For National Nutrition Month, Memorial Hermann Dietitians Focused on Respecting Cultural Preferences While Meeting Nutritional Needs

By Alexandra Becker

In an effort to promote healthy food choices and beneficial eating habits, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics created a campaign to observe National Nutrition Month each March. Every week of the month, the organization sends out key messaging and guidance for professionals and the general public to promote healthier habits year-round. This year, the Academy emphasized four key takeaways: eat a variety of nutritious foods every day; engage in weekly meal plans to set yourself up for success; learn new skills to make healthy foods even tastier; and consult a registered dietitian nutritionist to help you meet your personalized goals.

Across Memorial Hermann Health System, dietitians work to ensure patients meet their nutrition goals and, as part of the system’s ongoing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion efforts, they always focus on meeting those nutritional needs while upholding culinary cultural preferences.

“The theme for National Nutrition Month this year was ‘Personalize Your Plate,’ and we take the term ‘Personalize’ seriously,” said Sharon Smalling, a clinical dietitian specialist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “It’s important for us to look at each patient as an individual, with different circumstances, traditions and inclinations when it comes to eating—and that includes cultural preferences.”

At Memorial Hermann-TMC, Smalling said they have a team of nearly 35 registered dietitians working with patients to ensure they receive the best nutrition advice not only for their specific health needs, but also in a holistic sense, too.

“We see a variety of patients with different backgrounds and from different cultures, and we all work hard to respect eating pattern preferences while meeting their nutritional needs,” Smalling said. “We want to acknowledge that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition or health.”

Smalling said her team works closely with their patients to educate and inform them of their many options. They often refer to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, which includes a toolkit available to the general public and published in multiple languages. There are also guides for specific cultures, including some for vegetarians as well as healthy eating tips for Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Latin American and Middle Eastern cuisines.

“Respecting cultural preferences is nothing new to us, so we appreciate the opportunity to use the Academy’s theme to promote these efforts further and explore other ways in which we can better meet our patient’s needs, not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from a holistic standpoint as well,” Smalling said. “We have a lot of positive feedback from our patients, who appreciate the extra effort.”

Smalling said that ultimately, this approach will also provide better outcomes long-term.

“If you take the time to recognize an individual’s culture and background, then guide them from a place of understanding and acknowledging their preferences, they are more likely to maintain the nutritional plan we helped create for them,” Smalling said. “By further individualizing our care, we’re really setting them up for success.”

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