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Scientist cooks veggies so amazingly yummy

By Tessa Salazar

Philippine Daily Inquirer

01/23/2011

MANILA, Philippines--Nearing the end of the first month of the new year, are you still putting off that rigorous exercise regimen you resolved to embrace as part of your resolution to finally shape up?

A 'Balik Scientist' of the Department of Science and Technology is offering a lineup of affordable 'street food' that will not only help people lose weight but also make them healthier--and help rewire their brains for compassion and empathy.

Replacing his lab gown with an apron in November 2010, Filipino molecular biologist Custer Deocaris, who specialized in neuroscience, sports science and antiaging at Tsukuba University and Tokyo University in Japan for five years, is taking his culinary creations straight to the mainstream.

He has set up his own food cart business right where the masses converge--at a public market, a church, the Quezon Memorial Circle and the Centris Sunday Market on Edsa.

Deocaris' 'nutraceutical' foods--all without meat--include a fat-burning siomai that not only decreases one's craving for food but also enhances the body's metabolic pathways; coco-sap gulaman that counteracts diabetes; 'hamburger' that actually prevents heart attacks; puto bumbong that helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve brain functions and delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease; and rice porridge (lugaw) that also lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Among the ingredients he uses are carageenin, a seaweed known for its anticancer properties; okara, a highly nutritious byproduct of soy (taho); and rice bran, a vitamin-rich antioxidant.

Deocaris is also concocting healthy Filipino desserts that are nutrient-rich and done vegan style. These include biko and puto made with memory-boosting Gaba brown rice, karioka, yakon buchi and low-calorie ube halaya.

Training the brain

While serving samples of his veggie burger, Deocaris disclosed another side effect of partaking of his meatless fare.

Citing a May 2010 neuroscience article in PlosOne (a peer-reviewed journal) describing the tangible differences between the brains of vegans and omnivores, he said the brain would tend to rewire itself for compassion or empathy to fellow beings when subjected to a vegetarian diet.

In other words, repeated decisions not to eat meat 'trains' the brain to be more compassionate, he said.

Whether a vegetarian diet will actually rewire the brains of meat-loving Filipinos remains to be seen. What is immediately evident is that most first-time customers at Deocaris' stalls like what they see, smell and taste.

Deocaris launched his first food cart at the Mu'oz market in November 2010; he launched another at the ritzy Banchetto weekend night bazaar on Emerald Street in Ortigas Center (which ended on Jan. 21).

He maintains a stall (open daily) at St. Joseph's Church on Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City and another at the Quezon City Memorial Circle (open every Saturday and Sunday).

He opens yet another at the Centris Sunday market (6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) on January 30.

Pleasant surprise

Made entirely of vegetables, soy bean, wheat and selected spices, Deocaris' dishes never fail to surprise first-time customers.

At the Banchetto food cart, gym buff Ryan Velasco, 23, ordered Deocaris' malunggay-basil pesto burger.

After the first bite, Velasco remarked: 'This tastes like real burger, and the pesto sauce makes it better. There's less salt, so that's good.'

The malunggay-basil pesto burger--with 300 milligrams of fat-burning L-carnitine, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, grilled onion, mustard and eggless mayonnaise--is recommended for weight-watchers.

The fat-burning siomai, which also has yakon and L-carnitine, costs from P25 to P28, and is the personal choice of medical student Chiqui Biglaen.
The siomai 'melts in your mouth,' said Biglaen, 21.

Exclaimed confessed siomai connoisseur Rona Arches, 19: 'This tastes like the real thing!'

Low veggie consumption

According to Deocaris, who prepares the food and serves customers himself, the Philippines is blessed with abundant natural foods that promote wellness.
If Filipinos, especially children, are weaned from Western-style diets dominated by meats and processed foods, there will not be so many of our countrymen starving, undernourished, obese or beset by debilitating 'lifestyle diseases' such as hypertension, he said.

Deocaris said that each Filipino needed to consume 69 kilos of vegetables per year to stay healthy but that 'three-fourths of the population' were consuming insufficient amounts of vegetables and fruits.

'We are the lowest consumers of vegetables in Asia. In China, an average person eats 250 kg of vegetables per year. An average Filipino eats only 40. We have to change this meat-first culture,' he said.

Deocaris said Filipinos' low vegetable consumption rate had been directly linked to obesity, metabolic diseases, cancer and malnutrition.

The seventh national survey of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute showed that the Philippines had a double-disease burden: 26 percent of children were malnourished, and 27 in every 100 adults aged 20 and above were either obese or overweight.

Curbing crime rate

Deocaris also made a case of eating vegetables as a way to curb criminality and violence.

'The national crime rate is up by 63 percent according to 2009 statistics. People are getting more violent. Empathy is at a new low. We don't seem to care about other Filipinos anymore. But if you get into the habit of eating more fruits and vegetables, your brain will rewire itself toward compassion, which, I think, will make us more Christian,' he said.

Deocaris, together with breast-feeding advocate Nona Andaya Castillo of the nongovernment organization Nurturers of the Earth, is planning a project with the Department of Education--a nationwide campaign to boost the consumption of vegetables and brown rice in schools nationwide.

'If we all eat brown rice, the country will no longer have a rice shortage. Even half a cup of brown rice will make you full,' Deocaris said.

He said eating two or more servings of brown rice per week would lower the risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 16 percent.

'Hopefully, we can convince the next generation to be healthier, more active and less prone to obesity/overweight and cardiovascular diseases,' he said.
 

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