Some Filipino dishes are notoriously filled with unhealthy preservatives, additives and coloring which admittedly, makes them taste really good. For today’s edition of Filipino Food Friday, I’ve summarized the top ingredients used in Filipino dishes and listed healthier swaps that can turn most beloved Filipino recipes into Paleo compliant ones!
1.) Ingredient: Soy Sauce
Healthy Swap: Coconut Aminos
Soy sauce is used in a wide variety of recipes, sauces and dips such as adobo, pancit and BBQ to name a few. Generally made with fermented soybean, wheat, sugar and artificial additives, it can be harmful to the body especially for those that have a severe soy and gluten allergy. (Read more about soy here.)
Coconut aminos has a slightly sweeter flavor that can be used as a delicious 1:1 healthy swap for soy sauce. You may want to add a little bit of salt while cooking since coconut aminos is light in the saltiness factor.
* If you are okay with consuming soy, you can use gluten-free Tamari such as this one.
2.) Ingredient: Iodized Salt or Table Salt
Healthy Swap: Sea Salt or Celtic Salt or Himalayan Salt
Let’s make one thing clear, Iodized/table salt is bad for you. This type of salt goes through a refining process where it’s filled with chemicals and an anti-caking agent that can be toxic to the body. (Read more about the dangers of table salt here.)
3.) Ingredient: Cane Vinegar
Healthy Swap: Apple Cider Vinegar
Cane vinegar is derived from sugar cane which is abundant in the Philippines. It is not the worst ingredient to cook with, in fact, I’m ok with this type of vinegar to make Filipino recipes such as adobo taste authentic. If you’d rather veer away from using anything that is derived from sugar cane, Apple Cider Vinegar is my preferred alternative. It will make your adobo taste just as good!
4.) Ingredient: Cornstarch or All Purpose Flour
Healthy Swap: Arrowroot Powder or Tapioca Flour
Cornstarch or All purpose flour are used as thickeners when making lumpia sauce or as a batter for frying meat to give it that nice crunchy texture. It also gives you a gluten baby (or even worst, a gluten induced headache!) that can be really uncomfortable.
Use safe starches such as Arrowroot Powder or Tapioca Flour mixed with a little bit of warm water as a thickener (no one will even notice the difference!) or use a light dusting to coat meat before frying. It stays crunchy even after it has cooled down versus the soggy mess you get when using regular flour. For some frying tips using safe starches, I have this article that you can refer to.
5.) Ingredient: Canton or Bihon or Sontanghon Noodles
Healthy Swap: Sweet Potato Noodles or Kelp Noodles
There are a lot of noodle-based Filipino dishes that are simple to prepare for any occasion so they are a permanent fixture at any Filipino gathering (or even just a weeknight dinner at mom and dad’s house).
Canton, bihon or sotanghon are usually made with wheat and gluten so swapping these out with Sweet Potato Noodles called dang myun (Korean glass noodles) that can be found at most Asian stores is the perfect alternative.
Sweet potato noodles still have a high carbohydrate content so if you are looking into a low carb version, Kelp noodles are great. Just cook them a little bit longer to soften up so they don’t feel like crunchy plastic noodles in your mouth!
6.) Ingredient: Banana Ketchup
Healthy Swap: Tomato Ketchup
Banana ketchup sounds like a novelty but take a peek at any Filipino fridge and you’ll find a bottle lurking in there. Using bananas as the base for ketchup is such a unique idea but the added ingredients plus a ton of coloring makes it undesirable. Bananas are yellow and this ketchup is bright red!
Use tomato ketchup instead and find one that doesn’t have added sugar in it.
7.) Ingredient: Knorr Liquid Seasoning
Healthy Swap: Worcestershire Sauce
Aside from soy sauce, Knorr Liquid Seasoning is a brand of condiment that Filipinos love to cook or eat with. It is filled with hydrolyzed soy protein, wheat and (gasp) MSG just to name a few so it’s probably one of the worst things that you can add to your food.
Worcestershire sauce is a paleo friendly condiment that can be used instead of the deadly liquid seasoning. It does have molasses in it, but the rest of the ingredients are pretty clean.
8.) Ingredient: Boullion Cubes
Healthy Swap: Chicken or Beef Bone Broth
Bouillion cubes that come in beef, chicken, pork or tamarind flavors are little toxic bombs in terms of ingredients. It is usually the first condiment that a Filipino cook reaches for as an instant soup flavoring when pressed for time. Similar to those little flavor packets in ramen noodles, these preservative and salt laden bouillon cubes are a disaster waiting to happen.
Ditch those bouillon cubes and keep a stash of prepared beef, chicken or pork bone broths in your freezer so you have something ready anytime you need broth. If preparing your own sounds like too much work, a shelf-stable brand such as this one is acceptable.
9.) Ingredient: Evaporated Milk
Healthy Swap: Coconut Milk
Evaporated milk comes in a can or tetra brick and is used in desserts such as Leche flan and Halo-halo or in soups to make them rich and creamy.
Using coconut milk is much better and actually tastes great with any type of Filipino dessert.
10.) Ingredient: Condensed Milk
Healthy Swap: Coconut Cream with Honey or Date Syrup
Not to be confused with Evaporated milk, Condensed milk is thicker due to its high sugar contents so it had that gooey caramel texture. It is also used in desserts and as a drink sweetener where just a few tablespoons makes anything taste super yummy.
Combining coconut cream with a little bit of honey is a good alternative without the crazy sugar rush. Using homemade date syrup also works!
Of course, a Filipino pantry is never without the beloved fish sauce:
It is a paleo friendly condiment but watch out for added ingredients such as sugar, iodized salt, coloring or potassium sorbate in brands that can be found at the Asian store. I recommend the Red Boat Fish Sauce brand for the purest and cleanest quality. It costs 3x as much but a little bit goes a long way so a bottle can last from 6 months up to a year.