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We made a list of healthy dishes and food alternatives that are so delicious you will even eat them on cheat days!

I once complained to a doctor (who happens to be my uncle) about how difficult it is to switch to a healthier diet. “I really don’t like oatmeal,’ I opined. He replied, “who said you have to eat oatmeal? If you hate it, then skip it. You must eat healthily, but you also need to eat well.”

That conversation was truly life-changing as it altered my perspective on nutrition in the best possible way. It is about making smart, informed choices that ensure you are putting good things into your body while not compromising on flavour. Having enjoyable meals secure the sustainability of your new life choices.

Food lovers can make small tweaks to their favourite meals to pack them with nutrients, even if they are still indulgent. Here are a few of my favourite healthy dishes and ingredients that are more nutritious alternatives.

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1. Barley Risotto from Viaje

Barley is a nutrient-packed cereal grain that is high in insoluble fibre (the good stuff) which aids in digestion, helps you lose weight, lowers cholesterol, and can prevent colon cancer. It also scores high in magnesium content which plays an important role in insulin production, helping keep blood glucose levels in check. Chef Kevin Uy’s barley risotto is packed with the rich flavours of mushrooms, parmesan, leeks, and bacon that this feels more like an indulgence rather than a nutritious meal, yet it is.

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2. Bun Cha from Babu at The Grid Food Market

Vietnamese cuisine is known for its bright and herbaceous flavours thanks to its use of crisp vegetables, pungent herbs, and zingy dressings. There is a lot of complexity in taste and texture without having to use rich sauces or fatty ingredients. Bun cha is what I can best describe as a Vietnamese noodle salad with grilled pork meatballs and flavoured with nuoc cham, a dressing made with fish sauce, lime, and chilli. It is a satisfying dish that is also gluten-free and sneaks a lot of vegetables into your meal. Babu at The Grid Food Market has a wonderful bun cha that is topped with grilled pork belly and fried spring rolls, and Chef Him Uy de Baron’s nuoc cham is refined and perfectly balanced.

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3. Falalfel wraps and salad bowls from Ganggreen Falafels

Falafels have become a popular meat replacement in dishes because they are made with protein-rich chickpeas. Like other legumes, chickpeas have calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients to build strong bones. The bold and provocative folks (they really are pushing the envelope with that name) at Ganggreen Falafels make these vibrantly flavoured and coloured wraps that are jam-packed with nutrients as well. Think malunggay-enhanced pita, beetroot paneer, green tahini— you get the picture. They also offer salad bowls now that are completely vegan. 

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4. Sagana Coconut Spread

I am not quick to jump on the health food bandwagon since most plant-based alternatives fall short when it comes to flavour. Sagana Coconut Spread, however, is one healthy option that did not disappoint. It is totally vegan and dairy-free, made from non-hydrogenated coconut oil, contains zero trans-fats, and with heart-friendly mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. But, more importantly, it smells like butter, it tastes like butter, and after a few minutes at room temperature, it feels like butter. I have used it to baste steaks, make béchamel, and replace regular butter to make the creamiest scrambled eggs. If I sound like a fan, that is because I am one.

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5. The Umami Burger by Burger Beast

Where many have tried to make good on the plant-based burger promise of being close to the real thing, only a few have truly delivered. Chef Carlo Miguel’s Beyond Meat Umami Burger from Burger Beast has fooled even the hardiest carnivore in side-by-side tastings with their beef burgers. The good chef credits the bold umami sauce it comes with to provide the effective smoke and mirrors it needs. No outlandish, cutesy trimmings, just the things that make a burger good. 

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6. Feliz Adlai Grains by Luisa Farms

Just less than a decade ago, adlai has come into the mainstream thanks to a push from then-Department of Agriculture Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat and some talented chef friends who were able to conjure the finest characters of this heirloom grain. It is more low-carb than white and brown rice, high in protein and fibre, and ranks low in the glycemic index scale making it a good alternative for those watching their blood sugar. Flavour-wise, it has a pleasantly nutty nuance and a firm, chewy bite making it a versatile pairing for many dishes and transcending different cuisines. Luisa Farms in Capiz produces high-quality adlai that is distributed in Metro Manila by Feliz Dish and Details. 

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7. Lactation Burrata from Crumbs and Grubs

Malunggay–or moringa as it is more commonly known globally—has exponentially grown in popularity thanks to its recently-discovered superfood qualities. It is known to have anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Its leaves and drumstick is a rich source of amino acids, with significant amounts of vitamin A, C, and E, calcium, potassium, and protein. Breastfeeding mothers swear that it increases milk production and introduce as much of it into their diet to enhance their supply. Crumbs and Grubs offers Lactation Burrata powered by moringa powder that is locally made by an artisanal cheesemaker. It gives the cheese a pleasant herbaceous character that goes tremendously well with salads and pastas.

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