making the smart choice healthy eating
By Ashley Cisneros

nutrition-preventionBad nutrition plays a key role in the development of chronic conditions that plague Latinos today. In fact, a big threat to Hispanics is obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, Hispanic Americans are 1.2 times as likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic Whites. Reducing obesity means lower risk for diabetes and heart disease.

When registered and licensed dietitian Diana Romano was hired to be the Latino family and consumer educator at the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, she knew she had her work cut out for her. Romano began visiting churches, hospitals and community centers to teach Latino families about nutrition to optimize health and satisfy hunger.

“One area of improvement for many Hispanic families is the consumption of too many starches such as white rice, potatoes, tortillas and pastas,” Romano says. “Instead of three pieces of bread in the morning, we should eat just one, and it should be whole wheat. Instead of eight tortillas, we should decrease to one.”

A healthy diet must include a variety of whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables and fruits. Romano recommends steering clear of diets that are restricted to just one type of food. “Dieticians wouldn’t recommend a diet based on just two or three fruits, and anything in excess can be bad for you,” she says. “Companies may try to sell you expensive products claiming to have vitamins, but if you eat your fruits and vegetables you can get the nutrients you need naturally.”

Healthy Relationships with Food

“Good health outcomes are not based on genetics, but on the choices we make,” says Dr. Jane L. Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and author of The Buena Saladâ„¢ Guide Book. “Hispanics actually live longer than non-Hispanic whites and even though we are overweight and we have diabetes, we actually have less heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. But we’re still not as healthy as we could be.”

For positive changes, it is necessary to rethink our relationship with food, specifically what Delgado calls the three Ps: Pleasure, Portion, and Process. “Pleasure means that we eat because we have taste buds and want to eat foods we like, and those that are good for us. That means that we should not eat simply because we’re nervous or depressed,” she states. “Portion means that we are aware of food labels and how much we eat, process refers to the process by which this food gets onto your plate, the less process there is, the better.”

Small Steps Lead to Giant Leaps

Latinos can do simple things to eat healthier. Romano, Delgado, Portillo and Achecar offer tips for moving toward a healthier lifestyle.

GRAINS ARE GOOD – Choose whole grain cereals and breads that offer fiber and help decrease cholesterol and sugar in the blood.

EAT YOUR VEGGIES – Aim for two cups of fruit and two cups of vegetables per day. Fiber, minerals and vitamins from veggies can help prevent diabetes and heart disease. Fill up half of your plate with vegetables and eat them as snacks.

CONSUME LOW FAT DAIRY – To decrease fat and cholesterol, drink 2 percent milk and eat low fat organic yogurt and cheese.

KEEP MEATS LEAN – Choose the leanest meats, eat chicken without the skin, and limit overall red meat. Limit egg intake to one a day.

BEANS ARE THE BEST – Beans are staples of the Latino diet. Not only are they delicious, but are an excellent source of fiber, iron, protein and carbohydrates, among other nutrients.

KNOW YOUR COLORS – Eat colorful veggies and fruits, and choose brown over white. For example, eat brown rice and whole wheat bread rather than white rice and white bread. White also means avoiding salt, sugar, fat and sodium.

YES TO FRUIT, LESS TO JUICE – Savor actual fruits rather than fruit juice because the fruit has less sugar and the fiber that juice doesn’t have. Add a piece of fruit to breakfast to start your day.

GO NATURAL – Avoid buying fake food and food that isn’t naturally fat free.

ENJOY EATING Do you love to eat? Well, then truly love it. Be thoughtful about eating, don’t rush, taste your food, and enjoy time with your family.

COOK SMART – Avoid cooking foods in lard or lots of oil.

DRINK SMART – Avoid drinking sugary beverages and limit alcohol. Drink more water.

GET PHYSICAL – Pump up with cardio, stretch and do strength training for weight maintenance, cardiovascular benefits, muscle strengthening and stress relief..

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