Bad nutrition plays a key role in the development of chronic conditions that plague Latinos today. In fact, a big threat to Hispanics is obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, Hispanic Americans are 1.2 times as likely to be obese than Non- Hispanic Whites. Reducing obesity means lower risk for diabetes and heart disease.
When registered and licensed dietitian Diana Romano was hired to be the Latino family and consumer educator at the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, she knew she had her work cut out for her. Romano began visiting churches, hospitals and community centers to teach Latino families about nutrition to optimize health and satisfy hunger.
“One area of improvement for many Hispanic families is the consumption of too many starches such as white rice, potatoes, tortillas and pastas,” Romano says. “Instead of three pieces of bread in the morning, we should eat just one, and it should be whole wheat. Instead of eight tortillas, we should decrease to one.”
While carbohydrates from grains offer energy, eating too many carbs can result in extra energy that leads to weight gain. Nevertheless, Romano stresses the importance of eating more produce, especially since “fruits and veggies offer essential vitamins and minerals for the hair, eyes, skin, gums and nails,” she says.
For families who are concerned about the rising prices of produce, Romano suggests buying in-season fruits and vegetables and comparing prices at farmers’ markets. “Fast food that seems cheaper than fresh produce is really more expensive in the long run when you consider what it will cost your body and health,” Romano says. “You may have to spend more on healthy food now to avoid the expenses of doctor bills, medicines for preventable diseases and missed wages from work later.”
A healthy diet must include a variety of whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables and fruits. Romano recommends steering clear of diets that are restricted to just one type of food. “Dieticians wouldn’t recommend a diet based on just two or three fruits, and anything in excess can be bad for you,” she says. “Companies may try to sell you expensive products claiming to have vitamins, but if you eat your fruits and vegetables you can get the nutrients you need naturally.”
Romano says that even people with diabetes can enjoy fruits in moderation. “A long time ago they used to say that the grapes, apples, bananas and pineapples were not good for diabetics, but research shows that they are not a problem if you consume in small portions,” Romano says. “It’s good to eat these with a protein like a small piece of cheese. Always consult your doctor.”
Healthy Relationships with Food
“Good health outcomes are not based on genetics, but on the choices we make,” says Dr. Jane L. Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and author of The Buena Salad™ Guide Book. “Hispanics actually live longer than non-Hispanic whites and even though we are overweight and we have diabetes, we actually have less heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. But we’re still not as healthy as we could be.”
For positive changes, it is necessary to rethink our relationship with food, specifically what Delgado calls the three Ps: Pleasure, Portion, and Process. “Pleasure means that we eat because we have taste buds and want to eat foods we like, and those that are good for us. That means that we should not eat simply because we’re nervous or depressed,” she states. “Portion means that we are aware of food labels and how much we eat, process refers to the process by which this food gets onto your plate, the less process there is, the better.”
According to Delgado, people can’t have an addiction to food, but rather cravings. “A lot of processed foods are made so that they will specifically kick in those cravings, and make you want to indulge in things which aren’t good for you,” she says.
In addition to understanding what to eat and what to avoid, it’s also important to understand your body. For example, not all fat is bad. “Fat in your body not something that you can just cut out, but it’s really part of your endocrine system,” Delgado says. “There is good fat and bad fat, and it has very important functions and hormones related to it.”
Body mass index (BMI) measures body fat based on weight and height, but Delgado argues that it is a rough estimate. More important is the waist to hip ratio. She wants women to have realistic expectations about what their bodies should look like and can look like. “Women should never compare themselves to men because we have different chemistry and hormones,” Delgado explains
Cooking the Healthy Way
Los Angeles-based Chef Denise Portillo knows firsthand how challenging it can be to balance professional responsibilities and motherhood. A nutrition expert, Portillo creates delicious, healthy and affordable recipes for La Salud en Tu Cocina, an initiative developed by kitchenware company TUCOCINA that encourages Hispanic families to eat healthier and get back around the dinner table.
Portillo teaches daughter Sophia how to take baked chicken leftovers and make tarragon chicken salad on wheat bread, chicken enchiladas or chicken salad. According to Portillo, eating more veggies and watching portions are two keys to improved health. “You should only eat as much as in your hand. This is about six ounces of a protein, four ounces of vegetables and four ounces of starch,” Portillo suggests. “Eat that, plus nutritious snacking between, and you’re not going to need to get seconds of everything.”
Preparing a nutritious meal doesn’t have to be hard. For example, Portillo recommends using a steam pot to prepare halibut. Season your halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. Add water to the bottom of the pot with a bit of lemon and a fresh herb. Cover up the pot with a lid and steam the fish, cut zucchini and onion into thin strips and sauté them in some olive oil. Throw in some cilantro at the end.
To make healthy food taste great, Portillo recommends having bay leaves, lemon pepper, oregano, thyme, chili flakes and kosher salt handy in your kitchen.
Puerto Rican-born, Ivy league-educated founder of Eco-Rico.com and EcoRico TV, Giselle Achecar learned how to cook with her mami and abuela, and uses her creative instincts in the kitchen.
Achecar is passionate about using the most organic and healthy ingredients, and uses foods at their peak with Latin flavor. To eat more organically, Achecar recommends getting rid of the Dirty Dozen and buying the Clean 15.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual guide of the cleanest and dirtiest food and vegetables based on data from nearly 89,000 tests for pesticide residues in produce. “The ones that you absolutely want to buy organic are the Dirty Dozen. The ones you don’t need to buy organic are the Clean 15,” Achecar explains. “For example, it’s important to buy celery organic, because it has no skin that you peel away. My rule of thumb is that if it has a thin skin or no skin, buy it organic.”
The Dirty Dozen are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale/collard greens, potatoes and imported grapes. “Red bell peppers are packed with antioxidants and potassium. One cup of red bell pepper packs 317 percent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C and 93 percent your RDA of vitamin,” Achecar says. “Bell peppers are so good for you, but you have to buy them organic.”
“One cup of fresh spinach has 200 percent of RDA of vitamin K, which is good for your bones and is especially important to women and their bone health,” Achecar says. “Spinach is rich in beta carotene, lutine, and flavanoids.”
She suggests preparing spinach with extra virgin olive oil because the healthy fat increases the absorption rate for the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Adding avocado can also enhance the absorption of beta carotene. What’s more, avocado, along with arugula and pine nuts are all aphrodisiacs.
Using Social Media to Prevent Diabetes
“It is estimated that one out of every two Latino children born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime,” says Andreina Millan-Ferro, a dietitian who serves as the patient education and clinical outcomes coordinator at the Latino Diabetes Initiative at the Joslin Diabetes Center.
The Latino Diabetes Initiative at Joslin was launched at Joslin in July 2002 to establish a culturally appropriate diabetes care and education program for patients, conduct research and professional education about Latinos and diabetes, and raise awareness about this problem in the U.S.
Joslin’s Latino Initiative has contributed to the development of a bilingual Facebook game called HealthSeeker™ Explorando tu Salud, Paso a Paso. The game encourages players to enlist Facebook ‘Friends’ as sources of inspiration and ongoing encouragement in improving their understanding and management of diabetes. “Patients with diabetes or individuals who want to prevent diabetes can play these kinds of games to find ways to become healthier, not only from eating healthier, but also exercise,” Millan-Ferro says. The HealthSeeker™ game is available at http://apps.facebook.com/healthseeker/.
Small Steps Lead to Giant Leaps
Latinos can do simple things to eat healthier. Romano, Delgado, Portillo and Achecar offer tips for moving toward a healthier lifestyle.
GRAINS ARE GOOD – Choose whole grain cereals and breads that offer fiber and help decrease cholesterol and sugar in the blood.
EAT YOUR VEGGIES – Aim for two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables per day. Fiber, minerals and vitamins from veggies can help prevent diabetes and heart disease. Fill up half of your plate with vegetables and eat them as snacks.
CONSUME LOW FAT DAIRY– To decrease fat and cholesterol, drink 2 percent milk and eat low fat organic yogurt and cheese.
KEEP MEATS LEAN – Choose the leanest meats, eat chicken without the skin, and limit overall red meat. Limit egg intake to one a day.
BEANS ARE THE BEST – Beans are staples of the Latino diet. Not only are they delicious, but are an excellent source of fiber, iron, protein and carbohydrates, among other nutrients.
KNOW YOUR COLORS – Eat colorful veggies and fruits, and choose brown over white. For example, eat brown rice and whole wheat bread rather than white rice and white bread. White also means avoiding salt, sugar, fat and sodium.
YES TO FRUIT, LESS TO JUICE – Savor actual fruits rather than fruit juice because the fruit has less sugar and the fiber that juice doesn’t have. Add a piece of fruit to breakfast to start your day.
GO NATURAL – Avoid buying fake food and food that isn’t naturally fat free.
ENJOY EATING – Do you love to eat? Well, then truly love it. Be thoughtful about eating, don’t rush, taste your food, and enjoy time with your family.
COOK SMART – Avoid cooking foods in lard or lots of oil.
DRINK SMART – Avoid drinking sugary beverages and limit alcohol. Drink more water.
GET PHYSICAL – Pump up with cardio, stretch and do strength training for weight maintenance, cardiovascular benefits, muscle strengthening and stress relief.
The following Federal Government resources provide reliable, science based information on nutrition and physical activity, as well as an evolving array of tools to facilitate Americans’ adoption of healthy choices.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dietary Guidelines fo 010.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans: http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov
MyPyramid.gov: http: //www.mypyramid.gov/
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov
Food and Nutrition Service: http://www.fns.usda.gov
Food and Nutrition Information Center: http://fnic.nal.usda.gov
National Institute of Food and Agriculture: http://www.nifa.usda.gov/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: http://odphp.osophs.dhhs.gov
Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov
National Institutes of Health: http://www.nih.gov
Let’s Move!: http://www.letsmove.gov
Healthy People: http://www.healthypeople.gov
U.S. National Physical Activity Plan: http://www.physicalactivityplan.org
Ashley Cisneros is a co-founder of Chatter Buzz Media, an Orlando Internet marketing firm that helps companies and organizations engage with their target markets through inbound marketing via the Internet. Chatter Buzz Media, which won the Social Madness competition for the Orlando small business market, is a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in website design, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and content creation. Prior to founding Chatter Buzz, Ashley worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, technical writer, marketing manager, public relations practitioner and freelance journalist. To see Ashley’s content writing, visit www.ashleycisneros.com. You can also reach Ashley on her Google profile.