Tortillas, Chapati, Baked Chicken: Selecting Foods that are Compatible With Your Culture and Tastes
When you find out you have diabetes, you get advice from your healthcare team
about the way food affects your condition. Typically, you spend time with your
doctor, a nutritionist or a diabetes educator and they explain what you should
be eating and what you should limit. They give you lots of helpful information.
But you have a role to play in these discussions too. What do we mean by that?
America is no longer just a “meat and potatoes” country. Our population has
become more diverse, and Caucasians no longer comprise the large slice of the
pie that they used to. African-Americans are the largest minority group, and the
Latino population is on its way to becoming the largest in coming years. And
Indian-Asians are now the fastest growing segment of the population.
Make sure your healthcare team understands your food preferences
All of this cultural shifting has a big impact on the foods we eat. If you have
diabetes, you need to be able to choose foods that are compatible with your
culture. But sometimes, that can be difficult. Your healthcare team might not be
familiar with the foods you eat. They may recommend things you wouldn’t normally
eat, and that can be a problem.
► Studies have shown that when a healthcare provider recommends foods you’re not
familiar with, you’re less likely to change your eating habits.
The thing is that healthcare providers can’t always know what kinds of foods
you’re familiar with. Part of your role as a member of your care team is to step
up and explain that.
Let’s say you’re heritage is Mexican. You grew up in the U.S., but you still
enjoy eating the way you ate when you were growing up, which was Mexican food
cooked mostly by your mother. But when your diabetes educator talks to you about
healthy food choices, there’s no mention of your favorite foods. Maybe the
recommendation is for pasta and whole wheat bread, when what you really enjoy
are tortillas, refried beans and other Mexican foods.
Here’s where it’s time for you to step in and say something like:
- I actually don’t eat much pasta. But I do like tortillas and refried
beans. I eat chorizo sometimes for breakfast. How should I prepare these foods
now? Should I replace them with other Mexican foods? How many tortillas make
one serving? What size should they be?
Or maybe you’re from the rural south, or you’re African-American, and you eat
foods that are traditional to these cultures. Make sure your diabetes educator
knows this! Say something like:
- For breakfast, I like to eat grits and fried eggs and sausage patties. I
have fried chicken a lot for lunch, sometimes with mashed potatoes. Are these
foods okay, or should I replace them with other foods? What other foods should
I replace them with? How should I cook them? How much should I eat?
Maybe your heritage is Asian-Indian, and your diabetes educator isn’t at all
familiar with the kinds of foods you eat. You may want to say something like,
- You’ve said I should have six starches a day, based on my size. I like to
eat chapati. How many of those would be one serving? I often eat yogurt with
my meals. Is that okay? Should I try using reduced fat or no-fat yogurt? I
don’t eat meat. How can I be sure to get enough protein in my diet?
Whatever your culture is, discuss your food preferences with your
We can’t possibly cover all the different types of foods from all the different
cultures and ethnicities in this one article. But the goal is the same, no
matter what your culture is.
- Share your food preferences with your healthcare team.
- Discuss how you prepare your foods—what kinds of cooking oil you use,
condiments you use, etc.
- Work together with your healthcare team to come up with food choices that
you’re familiar with, that you enjoy and that are compatible with your
Clinical Diabetes, 22:190-192, 2004; National Institute of Diabetes
and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.