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Customize Nutritional Needs with Creative Cultural Cuisine

National Nutrition Month

  • Eating patterns are not one-size-fits-all because people have a variety of personal food and exercise preferences, schedules and cultures.
  • Trying food from other cultures can open doors to nutrition and awareness.

Cultural nutrition pitfalls

  • Foods considered “good” or “bad” often vary among cultures. Food choices may be influenced by availability, what’s appreciated or avoided.
    • A family tradition of watching TV while eating dinner can lead to distracted eating as an adult.  
    • Growing up in a household with many children where one had to eat quickly to get enough. As a result, this may make someone more prone to overeating as an adult.
    • Making processed snack foods such as potato chips a staple of a school lunch bag, which can continue into adulthood.
  • There are ways to customize a diet based on one’s culture:
    • Examine whether some frequently consumed cultural foods are unhealthy and limit indulgences.
    • Explore whether cultural diets have curbed consumption of certain foods, then try them.
    • Identify where unhealthy components of cultural food may exist, such as excess sugar, saturated fat and sodium. 
  • Here are some examples of healthy cultural foods:
    • Mexican cuisine is rich in fiber-rich, heart healthy beans paired with a variety of colorful vegetables in many dishes.
    • Indian food often relies on plant-based protein in flavorful curries.
    • Greek cuisine offers many healthy ingredients such as olive oil, fish and whole grains that have made the Mediterranean diet popular among health experts.
  • Understanding the challenges when adjusting a diet to a health condition or allergy is important to ensure the body’s daily nutritional needs are met.
  • It’s important to balance the body’s needs against cultural eating habits to customize a plate that is both satisfying and healthy.

About the author: Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family.

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