality has become my major preoccupation. The business of life continues to be full of new challenges and great opportunities, thank you. I can’t help but notice how there seems to be more and more people dying young. In fact, if we were to base it on the number of very public deaths reported by the media, more and more young people are dying for one reason or another.

Beauty queen Chat Silayan’s death drove home the shocking prospect of an early death, despite the fact that she kept herself physically, emotionally and spiritually fit. Hers was not the first, either. Not too long ago, actress Rio Diaz died from a similar illness. A quick check of the list of your relatives may likewise reveal that, indeed, our mortality is always just a shadow away, choosing the time and circumstance of our death in a bewildering logic that escapes us.

I suppose it is only a consequence of my having settled in in my middle age that I now take both the attitudes of nonchalant indifference and sympathetic consoler to those who passed away and their bereaved. I am not afraid of the prospect, but I do take care of myself, not purposely to prolong my life, but to make sure that I do maintain a life of relative happiness – and that means living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of my mind and my body.

So I find these increasing incidences of deaths caused by lifestyle choices as an important issue. Cancer, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes are diseases afflicting those whose lifestyles have adopted a western character and an affluent modern culture. We hardly hear of anyone who dies of simple old age anymore.

Locally, our ancestors may have gone past (and survived) the time when tuberculosis and malaria were rampant killers in the countryside. We, Filipinos, seem to have simply replaced them with these lifestyle diseases. While we aim to be globally competitive at almost everything, I do wish we’d say time out from joining the countries with high mortality rates from the Big 3 (cancer, heart disease, and diabetes).

It has only been a recent development that Filipinos are starting to pay more attention to what they eat. Until a generation ago, parents believed that fat infants and fat kids were a sign of health. Many of these fat kids grew up to become fat adults unfortunately, because of the wrong notions about eating healthy. I know of many young parents today who still care very little for proper nutrition for their kids. They indulge their kids in sugary candies and pastries, soft drinks and greasy foods.

Health experts find that a diet consisting of a large portion of red meat and fat, processed carbohydrates and sugars, and coupled with inordinate amounts of stress in daily life may cause or trigger these diseases. Unfortunately for us, it takes quite a bit of effort to plan meals at home that avoid these tempting treats. If you’ve ever cooked for yourself or your family at home for any length of time, you can appreciate how difficult it is to plan a variety of dishes, let alone healthy and nutritious ones, day in and day out.

Is it any wonder that we’re seeing more and more overweight people on the streets and in shopping malls? Obviously, western-style meals are wreaking havoc on our once slender physiques. Not that I have anything against wide-girth people; I, myself, have to constantly struggle with keeping my weight at an acceptable level, regularly spending time in my favorite gym just to keep those extra pounds off.

Even when we decide to swing the other way, going vegetarian has its dangers as well. Eating raw vegetables, no matter how carefully prepared, can be a source for deadly amoebae, which can ravage the liver, and, ultimately, kill. I haven’t come across statistics that prove vegans (vegetarians to you) live longer, happier lives. Until I get incontrovertible proof, I’d be hard put totally abstaining from the occasional steak that I must indulge in from time to time.

Until the 1960s, Asian peoples were generally found to have a low incidence of heart disease. I hazard to guess that it was because they had yet to be introduced to greasy western cooking. Sure, Asians, including Pinoys, were not as tall, not as muscularly built as their western counterparts, but, yes, we were not yet dying from the food we ate.

Today’s generation of Filipinos have a difficult task of sticking to the true and narrow path to health. Everywhere they look, they are surrounded by junk food of all shapes and sizes, soft drinks and sugary drinks purporting to be health drinks, instant noodles and starchy and sugary desserts. Even breakfast cereals and so-called energy drinks are largely sugar.

For the less fortunate among us who have very little options about their sources and choices of food, the saying, "Beggars can’t be choosers" is apt. Visit your friendly neighborhood variety store and you will see that most of their snacks on sale are empty calories, a lot of them seasoned with lots of monosodium glutamate (MSG), salt and sugar.

I suppose you could call it going back to basics, choosing meals that are simple and as fresh as possible. How could one argue with the resuscitative properties of tinolang manok or sinigang na hipon? (I’d leave the kare-kare and chicken-pork adobo among the list of "serve only sparingly" dishes, considering how high their fat and calorie contents must be.)

Another round of belt-tightening is upon us, what with the new wave of oil price hikes and a resultant wholesale increase in the prices of food and basic commodities. We can probably do ourselves a favor by eating out less and going back to our basic rice-and-viand meals. While at it, we could probably cut down on the lechon and sinigang na baboy, as well. That way, we could save the money we would have spent on comfort food and, more importantly, save ourselves from an early demise. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to answer the door; the pizza boy is delivering my dinner.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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