Dietary patterns are frameworks that people tend to follow when making choices about what to eat. A number of factors can dictate what people eat and many of these factors overlap in various ways. When treating a patient with a medical condition that appears to be related to dietary choices, it can be important to understand the patterns that patient follows. Treatment recommendations can include adjusting these patterns to incorporate different or more appropriate foods.
Nationality, culture, economic class, religion, and social norms can all dictate dietary patterns. Within an established pattern, familiar foods, preparation methods, and flavors tend to occur repeatedly. In addition to seeing some foods more frequently than other, it is also possible to observe taboo, forbidden, or generally disliked foods. People who study dietary patterns include nutritionists and anthropologists interested in learning more about various human populations.
The term “traditional diet” is often used to describe dietary patterns that are habitual to indigenous populations in a region. These diets are typically based on native plant and animal sources of food that can be gathered, hunted, or cultivated. Traditional diets can vary widely from fish and seal-rich diets eaten above the Arctic circle to fruit-rich foods consumed in some regions of the South Pacific.
Other types of dietary patterns include religious diets such as Kosher foods eaten by members of the Jewish faith and the strict vegetarian diet consumed by Jainists. Other patterns may be classified in terms of the breakdown of nutrient consumption by type, such as the “meat and potatoes” pattern that is heavy on meats and starches or the low fat diet some people adopt to lose weight. Assessment of dietary patterns can be done with a survey that asks people to answer a series of questions about what they generally eat.
If changes must be made to a patient's diet for health reasons, entire patterns must be reworked. Simply telling someone to cut down on meat, for example, will still leave that person relying on dietary patterns that feature meat as a key ingredient. The patient may struggle to comply with the diet and seek out substitutions, instead of rethinking the diet by adding new elements into it. Establishing new dietary patterns can require presenting people with recipes, showing them how to find and cook new food families, and providing information on how to meet nutritional needs with a new diet. The goal is to change the patient's habits, not just in the short term, but for life.