What are Dietary Patterns?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Registered dietitians help create eating plans that are tailored to a person's unique nutritional needs.
Registered dietitians help create eating plans that are tailored to a person's unique nutritional needs.

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.

Vitamin supplements are not meant to be an alternative to eating a variety of healthy foods.
Vitamin supplements are not meant to be an alternative to eating a variety of healthy foods.

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.

Dietary patterns refer to frameworks that individuals may follow when making choices about what foods to eat.
Dietary patterns refer to frameworks that individuals may follow when making choices about what foods to eat.

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.

Dietary patterns may include eating organically grown fruits.
Dietary patterns may include eating organically grown fruits.

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.

Some dietary patterns are restricted by a person's faith.
Some dietary patterns are restricted by a person's faith.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

SteamLouis

Dietary patterns vary from culture to culture. But from my own experience, they can change. I was born outside of the US and my family moved to the US when I was a child. Many of the foods were very strange to us and we hated a lot of the foods we tried initially. Twenty years later, I eat a very classic American diet most of the time. I've also come to love foods from other cultures that's popular in the US like Chinese, Italian, Indian and Mexican.

So dietary patterns change. People's taste in foods change. It has to do with exposure.

candyquilt

@burcinc-- As far as I know, it's a genetic disposition.

I read a paper on this for a course and I learned that we taste flavors based on the taste buds on our tongue. Each taste bud has a distinctive shape and flavors attach to them and tell us what we're tasting according to that. There are taste buds for sweet, spicy and salty. But not everyone is born with the same number of taste buds. Different people have different numbers of the different types.

So if someone has more sweet taste buds on their tongue, he or she will be more sensitive to sweet flavors and will enjoy them more than other types of flavors. That's where the preference for certain flavors comes from.

burcinc

I've noticed that some people love sweets and prefer sweets to other foods. And others don't like sweets and would rather have something salty. What is the reason behind this? Is it a pattern? What is the explanation?

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