Health Studies

Traditional Latin American Diet May Help Explain the Hispanic Paradox

Studies show that Hispanics live longer and have lower rates of heart disease than Non Hispanic Whites, despite a higher prevalence of risk factors for heart disease and mortality. This phenomenon has been dubbed the “Hispanic Paradox.” In a recent journal article, researchers suggest that the traditional Latin American diet may be a possible explanation for this relationship. Compared to the general U.S. population, Hispanics eat more legumes and fruit, foods known for their antioxidant activity and heart healthy properties. According to the researchers, another lifestyle factor that may have a protective effect on health is the high level of social and familial support in the Latin American culture.  
Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. 2014 September 4. Pii: S0033-0620(14)00133-9. [Epub ahead of print]

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Obesity in Costa Rica

Commercially available sugar-sweetened beverages have not been traditionally consumed as part of the Costa Rican diet.  Because of the rising obesity rates in Latin American countries, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health designed a study to determine the association between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and obesity in Hispanic adults in Costa Rica.  The study involved more than 2000 adults and compared sugar-sweetened beverage consumption to BMI and skinfold thickness.  Overall, higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with increased measures of adiposity and increased BMI in Costa Rican adults.
Public Health Nutrition, August 2012; 15(8): 1347-1354 (Rhee J et al.)

Binge Eating Disorder Increases with Migration

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health studied US and Mexican data on 2268 people. They divided the people into six groups, from Mexicans with no migrant family members all the way to second generation Mexican-Americans, and found that binge eating disorder affected 1.6% in Mexico and 2.2% in the U.S. They concluded that "migration from Mexico to the U.S. is associated with an increased risk" for Binge Eating Disorder.
Journal of Psychiatric Research. January 2012; 46(1):31-7. (Swanson et al.)

Obese Eat Fewer Fruits and Vegetables

The Health is Power (HIP) study was conducted in order to increase physical activity and improve the dietary habits in African American and Hispanic women in Texas.  HIP enrolled more than 400 women in a 5-year, multi-site study.  They found that obese women did not meet physical activity guidelines and consumed significantly fewer fruits and vegetables as compared to normal weight women regardless of ethnicity.
Journal of Community Health, December 2011; (Lee R et al.)

Mexican Diet Largely Lost in One Generation

Researchers at the University of North Carolina compared the diets of 5678 Mexicans, 1488 Mexican Americans born in Mexico, 3654 Mexican Americans born in the U.S., and 5473 non-Hispanic Americans. They found that the three groups in the U.S. ate more saturated fat, sugar, pizza, fries, meat, fish, high-fiber bread and low-fat milk and less low-fiber bread, tortillas, high-fat milk and Mexican fast food. Although acculturation had both positive and negative food elements, overall calories from unhealthy foods were higher in the U.S. and the influence of the Mexican diet was lost in one generation.
The Journal of Nutrition. October 2011; 141(10):1898-906. (Batis et al.)

Mexican-American Diets and Duration Living in US

Literature suggests that increased duration of residence in the US causes Mexican-Americans to adopt a more “Western” diet, which has been associated with weight gain and elevated risk of chronic disease.  Northeastern University researchers conducted a study to determine the effect of duration of residence and nativity in the US on the diet patterns of Mexican-Americans.  Using the Food Frequency Questionnaire data from 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the study compared the healthfulness of the diet patterns of US born and Mexican born Mexican-Americans.  It concluded that Mexican Americans generally do not adhere to healthy dietary practices and have dietary patterns that are associated with higher mean intakes of fat, carbohydrates and sugars.  This was especially true for US born Mexican Americans.
Journal of the American Dietetics Association, October 2011; 111:1563-1569 (Sofianou A et al.)

Sleep Quality Drops with Latino Acculturation

Sleep duration and quality can affect health, so scientists at the Cleveland Clinic set out to compare sleep patterns in 1046 Mexican Americans (620 born in Mexico and the rest in the U.S.) with 5160 non Hispanic Americans. The Mexico-born immigrants had the healthiest sleep patterns, and increased acculturation (measured by English spoken at home rather than Spanish) correlated to an increased risk of poor sleep.
Sleep. August 1, 2011; 34(8):1021-31 (Seicean et al.)

Body Image Among Latinas and African-American Women

University of Houston researchers surveyed 262 African American women and 148 Latinas to determine their actual weight and their perceived weight. In this group of middle-aged (mean 45.2 yrs), educated (44% college graduates) and obese (mean BMI 34.6) women, most women did not perceive normal weight as desirable. In fact, of those who were normal weight, 73.9% of African-Americans and 42.9% of Latinas desired to be obese.
Ethnicity and Disease. Summer 2011; 21(3):281-7. (Mama et. al.)

Latinas' Dietary Preferences and Beliefs on Healthy Foods

Dietary beliefs and preferences differ drastically across ethnic groups.  Smith College researchers conducted a study to determine the preferences and beliefs regarding healthy foods in 345 female Hispanic immigrants living in the New York City area.  The study found that the participants generally believed that their diets were healthier in their countries of origin where they were able to consume fresher foods free of processing and preservatives.  The participants indicated that they are unable to consume the foods they prefer in the United States due to the food environment here and attribute their weight gain or illness to their dietary changes.
Social Science and Medicine, July 2011; 73:13-21 (Park Y et al.)

 

Health Benefits of Traditional Latino Diets

Brazilian scientists carried out a comprehensive review of historic diets native to different parts of Central and South America, and of recent research that sheds light on their protective effects. Benefits of traditional, largely plant-based Latino diets included lower cholesterol, lower diabetes risk, lower blood pressure, and other benefits.
Clinics, 2010; 65(1):1049-54 (Navarro et al.)

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