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Explore nutrition tips, kids’ meal plans, kids’ activities, recipes and more from pediatric nutritionist, Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE.

5 Ways to Make Filipino Dishes Healthier

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Food is a major part of the Filipino culture and is the highlight of many gatherings and celebrations. You may have heard some Filipinos say, “It’s not a party without the food!” Traditional Filipino dishes are undeniably delicious, but are typically high in fat and salt. You can still enjoy your favorite Filipino foods without all the extra calories or excess sodium with some simple and healthy modifications.

Rice: White rice is a Filipino food staple included at almost every meal, but if you substitute in brown rice you will remain full for longer. Brown rice is more satisfying than white rice, because it is higher in fiber. To get your family adjusted to the chewy texture and nutty taste of whole grains, like brown rice, try mixing white and brown rice together at first.

Meat: For meat lovers interested in reducing their saturated fat consumption, choose lean cuts of meat like sirloin and lean ground turkey. Trim fat from meats before cooking and drain fat after cooking when making your main dishes like “adobo” and “menudo”. To further reduce your intake of saturated fats, occasionally swap meat for tofu or seafood like salmon, which is high in Omega-3s. These are healthy fatty acids, which are critical for healthy brain development and help to lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Also try grilling “inihaw na bangus” (grilled milkfish) stuffed with tomatoes, green onions, and cucumbers in place of grilled meat.

Stews and Soups: Similar to other cultures, soups and stews are favorite comfort foods for Filipinos that can be loaded with sodium and hidden calories. Keep these tips in mind when stirring up a soup or stew:

  • Use low-sodium broths
  • Avoid bouillon cubes (very high in sodium!)
  • Buy no added salt canned tomatoes–this includes tomato paste
  • Switch to low-fat (1%) milk for creamy soups that call for whole milk or heavy cream
  • Use whole wheat, buckwheat or soba noodles
  • Load up on the vegetables. Use a variety of your favorites- be creative!

Dips: “Sawsaw” means to dip. Sauces and condiments that are commonly found at the Filipino dining table are soy sauce, shrimp paste, and fish sauce. Flavor your food to your liking, but watch out because most of these sauces are high in sodium. Season your meals without sodium using chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, and kalamansi (a Filipino lime and orange hybrid). Have you ever tried the fork dip method? Dip the fork, not the spoon, in the sauce and then tap off excess liquid. You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite flavors using the fork dip method–you get the taste without too many calories.

Make it whole foods: Most Filipino dishes are cooked from scratch using the following healthy cooking techniques.

  • Grill, bake, broil, roast, and steam-  all great cooking methods that don’t add extra fat
  • Use nonstick pans and cooking spray instead of oil
  • Stir-fry using broth or only 1 teaspoon of canola or olive oil
  • Skip the extra step of frying, because double cooking is unnecessary. You will save time and reduce added fat consumption.

Here is a recipe the whole family can enjoy. “Lumpia Sariwa” literally means “fresh egg roll.” Your family can enjoy a healthier meal by modifying just four ingredients.


Traditional Lumpia Sariwa Recipe (Modified Version Below)


  • 2 cups Jicama
  • 2 cups Yam
  • 2 cups Bean Sprout
  • 2 ½ cups Green Beans
  • 1 cup Garbanzo Beans
  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • 3 tbsp Canola Oil


  • Wrapper (egg roll wrapper)
  • Romaine Leaf

Sauce: stir until it comes to a simmer

  • Soy Sauce
  • Corn Starch
  • Water
  • Sugar
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)

Modified Lumpia Sariwa Recipe


  • 2 Cups Jicama
  • 2 cups Yam
  • 2 cups Bean Sprout
  • 2 ½ cups Bean Sprout
  • 1 cup Garbanzo Beans
  • 1 lb Extra lean ground turkey (no skin)
  • 3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  • Wrapper (egg roll wrapper)
  • Romaine Leaf

Sauce: stir until it comes to a simmer

  • Low sodium soy sauce
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Cut the sugar in half
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)

Get more healthy whole food meal ideas.


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About the Author

Picture of Joy De Castro, MS, RD

Joy De Castro, MS, RD

Joy is a clinical registered dietitian in the Greater Los Angeles area and received her master's degree in nutritional science from Cal State LA.

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