FEATURED SCIENTISTWe eat, work, and pray every day. Why not add exercise in between? Dr. Riza “Reeze” Abilgos-Ramos shares to us her journey as a nutritionist and her insights on work-life balance. Dr. Ramos is a supervising science research specialist at PhilRice’s Rice Chemistry and Food Science Division.

Becoming a nutritionist

During her childhood, Dr. Abilgos-Ramos was skinny and very sickly. She was among those who lined up for their school’s feeding program for underweight pupils.

It was partly the reason she decided to take BS Nutrition at UP Los Baños. “I was amazed of the importance of nutrition in our lives; hence, I became interested on how our body processes anything that we eat,” says Dr. Abilgos-Ramos.

She adds that she was fascinated as to how one can prevent or even cure diseases just by having a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Not known to many, Dr. Ramos wanted to become a surgeon. She, however, was unable to pursue her dream due to financial difficulties.

Nutrition research in the UK and PH

In 2006, Dr. Abilgos-Ramos started her PhD at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom under the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program of the institute of International Education. Her research on the folate content of rice showed that overexpression of rice folylpolyglutamate synthetase genes enhances folate concentration in the rice grain. Folate, one of the B vitamins for normal growth and development and very important to prevent underdevelopment of spine in the first 3 months of life, is also needed for rice seed development.

Dr. Abilgos-Ramos was supervised by a plant scientist and an analytical chemist, which widened her experience in transdisciplinary research.

“I continued my research here in the Philippines with our traditional varieties, which are proven to have high folate content. A major challenge, however, is finding a plant breeder who also focuses on rice nutrition to serve as my collaborator,” says Dr. Abilgos-Ramos.

Dr. Abilgos-Ramos was part of the team of researchers behind MS 13 or IR68144, a high-iron rice, which was released as a special variety for farmers under the auspices of the Rice Biofortification project of the HarvestPlus Program. It was funded by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

On developing rice-based products, Dr. Abilgos-Ramos led the study on the acceptability and nutritional quality of Malungay-supplemented rice crackers and salt bread with chili pepper leaves. Initially, micro-entrepreneurs in Palusapis, Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija have started producing these rice crackers.

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Health at home

Dr. Abilgos-Ramos is not your typical scientist! She is good in basketball and volleyball, loves sports, dancing, and other highly physical activities. She enjoys outdoor adventures such as rappelling and hiking.

On her diet, she prefers dishes with chilli and coconut milk as they are also good for metabolism—and the fact that she’s proud of her Bicolano roots!

“For my family, I usually cook nutritious dishes. I love to experiment on food and I sometimes share my discoveries to my research staff,” says Dr. Abilgos-Ramos. She adds that “healthy diet always starts at home.”

Pinoy rice diet

Given that Filipinos are heavy rice eaters, Dr. Abilgos-Ramos recommends eating brown rice. She explains that it has more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants, which are mostly removed from milled or polished rice. Fiber, she emphasizes, helps weight maintenance and digestive health.

“Rice nutrition content is obviously not a priority for now (pertaining to research priorities) as we are more focused on increasing rice yield. My wish is that in the next 5-10 years, we’ll give more importance on rice nutrition research,” says Dr. Abilgos-Ramos.

With the carbohydrate-rich diet of most Filipinos, which is unhealthy according to Dr. Abilgos-Ramos, she pushes for further enhancement of micronutrient content in rice such as iron, folate, and zinc to lessen micronutrient deficiency in the country.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute