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What’s Considered a Healthy Diet in Russia Posted by on Feb 12, 2019 in Culture

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.

hot peppers

Photo by Fabienne Hübener on Unsplash

Spices as Irritants

Key vocabulary:

  • спе́ции — spices
  • припра́вы — spices, seasoning
  • о́строе — spicy foods (adjective used as a noun)
  • пе́рец — pepper

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.

croissant on a plate

Photo by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

No Desserts Instead of Meals

Key vocabulary:

  • конфе́ты — candy, sweets
  • пече́нье — cookies (US—not the greasy chocolate-chip kind, more like animal-crackers consistency); biscuits (UK)
  • са́хар — sugar
  • сла́дкое — sweets, dessert (adjective used as a noun)

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.

red soup

Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Soups Are Good For You

Key vocabulary:

  • суп — soup
  • пе́рвое — first course, meaning soup (adjective used as a noun)

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.

bottles of milk

Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash

Fermented Dairy

Key vocabulary:

  • молоко́ — milk
  • кефи́р — kefir
  • смета́на — sour cream
  • тво́ро́г — farmer’s cheese (sort of; yes, either syllable can be stressed)
  • ря́женка, простоква́ша, варене́ц — various dairy products; click on each word for details
  • кисломоло́чные проду́кты — fermented milk products

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).

burger

Photo by Erik Odiin on Unsplash

Junk Food is Stigmatized

Key vocabulary:

  • газиро́вка — carbonated soft drink
  • карто́фель фри — French fries (US); chips (UK)

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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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


Comments:

  1. David Roberts:

    тво́ро́г — farmer’s cheese (sort of; yes, either syllable can be stressed). This made me wonder – how many other words are there in Russian where more than one pronunciation is accepted as correct. In UK-English there are a few: scone (o can be long or short as in bone or on) and contrOversy/controvErsy come to mind. Could this be a subject for a future post?

    Another thought – not really connected with this post – how would you advise people like me who can read and write Russian reasonably well but haven’t had much verbal experience – if you don’t know where the stress should be, what strategy should you use to maximise your chances of being understood? Guess and hope for the best? Give equal stress to all syllables?

    • Maria:

      @David Roberts Ooh, that’s a good one, David! So, basically word stress is in flux, and there are, indeed, some words where multiple pronunciations are correct. These words will be listed in орфоэпические словари (pronunciation dictionaries) or online on websites like Gramota.ru.
      For the word творог, we can trace its pronunciation through time in various dictionaries. Here is a Russian article about that: http://www.gidropraktikum.narod.ru/tvorog.htm. Basically, it started out being творОг only, and more conservative or older dictionaries still have it this way. Gradually твОрог emerged, first in colloquial speech, and then some dictionaries started including it as an acceptable variant. This pronunciation prevails in the vernacular nowadays, and some recent dictionaries list it as the primary one. Personally, I didn’t even realize творОг could be said that way until I was in college. I had only heard твОрог before.
      It is tricky to come up with any one pattern or recipe for Russian word stress. Meduza has written about some overall trends (link in Russian): https://meduza.io/cards/kak-nauchitsya-pravilno-stavit-udareniya. Russian word stress gravitates towards the middle or the latter half of the word. That explains why мАркетинг became маркЕтинг. As for the rest, the article includes some patterns.

  2. Karen K:

    Also, the aversion to cold drinks, especially with ice. I think you may have had a blog about this before. I have been told several times by my Russian friends, especially older women, that cold drinks are not good for me. 🙂

    • Maria:

      @Karen K Good observation! This is definitely a widespread belief.