We all associate differently to food. Therefore, not every plate looks the same. What we choose to eat can be influenced by so many different things – culture, mood, environment, money, age, who we are eating with, and more.
At Baptist Health South Florida, we believe in using food as medicine. Food should nourish the body and help it function at its best. March is National Nutrition Month and this year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is encouraging Americans to “Personalize Your Plate.”
What does food mean to you? Have you ever thought about where your food preferences or habits come from? Many cultures enjoy foods rich in different flavors, and traditional family recipes often are thought to be heavy and not as healthy, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You can personalize your plate to match your culture and food preference.
Health is not a “one size fits all” proposition. We need to personalize it with our lifestyle. During National Nutrition Month, we encourage our community, employees and patients to embrace the “Personalize Your Plate” theme and choose nutrient-rich foods that match your lifestyle and culture.
Throughout the month, we’ll be sharing tips on how you can identify those nutrient-rich foods and incorporate them into your daily diet. We’ll also share what we do at Baptist Health to increase the nutrient quality of the foods we feed our patients and offer to our employees and guests in our dining rooms.
We invite you to enjoy your food – its origin, preparation, presentation, flavor, benefits and, of course, the people you share it with. Keep these tips in mind to remain health conscious and add a healthy twist to your family’s traditional dishes.
- For dishes that call for white rice, try a more fiber rich option, like wild rice, black rice, red rice, brown rice, or quinoa. Or make a healthy switch and give cauliflower rice a try. Arroz con pollo with cauliflower rice…yum!
- Reach for lower fat, lower salt, lower sugar ingredients. For example, use less oil or butter– try cutting it in half. Reach for lower fat milk or use a plant-based option. Read the label and compare food products.
- Bake it instead of frying it. Who doesn’t love maduros, or sweet plantains? Take a very ripe plantain, wrap it in aluminum foil and place it in the oven to bake. Bake fish instead of frying it.
Practice portion control
- When abuela or mom offers you food, telling her “No thank you” doesn’t always work. In some families, they get very upset. If you’re trying to cut back, try eating a smaller portion.
Load up on veggies or salad
- If there isn’t a vegetable or salad, make one or make a request. If there’s a dish with veggies in it, try adding more of this dish and cut back on other, less healthy options. Or, opt for a side of avocado and sliced tomatoes – always an easy and tasty option here in South Florida!
Many ethnic foods call for seasoning packets, bouillon cubes or premade seasoning mixes or sauces that enhances the flavors in dishes. While they do enhance flavor, they can also add a lot of unwanted ingredients including excess sodium, which is associated with high blood pressure.
Ethnic foods also can contain ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that has been shown to make food more addictive, or added food dyes and artificial flavors. These are all extra ingredients that your body needs to process, and they are not needed in our food.
Instead, we recommend that you keep your dishes natural by making your own seasoning blend. Here’s a healthy recipe for Sazon Completo:
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon achiote powder
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried cilantro
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Blend together all the seasonings. Store in an airtight glass container and add 1 tablespoon or as desired to flavor your next meal.
Natalie Castro is a registered dietitian and the nutrition and wellness manager at Baptist Health South Florida, where she oversees the food and nutrition policy for the organization. Ms. Castro earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Florida International University and a master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science from State University of New York at Buffalo. She believes a food environment supported by healthy choices fosters healthier lifestyle habits. She is certified in adult weight management by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and her research is published in several peer-reviewed medical journals.