MyPyramid and Nutrition Facts labels are useful in planning a nutritionally sound diet, but dietary and religious customs must also be taken into consideration. People from each country have favorite foods. Frequently, there are distinctive food customs originating in just a small section of a particular country. People of a particular area favor the foods that are produced in that area because they are available and economical. Some religions have dietary laws that require par-ticular food practices. Because most people prefer the foods they were accustomed to while growing up, food habits are often based on nationality and religion.
One’s economic status and social status also contribute to food habits. For example, the poor do not grow up with a taste for prime rib, whereas the wealthy may at least be accustomed to it—whether or not they like it. Those in a certain social class will be apt to consume the same foods as others in their class. And the foods they choose will probably depend on the work they do. For example, people doing hard, physical labor will require higher-calorie foods than will people in sedentary jobs.
When people move from one country to another or from one area to an-other, their economic status may change. They will be introduced to new foods and new food customs. Although their original food customs may have been nutritionally adequate, their new environment may cause them to change their eating habits. For example, if milk was a staple (basic) food in their diet before moving and is unusually expensive in the new environment, milk may be replaced by a cheaper, nutritionally inferior beverage such as soda, coffee, or tea. Candy, possibly a luxury in their former environment, may be inexpensive and popular in their new environment. As a result, a family might increase consumption of soda or candy and reduce purchases of more nutritious foods.
Someone who is not familiar with the nutritive values of foods can easily make such mistakes in food selection.
The meal patterns of national and religious groups different from one’s own may seem strange. However, the diet may well be nutritionally adequate. When a client’s eating habits need to be corrected, such corrections are most easily made if the food customs of the client are known and understood. The health care professional can gain this knowledge by talking with the client and learning about her or his background. A dietitian can use that knowledge to plan nourishing menus consisting of foods that appeal to the client. The neces-sary adjustments in the diet can then be made gradually and effectively.