Topic 2 Understanding and considering food culture in culinary medicine

Counseling patients on adopting a healthier diet requires an understanding of culture, nutrition, and cooking skills. All of us are influenced by our cultures of origin and the people who surround us. These cultural influences vary from person to person. Taking time to understand the cultural and emotional importance individuals place on food is important when counseling them on healthy dietary behavior changes.

Make sure that the recommendations provided (e.g. recommended produce, healthy ingredients, cooking techniques) are commonly used in an individual’s food tradition rather that your own cultural food tradition. Additionally, encourage patients to engage their household in making healthy dietary changes so as not to alienate them around mealtimes. Recommend changes that don’t take a lot of time and don’t have a steep learning curve to limit added stress.

Take time to better understand the food cultures in your community of practice so that you can tailor your dietary recommendations accordingly. Most cuisines can be tailored to focus on healthier aspects without excluding traditional foods entirely, and many traditional cuisines are healthier than modern, ultra-processed and fast food options. Many food traditions around the world draw more heavily on produce, legumes, and spices. Emphasize increasing or reintroducing these traditional foods. For food traditions heavy in meat and highly processed carbohydrates, approaches such as the Protein Flip and Dessert Flip may be good places to start. Knowledge about easy substitutions can also be useful (e.g., healthier cooking techniques, replacing refined grain products with whole grain options, making sauces creamy without butter and heavy cream, etc.).