We also need to consider autonomy, culture, preference, taste, ancestry, and variety, which are all just as important. When we use the nutrient-only focus on foods to categorize them as “good” and “bad,” it creates a hierarchy and makes it difficult for us to recognize that all foods have a place in our diet.
Besides, a “good” or a “healthy” food for someone might look very different from that of another person. Eating is all very individualized, and your specific body, and any medical conditions or sensitivities that you have, come into play here big time. For instance, if someone has celiac disease, whole wheat—often a preferred “health food” choice—would actually not be good for them. If someone has G.I. issues like diarrhea, it might be a good idea to limit high-fiber foods such as certain vegetables and grains.
Not to mention, we have taste buds for a reason. Just because a certain food isn’t providing you with certain nutrients, it doesn’t make it bad. It might be providing you with nourishment for your soul, comfort, joy, or a social connection, and that’s so, so important to your overall well-being (and, yep, your health).
“We need to redefine ‘healthy’ to better honor lived experience and circumstance,” Kathleen Meehan MS, RD, a dietitian based in Los Angeles, tells SELF.
Different foods provide different nutrients, which is more than okay. Some foods will provide us with more fiber, some with more calcium, and some with iron. Food is also meant to provide memories that are comforting to our soul and tied to our culture. These cultural ties are vital, and placing a certain cultural food or diet as top tier is unnecessary and untrue. It seeks to strip away the non-nutritive based benefits of eating—and the pride we all take in our culture—that are so important.
Placing the Mediterranean diet on a pedestal others different cultural ways of eating.
By celebrating the Mediterranean way of eating, I believe we’re letting people of other cultures think that their food is inferior.
A lot of this comes down to Eurocentricity. After all, according to the United Nations, there are 21 different countries that make up the Mediterranean. But when mainstream media tends to highlight the Mediterranean diet, it’s through a focus on European countries like Italy, France, or Greece, rather than African and Middle Eastern countries like Morocco, Libya, and Egypt—which, yep, border the Mediterranean too.
“Praising the Mediterranean Diet as the number-one diet in the world sets a dangerous precedent that healthy foods are limited to Eurocentric foods, and that foods from other cultures aren’t as healthy or good for us, which isn’t true,” Jasmine Westbrooks, MS, RD, CDCES of EatWell Exchange, Inc, tells SELF. For example, she says, foods like kale and quinoa—which are staples in many wellness recipes and often touted as superfoods—are considered healthy, while collard greens and rice and beans, which are staples in many ethnic cuisines, are often “labeled as nutritionally unfit.”