Cultural Sensitivity: Why It Matters

By Courtney Lee, MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS

Cultural sensitivity is imperative for a registered dietitian nutritionist to have when providing nutrition care. When dietitians help patients and clients with their diets, they enter into an extremely personal, unique, individualized world. What people like, need, and want to eat varies widely between individuals. Dietitians have the privilege of helping people inform their food choices to impact their health, and a person’s culture should help to inform those decisions.

The Importance of Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity allows the RDN to be aware of cultural influences on a person’s food choices, respect that culture, and also creatively find ways to modify diet for health while still preserving the culture. Dietitians serve patients and clients from many diverse cultural groups who all have their own cultural foodways and practices. Within the United States, there is a wide range of access to food and grocery stores, education levels, health beliefs, regional foodways, and religious practices.

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Valuing Cultural Differences During Nutrition Care

Nutrition training tends to focus a lot on foods and foodways that are commonplace in the United States, particularly when we are looking at food group-based recommendations. Dietitians may not realize how narrow those recommendations can seem to a person with different cultural traditions who is truly trying to take care of their health while enjoying cultural foods. When dietitians use American food groups and examples in their nutrition counseling for people who have different foods in their core diet, nutrition counseling is not as effective and the client’s culture may be diluted. When clients are asked to change their foodways, this may lead to changing traditions that have been passed down through the generations, elements of their culture, or a method of cooking that could be lost with time.

How to Embrace Cultural Awareness

Broaden your perspective to include more than American-centric foods. Dietitians should ask questions, learn about new foods, and research clients’ traditional foods (even during a nutrition counseling session!). Be sure nutrition recommendations continue to value a client’s culture, support the good habits they have already, and modify the not-so-healthy habits while making efforts to incorporate their favorite cultural foods.

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Courtney Lee MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS has a virtual private practice specializing in personalized nutrition & anti-inflammatory diets. She loves helping people use nutrition to change their lives and enjoys empowering other RDNs to do the same! www.courtneyleerd.com.

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