Latin Food is Healthy Food
Why the obesity epidemic? Hispanics targeted by unhealthy food advertising, Food pyramid 101.
The old ways are the best ways when it comes to what we eat. The traditional Latino diet is far healthier than many of the fast food alternatives at your local neighborhood store. The US Department of Agriculture noted that Hispanics spend more on food because their families are larger and they are more likely to than other families to prepare and serve food at home. In general most Hispanic households tend to cook from scratch, and are less likely to buy pre packaged or frozen foods; all of this contributes to the healthier diet. That is of course provided we watch our portion sizes and get sufficient exercise as well.
Everyone needs to know about the food pyramid. The Latino Nutrition Coalition provides a helpful food pyramid that explains the basic healthful food groups. As reported by MSNBC in May of 2007 the Latino Nutrition Coalition is part of a drive to help Latinos recognize the dangers of acculturation and the negative impact this has on their eating habits. It highlighted that obesity rates are soaring, with the rate almost doubling between 1991 and 2001, with Latinos twice as likely to have diabetes, and a growing number of studies are finding that poor eating habits increase with the length of time a person has lived in the US.
The basics of the food pyramid and good nutrition as consumed by many originally from Latin America is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, tubers(family of potato like vegetables), beans and nuts. The middle of the Latin food pyramid would be a serving of fish, shell fish or poultry; plant oils (soy, corn, olive oil) and a serving of dairy. These are foods that should be eaten daily, in the appropriate portion sizes. At the top of the pyramid should be red meats, sweets eggs, luxuries consumed only at special meals. These foods should be consumed weekly.
The recommended size for a portion of red meat is about the size of a deck of cards. A good way to imagine your plate is to serve ½ with vegetables and fruit, ¼ with protein (fish, beans, poultry, nuts, meat) and the remaining ¼ with grains, starches, or potatoes. Along with 6 glasses of water a day and physical exercise will round out habits for good health. These are the basics for healthy eating and proper nutrition according to the Mayo Clinic.
This trend toward less healthy eating patterns can be reversed according to John Foreyt, director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center and Bayor College of Medicine; "…it's about getting back to the old ways and maintaining their culture, rather than shifting to something else. It's not just a diet, but the Latino lifestyle-eating with your family, eating home cooked meals."
Swapping Gold for Trinkets and Beads
The obvious question is, if the Latin diet is so much healthier then why the escalating epidemic of obesity and its' attendant consequences? One aspect has to do with acculturation. By acculturation we mean the slow but steady adoption of most things American, the highly processed food, the more sedentary lifestyle, the values and norms of the American way of life. The US Department of Agriculture commented in a 2000 study that acculturation erodes the diet quality of US Hispanics. When examining the diet of less acculturated Hispanics it noted that they eat somewhat more healthful diets than their more acculturated Hispanic counterparts. Despite economic disadvantages in some cases, Spanish speakers eat healthier diets than do non Hispanic whites and Hispanic English speakers.
Another factor is the disproportionate number of Latinos living in low-income neighborhoods that tend to promote unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. They have limited access to healthy food options and have to travel further to find the well stocked supermarkets or local produce markets. In these neighborhoods there is no shortage of fast food outlets and small corner stores with limited variety. To factor in also is the absence of safe playgrounds, parks and recreational facilities along with pedestrian friendly streets. All of this makes it a challenge to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The role of advertising
Hispanics have made a major impact on US culture and their spending patterns have not gone unnoticed by the food industry. Kellogg's the nations dominant cereal maker is boosting its marketing to Latinos by more than 60%, according to MSNBC in May 2006. The result of this target marketing is in the numbers, the Latino consumer dollars spent on cereals in 2005 grew by 2.4% meanwhile the rest of the US populations market share grew only 0.6% for the same period. The same report continued to show that Hispanics are outpacing their counterparts purchasing unhealthy groceries. The soft drink industry is targeting the flavor preferences of the US Latino population. The same figures show the growth in 2005 sales of carbonated soft drinks grew 2.3% compared to 1.4 % for non-Hispanics. In other words Latinos spent almost twice as much on carbonated soft drinks than any other sector of the population. The trend continues with salty snacks, granola bars, beer, sports drinks, energy drinks. In all of these areas Hispanics are spending more each year, and many times almost double that of white non Hispanics. Here in lies part of the issue, the move away from the traditional Latin diet to the fast, convenient, unhealthy, high sugar, high salt, low nutrient diet, in other words trinkets and beads.
The value of hanging on to previous values and food traditions and being selective about the type of food we consume is vital for good health. We are bombarded by advertising of food and beverage that has little real value and it takes concerted effort to stick to time honored family traditions of cooking well balanced more healthful foods, but it's worth its weight in gold.