Written by: Kelley R. Hill, MSN, RN-BC
In a Nutshell
- Older parts of the world have wisdom about nutrition to share
- Nutritionists now emphasize dietary patterns over individual foods
- Traditional regional dietary patterns have been tested by time, not just scientific studies
When talking about traditional regional diets, we are really talking about old world ways of preparing food, of which fast food restaurants (even fine dining restaurants), vending machines, and convenience stores are not a part. Additionally, unlike the U.S., meats are not the anchor of a meal and dessert is not a given. Although culturally diverse in their preparations, ingredients, and flavor pairings, traditional diets are built on a foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses (lentils, legumes, beans), nuts, seeds, herbs and spices.
If we were to look at food pyramids from the various regions, we would see that the base of the pyramid – and the largest component to any diet – is sharing meals with others and physical activity. The base of their pyramids isn’t even food but rather proponents of a healthy lifestyle.
Traditional regional diets generally comprise the Mediterranean, African, Latin American, Nordic, and Asian areas. Many of which have been scientifically studied, though more pertinently have stood the test of time – hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Some of the diets may not be particularly easy to follow due to limited availability of some foods in Western markets.
There can be a lot of trial and error, and demand for considerable patience, as you’re learning to prepare certain dishes.
Dining out can be somewhat challenging, depending on the regional diet you adopt, and it should be noted that rarely do restaurants in the U.S. provide wholly authentic regional fare.
Scientific & Expert Support
These traditional regional diets have been demonstrated to have a number of health benefits, and furthermore studies that have been conducted on persons transitioning from a traditional regional diet to a Western diet show a doubled or even tripled risk of incidence of heart disease and much higher rates of obesity.
Collectively these diets show health benefits regarding weight management, body fat, lowering blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, reducing cholesterol, lowering risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
These diets are especially effective in populations that have a disproportionate risk for some of conditions mentioned above, which are not just racial and ethnic minorities. For example, the link between body mass index or BMI (a measure of body fat) and type 2 diabetes is strongest in whites.
Traditional regional diets are balanced and generally safe for anyone to try, it’s really just a matter of taste.
If after settling on a regional diet, you have any concerns about the foods within, be sure to discuss them with your physician. And always discuss diet changes with your physician if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, on prescription medications, or have existing health conditions.
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- Cleveland Clinic. (2019, September 19). Mediterranean diet. Retrieved from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16037-mediterranean-diet
- An overview of elements of a healthy diet across the lifespan - Cleveland Clinic
- Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan - Mayo Clinic
- Ethnic cuisine: Tips for making healthy choices. The Mayo Clinic Diet
- Fight diseases with flavorful dishes - New Hope Medical Center; African heritage diet –
- Fat, fibre and cancer risk in African Americans and rural Africans. Nature Communications, 6(6342). doi: 10.1038/ncomms7342