Celebrating National Nutrition Month with culturally relevant nutrition planning
March is National Nutrition Month!
At Vida Health, we take a unique approach to nutrition through individualized nutrition planning. What’s that? Our dietitians consider each person’s cultural food preferences, access to food, likes and dislikes, even things like preferred food prep style. Not a cook? That’s OK. We can help you microwave your way toward healthful eating. Yes, this means we work with our patients to keep the foods they love that are part of their family food traditions while helping them reach their health goals.
At Vida, we’ve developed proprietary nutrition guidelines that all of our clinicians use to tailor nutrition planning to each individual. Understanding the role of food in each individual’s culture, family traditions, cultural beliefs, practices, and values that influence eating choices is crucial to providing culturally competent care. And to help our patients succeed in the long run.
As a leader of one of the most prominent cardiometabolic solutions in the health tech space, I would like to encourage my fellow dietitians and healthcare colleagues to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the varying cultural beliefs and preferences that influence each patient’s health.
Let’s find ways to honor and respect people who genuinely want to learn how to eat better to improve their health. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Build trust: ask open-ended questions, lead with empathy, and practice active listening to fully understand each individual’s unique cultural beliefs, practices, and values. An example might include, “What are your favorite foods and when do you eat them?”
- Use cultural food practices: acknowledge that traditional foods are important to each religion and culture and find ways to incorporate those foods into nutrition planning. For example, in many Hispanic cultures, various sources of carbohydrates like rice, beans, and tortillas are included in each meal. Reducing the portion of rice and tortillas, while including more fiber and protein-rich beans, can create a balanced, blood sugar friendly option that still incorporates culture-specific foods. The “My Plate,” although typically presented as a Western-based eating pattern, can be adapted to different cultural food patterns and preferences.
- Acknowledge the impact of food insecurity: food insecurity impacts more than 34 million people in the U.S. Food insecurity can be a barrier to good nutrition. Use screening interventions to identify when food insecurity exists and use collaborative goal setting to tailor nutrition planning that is mindful of each individual’s food access and financial constraints.
- Be flexible: if something is not working for an individual, keep the dialogue open and partner with the patient to adjust the nutrition plan to reflect and adapt to what is important to that individual. People are more likely to sustain healthy behaviors in the long term if a plan is individualized to their needs. Further, the rapport and trust developed between the provider, and the patient is a necessary part of helping each patient find their healthiest self.
Ultimately, adopting culturally relevant nutrition planning into clinical practice benefits a patient’s health and quality of life in many ways. In doing so, we promote health equity, show respect for cultural diversity, empower individuals to make choices that align with their values, and achieve better health outcomes.
By Gretchen Zimmermann (RD, CDCES)
Sr. Director, Cardiometabolic and Prescribing at Vida Health