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close this bookCulture, Environment, and Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 208 pages)
close this folderPart III. Assessing natural food sources of Vitamin A in the community
close this folder4. The Philippines: The Aetas Canawan during wet and dry seasons
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe Vitamin A problem in the Philippines
View the documentThe Aetas of Canawan, Morong
View the documentThe Aeta's way of life
View the documentConcepts of food and deficiency
View the documentFactors affecting food intake
View the documentA typical meal
View the documentSuggested dietary modifications

Suggested dietary modifications

Food intake is a complex behavior affected by a web of factors, only a few of which are mentioned above. It may seem that the Aetas would respond readily to suggested modifications as long as food is available. The perception of tiesa (carristel) should caution such optimism. People know that it is masustansiya (nutritious) and mabuti para sa mata (good for the eyes) and it is abundant in the summer months, but they would prefer not to eat it because they do not like its taste. There is need to experiment with recipes that would make tiesa more palatable, since this is in season during the dry months when not many food items are available. It is also rich in energy and vitamin C.

Our suggested modifications were directed toward improving the absorption of vitamin A and increasing body stores. We also recommended ways to improve the overall diet, keeping in mind other factors that could affect intake, such as taste and ease in preparation.

The first set of recommendations would help increase the fat in the diet. One way would be to use coconut milk more often. The Aetas already eat dishes in which vegetables are cooked in coconut milk. However, extracting the milk from coconut meat can be tedious and this may be the reason it is seldom done, even if coconuts are available. They would have to be convinced that the outcome would be worthwhile. Although coconut milk can be bought in ready-to-use form in Manila, it is unlikely that people from Morong and Canawan would buy it, given the availability of coconuts and the limited cash available.

A second way to add more fat in their diet is to encourage them to eat more nuts, such as peanuts, cashews, and sesame seeds. They, of course, need to be convinced to plant these crops. Cashew is already being produced, but peanut and sesame seeds could be introduced, both as cash crops and for personal consumption.

The Aetas also need to increase the amount of protein in their diets. One way would be use the nuts noted above. Another would be to eat more legumes, such as munggo (mungbean). Yet another would be to find ways to procure animal sources more readily. We proposed that more animals, such as chickens, pigs, and goats be raised.

Chicken would be a good source of nutrients. The eggs and skin are rich in fat, the liver in vitamin A, and the meat in protein. Pigs and goats would also be good sources of protein, and their livers of vitamin A. The Aetas would probably prefer the native breed of chickens and pigs, that are hardier and require little care. Goats will eat almost anything, so feeding should not be a problem, and their milk could be an additional source of fat as well. Perhaps, if the Aetas are hesitant to use goat or even caribou milk (they believe that this would make them behave like animals), they could be taught to make cheese from their milk and eat this instead. Cheese would be a good source of fat and protein.

A far more expensive way to increase vitamin A intake would be to fortify the foods that the Aetas eat often, such as rice and condiments like salt and soy sauce. However, marketing and distribution would be problematical for remote locations such as Canawan. On the other hand, this method could be implemented on a regional or national scale, which would require policy and legislative changes.

These suggestions could be implemented through a concerted effort involving community mobilization and health education. People like the Aetas have become wary of suggestions, even from well-meaning sources. It may be a good strategy to start with a few families who will adopt these changes by raising more animals, and planting a wider variety of crops. When this succeeds, other families will follow.