This past weekend, as an American Diabetes Ambassador, I had the privilege of hosting the Healthy Eating portion of the ADA Expo in New York City. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 1 in 10 Americans has been diagnosed with diabetes, and it is suspected that another 1 in 4 has the disease but is undiagnosed. Diabetes complicates the lives of every ethnic group in the country, which is why I was so excited to see how deliciously diverse the expo had become.
Throughout the day, we tasted food which has its roots in Malaysia, India, the southern United States, Italy and Puerto Rico, just to name a few. As I interviewed each chef about their food and culture, I observed the expressions of the attendees in the audience -- some smiling, others looking with curiosity and still others with a bit of hesitation about tasting these exotic ingredients from far-flung lands. As ingredients like tofu and taro roots were added to meals, I saw some nod with approval, while others whispered, "What's a taro?" to their friend. (1) My favorite attendee by far was a middle-aged African-American man and his wife that sat in the front row to get the best seats for the culinary demonstrations. He asked questions, participated and was excited to be learning something new about how to make food healthier for himself and his family. So I asked myself as I looked around, with a tiny, five-foot, female, Indian chef to one side, and a towering, 6-foot tall, male, southern American chef to the other, how can we embrace this fresh diversity to our health's benefit?
I came up with three tips for getting healthy... global-style:
1) Be Brave. One of the things that can make healthy food boring is the repetition. I am always pushing my clients to 'be fearless, be full'. Don't be afraid to embrace new foods, just like the attendees at the ADA Expo. Make an effort to step out of your safe zone for cooking up comfort food. Every culture has ingredients and dishes that are healthy and delicious, we just have to be brave and venture out to find them. This week, as you pass that tiny restaurant, grocery or market with the different smells and sounds (maybe even a sign that you can't pronounce!), don't hasten your pace, instead pop your head in and -- dare I say it? -- talk to the person selling the food. Most cooks love sharing their creation with newbies. You may be pleasantly surprised and, at the very least, you'll get a culinary adventure to tick off you must-eat list.
2) Steal Food Ideas. There is a Jewish proverb, "There is nothing new under the sun." This is, by far, one of my favorite quotes and I like to associate it with food. The chance that you are creating a completely new food is slim to none. Keep in mind, we (that is, humanity) have been cooking, creating and eating for a while now. It is fine to pick and choose different elements from other culture's cookbooks and create an international meal. If you love hummus, great-- add that to your menu. If you have a hankering for jerk chicken, that can also make its way in, and if you want to finish it with a few nibbles of Edamame, that fine. You are the chef in your kitchen and you can "steal" the best from each culture to create a healthy and wildly individual menu. There is no "food police," so feel free to experiment with international ingredients and styles; get inspired from the people around you and vise versa.
3) Pack Your Appetite. Use your time traveling to be open to fresh and innovative foods. Whether you're headed to Kansas for an office meeting, or to Argentina to visit abuela-in-law, keep your eyes and mouths open for an opportunity to discover the food culture. If you're a tasty traveler, you can discover some of your most memorable meals in some unexpected places.
Remember that recipes are just guidelines, so be motivated by the world and communities around you and adapt new menus to your nutritional needs. Take every recourse you have, including introductions to new cultures, and use them to build a healthier and happier you-- it will make you the well-informed, courageous foodie that we all know you had in you.
1. Think of taro root as a potato that is grown like rice and is hugely popular in Asia, Africa, and South America.