Opinion | Nutrition in the U.S. is too Eurocentric

By Nithya Achanta, Staff Columnist

Healthy eating in our country is often reduced to salads and smoothies, and we are doing ourselves a huge disservice by viewing health through such a narrow lens.

Nutrition and dieting in the United States have always had a Eurocentric focus, and this stems from the fact that much of the nutrition science and research we have is Eurocentric. The term “Eurocentric” is used to refer to anything centered around Europe and the experiences of Europeans. Additionally, many of the main sources we use for nutrition information promote Eurocentric guidelines.

Dieticians and nutritionists are then trained by these studies and guidelines, so they continue to promote the same ideas. When discussing the education she received on ethnic foods in her dietetics program, dietician Jessica Wilson said her professors taught her that “these diets are bad.”

While the guidelines we have might work for some, they are very limiting. By focusing on foods and ingredients that are popular in Europe, we are missing out on a wide variety of nutritional benefits that are available in foods from other cultures. Many studies have shown that incorporating a wide range of foods into our diets is healthy because it gives us a variety of nutritional benefits.

By limiting our diets to food groups just from Europe, we are not reaching our full health potential. For example, nutrient-rich fruits such as lychee and dragon fruit are staples in many Asian countries, but we probably wouldn’t be able to find these in many local grocery stores.

There is a wide selection of foods and restaurants from various cultures available in America, so we might think we have great exposure to different cuisines. However, most of these foods are largely Americanized and are not presented to us in their authentic form. 

For example, many Chinese restaurants in America focus their menus on fried and sweetened foods. While this food is delicious, it isn’t an accurate representation of what an average Chinese family eats on a daily basis. A more authentic Chinese meal consists of lighter flavors packed with good sources of protein and vegetables.

In addition to all the health benefits that come from adding variety to our diets, exploring food from different cultures would make healthy eating much more exciting. Over time, eating the same salads and vegetables becomes boring. According to a survey,​​ one in two British people give up on their attempts at healthy eating because they start to find it “boring.” Although this study was conducted in Britain, their nutrition practices are also Eurocentric.
When you start exploring different foods and recipes from other cultures, you will expand your diet to a variety of new tastes and flavors that will make healthy eating much less repetitive.

I have been a vegetarian my entire life. Growing up, whenever I would mention to someone that I had never eaten meat, they would look at me with shock. Often they told me about all that I was missing out on, but I never felt that there was a huge missing piece in my diet. In their minds, being vegetarian consisted of eating the same bland vegetables every day, but for me, my mom was cooking a huge variety of vegetarian Indian recipes that never got boring.

While being vegetarian is seen as difficult in America, it is very common in many other countries, such as India and Ethiopia. America focuses heavily on meat as a primary source for protein, but in India and Ethiopia ingredients such as chickpeas and lentils are commonly used in meals as the main protein source.

In addition to being delicious and nutritious, these ingredients are cheaper than their meat protein counterparts — creating a more accessible option for protein and other important nutrients. One of the main issues with eating healthy in America is that it is often very expensive. If we start to educate people on some of these ethnic recipes and foods that include cheaper sources of nutrients, healthy eating could become more accessible.

Along with increasing accessibility, educating people on the different ways to get nutrition from a variety of cultures will make healthy eating seem more comfortable to minority groups. Eating healthy is easier when you are incorporating foods that are traditional to you. Some of the groups with the highest obesity rates and health problems in America are minority groups. Health is not a one-size-fits-all issue, and giving people more options to eat healthy while sticking to their roots will make it more accessible.

Next time you are looking for a healthy recipe, start by opening up a cookbook from a different culture.

Nithya writes about social issues and politics for The Pitt News. Write to her at [email protected].