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With obesity being a worldwide problem, people are talking about the importance of eating healthy. However, it often comes up during cross-cultural encounters that different cultures have different ideas of what makes a healthy diet. Even though it’s impossible to generalize the preferences of an entire country, there are some common themes that come up over and over again.
One piece of advice you’ll see in many articles on health or will hear in conversation is that spicy foods irritate your stomach (желу́док) and may cause gastritis (гастри́т). Another drawback people mention is heartburn (изжо́га). Most scientific sources agree that the harm is exaggerated, but you may still hear people refer to spicy foods as harmful.
Another belief you will hear is that you should limit your consumption of sweets. Whether people follow this advice is another story. 🙂 Nor does this mean that people don’t add sugar (са́хар) to their morning oatmeal (ка́ша for any hot cereal or геркуле́с for oats proper). This only means that most Russians believe a real meal should be savory, and anything that’s sweet only is a dessert (десе́рт). In other words, an Italian-style coffee-and-croissant breakfast (ко́фе с круасса́ном) is not considered a balanced meal, even though some Russians may eat that way. The same goes for the American-style peanut butter and jelly sandwich—it would be viewed as a dessert, not as a meal.
As I mentioned on this blog before, liquids and specifically soups are considered healthy. There is even a special adverb to express your disapproval for eating dry food: есть всухомя́тку loosely translates to “eat dry.” Soups are an indispensable part of a healthy diet in the Russian mind, and I have heard many a Russian expat express their disdain about their child not being offered soup in their overseas daycare or school. Ironically, I have not heard Russian aim for drinking 8 cups of water a day.
Fermented milk products are thought to be healthy in Russia. Many daycares and schools will have kefir and tvorog on their menu. Consuming these products is seen as good for digestion (пищеваре́ние).
What is traditionally thought of as fast food—burgers (га́мбургеры), soda (газиро́вка), or pizza (пи́цца)—is frowned upon in Russia, especially if given to children. Granted, no one in developed countries thinks that French fries are healthy, either, but, in my experience, this kind of food is more accepted as an occasional treat. Moreover, in the US, sometimes schools will serve things like burgers or pizza.
Parents may catch hostile stares of even verbal rebukes if they feed this kind of food to their children. Now, that is not to say that all Russian food is healthy and free of junk calories. Nor is it to say that no one patronizes fast food chains—I spent many an afternoon with my Russian high school classmates in what we then called “Макда́к” (McDuck, aka McDonald’s). However, “Western” fast food is generally not seen as normal or commonplace, and you can easily find an older person, especially in smaller towns, who has never tried it.
I hope this was helpful, and next time you hear some “weird” opinion from a Russian person, you’ll know where they are coming from. Is there anything else we could add to this list?
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