September 29, 2022

Healthy About Liver

Masters of Health

A Multicultural Food Writer’s Pick

The first and only time I went to a dietitian, they gave me a pamphlet with healthy recipes, as you might expect.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Dull-colored cantaloupe stuffed with cottage cheese, soggy iceberg lettuce salads, and bland rice substitutes greeted me as I peeled back the bundle of paper.

“Is this really it?” I asked.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. As a food writer and recipe developer—and person who enjoys eating—I crave flavor, color, texture, and diversity in my food.

The pamphlet had none of that.

I am half Asian and half Latinx. My cultural background has always informed what dishes I’m drawn to, whether it’s because I grew up with a specific ingredient or wanted to discover more about a recipe’s history.

Once I got a little older and became aware of the healthy food conversation, I soon realized the food I liked wasn’t a part of it.

Food deemed healthy always came from a Euro-centric lens and many, if not all, Asian and Latinx dishes were left out.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Commission on Dietetic Registration, 80 percent of roughly 119,000 registered dietitians in the U.S. are non-Hispanic white.

In New York Times article analyzing these findings, writer Priya Krishna notes that “many dieticians say the academy’s research, programs and articles ignore non-Western cuisines, or imply that they are unhealthy.”

Using Asian and Latinx ingredients to eat well in my personal life feels like a small way to fight against a lot of harmful thinking. I cook to nourish my body, but in return, it also allows me to relive my happy memories.

The red and green skin of mangoes transport me to my childhood where I’d run around mango trees with my brother.

The tangy taste of kimchi takes me back to nights out with friends around a hot Korean BBQ grill.

And whenever I peel green plantains, the smell makes me feel like I’m home.

Here are some of the Asian and Latinx ingredients I cook with to eat well for both my body and mind. Each one brings a wealth of flavor, color, and nutrition to whatever dish they’re in.

No sad, soggy salads here!

I’m currently based in Tokyo, so there’s a huge variety of miso that’s easily accessible to me.

In the U.S., you can usually choose from white, yellow, or red miso at Asian grocery stores. The color range depends on how long the soybeans are fermented: white being the least fermented with subtle sweet notes to red being the most aged with a deep, robust flavor.

Why I love it

I love miso because of how extremely versatile it is. I’ve used it in everything from marinating chicken to mixing cookie dough.

Benefits

It’s rich in umami, but also offers a range of health benefits.

Research from 2021 found that It contains a wide variety of nutritious fermented enzymes, amino acids, and beneficial microbes.

How to find and use miso

You can easily purchase miso at most grocery stores, but for the biggest selection, go to a Japanese market.

Use it for soups, salad dressings, marinades, baking, and more.

Hands down, mangoes are my favorite fruit. I eat them mixed into salsa, blended with ice or sprinkled with Tajín, a Mexican seasoning made of chili, lime, and salt. There’s no one way to enjoy them.

Why I love it

Most grocery stores in the U.S. only carry Tommy Atkins mangoes (the big red and green ones), but there are over one thousand varieties with differing textures and sweetnesses.

Hawai’i’s Excel mangoes have very thin skin and an equally thin seed, which means a much bigger juicy fruit ratio. It’s even sometimes referred to as Hawai’i’s gold.

Pakistan’s Anwar Ratol and Chaunsa mangoes have birthed an underground WhatsApp market because those varieties are so sought after.

Benefits

Rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, this beloved fruit offers several health benefits.

According to 2021 research, eating mangoes was associated with higher nutrient intake, diet quality, and weight-related health outcomes.

How to find and use mango

Mangoes are readily available at almost all supermarkets. Warmer climates tend to grow more mango varieties, so be sure to check out local farmers markets.

Use them for salsa, salads (sweet or savory), sliced over sticky rice, blended into mango lassi, or just raw with a little bit of Tajín.

While I love the texture of dried beans, I often find myself forgetting to soak them ahead of time. That’s when canned beans come through.

Within moments, I can eat refried beans, black beans spiced with cumin, or crisp chickpeas.

Why I love it

Beans are a huge part of Latinx culture and are something I always gravitate toward for a quick but satisfying meal.

They’re also affordable and have a long-shelf life, which is why I always keep a hefty supply stashed away in my pantry for when that bean craving hits.

Benefits

Just one can of pinto beans has 19.4 grams of protein, nearly 30 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of 64.8 grams or 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight for a 180 pound person.

According to a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis, common beans reduced LDL cholesterol by 19 percent, risk of cardiovascular disease by 11 percent, and coronary heart disease by 22 percent.

Some common types of beans mentioned in the study include:

  • navy beans
  • pinto beans
  • haricot beans
  • white beans
  • red kidney beans

The review also noted that beans are an ecologically sustainable protein source compared to animal-based ones.

How to find and use beans

Luckily, you’re likely to find canned beans at any grocery store. Use them dips, pair with rice, spoon over tortillas, make a grain bowl, and more.

Kimchi is arguably the most important cultural dish of Korea.

Why I love it

For over 3,000 years, huge heads of cabbage have been coated in mixtures of sugar, salt, onion, garlic, ginger, and gochugaru (Korean red pepper) and left to fermate until tangy.

Some of my favorite ways to eat it are in fried rice, jjigae (Korean stew), or simply straight from the jar.

Benefits

During the fermentation process, powerful probiotics form that make kimchi a Korean superfood.

According to a 2018 review, kimchi has been found to have several health benefits, including:

  • stimulating immune function
  • reducing free radicals
  • reducing the risk of certain cancers
  • reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome
  • increasing intestinal microflora
  • increasing iron levels

How to find and use kimchi

You can commonly find kimchi at most health food stores. For the largest selection, visit a Korean grocery store, like H-Mart.

There are countless types of kimchi, and each one is special. The most common variety is made with cabbage, which I like to mix into fried rice, eat in soups, or simply use as a side.

Not all kimchi found in a grocery store contains probiotics. Look for kimchi in the refrigerated foods section and read the packaging to be sure the product contains live, active cultures. Most canned kimchi products don’t contain live probiotic strains.

Last but not least is the mighty plantain. Throughout Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, plantains have been a staple food for centuries.

Why I love them

Unlike sweet bananas, plantains are starchy and contain less sugar. I grew up enjoying them in both their green, unripened state and so ripe they turned black.

At both stages and in between, there are countless ways to prepare them.

Tostones and maduros were constant side dishes in my family home.

Tostones are made when the plantains are green and unripe. It fully takes advantage of their stratchiness by double frying them and leaving every edge golden.

On the other hand, maduros are best made with plantains that are black and full of natural sugars. In a quick shallow fry, the sugary bits caramelize and the entire slice grows tender.

Benefits

They’re a rich source of fiber and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals like magnesium and potassium, among many other benefits.

Research from 2019 noted that plantain flesh and peels are high in high several important nutrients, like:

  • potassium
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • nitrogen
  • fiber

They also play an important role in food security and preventing malnutrition in tropical and sub-tropical areas, including Africa.

How to find and use plantains

Plantains are readily available at many grocery stores throughout the U.S.

If you’re unable to find them in your usual spot, visit a grocery store in a Latinx neighborhood.

There are truly an infinite amount of ways to enjoy plantains at every stage of ripeness.

For green plantains, try making tostones. For nearly-black/all-black plantains, slice at an angle and fry to make maduros.

Want to learn more, access more diverse information, or even see a culturally-competent dietitian? Check out the resources below.

  • Food Heaven is a multimedia platform founded by two Black registered dietitians. They help people transform the way they eat with intuitive eating and body respect.
  • The Healthy Ramadan Guide is a full meal plan for Ramadan that’s centered on wellness.
  • American Indian Cancer Foundation is a national non-profit organization that helps address the inequities faced by Native communities, including those related to food availability and sovereignty.
  • Diversify Dietetics is a community for students, professionals, and educators dedicated to increasing ethnic and racial diversity in the nutrition and dietetics profession.
  • World Critical Dietetics is an organization that champions a more inclusive approach to dietetics, spearheading inquiry about gender, race, class, ability, size, and more.

Culturally-competent dieticians

  • Maya Feller is a registered dietitian nutritionist and adjunct faculty at New York University. She provides medical nutrition therapy and education from an antibiased, patient-centered, and culturally sensitive approach.
  • Alice Figueroa was influenced by living in Latin America as a child. Her nutrition counseling/approach involves mindful nutrition derived from public health, positive psychology, and mindfulness science-based research, Yogic studies, and Buddhist teachings.
  • Sherene Chou is an award-winning dietitian and chef with a passion for sustainable food and plant-based nutrition. She acts as consultant to plant-based brands to build sustainable nutrition initiatives.

No single culture has a monopoly on healthy eating. It’s time we honor the rich culture, traditions, and cuisines that Black and brown cultures have to offer.

Doing so can be as simple as visiting a new grocery store with different types of food than you’re used to or digging up a recipe your ancestors used to make.

Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring, bland, or exclusively white.


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Kiera Wright-Ruiz is a food writer, recipe developer, and author based in Tokyo. Her first picture book, “I WANT TO BE SPAGHETTI!,” comes out in July 2023, and her first cookbook, “The Half-Latinx Cookbook,” will publish in spring of 2025. Follow her at @kierawrr for more.