- Exploring diverse global cuisines can introduce not only novel flavors but also dishes that promote heart health.
- Many regional cuisines use meat as a flavor enhancer rather than the main component, emphasizing the inclusion of vegetables, legumes and starches which can be beneficial to heart health.
- It is critical to maintain balanced portion sizes. Consuming large meals may cause sudden spikes in blood sugar and enhance the risk of heart diseases or strokes.
- Opting for fresh ingredients and avoiding processed ones can introduce more exciting and healthy flavors into meals. Some suitable alternatives suggested are homemade salsa instead of store-bought ones, avocado or olive oil instead of butter.
- Adopting basic nutritional guidelines that can adapt to diverse cultural preferences, like filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and including calcium-rich food with each meal can promote heart health.
If your dinner table looks something like this – a substantial portion of meat served with two sides, typically a starch and a vegetable – then that’s quite a common scene in American households, and those in northern Europe. It’s a convention that originates from the bountiful supply of meat, coupled with a decent measure of affluence,” says Amy Bentley, a scholar in food studies at a renowned New York-based institute.
Exploring varied dishes from assorted cultures may introduce you to a voluminous menu of options that are not just novel, but also beneficial for heart health. With more folks staying in and cooking their own meals in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, wouldn’t now be an opportune time to experiment with something distinct for your next meal?
Meat as an Accent, Not the Highlight
Contrary to popular choices in Western households, meat often serves as a mere flavor enhancer rather than the main attraction in numerous other regional cuisines. Bentley, who authored the book, “Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health and the Industrialization of the American Diet,” explains that vegetables, legumes like chickpeas and black beans, generally occupy a considerable part of the servings, followed by a generous component of starches such as polenta or rice. Spices are incorporated for their rich flavors.
Consider dishes like Indian curry or a Chinese stir-fried chicken recipe teeming with vegetables.
Bentley proposes making smaller quantities or using milder flavors if you’re going to cook the dish for the first time, until you become comfortable with its unique flavors.
Mindful Portion Sizes
When you’re determining the quantity of your portion, remember balance is critical, advises Ronaldo Linares, a chef and restaurant consultant based in New Jersey. He, too, follows a similar line of thought, having grown up in a Cuban-Colombian household. A connoisseur of classic Cuban dishes with a healthful twist for diabetics, he has compiled his recipes in a cookbook, “Sabores de Cuba.”
Linares points out that consuming a large meal at once may cause unexpected blood sugar spikes. Studies have indicated that such fluctuations in blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels can enhance the risk of heart diseases or strokes.
Fruitful Advantages of Fresh Ingredients
By deciding to use fresh ingredients and avoiding processed ones, we can naturally incorporate more exciting flavors into our meals. Linares stresses “The inherent guidelines of traditional home-cooking guide you towards healthier meal options.” For example, Bentley recommends preparing homemade salsa instead of getting it from the store. The recipe includes tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro and a pinch of salt. Should a recipe require butter, Linares suggests switching it with avocado or olive oil, both high in heart-friendly monounsaturated fats.
Yet, Linares and Bentley acknowledge the often prohibitive access to affordable, fresh ingredients some families face can limit their options for diverse and healthy foods. Exposure to advertisements for fast food and sugary drinks can also impact food selection, regardless of racial or ethnical background.
Many adults fail to heed the daily recommendation of consuming at least 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables to maintain a healthy diet, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted in 2017.
Bentley states that our general environment needs to make healthier food easier to obtain. “We can’t push all the responsibility onto individuals – the availability of food in our local culture and various socioeconomic factors carry significant influence.”
Adopting Nutrition Guidelines for Diverse Cultural Preferences
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that some basic nutritional guidelines can be adapted to any cultural preference. For example, you could fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and include calcium-rich food with each meal.
“It’s more practical to focus on healthful eating patterns through actual food rather than dwelling on the specific nutrients,” says Bentley. “It’s also better to avoid obsessing over portions that can only add to people’s stress.”
With a similar perspective, the American Heart Association recommends a healthy dietary pattern to alleviate risk factors for heart diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Diets based on plants and Mediterranean foods are particularly emphasized in the AHA dietary guidelines.
Highlighting Peruvian Cuisine
When asked to recommend a heart-healthy yet flavorful alternative, Linares highlighted Peruvian cuisine, starting with ceviche, a seafood dish.
“Imagine a ceviche made from cooked octopus. It’s fantastically tender, charred, served cold, accompanied with some lime juice and herbs,” he shares enthusiastically. “Pair that with a sweet potato puree and add some aromatic seasonings. Add some Corn, pickled onions, and you have this visually vibrant and delicious bowl. It’s as simple as it gets, with an irresistibly complex flavor profile.”