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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.)

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.)

Cheese Linked with Positive Microbiome Changes & Markers of Disease Prevention

Dairy foods are most often prized for their calcium content, but new research reveals that changes to the gut microbiome, especially from eating fermented dairy products, like cheese, might help explain the “French Paradox,” the phenomenon in which traditional cheeses are linked with low rates of heart disease. In a small study to investigate the protective effect of dairy foods, Danish scientists randomly assigned 15 healthy men to one of three diets for two weeks: a diet with lots of partly skim (1.5%) milk, a diet with lots of semi-hard cow’s cheese, or a control diet with butter, but no other dairy products. Both the milk and cheese diets had the same amount of calcium per day (1.7g). The men rotated through each diet, with a two-week washout period in between each new diet group. Compared to the control diet, both the cheese and milk diets were associated with significantly lower production of TMAO, a compound that is thought to be a marker of heart disease risk. The researchers also found that “dairy consumption, especially cheese, can beneficially modify the gut microbiota to increase SFCA levels.” SFCAs (short chain fatty acids) are compounds produced by gut bacteria that are linked with many health promoting effects, such as lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory diseases.  
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2015 Mar 18;63(10):2830-9 (Zheng H et al).

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]

Tailored Nutrition Education May Help Latin American Community Purchase Healthier Foods

Diabetes disproportionally affects the Latin American community, so researchers are eager to see which programs are most effective at improving nutrition and preventing chronic disease. In this study of 20 Spanish-speaking, low-income families, Boston researchers led an interactive nutrition education program (which included a supermarket tour and 3-5 home visits). Upon analyzing grocery receipts before and after the program, the researchers found that total calories and calories per dollar were lower than before the intervention, challenging the argument that healthy foods are too expensive. The researchers conclude that “focusing on food shopping practices is an important area within nutrition education among low-income, Spanish-speaking individuals,” and that “the current healthcare system could benefit from family- and community-based interventions.”
American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013 Mar;44(3 Suppl 3):S267-73. (Cortes DE et al.)

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.)

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