Insights from a Dietitian: Debunking 3 Hispanic Nutrition MythsJanuary 24, 2024
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Insights from a Dietitian: Debunking 3 Hispanic Nutrition Myths: Born in Puerto Rico, of Puerto Rican parents, under a Hispanic influence all my life, even though I was raised in the United States with my parents that are Puerto Rican, I have a unique perspective as a Registered Dietitian on the nutritional and health aspects, thoughts, and implications of our culture and its health views.
Trust me when I tell you, that I also love all typical Hispanic foods,”arroz con gandules, pernil, pasteles, arepas, platano maduros, and mofongo”, however, know that we can continue to enjoy these foods in our culture as long as we understand how to properly include them in a healthy and nutritious way.
As a bilingual Registered Dietitian specializing in weight loss, bariatrics, and diabetes, especially with the Hispanic population, I often hear many health and nutrition myths shared among many of my patients. In this article, I will share with you 3 common nutrition and health myths and explain why they are false and how we can start learning to change our thought process to better our health as a culture.
3 Hispanic Nutrition Myths
MYTH: Sugar causes diabetes
FACT: Sugar does NOT cause diabetes.
Many of my Hispanic patients still believe this myth. It is important to understand that just consuming sugar or sugar in foods does not cause diabetes. While excessive sugar intake can contribute to weight gain and obesity, which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes, it's crucial to understand that various factors play a role in diabetes development. Genetics, overall diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors are equally important contributors. However, know that diabetes does affect Hispanics and Latino people more.
US adults overall have a 40% chance of developing type 2 diabetes but if you’re a Hispanic or Latino adult, your chance is more than 50%, and you’re likely to develop it at a younger age.
There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body does not produce insulin, and its development is not linked to sugar intake. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes, which is more closely associated with lifestyle factors, genetics, and obesity, involves insulin resistance, where the body's cells do not respond effectively to insulin.
A balanced diet that includes moderate amounts of sugar, along with a focus on whole foods, fiber, and a healthy lifestyle, can help manage and prevent type 2 diabetes. It's essential to consider a broader variety in the selection of food choices, portion sizes, and lifestyle choices, rather than pinpointing sugar as the sole reason in diabetes development.
MYTH: “Gordito” (“Chubby”) is “healthy”
FACT: Being overweight or chubby is NOT a sign of health.
It's important to address a common myth that being overweight in childhood is a sign of health, particularly in the Hispanic community. Hispanic children are the most numerous and have the highest rate of obesity among boys and second highest among girls. It's crucial to understand that excess weight in children, even if it’s ‘cute’, can have significant health implications for the long-term. Childhood obesity is linked to an increased risk of developing serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Promoting a healthy weight for your children doesn't mean compromising your cultural values, but rather ensuring their long-term well-being.
Encouraging nutritious eating habits, proper food choices, smaller portions, more non-starchy vegetables, regular physical activity, and a positive body image is essential. Embracing a more comprehensive approach to health can contribute to your child's overall happiness, self-esteem, and future quality of life.
MYTH: Lettuce and tomato are garnishes on our plate.
FACT: Lettuce and tomato are considered non-starchy vegetables and should make up a significant portion of your plate, ideally around half.
Some of us within the Hispanic community may view lettuce and tomatoes primarily as garnishes, rather than considering them as the priority of a meal. It's essential to recognize that the nutritional value of vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes or other non-starchy vegetables, goes beyond their role as garnishes. These vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, contributing to better health and nutrition.
As a Registered Dietitian and Hispanic myself, we have to change the way we make our plate to include more non-starchy vegetables on half our plate, instead of including so many starchy vegetables, like plantains, potatoes, corn, and pumpkin.
With small changes or slowly adjusting your plate to include more non-starchy vegetables, you will be making a positive change to help improve overall health, weight, and decrease the risk of different health conditions.
ABOUT THE AUTHORJoan Z Cornier, RDN, LDN, CDCES, also known as FaceTime Dietitian, is a Bilingual Virtual Registered Dietitian and also a Certified Diabetes Care Education Specialist. In the last nearly 10 years, she has had the honor to have helped nearly 3,500 bariatric patients in their weight loss journey. She works closely with many bariatric surgeons in Florida and Georgia educating their patients to be successful before, during, and after bariatric surgery. She offers practical, realistic, and culturally sensitive nutrition advice in both English and Spanish.