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As we head into National Nutrition Month, we’re focused on this year’s theme: “Celebrate a World of Flavors.”
A Swedish dietitian explains why changing up what we eat is good for our health.
There are many resources in and near Seattle that make exploring more diverse food options easy and fun.
Rice. Tacos. Chicken. These are likely familiar foods. But when was the last time you challenged your palate? Maybe you tried bulgur instead of rice, added jicama to your taco or sprinkled turmeric on your chicken. Eating different foods is a great way to get more of the nutrients we need. It’s also a lot of fun.
Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” To understand what this means and how we can diversify our plates, we spoke with Megann Karch, RDN, CD, clinical nutrition specialist at the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute – Cherry Hill. Megann shares some ways to make trying new flavors easy and enjoyable.
What does it mean to “Celebrate a World of Flavors”?
This year’s National Nutritional Month theme is all about inclusivity.
“It’s recognizing that people eat in different ways,” says Megann. “There are a lot of foods we can eat that contribute to our health that don’t necessarily look the same as what we’ve seen in magazines for the last few decades. Healthy eating is more than just chicken and broccoli.”
Diversifying our plates is important for many reasons. One, it provides some novelty and excitement – especially when we can’t travel as much during the pandemic. Two, it helps makes sure we get all the nutrients we need from our food.
“Each food has a unique profile of essential vitamins and minerals,” explains Megann. “Variety in our food is important because it combines multiple profiles of vitamins and minerals to meet our needs.”
Our region, culture and routine can all affect how and what we eat most. “Celebrate a World of Flavors” challenges us to think a little deeper about what we consume.
Ways to add new foods to your plate
Changing up what you eat is easier for some people than others. It can be hard to know where to start. Or what’s even available. To help understand what other eating patterns look like, Megann recommends Oldways – a nonprofit organization with online tools that help people rediscover healthy eating from traditional cultural diets.
“They’ll show you an eating pattern that is an Asian style eating pattern or an African style eating pattern that follows the same principles of the Mediterranean diet,” says Megann. “Each pattern has a different set of flavors and healthy recipes.”
There also are other ways to learn about new foods. Seattle is a great place to discover ethnic cuisine – from international markets to unique ingredients you can cook at home.
Start by checking out a cookbook from the library and trying a new recipe.
The Seattle Public Library has tons of cookbooks that you can check out for free. Pick one and try a new recipe.
“I love getting cookbooks from the library because it’s a lower barrier,” says Megann. “You don't have to shell out all that money for it, but you get to look at it and use a couple recipes you like.”
Take a look at a few of Megann’s book recommendations:
- Vasanti Bhadkamkar-balan’s “Authentic Indian Cooking with Your Instant Pot”
- Edgar Castrejon’s “Provecho”
- Yohanis Gebreyesus’ “Ethiopia”
- Diana Kennedy’s “The Art of Mexican Cooking”
- Joanne Lee Molinaro’s “The Korean Vegan Cookbook”
- Andy Ricker’s “Pok Pok”
- Bryant Terry and Oriana Koren’s “Black Food”
Try a new spice
Spices can be a simple way to add a new flavor to your food without adding more salt. Megann recommends starting with a small amount and then buying and adding more if you like it.
“One of the things I often tell my patients is when you’re trying a new spice for the first time, go somewhere that has bulk bins,” she says. “You can get a small bag to try. It’s a lot cheaper than buying a full container of new spices.”
You may even find that a new spice is like one you already use. For example, harissa seasoning is sort of like chili powder.
Shop at a new grocery store
Seattle has several markets with unique foods and ingredients. Try exploring a new grocery store.
“Within the city, you can find a lot of delicious ethnic food and international markets,” says Megann. “We have a pretty robust international district, Chinatown and selection of specialty markets.”
And if you don’t have an international market close to you, there’s also a lot more available now at traditional grocery stores. This can make getting different foods easier, even for people who don’t have the time or budget to cook a big meal.
“I’m not above buying a jar of Indian simmer sauce,” says Megann. “Adding the sauce with vegetables that you sauteed and some rice lets you try a new flavor without having to buy all the spices.”
Chat with farmers at a farmers market
Another option besides going to a grocery store is trying out a farmers market. There, the food growers know a lot more about their food and can educate you too.
“We are very lucky to have many farmers markets in our city,” says Megann. “Some are open year-round. Don’t hesitate to ask the farmer about a food if it's unfamiliar to you. You can ask them: What is it? What should I do with it? They’re going to be really excited to talk about it. You don’t quite get that same level of connection at the grocery store.”
Visit Eat Local First to find a Washington farmers market near you.
Find a new restaurant
If you don’t like to cook or don’t have the time to cook, Seattle has a lot of ethnic restaurants. Go ahead and try a new one. Megann recommends Spice Bridge in Tukwila – a Seattle food business incubator program. Spice Bridge helps women of color and immigrants start new restaurants and catering businesses. They have foods from around the world, including a lot of East African food.
Take a class or watch a cooking video
There are thousands of recipes and step-by-step videos online that make cooking and exploring new flavors easy to do from home. Swedish has its own list of recipes and resources. We also offer nutrition classes.
Try cooking along with Megann as she makes these dishes:
Help! I’m a picky eater
Maybe eating other foods or spices doesn’t sound appealing to you. Or you haven’t liked a lot of new foods in the past. Fear not! There are ways to challenge yourself without making your mealtime stressful.
“This doesn’t need to be a forced thing,” says Megann. “We don’t want to make new food an uncomfortable experience.”
To ease your way into a new flavor, Megann recommends serving new foods alongside familiar foods, without any pressure to try the new food.
“Repeated exposures are very important for children and adults alike to get comfortable with new foods,” she says. “Consider trying a familiar food with new seasoning or a new food with familiar seasoning.”
Getting out of your food rut
Sometimes, people stick to the same foods because they don’t know that other options exist. Whole grains are a great example.
“In our standard American diet, we get trapped in this phase where we go through bread, rice, corn, bread, rice, corn, and then maybe pasta, rice, corn,” says Megann. “It’s kind of the same thing over and over. But there’s a huge variety in terms of whole grains that are available to us.”
Many whole grains are just bigger, chewier versions of rice: barley, bulgur, farro, millet, wheat berries and others. So, trying something new may not be as big of a stretch for your taste buds as you think.
Megann regularly recommends the online tool MyPlate to her patients. This is an updated food pyramid that helps you determine if you’re getting the right proportions of protein, vegetables, dairy and more. Even when your plate looks different (or stays the same), MyPlate can help you make sure you’re getting a balanced meal.
Food is about overall wellness
There’s a myth that healthy food shouldn’t taste good. But it’s not true! Food should be enjoyable. When thinking about what you eat, remember that nutrition and diet are about overall wellness.
“A single food doesn’t make or break your health,” says Megann. “It’s about eating patterns over time.”
As you celebrate a world of flavors, start small. Go easy on yourself. Have fun.
Learn more and find a provider
If you need guidance with diet and nutrition, Swedish has a team of dietitians ready to help with nutrition care.
Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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