Personalized nutrition is popular for a reason. No matter where you are on your journey to health, it’s increasingly clear that there is no single one-size-ﬁts-all approach to diet and lifestyle, and that there’s more than one way to be healthy (or unhealthy). The science and technology industry, never one to pass up a business opportunity, has taken this approach one step further. Enter: personalized nutrition. Though personalized nutrition is still in its infancy, consumer testing kits command a high price tag, with most around $300-400 each.
While the technology holds promise, the reality is that most tests tell you things you already know – whether you are lactose intolerant or caﬀeine sensitive, for example – or things that nutrition experts already know – that you should eat more vegetables, make more of your grains whole, and eat fewer sugary, highly processed treats. Additionally, the diﬀerences between how people with diﬀerent DNA proﬁles respond to diﬀerent diets (such as low-carb diets or low-fat diets) are not as pronounced as scientists originally thought.
Purchasing one of these nutrition genomics kits may not unlock all of the “secrets” to healthier living. But there’s something to be said for taking a more personal approach to nutrition and health. Both research and practice show us that patients are more responsive to nutrition advice that is culturally appropriate and respectful of traditions and food preferences. No matter your background, cultural models of healthy eating, such as those we outline below, can be a delicious blueprint for eating more nutritious foods (like vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and ﬁsh).
With the rise of ancestry services like 23andMe or Ancestry.com, it is easier than ever to learn more about your history. Whether you can trace your roots back to these regions, or you simply want to taste your way around the globe, our Heritage Diet Pyramids are a great place to start for a more personalized journey to health:
Scientists have intensely studied the eating patterns characteristic of the Mediterranean Diet for more than half a century, and the Mediterranean Diet is even recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Immerse yourself in Mediterranean cuisine by making plant foods like leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, eggplant, and beans the stars of your meals, garnishing with seafood, artisan cheeses or yogurts, fresh herbs, and an ample amount of olive oil.
Latin American Heritage Diet
Variations of the Latin American diet have traditionally existed in the parts of Latin America where maize (corn), potatoes, peanuts, and beans are grown, including modern-day Mexico, and the other countries in Central and South America. This eating pattern is a blend of the broad traditional diets of four major cultures: the indigenous people (Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, and other Native Americans), the Spanish, Portuguese, and continental Africans.
African Heritage Diet
The ancestors of African Americans brought many wonderful food traditions to parts of the Caribbean, South America, and the southern states of the U.S. As the African Heritage Diet Pyramid illustrates, this diet is based on whole, fresh plant foods like colorful fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens; tubers like yams and sweet potatoes; beans of all kinds; nuts and peanuts; rice, ﬂatbreads and other grain foods, especially whole grains; healthy oils; homemade sauces and marinades of herbs and spices; ﬁsh, eggs, poultry and yogurt. It’s naturally low in processed sugar, unhealthy types of fats, and sodium, and includes only small amounts of meats and sweets.
Vegetables and more vegetables. Strong spices, and often a kick of heat. Rice and noodles (especially traditional colored rices and whole grain noodles). Seafood, in island nations and along the coasts of the main land mass. Tofu and other soy products. All of these are common in traditional Asian Diets. Like the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, this pyramid was developed as a model for healthy eating because of the historical low incidence of chronic diseases in a speciﬁc region—in this case, in Asian countries.
Kelly Toups, MLA, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition