Healthy eating cultural foods is sometimes seen as a necessary evil.
On the one hand, it is essential for good health, but on the other, it suggests Eurocentric restraint and self-denial.
Even in the Caribbean, where I am from, many nutrition programs are based on the American food pyramid, which then implies what healthy eating looks like for local communities.
However, nutrition and healthy eating are not a one-size-fits-all diet recipe. Traditional meals and food culture are also worth a seat at the table.
In this article, I will explain why cultural foods are an integral part of healthy eating.
What are Cultural Foods?
Cultural foods, also called traditional dishes, represent the traditions, beliefs, and practices of a geographic region, ethnic group, religious body, or intercultural community.
Cultural foods can involve beliefs about how certain foods are prepared or used. They can also symbolize the general culture of a group.
These dishes and customs are passed down from generation to generation.
Cultural foods can represent a region, such as pizza, pasta, and tomato sauce from Italy or kimchi, seaweed, and dim sum from Asia. Alternatively, they may represent a colonial past, such as the fusion of West African and East Indian culinary traditions throughout the Caribbean.
Cultural foods can play a role in religious celebrations and are often at the core of our identities and family connections.
Cultural Foods Must be Fully Integrated into the Western Framework
Healthy eating includes cultural foods, but that message is not prominent and is often not applied.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans are one of the gold standards for nutrition guidelines in the West. It recommends meeting people where they are, including their cultural ways of eating (1).
The Canadian Food Guide also emphasizes the importance of food culture and traditions for healthy eating (2).
However, the field of dietetics still has a lot of work to do to ensure cultural competence, which is the effective and appropriate treatment of people without prejudice, prejudice or stereotypes (3).
During my training to become a dietitian, cultural needs and dietary practices were recognized, but there was limited interest or practical application. In some cases, there were few institutional resources for health professionals.
What is Healthy Eating Really Like?
Healthy eating is loosely defined as consuming a variety of nutrients from dairy products, protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables, known in the United States as the five food groups.
The main message is that each food group provides essential vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. The USDA’s MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid, illustrates that a healthy plate is half non-starchy vegetables, one quarter protein, and one quarter grains (4).
However, the Caribbean is a melting pot of six food groups: staple foods (foods rich in starch and carbohydrates), foods of animal origin, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fats or oils (5).
Traditional one pot dishes cannot always be clearly divided into one plate. Rather, the food groups are combined into one plate.
For example, the traditional one-pot dish called down oil is made with breadfruit (the staple, a starchy fruit that has a similar texture to bread once cooked), non-starchy vegetables like spinach and carrots, and meats such as chicken, fish, or pork. .