Sometimes healthy eating can be seen as a sin.
It’s essential for good health on the one hand. But it can also be a sign of self-denial and restriction steeped into Eurocentrism.
Many nutrition programs in the Caribbean, including my own, are based on the American food pyramid. This implies that healthy Eating is possible for the communities.
Nutrition and Healthy Eating are not something that can be standardized. Traditions and food culture are also welcome at the table.
This article will explain why cultural foods are essential to healthy Eating.
What are cultural foods?
Cultural foods, also known as traditional dishes, are the practices, beliefs, and traditions of an area, an ethnic group, a religious body, or a cross-cultural community.
Some cultural foods can be associated with beliefs about the preparation or use of certain foods. They can also be used to represent a particular group’s culture.
These customs and dishes are passed down from generation one to the next.
Cultural foods can represent a particular region. For example, pizza and pasta from Italy, or kimchi, seaweed and dim sum from Asia. They may also represent colonial pasts, such as the fusion between West African and East Indian cuisines throughout the Caribbean.
Religious celebrations may include cultural foods. These foods are often central to our identities and family connections.
The Western framework must fully integrate cultural foods
Healthy Eating also includes cultural foods, but this message isn’t always heard and often ignored.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guideline for Americans is one of West’s most renowned nutrition guidelines. It encourages people to meet them where they are, including their cultural foodways.
The Canadian Food Guide emphasizes culture and food traditions as important factors in healthy Eating.
The field of dietetics has much to learn to ensure cultural competence. This is the ability to treat people without prejudices, biases, or stereotypes.
My training as a dietitian was based on cultural needs and food habits. However, there was little interest in practical application. There were sometimes very few resources available for healthcare professionals in some cases.
What is healthy Eating?
Healthy Eating can be loosely defined as the intake of various nutrients from dairy products, protein foods, and grains, as well as fruits and vegetables. These are known as the five food categories in the United States.
The key message is that every food group contains essential vitamins and minerals to support good health. The USDA’s MyPlate has replaced the food pyramid. It shows that a healthy meal is made up of half starchy vegetables and one-quarter protein.
The Caribbean, however, is home to six food groups: staples (starchy, high-carb foods), animal foods, legumes, and fruits, as well as fats or oils.
One-pot traditional dishes are not always served on a single plate. Instead, all the food groups are combined to make one dish.
Oil down, a traditional one-pot meal, is made with breadfruit (the main — a starchy vegetable that once cooked has a texture like bread), nonstarchy vegetables like spinach, carrots, and meats such as chicken, fish, and pork.