When we hear the words “healthy meal,” we may think of a salad or something grilled, but experts say there’s a whole range of cuisines we may be missing out on.
In a recent post for Self magazine, registered dietitian nutritionist Tamara Melton says when we talk about healthy eating, we often leave out meals from non-European cultures.
“Google the term ‘examples of healthy recipes’ and you’ll notice there’s very little variety in what healthy eating looks like, and that the definition of ‘healthy’ is pretty narrow. To be more specific, you’ll see recipes and meals that are considered mainstream for white, non-immigrant Americans. When healthy eating is presented through a Eurocentric lens the implication is that other cultures’ foods are not as healthy,” she wrote.
Mainstream healthy eating
Registered dietitian Shahzadi Devje of Toronto agreed, adding this comes down to a lack of knowledge on how healthy these foods can be.
“Our schools rely on Canada’s food guide to inform their curriculum to shape children’s perception of healthy eating. Unfortunately, the current food guide doesn’t represent Canada’s multicultural tapestry,” she told Global News. “It’s inevitable then, that cultural cuisine remain in the shadows and we’re bombarded with kale smoothies, quinoa bowls and salads as ‘the way’ to eat to be healthy and well.”
And on top of this, when mainstream restaurants offer these so-called cultural dishes, they are often full of fat, salt and sugar. This is common among Indian or Pakistani food, she said.
“This creates the stigma that some cultural cuisine cannot be healthy and we should avoid them,” she said. As a South Asian dietitian, I focus on dispelling this myth, and advocate that, you can enjoy many ethnic dishes and foods. You don’t have to choose between your cultural heritage and your health.”
Registered nutrition and personal trainer Nazima Qureshi of Toronto, adds there is also a misconception if you want to eat healthily, you have to give up the foods you were already eating.
“This is mostly because of the mass media whether it is social media or ads that portray healthy eating, diets and meal plans to look a certain way,” she told Global News. “In the media, healthy eating is also often associated with dieting, restrictive eating and weight loss. So there is this sense of, ‘I need to give up the foods I love so I can look a certain way.'”
Understanding what healthy means
Both experts agreed, it’s also about educating yourself on what healthy eating actually means — as well as its limitations.
“Healthy looks different for each person,” Qureshi continued. “It’s unrealistic and unsustainable to make blanket statements for the whole population on what is ‘healthy.'”
She adds you can still keep your own flavours and ingredients in order to be healthy.
“Someone that can still eat foods they grew up with with a few healthy adaptations is more likely to transform their lifestyle vs. someone that is changing everything in their diet with foods they aren’t familiar with.”
Some of the healthiest meals
Not sure what to eat? Devje has also come up with some recipe ideas.
Chinese vegetable stir-fry: Made with broccoli, carrots, peppers, bean sprouts and peanuts, these ingredients come together to create a truly versatile and nourishing meal. You can vary the grains to suit your needs to create a hearty and balanced meal.
Syrian fatoush salad: We know that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can help to lower blood pressure, Devje adds. This colourful salad has pita bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and more.