Healthy Food

Cultural Foods Play a Role in Healthy Eating | by True Health | Oct, 2021

True Health

Healthy eating can be viewed as a necessary evil at times.

On one hand, it’s necessary for good health, but it also conjures up images of constraint and self-denial associated with Cultural relativism.

Even in the Caribbean, where I grew up, many nutrition programs are based on the American food pyramid, which then indicates to local people what good eating looks like.

However, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all dietary prescription when it comes to nutrition and good eating. Traditional foods and food culture are also deserving of a place at the table.

I’ll explain why cultural foods are important for a healthy diet in this essay.

Traditions, beliefs, and practices of a geographic region, ethnic group, religious body, or cross-cultural community are represented via cultural meals, also known as traditional dishes.

Beliefs regarding how specific foods are prepared or used may be a part of cultural foods. They may also represent the entire culture of a group.

Cultural food by marvin ozz

These recipes and rituals have been passed down through the generations.

Pizza, pasta, and tomato sauce from Italy, or kimchi, seaweed, and dim sum from Asia, are examples of cultural cuisine that symbolize an area.

Alternatively, they may allude to a colonial past, such as the Caribbean’s blend of West African and East Indian culinary traditions.

Cultural cuisines are often at the heart of our identities and familial connections, and they may play a role in religious festivities.

Foods from different cultures must be thoroughly integrated into the Western framework.

Cultural foods are part of a healthy diet, but the message isn’t always clear, and it’s often ignored.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is one of the gold standards for nutrition guidelines in the West. Meeting people where they are, including their traditional foodways, is encouraged.

In addition to healthy eating, the Canadian Food Guide highlights the relevance of culture and food traditions.

However, there is still much work to be done in the field of dietetics to achieve cultural competence, which is defined as the effective and appropriate treatment of persons without bias, prejudice, or preconceptions.

Cultural needs and culinary customs were acknowledged during my dietitian training, but there was little enthusiasm or practical implementation. In certain cases, healthcare workers have limited access to institutional resources.

Healthy eating is roughly described as consuming a variety of nutrients from dairy, protein foods, grains, fruits, and vegetables, or the “five food groups” as they are known in the United States.

The fundamental message is that each food type contains vitamins and minerals that are necessary for optimum health. A healthy plate contains half non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter grains, according to the USDA’s MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid.

The Caribbean, on the other hand, is a mash-up of six food groups: staples (starchy, carb-rich meals), animal foods, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fats or oils.

Traditional one-pot meals are not always easy to portion out on a plate. Instead, all of the food groups are blended into one meal.

Breadfruit (the staple — a starchy fruit with a texture akin to bread once cooked), non-starchy veggies like spinach and carrots, and meats like chicken, fish, or pork are all used in the classic one-pot cuisine known as oil down.


Cultural foods and healthy eating go hand in hand, according to dietary recommendations. However, more cultural competence and institutional resources are required to make these suggestions more realistic.

Healthy eating is a lot more flexible than you might think based on what you see on the internet.

Food marketing that is focused and successful is often the cause of your urge to eat certain meals. The majority of this marketing is done through a Eurocentric viewpoint that ignores cultural sensitivity.

For example, if you Google “healthy eating,” you’ll find a slew of lists and images of asparagus, blueberries, and Atlantic salmon, all of which are frequently seen in the arms or on the tables of white families.

The dearth of ethnically diverse pictures and cultural representation gives an unconscious message that local and regional meals may be unhealthy.

True healthy eating, on the other hand, is a flexible concept that has no defined appearance or ethnicity and does not necessitate the inclusion of certain foods to be counted.

Here are some foods you’ll encounter on health websites in the West, as well as their traditional counterparts:

  • Dasheen bush (taro leaves) and spinach, like kale, are healthy vegetables.
  • Quinoa, like rice and beans, is a good source of protein and dietary fiber.

Chicken breasts are low in fat and praised as a must-have for a healthy diet, but removing the skin from other parts of the chicken reduces fat content while increasing iron content.

Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in Atlantic salmon, as well as local salmon variations and other fatty fish like sardines.

If you can’t get kale, quinoa, or Atlantic salmon in your area, it doesn’t mean your diet is bad. Contrary to popular belief, a healthy plate does not have to consist of Eurocentric meals, and indigenous cuisine are not inferior or nutritionally inappropriate.

Based on food access, sustainability, and food cultures, healthy eating looks different in different communities and regions.


Healthy eating is a flexible idea that varies depending on where you live and your cultural background. It needs to diversify its messaging.

Traditional food habits and cultural foods have a strong link to community and healthcare.

They help us connect to our past, enhance present-day sociability, and develop memories for the future.

They also play an important role in dietary success and compliance.

When my mother shows me how to make oil down, a one-pot dish made with breadfruit, taro leaves, pumpkin, coconut milk, and smoked bones, I’m reconnecting with ancient West African food customs while also sharing family moments.

Similarly, whenever I make a vegetarian curry meal like dhal (split peas) with turmeric or saffron, I am reminded of East Indian culinary traditions.

These foods may not appear to match the Western notion of nutritious or healthy eating to those unfamiliar with them, yet they’re packed with fiber, complex carbs, and vegetables.

The foods you eat, your religious and spiritual activities, and your outlook on wellness, healing, and healthcare are all influenced by culture.

According to research, your cultural background has a significant impact on your attitudes about specific foods as well as your propensity to try new ones.

Furthermore, your definition of what constitutes food and what does not is influenced by your society.

As a result, healthy eating must be perceived and understood in a cultural context.

In the United States, for example, dinner is likely to be the main meal of the day, whereas lunch is likely to be a light salad or sandwich. In the Caribbean, however, lunch is frequently the heaviest meal, although evening is typically lighter and resembles breakfast.

We dilute the research and deprive communities of enriching culinary perspectives and experiences when nutrition messages and counseling lack openness, diversity, and understanding.

Furthermore, a dietitian’s lack of trust and communication with the people they serve can lead to health inequities and poor health outcomes.

You’re less likely to follow your dietitian’s advice if you don’t trust them.


Cultural foods play an important social function and are essential to the health of communities and people. It’s critical to understand ethnic dietary disparities in order to provide effective nutrition counseling and achieve positive health results.

Even if they aren’t gentrified, popularized on social media, or aligned with the Western perspective, cultural cuisines suit the concept of healthy eating.

For many immigrant and non-immigrant families in the United States, these are comfort foods, ways of life, and vital sources of nutrition.

By mixing numerous dietary groups and having a range of nutrients, these cultural cuisines illustrate healthy eating:

  • Ugali is a classic Tanzanian cornmeal dish that is frequently served with traditional meat and vegetable dishes.
  • Ema datshi: a spicy stew popular in Bhutan that includes mushrooms, green beans, and potatoes and is served with yak cheese.
  • Served with grilled fish, eggplant, or taro, kalua pork is a typical Hawaiian dish.
  • Schäufele: roasted pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut or creamed savoy cabbage, frequently served with sauerkraut or creamed savoy cabbage.
  • Pelau is a Caribbean one-pot dish cooked with caramelized chicken, parboiled rice, pigeon peas, and a variety of vegetables and herbs.


Cultural cuisine are compatible with a balanced diet. In many of these recipes, a range of dietary categories and nutrients are combined into a single meal.

To maintain excellent health, healthy eating simply means eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods.

Healthy eating looks different in different cultures and places, contrary to popular health and wellness themes. It doesn’t have a distinct appearance or necessitate the use of specific meals.

Despite the fact that the American and Canadian dietary food recommendations support the inclusion of ethnic foods as part of a healthy diet, nutrition communications and counseling frequently lack the competency and inclusivity necessary to stress the relevance of cultural foods.


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