When we think of soul food, we tend to think of big, hearty meals full of flavor and seasoning from the Southeast region of the United States. We also tend to typically think of foods like fried chicken, hushpuppies, collard greens, and cobbler.

Recently, I heard a new take on soul food. I came across this new definition when I was reading a discussion post from one of my fellow interns. The dietitian she is working with as part of her final rotation brought up the terms “cell” foods and “soul” foods during a grocery store tour. At the end of the tour, the participants sampled chocolate, a non-traditional “soul” food.

Personally, I think there’s no better way to end a grocery store tour than by getting a food sample. Bonus if that sample is chocolate.

But, back to “cell” foods and “soul” foods. The basic idea behind this is that we have foods that nourish our cells and help us to function on a daily basis. Think foods that pack lots of nutrients, like fruits and vegetables.

Then we have foods that nourish our souls. They’re foods we enjoy and that make us feel good when we eat them. For me, my soul food is ice cream.

This idea fits into the mantra that dietitians and dietitians-to-be already know, which is “all foods fit.” As a culture, we tend to want to focus on and strive to only eat foods that nourish our cells and often forget about foods for our souls. We tend to label foods as “good” and “bad,” and strive to only eat the “good” foods. The reality is the only bad food is one that’s spoiled and could make us sick.

By following the “all foods fit” idea, we can enjoy those “soul” foods from time to time without feeling guilty for doing so. The only trick here is to keep an eye out for portion sizes and to eat these foods more mindfully by really taking our time to eat and enjoy them.

When we take our time to really enjoy our food, we nourish our souls just as we do our cells. By giving ourselves permission to enjoy these soul foods every now and then, it helps us to create and sustain a healthy relationship with food.

So, go ahead. Enjoy that steak, that bowl of popcorn, or that scoop of ice cream. Let it nourish your soul. You might find it was just what you needed.

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