Abandon Culture for “health”?

By Veronica Gomez, UC Davis Nutrition Peer Counselor

We always hear about eating “healthy” in the context of the American diet.

When we think of changing our eating habits, the average student will envision a diet completely different than what they are accustomed to. Suddenly, this student has to cut out all cultural foods and abide by a diet that has been pushed by mainstream white media. While media refers to modern television, Tik Tok, Instagram etc., institutions such as hospitals and schools will perpetuate this way of thinking as well. College students born in America would have been raised with MyPyramid. This pyramid shaped the lunch programs a lot of students weren’t fond of, and it served as a guide for hospital meal plans as well. While the current dietary guidelines infographic, MyPlate, is more inclusive and immersive, a lot of college students today live on with the little nutrition education they were exposed to before college.

MyPyramid (left) and MyPlate (right)

What is a “healthy diet”?

The recurrence of quoting the word “healthy” is due to the ambiguity tied to what it means to eat healthy. This ambiguity should instead be viewed as flexibility, which is exactly what our diets should be— flexible.

Foods like sweet potatoes, cauliflower-anything (nuggets, wings, rice), rice crackers, and chicken breast are idealized as healthy food staples. Students are encouraged to add these foods into their diets, and are pressured to remove cultural foods such as naan, tortillas, rice, or any potato dishes. But the flexibility of “healthy” eating does not suggest foods should be cut out, but rather, students should optimize their current diets. This especially means, students should NOT swap their cultural diets for an unsatisfying palette. Students should be encouraged to maintain whatever diets work for them, with the goal of adding as many nutrient-packed foods as possible. Contrary to what we have been told, food from our culture can be, and often is, very nutritious—and good for the soul.

Below are 4 cultural foods that are nutrient-packed!

Mexican Food Staple: Nopales. High in Dietary Soluble Fiber which lowers glycemic response in people with diabetes.

Indian Food Staple: Lentils. Rich in protein and iron.

African-American Food Staple: Collard Greens. Rich in potassium (improves blood pressure) and zinc (for a strong immune system)

Mediterranean Food Staple: Bulgur. A tasty whole grain packed with dietary fiber (great for your hearty and bowel health)

Tell us what your favorite cultural food is in the comments!

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