By Fernanda – Dietetic Intern
“Food Heals” is the primary message that Community Servings promotes. The agency’s work is rooted in the core belief that food is medicine and the impact that medically tailored nutrition can have in preventing and treating a range of critical and chronic diseases. However, while there is no doubt about the relationship between nutrition and disease, there is also no doubt that certain foods play important roles beyond medicine. One of these roles is the expression of culture.
Food can be a delicious, colorful, and fun way of embracing and sharing our culture, with each bite bringing back unique memories of home. The taste of spices your grandmother uses in her homemade dishes brings a feeling of comfort, safety, and joy that’s hard to replicate. Though with the rise in trendy fad diets, we are often told that our beloved cultural foods don’t have a place in a healthy lifestyle. I’m here to tell you that this is not the case.
While most traditional dishes don’t involve green smoothies, many cultural foods still provide nutritional benefits. For example, I am from Brazil, and our cultural meal of rice and beans provides fiber, plant protein, antioxidants, and various vitamins and minerals. However, I do recognize that the nutrition profile of other traditional dishes – such as the Brazilian coxinha, a fried pastry – may not align with the recommendations for some disease prevention guidelines. That said, it is essential to keep in mind that the social and mental benefits of cultural foods play a critical role in promoting well-being and that it can be healthier to enjoy a traditional dinner with your family than to eat a “cleaner meal” alone. It is also critical to remember that one meal doesn’t have the power to make or break your progress. Consuming all foods in moderation is vital for sustainable and balanced healthy living.
But what if you want to incorporate these foods into your daily routine and know that the traditional methods of preparing them are counterintuitive for your individual health needs? In that case, I recommend preparing these foods in a way that keeps some of the cultural aspects you crave while tweaking the recipe to provide better nutrition. Of course, these alternatives may not compare to grandma’s traditional version, but they may be an exciting and easy way to incorporate cultural flavors into your daily diet. Examples include baking dishes instead of frying them, using whole grains and flours instead of white ones, and decreasing the amount of salt and sugar added to the recipe. Of course, adding an extra pinch of spice to pump the flavor up is a good option too!
Food heals health with its nutrition contents. But, the healing capacities of food also include the cultural, social, and mental comfort that it brings. Therefore, it is not only possible but also exciting to find a balanced diet that provides a world of flavors and incorporates cultural foods in a way that aligns with your individual health needs!