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History of Dietary Changes in Saudi Arabia Dissertation

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Updated: Apr 12th, 2022

Start of the Dietary Changes

The change in the traditional Saudi Arabian diet dates back to the 18th century. The arrival of traders in the Persian Gulf region brought new ingredients and new food preparation ideas (Peterson, 2004). Subsequently, the spread of Islam in Saudi Arabia changed the people’s lifestyle. Even though Islam teaches about healthy eating behaviors, the increased trade from Europeans and Indian merchants brought foodstuffs that changed the Saudi Arabians’ cuisine (Albakry, 2014). For example, the Islamic faith advocates that Muslims should regularly exercise, abstain from alcohol, and eat moderately (Pharaon, 2004). However, the Islamic teachings on healthy eating have been eroded by socio-cultural factors such as increased economic activities. Women were traditionally mandated with food preparation but are currently in employment (Pharaon, 2004). The principal contributor to the diet changes is the changes in the socio-economic status of Saudi Arabia.

Reasons for the Dietary Changes

In 1938, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia discovered large oil deposits (Peterson, 2004). The exploration of oil led to the rapid growth of towns and industrialization. Farming and nomadic life were abandoned, and many people migrated to cities. The developed cities needed reliable sources of food and hence importation of processed foods. The cosmopolitan cities and the western cuisines such as the American food chains since then have been blamed for the changes in diets. The cultural influence and the rapid economic development was the key driver for the shift from the traditional Saudi diet that consisted of readily available food in the rural areas (Porman, 2006).

How the Changes Took Place

The dietary and lifestyle changes in the Saudi diet have been gradual (Sibai et al., 2010). The changes affected both qualitative and quantitative dietary practices (Musaiger, Takruri, Hassan, & Tarboush, 2010). There has been a shift from healthy diets towards diets with a lot of sugars and saturated fats (Al-Dhaheri, Al-Mawalil, Laleye, & Washi, 2014). The current foods predispose them to risks of Cardiovascular diseases.

Increased integrations of cultures experienced in the 20th and 21st centuries have made the world a global society. Globalization has resulted in a global culture marked by sedentary life and the adoption of fast foods from different age groups (Mahfouz et al., 2011). A cross-sectional study conducted by Farghally, Ghazeli, Al-Wabel, Sadek & Abbag (2007) to assess the nutritional status of the adolescents discovered that nearly half of the studied students were overweight. The study attributed the findings to the dietary changes and the sedentary lifestyles adopted by many Saudi families. The study included female and male students in primary and secondary schools within Abha city. In a similar study, (Musaiger & Zagzoog (2013) found out that the majority of students’ primary source of carbohydrates was from white bread, sweets, biscuits, and canned juice. The foods consumed by the students pointed to the diet changes in Saudi Arabia. The foods are a depiction of western culture influence in which many people have adopted highly processed foods. Even though the study targeted the students, it pointed to trends that were adopted by many families and which are replicated in the generations.

The traditional Saudi diet included fruits, dates, meat, wheat, beans, rice, dates, and milk that were cultivated in the arable lands (Davis, 2013). Unprocessed cereals such as wheat, millet, and rice provided complex carbohydrates that presented a better source of starch compared to highly processed foods (Amadou, 2011). Schimiduber and Shetty (2005) pointed out that traditional foods were abundant in dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, and meat. The farming and the nomadic life ensured that there was enough physical exercise. In addition, the Saudi Arabians living along the coast had access to seafood such as fish. The foods were cooked using simple methods that did not add saturated fats. However, the current cooking methods in Saudi Arabia use a lot of fat (Crocco, Pervez & Katz, 2009). According to Shara (2010), the Saudis consume 143.3% of their daily fat, which is above the recommended daily allowance. High fat consumption predisposes the Saudis to a high risk of cardiovascular diseases (Al-Moraie, Lietz & Seal, 2012). The traditional cooking method was boiling, in which fats and sugars were used sparingly. However, the onset of globalization changed the trend. Frying using saturated fats, processed foods, and reduced physical exercise have replaced the traditional lifestyle. The changes in dietary practices over the years have contributed to the increased risks of cardiovascular diseases.


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