Healthy Eating Includes Cultural Foods

Healthy Eating Cultural Foods

A negative connotation is sometimes attached to the practice of eating healthfully.

On the one hand, it’s absolutely necessary for maintaining good health, but on the other, it evokes ideas of restraint and self-denial that are rooted in a Eurocentric worldview.

Even in the Caribbean, where I was born and raised, many nutrition programs are designed after the American food pyramid. This indicates to the local people what good eating looks like to them, which can be problematic.

Nevertheless, there isn’t a single diet plan that covers everything there is to know about nutrition and healthy eating. Traditional meals and cultural aspects of food preparation also merit a place at the table.

In this essay, I’ll discuss why consuming foods from different cultures is essential to maintaining a balanced diet.

What exactly are foods that are cultural?

Cultural foods, which are often referred to as traditional cuisines, are foods that are symbolic of the customs, beliefs, and practices of a particular region, ethnic group, religious body, or cross-cultural community.

Beliefs about how certain foods should be prepared or utilized are sometimes associated with cultural foods. They can also serve as a representation of an organization’s broader culture.

The recipes and traditions for these foods are handed down from one generation to the next.

Some cultural dishes, such as pizza, pasta, and tomato sauce from Italy, or kimchi, seaweed, and dim sum from Asia, may be representative of their respective regions. Alternately, they may be representative of a colonial era, such as the blending of West African and East Indian culinary customs that is prevalent throughout the Caribbean.

The meals we eat are frequently at the center of our identities and the familial relationships we have, and they may even play a role in the religious rituals we observe.

It is imperative that traditional dishes be properly included in the Western framework.

However, the notion that a healthy diet should include foods from one’s culture is not widely disseminated and is rarely put into practice.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), are widely regarded as one of the most authoritative sets of nutrition recommendations in the Western world. It suggests attending to people in the context in which they find themselves, including their cultural foodways.

In addition, the Canadian Food Guide places an emphasis on the significance of culture and food customs when it comes to maintaining a balanced diet.

However, there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done in the field of dietetics in order to achieve cultural competency. Cultural competence refers to the ability to effectively and appropriately treat people without bias, prejudice, or stereotypes.

In the course of my education to become a dietitian, cultural needs and practices about food were discussed; nevertheless, there was little interest in or actual use of this information. In certain situations, there were a limited number of institutional resources available for medical personnel.

How can one actually go about eating in a way that is healthy?

In the United States, what are referred to as the “five food groups” include dairy products, foods high in protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables. A healthy diet can be loosely defined as the consumption of a range of nutrients from these food sources.

The most important takeaway is that every food group has at least some of the necessary vitamins and minerals for maintaining excellent health. MyPlate, which was developed by the USDA and took the role of the food pyramid, shows that a healthy plate should consist of one-half nonstarchy vegetables, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter grains.

The Caribbean, on the other hand, is a melting pot of six different types of foods: staples (items that are high in starch and carbohydrates), foods derived from animals, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fats or oils.

Dishes traditionally made in a single pot are difficult to portion accurately when served on individual plates. Instead, each of the food components is incorporated into its own individual meal.

For instance, the traditional one-pot cuisine known as oil down is made with breadfruit (the staple food, which is a starchy fruit that, after cooked, has the consistency of bread), nonstarchy vegetables such as spinach and carrots, and meats such as chicken, fish, or pork.

What you read online about healthy eating is not nearly as flexible as the reality.

Your urge to consume particular types of food is frequently the product of effective and targeted marketing for such meals. In most cases, this marketing is conducted through a prism that is Eurocentric and lacks cultural sensitivity.

For example, conducting a search for “healthy eating” on Google yields a flurry of lists and photos of foods such as asparagus, blueberries, and Atlantic salmon, most of which depict white families holding or consuming these foods.

The absence of any representations that are ethnically varied or that represent local cultures provides the hidden message that the regional and traditional meals may not be good for you.

However, genuine healthy eating is a flexible idea that does not have a defined appearance or ethnicity and does not require the inclusion of specific items in order to classify as healthy eating.

The following is a list of foods that are frequently recommended by Western health websites, along with their traditional equivalents:

  • Kale, dasheen bush (taro leaves), and spinach are all examples of nutrient-dense vegetables in the same vein as kale.
  • Rice and beans, in addition to quinoa, are both great sources of protein and dietary fiber, but quinoa is particularly rich in both of these nutrients.
  • Chicken breast is praised as an essential component of a healthy diet due to its low fat content; but, if you remove the skin from other sections of the chicken, those components are also low in fat, in addition to having a higher iron content.
  • Although Atlantic salmon has the highest concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, other types of salmon and fatty fish, such as sardines, also have a high omega-3 content.

Your diet is not necessarily lacking in quality simply because kale, quinoa, or Atlantic salmon are not readily available in your region. Traditional foods are neither inferior or nutritionally unsuitable, despite the widespread belief that this is the case, and a healthy plate does not have to be confined to meals that are Eurocentric in order to be healthy.

A healthy diet takes on a variety of forms depending on the accessibility of food, the level of environmental sustainability, and the cultural traditions surrounding food.

The significance of cuisine from other cultures to our life

The profound link that is created between a community and its healthcare system via the consumption of cultural meals and the customary preparation and serving of food They encourage sociability in the here and now and help us form memories for the future, all while connecting us to our past. In addition, they play a significant part in the success and compliance of the diet.

When my mother teaches me how to make oil down, a dish that consists of breadfruit, taro leaves, pumpkin, coconut milk, and smoked bones cooked together in a single pot, I am simultaneously connecting with the ancestral food traditions that were brought from West Africa and having shared family moments.

When I make a vegetarian curry meal, such as dhal (split peas) with turmeric or saffron, I feel a connection to the culinary traditions of East India. In a same vein, I feel a connection when I eat.

People who aren’t familiar with these foods could get the impression that they don’t suit the Western notion of nutritious or healthful eating; yet, these recipes are loaded with fiber, complex carbohydrates, and veggies.

How does one’s culture influence the foods that they eat?

The kinds of foods you eat, the religious and spiritual practices you engage in, and the way you think about health, healing, and medical care are all influenced by culture.

According to research, your cultural background has a significant impact on many aspects of your life, including the attitudes you have about particular foods and your openness to trying new ones. In addition, the criteria that you use to determine what constitutes food and what does not are heavily influenced by your cultural norms.

As a result, the concept of healthy eating needs to be defined and comprehended in the context of different cultures.

In the United States, for instance, dinner is most likely the most important meal of the day, while lunch consists of a light salad or sandwich. Another example: On the other hand, lunch is typically the most filling meal in the Caribbean, but dinner is typically lighter and more reminiscent of breakfast than any other meal of the day.

When it comes to nutrition, messages and counseling that do not include inclusivity, diversity, and understanding dilute the science and deprive communities of enriching culinary experiences and viewpoints.

In addition, a breakdown in trust and communication between a dietician and the individuals they are serving has the potential to result in health disparities and poor health outcomes.

It is less likely that you will adhere to the recommendations of your nutritionist if you do not trust them.

What should I do now?

It is imperative that we keep in mind that traditional meals can adhere to the standards of healthy eating even if they have not been gentrified, made famous on social media, or adapted to match the Western paradigm.

For many families in the United States, both immigrant and non-immigrant, these are foods that provide them comfort, are integral parts of their daily lives, and are significant sources of nourishment.

These traditional dishes are great examples of how to eat healthily since they contain components from a number of different food groups and a wide range of nutrients:

  • Ugali is a cornmeal-based dish that is widely consumed in Tanzania. It is typically served alongside traditional preparations of meat and vegetables.
  • Ema datshi is a traditional Bhutanese dish consisting of a spicy stew that is typically served with yak cheese and may also contain mushrooms, green beans, and potatoes.
  • Kalua pork is a classic Hawaiian dish that can be served with grilled fish, eggplant, or taro. Other possible accompaniments include:
  • Schaufele is braised pork that is typically served with potato dumplings, sauerkraut, or creamed savoy cabbage. The meat is roasted and then basted with German beer.
  • Pelau is a well-liked one-pot cuisine that is common in the Caribbean. It is created with chicken that has been caramelized, rice that has been parboiled, pigeon peas, and a variety of vegetables along with green herbs.

Bottom line

Consuming meals from a variety of different food groups that are rich in nutrients is what we mean when we talk about healthy eating.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom on health and wellness, different groups and areas have varying interpretations of what constitutes a good diet. It does not require any special foods and does not have a distinctive appearance.

Although the American and Canadian dietary food guidelines encourage including cultural foods as part of a healthy eating plan, nutrition messages and counseling frequently lack the competence and inclusivity to reinforce the importance of cultural foods. This is despite the fact that including cultural foods is encouraged by both sets of guidelines.