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Traditional, tasty and healthy? Enter the 'ethnic food pyramid'

WBUR's CommonHealth blog in Boston recently posted an interesting piece on ethnic "food pyramids," variations of the official federal food pyramid reworked by a non-profit to represent the healthiest foods in a "culture-specific" way.

The pyramids were put together after a lengthy research project spearheaded by Oldways, a Cambridge group that promotes healthy eating. There are food pyramids taking in traditional diets and foods from the Mediterranean, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, with even a vegetarian food pyramid thrown in for good measure.

It's a nice idea, although the pyramids are more regional in nature than truly culture-specific. The Latin American pyramid lists, for example, the arepa, a stuffed corncake popular in Colombia and other parts of South America, but not in places like Mexico or Cuba. Still, difficult as it is to assemble a food pyramid based on such varied cuisines, the illustrated Oldways pyramids include a wide range of ingredients used in different countries. From the CommonHealth post:

Some examples of the cultural-specific foods featured in the pyramids:

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid: Anise, Fava, Feta cheese, lamb and Guinea Fowl

Asian Diet Pyramid: Bamboo shoots, ginseng, Dragon Fruit, curry leaves and duck

Latino Diet Pyramid: Chiles, Acai, Reggianito cheese, arepas and beef

Vegetarian Diet Pyramid: Artichokes, Seeds, Polenta, cheeses and apples

African Heritage Diet Pyramid: Callaloo, bananas, butter beans, palm oil and catfish

While anyone can follow any of the pyramids as a guideline for healthy eating, the pyramids were specifically designed to appeal to those ethnic groups. Instead of one standardized graphic with general rules, it"s an attempt to broach the subject of healthy eating with foods familiar to each ethnic group.

Given that philosophy, Oldways President Sara Baer-Sinnott said the pyramids " all of them " are necessary.

"We"ve gotten away from eating real foods. In terms of inspiring, no one size fits all, and it"s important to have lots of different options for people to follow, that fit within the (dietary) guidelines," Baer-Sinnott said.

"Research has told us over and over again that traditional diets " the old ways of eating " are really much healthier than the way Americans eat. (For) almost every possible (chronic) disease that you could imagine, there"s a reduced risk through traditional diets."

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