Catering Healthy Eating to Your Food Culture

By Cindy Hong, TWU Dietetic Intern

Like people, food culture can look different all over the world. Food is an essential part of every culture. Yes, food is important for giving us the energy we need to get through our daily lives, but it allows us to express ourselves, connect with other cultures, and pass along traditions to other parts of the world. Every single person lives a different lifestyle, and your food culture is a resemblance to who you are as an individual.

With easy access to the internet, you may be exposed to people of different backgrounds on social media. You see them sharing their ‘healthy recipes’ online, but you don’t see any familiar ingredients to your culture. Every corner you turn, a ‘healthy diet’ consists of basic oatmeal, grilled chicken, salads, baked salmon, broccoli, or asparagus. Although those meals are the typical recipes you see, this does not mean that you must run to the grocery store and only buy these meals to be healthy. Remember, the food in your culture is not ‘unhealthy’ just because other people say so.

No matter what types of ingredients, foods, cuisines, and flavors you enjoy in your culture, you can cater healthy eating to your own individualized food culture. When planning your next meal, consider incorporating these healthy eating habits without having to worry about leaving your culture behind.

  1. Adding variety and balance to your meals. Regardless of the cuisine, try to add a healthy variety of protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy to your meals. Each food group has its own benefits to your nutritional intake. Consider the types of ingredients you love within your culture and make a well-balanced plate. Additionally, if your plate consists of only pasta and meat, you can balance your plate by reducing the pasta or meat and adding more vegetables. By doing this, you will ensure that you are eating a variety of foods.
  2. Limit the amount of salt in your meals. Having too much salt (sodium) can raise blood pressure and increase risks of heart disease and stroke. Consider switching to low-sodium alternatives or focusing on eating more fresh foods instead of processed foods. Simply adding less salt to your meals and adding other herbs and spices can help add more flavor to your meals.
  3. Reduce your portion sizes. Depending on your culture and daily lifestyle, you may notice that the portion sizes vary in restaurants and at home. If you’re eating out at a restaurant, consider asking for a takeout box and saving half the meal for later. On the other hand, if your family cooks bigger portions, you can try to make multiple meals out of one dish and meal prep for the week.
  4. Embrace the local cultures and cuisines around you. Your food culture does not have to limit you and is allowed to expand your love for food. Look at your environment and explore the different cuisines in your area. Allowing yourself to try new recipes can expand your palate and help you find healthful ingredients in other cultures to add to your own meals.
  5. Cater the ingredients you have to your own food culture. Traditional meals can bring lots of comfort. If you are wanting to recreate a cultural dish but you may not have all the ingredients, consider finding an alternative ingredient that is similar to the missing one. On the other hand, if you are eating a meal that is from a different culture, what CAN you add to the meal to fit your own food culture? Maybe adding a particular spice or vegetable from your culture can help bring comfort.

Reminder: There is more than one way to eat ‘healthy’. Having healthy eating habits does not mean that you must get rid of your cultural roots!

 

 

References:
1. Amidor, MS, RDN, CDN, T. (n.d.). How to optimize your culture’s diet for health. US News Health. https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2018-03-16/how-to-optimize-your-cultures-diet-for-health
2. Post, P. by R. (2013, August 2). Enjoy foods from many cultures with myplate. USDA. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/08/02/enjoy-foods-many-cultures-myplate

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