Healthy Beginnings

Your Culture Is Your Health: How Cultural Customs Influence Diet and Lifestyle


Every culture is represented by a specific diet and lifestyle, complete with traditions and customs that are held dear over many generations. Cultural heritage is often accompanied by a sense of pride about how life has been sustained for ages. From a different perspective, customary diets and lifestyles will also reflect the overall health status of any particular culture. Here are some good examples of lifestyles that have had an overall positive impact on a culture’s health.

1. The Indian culture was noted to have a lower cancer rate versus the “Westerners” due to the spice turmeric. Turmeric has major anti-inflammatory effects on the body, and has been a staple for centuries in Indian dishes. Almost 40 percent of the Indian population is also vegetarian.

2. Okinawa, Japan was known to have one of the highest longevity rates in the world. They are known to have a lower incidence of chronic heart disease and lower incidence of prostate and breast cancer compared to the United States. As their diets were dissected, the root vegetable “sweet potato” was prominent. The cultural norm called “hara hachi bu,” which means “eat only until you’re 80 percent full,” was also imparted by Okinawan grandmothers through the years to prevent obesity.

3. The Mediterranean diet was initially started in Greece, specifically in the island of Crete. It was noted that the population had a lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and overall deaths compared to the U.S. population. Upon further investigation, it was found that the Mediterranean diet is 90 percent plant based, utilizing low quantities of sh, eggs and dairy, which if consumed in higher amounts, can contribute to elevated saturated fat levels in the body.

4. In the U.S., studies indicate that the Hispanic ethnicity has less access to healthcare in comparison with the African American and white populations. Even so, the irony is that Hispanics still have a lower risk of cancer and heart disease, as well as a longer lifespan. The reason for that is they consume 33 percent more of the bean supply in the country versus whites and African Americans. Eating beans increases fiber intake and lowers systemic inflammation.

If there are good points about cultural diets, there are also detrimental ones. Here are a few examples:

1. In general, Asians consume a good amount of white rice. This increases their risk of Type 2 diabetes due to processing and low fiber. Due to this dietary custom, China had been found to have an increase in the number of diabetes cases, which is almost similar to U.S. rates. The atypical presentation here is that Chinese people appear “skinny” compared to the obese diabetic U.S. individual.

2. The American lifestyle has been found to be subpar with health standards due to these evidences:

a. Only 3 percent of the adult population in the country are non-smokers, are in ideal body weight, consume five or more fruits per day and have regular physical activity of greater than 30 minutes.

b. Heart blood vessels were found early in children in the U.S. to be clogged with fat, which is related to their diet.

c. The “Western diet,” which is low in fruits, seeds, nuts and vegetables, high in sodium and processed meat, is the number one cause of death and disability in the U.S.

Cultural shift is the assimilation of one’s culture into another. This can be seen through migration to a different country, intercultural marriage or by choice of an individual due to various influences. Presently, cultural shifts lean toward adopting a new diet (specifically the Western diet). As influenced by the media, peer pressure and easy accessibility, you will see how it put cultural health into a downward spiral. The Western diet has taken over the globe in terms of its influence, and has a affected cultures in more negative than positive ways. Here are examples:

1. The Mediterranean diet now has been attributed to coronary heart disease due to the addition of meat, cheese, “pizzas” and noodles with meat sauce.

2. Okinawa, Japan has more than 12 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants and fast food chains, which increased the population’s fat and sodium intake. Before they had the lowest BMI in Japan, but now they rank the highest.

3. The Hispanic mortality rate continues to increase as they migrate to the U.S. and adopt the Western diet (increased fast food and saturated fat).

4. The Chinese people’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is worsened by the Western diet (increased use of pork, fat consumption, vegetable oil and processed junk food).

Here at Bio Integrative Health Center International, let us guide you in understanding what the good and bad points are about various cultural diets and habits. With this information, we will help you learn to utilize more of the good points, turning them into a lifestyle for your everyday living. By eating right in relation to your culture’s diet, you can ensure that the race of your future generations will live healthier lives.

For more information, call BIHCI at 775-827-6696 or visit