Much ado about kamote, corn as rice substitutes

By Alex P. Vidal

“Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.”—Mitch Hedberg

SOME netizens have rejected the call of health officials for Filipinos to eat kamote or sweet potato and corn as alternatives for rice.

They think substituting rice for kamote and corn is a step backward or “like living in the past” when the poor then couldn’t afford to buy rice or when there was no sufficient rice supply in the market.

The suggestion first came from Iloilo second district Rep. Janette Loreto-Garin, who is a former secretary of the Department of Health (DoH) even before the Philippines was named the world’s top rice importer for the marketing year 2022-2023, according to the latest report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It’s actually okay to eat kamote and corn, and I don’t see anything wrong with eating them for lunch if prices of rice have gone up and already beyond the reach of ordinary income earners in the Philippines. In fact, I’m a kamote eater now that I live in a foreign country.

We aren’t losers when we eat kamote or corn. Sweet potatoes, for instance, are reputed to be “superfood” because of the amount of nutrients they have. Studies show they may help with:

Cancer. Carotenoids in sweet potatoes might lower your risk for cancer. Purple sweet potatoes are high in another natural compound called anthocyanin that might lower your chances of getting colorectal cancer.

Diabetes. Compounds in sweet potatoes could help control blood sugar. When boiled, sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index (GI), which means they won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as high-GI foods.

Heart disease. Research shows that sweet potatoes can lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol, which may lower your odds of heart problems.

Macular degeneration. Large amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin A, which are in sweet potatoes, can lower your chances of getting this eye disease, which is the most common cause of vision loss.

Obesity. Purple sweet potatoes may help lower inflammation in your body and keep fat cells from growing, which may help you lose weight. (Source: WebMD)


Other pro-kamote and corn DoH officials followed suit before President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. imposed a freeze on the price of rice, the country’s staple food, in an attempt to control surging prices of a commodity that has significant political implications in the country.

Mr. Marcos’ executive order set a price ceiling for regular and well-milled rice at 41 pesos and 45 pesos (U.S. 72 and 79 cents) per kg, significantly higher than the P20 (35 cents) per kg. he promised during his 2022 presidential campaign.

His promise to bring down rice prices had significantly influenced those who voted for him. But over a year into his presidency, rice prices remain high in a country where the minimum wage is about P600 ($10.58) per day.

In July, rice inflation surged to 4.2 percent, the highest since 2019, government data showed. Central bank had expected total inflation in August to settle within a range of 4.8 percent to 5.6 percent, linked to soaring rice prices.

Because of shortages, other basic commodities, such as onions and sugar, have seen high prices. Mr. Marcos had also authorized emergency onion imports to stabilize the market.

Although white rice is processed, it’s usually enriched with added nutrients. Also, its low fiber content may help with digestive issues. Brown rice, however, is more nutritious, contains more fiber, and is a better choice for diabetes, heart disease and weight maintenance.

White rice is often unfairly criticized and can serve as a better alternative to brown rice in some situations.

For instance, women going through pregnancy may benefit from the extra folate found in enriched white rice.

Additionally, people on a low-fiber diet and adults experiencing nausea or heartburn may find that white rice is easier to digest and does not trigger uncomfortable symptoms.


White and brown rice are the most popular types of rice and have similar origins.

Brown rice is simply the entire whole rice grain. It contains the fiber-rich bran, the nutrient-packed germ and the carbohydrate-rich endosperm.

On the other hand, white rice is stripped of its bran and germ, leaving just the endosperm. It’s then processed to improve taste, extend shelf life and enhance cooking properties (1Trusted Source).

White rice is considered empty carbs since it loses its main sources of nutrients.

However, in the US and many other countries, white rice is typically enriched with added nutrients, including iron and B vitamins like folic acid, niacin, thiamine and more (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).

This table shows how 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of the different types of rice compare nutritionally when cooked (4, 5, 6).

However, brown rice is still the better option for most. It contains a wider variety of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and plant-based compounds.

It also has a lower glycemic index, which means its carbs are more slowly converted into blood sugar, making it more ideal for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

That said, it’s perfectly fine to enjoy white rice in moderation without feeling guilty. (Source: healthline)


FACTS TO REMEMBER: The USDA’s “Grain: World Markets and Trade” revealed that the country has approved the importation of 3.9 million metric tons (MT) of rice from January 2022 to December 2023.

It surpassed China’s rice importation at 3.5 million MT during the same period. China was hailed as a consistent top rice importer since 2019.”In 2008, top importer the Philippines continuously bought larger volumes as prices escalate,” the report read. “This year, it is delaying purchases, awaiting lower prices.”

For January 2023 to August 2024, the Philippines is seen to slightly decrease its importation by 100,000 MT while China is expected to increase its importation by 500,000 MT, regaining world’s top rice importer spot.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two daily newspapers in Iloilo.—Ed)


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