Health Studies

Loss of Traditional Mexican Diet Linked with Poor Nutrition

Obesity prevalence among U.S. immigrant children, particularly those from Mexico, is high, so researchers are trying to understand how diet plays a role. Pennsylvania researchers analyzed the diet quality of Mexican immigrant mothers and their children across multiple generations. They found that first generation American children were more likely to abandon their traditional Mexican diet for more American foods (like fast food and highly processed foods), significantly lowering the nutritional quality of their diet. This suggests that encouraging families to cook with traditional ingredients, and encouraging retailers and farms to offer these traditional ingredients, may be a good strategy to improve the health of immigrant populations.
Social Science & Medicine. 2015 Dec 21;150:212-220. (Dondero M et al.)

Traditional Mexican Diet Linked with Better Inflammation, Blood Sugar Control

Researchers in Seattle created a Mexican Diet Score to assess how traditional Mexican diets are related to insulin resistance and inflammation. Higher Mexican Diet Scores indicate eating more traditional Mexican foods, such as corn tortillas, beans, soup, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and Mexican cheese, and lower levels of added sugars, refined grains, and added fats. In a study of nearly 500 healthy, post-menopausal women of Mexican descent, the researchers found that those most closely following a traditional Mexican diet had 23% lower levels of hsCRP (a measure of inflammation), and 15% lower insulin levels (indicating healthy blood sugar regulation) than those not following a traditional Mexican diet. In the overweight and obese women, a low Mexican diet score was also linked with higher insulin resistance. The researchers concluded that “greater adherence to traditional Mexican diets… could be beneficial in reducing the risk of obesity-related systemic inflammation and insulin resistance for women of Mexican descent.”
The Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Dec;145(12):2732-40. (Santiago-Torres M et al.)

Leafy Greens Can Keep Your Brain Young

It is no secret that green vegetables are some of the healthiest foods for our bodies, but new research shows that they are also good for our brains. Researchers in Chicago and Boston analyzed the eating patterns and cognitive abilities of over 950 older adults for an average of five years. The scientists found a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline for people who ate more green leafy vegetables (like spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens). In fact, people who ate just one to two servings of leafy greens per day had the cognitive ability of a person 11 years younger than those who ate none.

Presentation at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology. Boston MA. March 30, 2015.

Avocados Help Lower Cholesterol

Avocados are the perfect example of how delicious healthy eating can be! Researchers assigned 45 overweight and obese adults to one of three cholesterol lowering diets: a lower fat (24% calories from fat) diet, a moderate fat (34% calories from fat) diet with one avocado per day, and a moderate fat (34% calories from fat) diet with sunflower and canola oils. Those on the avocado diet lowered their “bad cholesterol” significantly more than those on the other diets. Additionally, the avocado group was the only group to significantly decrease LDL particle number (a risk factor for heart disease) and improve the ratio of LDL to HDL (the gap between “bad” and “good” cholesterol). 
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2015 Jan 7 (Wang L et al.).

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.)

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