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Latin American, Asian, and African Heritage Diets Include Healthy Food Traditions

The Mediterranean diet is widely studied and promoted, yet research on traditional cuisines from other corners of the globe have not been investigated to the same extent. In this perspective article, researchers highlight the key elements of traditional Latin American, Asian, and African heritage diets and their link with nutrition and health outcomes. Because one diet does not fit all, this research also highlights how Oldways’ heritage diet pyramids illustrate the substantial variation of foods and flavors that exist within these broader eating patterns.
Adv Nutr. 2024 Apr 9:100221. doi: 10.1016/j.advnut.2024.100221. (LeBlanc KE et al.)

Traditional Latin American Diet Linked with Lower Blood Pressure

As people abandon their traditional diets for a Western diet of fast food and sugary treats, nutrition is often compromised. In this study, researchers analyzed the diets and blood pressure readings of 4,626 people living in the Southern Cone of Latin America (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay). Two common dietary patterns emerged: a traditional diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, seafood, and nuts; and a Western diet based on red and processed meat, dressings, sweets, snacks, and refined grains. Those most closely following a traditional Latin American diet were significantly more likely to have lower blood pressure than those following a Western diet.
Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2021 Oct 7;S0939-4753(21)00437-3. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2021.08.048. (Defagó M D et al.)

Eating Traditional Mexican Foods Linked with More Sleep, Less Snoring

As people abandon traditional diets for sugary, fatty Western diets, health can suffer, so researchers wonder if traditional eating might be related to sleep health as well. In a study of 100 Mexican American adults in Arizona, those who reported eating traditional Mexican foods more often were more likely to get 1.41 more hours of sleep per night and were less likely to report snoring than those who don’t eat traditional Mexican foods as often. However, eating traditional Mexican foods was not related to sleep quality, insomnia, or sleepiness.
BMC Nutrition. 2021 Aug 23;7(1):53. doi: 10.1186/s40795-021-00452-0. Ghani SB et al.)

Whole Grain Intake in Latin America Falls Short of Recommendations

Dietary guidelines around the world recommend making more of our grains whole, and researchers wonder if people in different countries are meeting these goals. In a study of 9,128 people across eight Latin American countries, the average person was eating less than one full serving (only 14.7 grams) of whole grain foods per day. Women and older adults were more likely to eat more whole grains, while people with lower incomes were less likely to eat more whole grains. The most commonly eaten whole grains in the survey were oatmeal, masa harina, whole wheat bread, corn chips, and wheat crackers.
European Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Jul 7. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02635-8.

Church-Based Obesity Interventions May Help Improve Health

Faith-based institutions, including churches, can be great places to support people in their journey toward a healthier lifestyle. In a review of 43 articles on church-based obesity interventions, 81% of the studies reported significant improvements, although the effect sizes were small. Most of the studies were comprised of African American women, so more research is needed on the impact of church-based obesity interventions among other groups, such as men of color and Latinos. The authors conclude that “church-based interventions to address obesity will have greater impact if they consider the diversity among populations burdened by this condition and develop programs that are tailored to these different populations.”
Nutrition Reviews. 2019 Sep 20. pii: nuz046. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz046. (Flórez KR et al.)

Racial & Ethnic Minorities Carry Disproportionate Burden of Diabetes at Lower BMI

Being heavier for our stature (as measured by BMI) puts us at a higher risk of diabetes. In this study, researchers analyzed the prevalence of diabetes in nearly 5 million people. Hispanics, Asians, and Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders who were overweight had the same diabetes risk as whites, blacks, and Native Americans who were in the most obese tier (class 4 obesity). Further, they found that the link between BMI and diabetes is strongest in whites and lowest in blacks, indicating that other factors outside of overweight/obesity may increase diabetes risk in racial and ethnic minorities.
Diabetes Care.  2019 Sep 19. pii: dc190532. doi: 10.2337/dc19-0532. [Epub ahead of print] (Zhu Y et al.)

Tomato Sofrito Linked with Lower Inflammation

Sofrito is a sauce of tomatoes, onion, and olive oil, commonly eaten in Mediterranean cuisine. In a recent study, researchers investigated to potential health benefits of this sauce. A group of 22 healthy men were fed sofrito after following a low-antioxidant and tomato-free diet; blood and urine samples were taken before and after eating the sofrito. The researchers found a significant increase in the amount of carotenoids and polyphenols (healthy compounds with antioxidant properties) in the 24 hours after eating the sofrito; they also found that inflammation was significantly lower following the intervention. This result suggests that consumption of sofrito, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, may have anti-inflammatory health benefits.
Nutrients.  2019 Apr 15;11(4). pii: E851. doi: 10.3390/nu11040851. (Hurtado-Barroso S, et al.)

Culturally Relevant Foods are Important in Nutrition Assistance Programs

As part of a nutrition assistance program, 277 Mexican-heritage households in California’s Central Valley were given fruit and vegetable vouchers to spend at supermarkets. Researchers analyzed which fruits and vegetables were purchased with the vouchers to look for patterns. Fruits tended to be the most popular subgroup, while dark green and red-orange vegetables were less popular. They also found that “many of the most frequently purchased items were of cultural significance (tomatillo, chayote, chili/jalapeno pepper, and Mexican squash).” The researchers conclude that “food assistance programs should continue to include culturally important foods and be aware of the cultural values of their participants.”
Journal of Community Health. 2017 Oct;42(5):942-948. (Hanbury MM et al.)

Slow Cooking Sofrito with Onion Helps Improve Antioxidant Capacity

Nutrition researchers are shedding light on synergies that home cooks have intuitively known for centuries: that traditional food pairings and preparations can offer even greater benefits than the ingredients by themselves. Sofrito, a delicious tomato-based puree used in several Latin American, Caribbean, and Spanish soups, stews, and sauces, is one such example of a healthy food tradition. Simmering the sofrito slowly, over a longer period of time, and including an onion in the recipe are not just important for the development of flavor — researchers in Spain found that these steps actually improve the antioxidant capacity and bioavailability of the lycopene, a healthy plant compound found in tomatoes.
Food Research International. 2017 January 11. [Epub before print.] (Rinaldi de Alvarenga JF et al.)

Pulses May Help Aid Weight Loss

Dietary changes are a key target in obesity prevention programs, so many foods are being studied for their affect on body weight. To see if eating more pulses (the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) might help reduce obesity, researchers analyzed 21 randomized control trials looking at pulses’ role in weight, body fat, and waist circumference in overweight and obese adults. Diets that included dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference. There was a trend in reduction of body fat (-0.34%), but it was not significant as well. Overall, the researchers found that those eating about 1 serving of pulses per day lost, on average, about 0.75 pounds over six weeks. Not surprisingly, results were stronger in weight loss diets (3.8 pounds over 6 weeks) than weight maintenance diets (0.6 pounds over 6 weeks). Although the weight loss was small, this study indicates that a modest serving of pulses may help produce weight loss, even without cutting calories.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar 30. [Epub Ahead of Print] (Kim SJ et al.)

Culturally Tailored Lifestyle Program Improves Health of Hispanic Americans with Diabetes

Heritage is a powerful motivator for change, as healthy habits are most sustainable when they are culturally relevant, with the support  of friends and family. In this study, researchers recruited 36 adults with diabetes and their families to an 8-week culturally tailored diabetes education program (which integrated cultural foods, beliefs, and values) taught in Spanish. One month after the program ended, the participants showed significant improvements in systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading), fruit and vegetable intake, diabetes knowledge, and dietary management. Their family members also benefited from the program, with significant improvements in BMI and diabetes knowledge.
The Diabetes Educator. 2016 Mar 8. [Epub ahead of print.] (Hu J et al.)

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.)