Nutrition in Everyday Life: The Journey of a Trinbagonian Dietitian

second to my passion for travel is my passion for cuisine.

When I am able to immerse myself in another culture by eating their traditional cuisine, I feel a sense of connection with that culture.

By virtue of my upbringing in Trinidad and Tobago (“Trinidad”), my experience with cuisine has been diversified. With English, French, and Spanish colonial influences, as well as gastronomic traditions from Africa, East India, China, and now Venezuela, the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago is a veritable melting pot.

The majority of my official nutrition education, however, was centred on the food pyramid and now the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate guide — notions that do not correspond with many traditional meals.

While MyPlate indicates that a balanced plate should consist of half non-starchy vegetables, one-fourth protein, and one-fourth grains, traditional one-pot recipes combine these dietary categories into a single dish that cannot be portioned on a plate.

Using the MyPlate pattern, it is impracticable to serve pelau, a Caribbean one-pot meal consisting of caramelised chicken, parboiled rice, pigeon peas, and an assortment of vegetables and spices.

As a dietitian and foodie, I grew confused and upset while attempting to produce nutritious meals that were culturally appropriate.

I started to ask, “Are these traditional meals actually healthy if they don’t suit the MyPlate template, or does the Western concept of healthy, balanced meals lack cultural competence?”

I was not able to build a notion of healthy eating that incorporates the intricacies of ethnic cuisines and diversity until recent years.

I will take you on portions of this adventure and demonstrate what I have learned.

Bridging the gap between nutritional research and conventional cooking

My interest in nutrition started at age 7 following my mother’s stroke, when I was encouraged to utilise food as medicine to enhance her quality of life. At the time, I was unaware of the term.

However, it wasn’t until I became a dietetic technician that I realised my enthusiasm for educating folks about the role nutrition plays in the treatment of medical illnesses.

In Trinidad and Tobago, these client education workshops focused on healthier ways to enjoy local meals, such as preferring the traditional flatbread dhal puri roti, which is rich in fibre, over the paratha roti, which is high in fat.

During my internship in the United States, I saw dietitians and their clients struggle to negotiate acceptable food substitutions that were respectful of the client’s culinary culture. This disparity may hinder the client’s adherence to their dietary plan and their overall success.

I am determined to overcome this gap by diversifying nutrition education so that individuals may improve their health without abandoning their culinary traditions.

My everyday approach to nutrition, including challenges and successes

I approach nutrition with flexibility in my everyday life.

The majority of my meals are balanced and consist of at least a grain, protein, and veggies or fruit. I incorporate regional and local dishes, and I like sweets!

Fortunately, there are various traditional dishes that are both healthful and easy to prepare, such as sautéed spinach with taro root and fish stew.

Regarding one-pot recipes, such as oil down, a delectable dish consisting of breadfruit, spinach, carrots, and salty meat such as pigtails, my emphasis shifts to portion management, adding high-fibre side dishes, and mindful eating strategies such as paying attention to my fullness signals.

My weekly meal planning schedule

As a result of having thyroid nodules, my energy levels fluctuate often, which may hinder my capacity to make meals.

Thus, I cook 2–3 times a week and prepare enough food for 1–2 days. I order out on Fridays, prepare bean soup on Saturdays, and eat leftovers from Sunday’s lunch on Mondays.

Incorporating minimally processed foods is essential to simplifying and expediting meal preparation.

I sometimes buy pre-chopped veggies from the grocery store, but I prefer to get fresh food at the farmer’s market. When making meals, freezing portions of seasoned meat, fish, and chopped vegetables saves time, as does use low sodium canned items like tuna.

To further support my thyroid health, I have decreased my consumption of highly processed convenience meals and shifted my focus to healthy foods.

This included creating my baked products from scratch with unbleached, whole wheat flour for the most of 2020 and choosing not to buy frozen waffles and pancakes.

It also included consuming more prebiotic and probiotic foods, such as yoghurt, and a little quantity of fibre at all times to aid digestion, which may be hindered by thyroid issues.

What common misunderstandings exist about dietitians?

A common misconception about dietitians is that we all consume the same foods.

People may see a dietician who consumes doubles, a fried, curried, chickpea appetiser from Trinidad and Tobago, as setting a bad example or consuming “unhealthy” meals.

Nonetheless, doubles are my all-time favourite. I adore every mouthful!

If I had a dime for every dietetic stereotype, I would be set for life. Let’s debunk just a few:

  • Dietitians are not food authorities. In fact, many dietitians have adaptable eating habits and may advise you to do the same. We are not here to criticise you for eating a second serving.
  • Dietitians also adore sweets. Whether it’s an original dish or a low-fat variation, desserts are also on the menu of a dietician. (“May I please have another piece of cake?”)
  • Dietitians provide health benefits beyond weight reduction. Dietitians are often contacted for weight reduction, but they may also instruct you on how to use your diet to support your medical condition or general health objectives – regardless of your weight.

Current trends in dietetics

Obviously, nutritionists are not all identical. We provide several viewpoints and ways of nutritional treatment. While some advocates swear by calorie monitoring, others educate their clients about food independence and intuitive eating.

The Association for Size Diversity and Health is now promoting the Health at Every Size (HAES) strategy within the dietetics community.

HAES acknowledges that health is multidimensional and that, regardless of your body mass index, you are entitled to get medically and nutritionally appropriate guidance that is suited to your requirements.

Whether you’re interested in visiting a dietitian or nutritionist in your region, you should do extensive research to discover if you’re a suitable fit.

My preferred foods, meals, snacks, and recipes

During my stay in the United States obtaining a master’s degree, I combatted homesickness with traditional dishes.

Callaloo, which consists of puréed spinach, okra, pumpkin, and green spaces, along with oven-baked barbecued chicken and macaroni pie, is my go-to comfort food.

When I need a quick supper or brunch, I often prepare whole grain bread, scrambled eggs or sausages, sautéed veggies such as broccoli or bok choy, and/or fruit.

In addition to the previously stated pelau and oil down, I also prefer roti with chicken curry.

I also like trail mix, dark or milk chocolate, sliced apple with peanut butter, and yoghurt as a snack.

I sometimes buy tamarind balls, kurma, and benne balls (made with sesame seeds and molasses).

In addition, I prepare fresh juices and smoothies at home to have in the morning.

My go-to juice

Here is my basic recipe for fresh juice (one serving):

  • 1 tiny gala apple
  • 1 medium carrot
  • Three stems of celery
  • 1 miniature beetroot
  • 1/2 centimetre of ginger
  • 1 medium cucumber

Juice, serve, and enjoy.

Promoting good eating habits with a toddler

My three-year-old son enjoys cooking (any excuse to play with water, really), and conversing with him about food is a breeze.

He likes slicing food, putting ingredients in the juicer, stirring the saucepan, and handing out meals when he joins us in the kitchen. He is also pretty adept at breaking eggs; no shells!

This was his first exposure to meal quantities and the notion of a balanced plate.

By allowing him to choose the fruit, vegetable, grain, and protein he desired, he was given liberty and kept engaged in his meal.

Creating fruit and vegetable stamps for our at-home arts and crafts sessions, as well as exposing our child to the range of in-season fruits and veggies in Trinidad and Tobago, are other innovative measures we’ve done.

His snacks consist of yoghurt, fresh fruit, cookies, potato chips, chocolate, and sometimes juice.

The practical aspect of healthy eating

Dietitians are also human.

However, misunderstandings regarding my career and healthy eating cause my family to scrutinise me if I nibble on anything other than fruits and vegetables or if I gain a little weight.

This is humorous, but also emblematic of the mountain of anguish that dietitians and nutritionists must manage due to diet culture.

I have learnt to disconnect my morals and sense of self-worth from the meals I consume. In actuality, I occasionally eat for pleasure alone. I consume hence without guilt.

This does not imply that I overconsume empty-calorie items, but rather that I have discovered the sweet spot where I can enjoy what I eat while achieving my health objectives — and without food fixation.

To clarify, healthy eating does not have a distinct appearance. It is not a black-and-white idea, particularly when ethnic cuisines are considered.

Trinidad and Tobago’s traditional one-pot dinners are nutrient-dense, delicious, and an excellent match for a healthy diet, despite not being represented in the USDA’s MyPlate or typical Western ideas of balanced meals.

Overall, healthy eating should be based on personal preferences and likes.

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