Skip to main content


By: Madison Boissiere, Undergraduate Student in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

What is the importance of cultural competence in a nutrition setting?

“To be effective in encouraging clients to make healthier food choices and improving health outcomes, health care professionals must possess specific knowledge about food habits, preferences, and practices for the ethnic and racial groups they see in their practice” (DiabetesSpectrum). Culture is a major factor contributing to the food choices and health practices that clients make. It is important that dietitians and other health care professionals familiarize themselves with a variety of cultures in order to give clients the help that aligns with their values and practices.

How to implement cultural competence in nutrition counseling

There are several components that health professionals can use to assure that they are applying cultural competence to their practice.

Cultural Awareness

  • Gain an appreciation for different cultures and the beliefs and practices surrounding them
  • Ask clients about their health-related views and practices
  • Health professionals should analyze their own cultural beliefs and understand the impact it may have on counseling clients from different cultures

Cultural Knowledge

  • Develop an understanding of the core values of a variety of cultures
  • Understand the health disparities associated with various cultures
  • Ask clients about their perspective on their health disparity
  • Understand how food habits and practices can affect a client’s willingness to manage their health

Cultural Skill

  • Ask open-ended questions to get a better understanding of a client’s background
  • Does your client avoid certain foods for religious or cultural reasons
  • Does your client eat certain foods or have traditional regimens when they are sick
  • Assess your client in a way that incorporates their culture into the conversation of health

Cultural Encounter

  • Let clients determine their boundaries when discussing personal information
  • Provide genuine verbal and non-verbal responses
  • Does your client eat specific foods for holidays and special occasions
  • How does your client prepare their meals

Cultural Desire

  • Build trust between you and your client
  • Have a genuine interest for the client and their beliefs
  • Have a willingness to learn more about different cultures

Understanding and recognizing culture can help health professionals get a better understanding of their clients as well as their health disparities. It also provides a safe environment for clients to feel at ease and open to discussing their health. Using the components above can help health professionals effectively interact with people from a variety of different backgrounds and supply the best help for their clients.


  1. Goody, Cynthia M., and Lorena Drago. “Using Cultural Competence Constructs to Understand Food Practices and Provide Diabetes Care and Education.” Diabetes Spectrum, American Diabetes Association, 1 Jan. 2009,
  2. Amidor, Toby. “Ask the Expert: Counseling Clients From Diverse Cultures – Today’s Dietitian Magazine.” Today’s Dietitian, Sept. 2018,

Photo by fauxels from Pexels.