Sometimes healthy eating is regarded as a necessary evil.
On the one hand, it’s necessary for good health, but it also suggests constraint and self-denial rooted in Eurocentrism.
Even in the Caribbean, where I am from, many nutrition programmes are based on the American food pyramid, which then indicates to local communities what good eating looks like.
Nutrition and healthy eating, on the other hand, are not a one-size-fits-all dietary prescription. Traditional foods and food culture have a place at the table as well.
I’ll discuss why cultural foods are important for healthy eating in this essay.
What exactly are cultural foods?
Cultural cuisines, also known as traditional dishes, symbolise a geographic region, ethnic group, religious body, or cross-cultural community’s traditions, beliefs, and practises.
Cultural foods may include views about how specific foods should be prepared or used. They may also represent the entire culture of a group.
These recipes and practises are passed down through generations.
Pizza, pasta and tomato sauce from Italy, or kimchi, seaweed and dim sum from Asia, are examples of cultural meals. Alternatively, they may indicate a colonial past, such as the Caribbean’s blend of West African and East Indian cooking traditions.
Cultural cuisines can play a role in religious festivities and are often vital to our identities and familial ties.
Cultural foods must be thoroughly included into the Western paradigm.
Healthy eating incorporates cultural foods, but that message isn’t prominent and is frequently ignored.
The Dietary advice for Americans published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considered one of the gold standards for nutrition advice in the Western world. It suggests meeting people where they are, including their traditional foodways (1Reliable Source).
The Canadian Food Guide also emphasises the value of culture and food traditions in promoting healthy eating (2).
However, there is still much work to be done in the field of dietetics to achieve cultural competency, which is the effective and appropriate treatment of persons without bias, prejudice, or stereotypes (3).
Cultural needs and eating practises were acknowledged during my dietitian training, but there was little attention or practical implementation. There were few institutional resources for healthcare providers in some cases.
What does healthy eating entail?
Healthy eating is roughly characterised as consuming a mix of nutrients from dairy, protein foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables — what are known as the five food groups in the United States.
The crucial point is that each food group contains essential vitamins and minerals for optimum health. A healthy plate contains half nonstarchy vegetables, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter grains, according to the USDA’s MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid (4).
The Caribbean, on the other hand, is a melting pot of six dietary groups: staples (starchy, carb-rich meals), animal foods, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fats or oils (5).
Traditional one-pot recipes are not always clearly portioned on a plate. Instead, the various food groups are integrated into a single meal.
Oil down, for example, is a classic one-pot dish made with breadfruit (the mainstay — a starchy fruit that has a texture similar to bread once cooked), nonstarchy greens like spinach and carrots, and meats like chicken, fish, or pork.
Healthy eating is far more fluid than what you read on the internet.
Your inclination to eat certain meals is frequently the product of successful and focused food marketing. This marketing is typically delivered via a Eurocentric perspective devoid of cultural sensitivity (6Trusted Source).
For example, a search for “healthy eating” yields a slew of lists and images of asparagus, blueberries, and Atlantic salmon – frequently in the arms or on the tables of a white family.
The absence of cultural representation or ethnically diverse pictures conveys an unconscious message that local and regional meals are potentially hazardous.
True healthy eating, on the other hand, is a fluid idea that does not have a defined appearance or ethnicity and does not require the inclusion of specific foods to count.
Here are some foods you’ll encounter on health websites in the West, as well as some traditional-food counterparts:
Kale is a healthy vegetable, but so are dasheen bush (taro leaves) and spinach.
Quinoa is high in protein and fibre, but rice and beans are other good sources.
Chicken breast is low in fat and widely regarded as a must-have for a healthy diet, but removing the skin from other parts of the chicken results in lower fat and higher iron levels.
Local salmon species and other fatty fish, such as sardines, are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.
If kale, quinoa, and Atlantic salmon aren’t readily available in your area, your diet isn’t necessarily poor. Contrary to popular belief, a healthy plate is not confined to Eurocentric meals, and traditional foods are not inferior or nutritionally inappropriate.
Based on food access, sustainability, and food cultures, healthy eating looks different in different communities and regions.