We offer products that we believe will be useful to our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here is our process.
Second to my love of travel is my love of food.
When I am able to immerse myself in another culture by indulging in their traditional foods, I feel connected to them.
When I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago (“Trinbago”), my journey with food was by default varied. With English, French and Spanish colonial influences as well as dietary practices from Africa, East India, China and now Venezuela, Trinbago’s food is a veritable melting pot.
Most of my formal nutrition education, however, has focused on the food pyramid and now the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). My plate Guide – Concepts that mismatch with many traditional dishes.
While MyPlate shows that a well-balanced plate should be half non-starchy vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter grain, traditional stews mix these food groups into a meal that cannot be clearly portioned on a plate.
For example, it’s inconvenient to serve pelau – a Caribbean stew made from caramelized chicken, boiled rice, pigeon peas, and an array of vegetables and spices – within the MyPlate template.
As a nutritionist and food lover, I became confused and frustrated while trying to create culturally competent healthy meals.
I began to wonder, “Are these traditional meals really healthy if they don’t fit into the MyPlate form, or is the accepted Western understanding of healthy, balanced meals lacking in cultural competence?”
Only in the last few years have I been able to develop a concept for healthy eating that takes into account the nuances of cultural foods and inclusiveness.
I will take you on parts of this trip and show you what I have learned.
Although I didn’t know what to call it at the time, my interest in nutrition started at the age of 7 after my mother’s stroke, as I was motivated to use food as medicine to improve her quality of life.
But it wasn’t until my role as a dietitian that I discovered my passion for teaching individuals the role diet plays in managing their illnesses.
In Trinidad and Tobago, this customer training focused on healthier ways to enjoy cultural foods, such as: high fever Dhalpuri roti – a traditional flatbread – over its high-fat counterpart Paratha roti.
When I interned in the United States, I observed that both nutritionists and their clients had difficulty discussing suitable food substitutes that would respect the client’s Food culture. This interruption could affect the client’s adherence to the diet plan and overall success.
Determined to fill this void, I am working to diversify nutrition education so that people can achieve better health outcomes without giving up their eating culture.
I am flexible with my diet in my daily life.
At least most of my meals are balanced and contain grains, protein, and vegetables or fruits. I include local or regional foods – and I enjoy treats!
Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy, traditional dishes that make meal planning easier, such as: B. sautéed spinach with Taro root and steamed fish.
When it comes to stews like oil-down – a delicious dish made from breadfruit, spinach, carrots, and salted meats like pork tails – my focus is on portion control, adding high fiber side dishes and mindful eating Techniques like paying attention to my abundance of clues.
My weekly cooking plan
As someone with Thyroid nodulesI often have fluctuations in my energy levels that can negatively affect my ability to prepare food.
Therefore, I cook 2-3 times a week and prepare for 1 to 2 days each. I order on Fridays, on Saturdays I usually cook bean soup and on Mondays I eat leftovers from Sunday lunch.
Here, the inclusion of minimally processed foods is key to making meal preparation easier and more convenient.
I sometimes buy pre-chopped vegetables from the supermarket, although I prefer to buy fresh produce from the farmers market. Freezing batches of seasoned meat, fish, and chopped vegetables saves time in meal preparation, as does including low-sodium canned foods such as tuna.
To further support my thyroid health, I have reduced my intake of highly processed ready-made meals and turned my attention to whole foods.
This meant making my baked goods at home with unbleached whole wheat flour for most of 2020 and choosing not to buy frozen waffles and pancakes.
It also meant multiplying prebiotic and probiotic foods like yogurt and having small amounts of fiber at all times to aid digestion, which can be compromised by thyroid disease.
One stereotype about dietitians is that we all eat the same.
For example, most people don’t expect a nutritionist to double eat – fried, curry, chick-pea Finger food from Trinidad and Tobago – and anyone who does this could be viewed as a bad example or as “unhealthy” food.
Doubles are an absolute favorite of mine, however. I enjoy every bite!
If I had a dollar for every stereotype about nutritionist, I would be set on life. Let’s dispel just a few:
- Dietitians are not the food police. In fact, many dietitians are flexible with their own eating habits and can encourage you to be equal. We’re not here to scold you for second aid.
- Nutritionists also enjoy desserts. Whether it is an original recipe or a low-fat variant, desserts are also on the menu of a nutritionist. (“Can I have another piece of cake, please?”)
- Nutritionists add health value beyond weight loss. Dietitians are often consulted about weight loss, but they can also teach you how to use diet to support your health or general health goals – with or without focusing on your weight.
Current trends in dietetics
Of course, not all dietitians are created equal. We offer a variety of perspectives and approaches to nutritional therapy. While some swear by calorie counting, others take an anti-diet route, teaching their customers about food freedom and nutrition intuitive eating.
There is currently a shift in the world of dietetics towards the HAES (Health at Every Size) approach promoted by the Association for Size Diversity and Health.
HAES recognizes that health is diverse and that regardless of your body weight, you deserve medically and nutritionally appropriate expertise that is tailored to your needs.
If you are interested in a Dietitian or dietitianIt is wise to do a thorough research of the experts in your area to see if you are a good match.
During my master’s degree in the USA, I cured homesickness with traditional dishes.
Callaloo – pureed spinach, okra, pumpkin and green spices – together with oven-grilled chicken and macaroni cake is my favorite meal.
When I need a quick meal for dinner or breakfast, my routine includes whole wheat bread, scrambled eggs or sausage, sauteed vegetables like broccoli or bok choy, and / or fruit.
Other meals I enjoy are the previously mentioned pelau, oil, and roti with curry chicken.
While I love fruit as a snack, I also eat trail mix, dark or milk chocolate, apple slices with peanut butter, and yogurt.
I occasionally buy local goodies like Tamarind ball (a sweet and spicy treat made from tamarind fruits), to install (a crunchy flour-based snack with ginger) and benne ball (made from sesame and molasses).
I also make fresh juices and smoothies at home to enjoy as morning drinks.
My favorite juice
Here is my basic recipe for fresh juice (served one):
- 1 small gala apple
- 1 medium carrot
- 3 stalks of celery
- 1 small beetroot
- 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) from ginger
- 1 medium cucumber
Juice, pour and enjoy.
My 3 year old son loves to cook (any excuse to really play with water) and – bonus! – Having a discussion with him about food is pretty easy.
He goes into the kitchen with us and enjoys chopping food, putting items in the juicer, stirring the saucepan and handing out the food. He’s also pretty adept at cracking eggs – not clams!
Use of a divided plate with pictures of food groups (similar This one here) was his first introduction to food servings and the concept of a balanced plate.
Letting him choose the fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins that he wanted gave him autonomy and kept him involved in his eating.
Other creative approaches include creating fruit and vegetable stamps for our craft lessons at home, as well as introducing our toddler to the variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables in Trinidad and Tobago.
His snacks include yogurt, fresh fruit, cookies, french fries, chocolate and the occasional juice.
Nutritionists are people too.
However, misconceptions about my job and healthy eating lead to family members checking whether I eat anything other than fruits or vegetables or whether my weight is gaining a little.
That’s funny – but also indicative of them Mountain of hardship caused by diet culture that nutritionists and nutritionists need to address.
In reality, I sometimes just eat for pleasure and I’ve learned to separate my morals and self-esteem from food. So I eat without guilt.
It doesn’t mean that I am eating too much low calorie foods but that I’ve found my sweet spot, where I enjoy what I eat while reaching my health goals – and all without being obsessed with food.
But let me be clear – healthy eating doesn’t look great. It’s not a black and white concept, especially when looking at cultural foods.
While traditional Trinidad and Tobago stews are not reflected in the USDA’s MyPlate or traditional Western notions of balanced meals, they are nutritious, delicious, and great for a healthy diet.
All in all, healthy eating should be based on your own tastes and eating habits.
Courtesy Amber Charles
Amber Charles is a Nutritionist and Registered Nutritionist (RD) based in Trinidad and Tobago. She holds a Masters Degree from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is passionate about diversifying nutrition education and improving access to nutrition literacy in the Caribbean diaspora.
With the “food is medicine” approach, Amber strives to become a functional and integrative nutritionist and has dedicated space to this endeavor her blog, The culture dieter.