By Berniza Calderón
Dominican cuisine is the result of a process of incorporation, modification, transformation, and abandonment or rejection of some foods. This process has been also influenced by historical, political, social, cultural and individual scenarios, where being healthy was not the main goal. Due to the global epidemic of overweight and obesity and its consequences, it is imperative to establish a new plan to improve our eating habits. Therefore, Dominican cuisine needs to focus on health and sustainability, where our native traditions are a significant part thereof. The worldwide food trends suggest that healthy cooking is not just about choosing the right food, but also knowing how to prepare it. Thus, using substitutes and different cooking techniques, improves the nutritional value of what we consume. In that sense, it is recommended to add herbs and spices to the dishes, instead of artificial condiments. It’s also essential to use nutritious ingredients with healthier substitutes such as low-fat dairy products and whole grains, among others.
For our cuisine to be healthier and balanced, it’s crucial to reduce the amount of saturated fats, sugars and sodium. Likewise, it’s important to be aware of the macronutrients distribution range, the type of techniques used when cooking and the use of artificial or processed seasonings. Our creole cuisine is saturated in high-calorie dishes that surpass the intake amount per day. However, this does not mean that these exquisite dishes will be left behind. It is necessary, though, focusing first on improving the macronutrients distribution, meaning eating less rice and increase the vegetable intake. In addition, it is mandatory to change some culinary techniques. For instance, instead of frying, we may bake, and we can prepare a stewed chicken without heating the sugar. Other simple habits, such as measuring how much oil we use, removing the salt shaker from the table and avoid the use of artificial products, will improve our health enormously.
It is important to point out that the use of cooking techniques depends on what we prepare, since there are specific and different methods for each type of food. Steaming is highly recommended when cooking fresh and frozen vegetables, as well as it is baking for meat, poultry, fish and potatoes. In addition, sautéing is another alternative for cooking healthy meals.
Using a pan and a minimum amount of olive or canola oil is a great option to cook vegetables. Grilling and roasting are both very common and excellent choices to cook meat, poultry and seafood.
It is also important to add other needs in the scientific studies field that allow us to continue a gastronomic research at a historical, sociological, and anthropological level. This research will redirect us to the development of the Dominican society, as well as to carry out scientific studies on our food and on how to combine the ingredients. In addition, such analysis will deliver information about the different culinary techniques and their influence on health, as well as guaranteeing the food safety of the population.
All this entails a transformation that starts with the individual and ends with public policies and vice versa. It is required to have both, the commitment and involvement of all those who influence the culinary work to build a healthier and balanced Dominican cuisine that prevents food-related illnesses, and continues to be attractive at the same time. This newly and renovated cuisine also needs to preserve its identity and flavor which make it unique.