Today’s post comes from Araceli Vázquez, MS, RD, LD. Vázquez is one of the few bilingual/bicultural dietitians in North Texas. She began her career in nutrition in 1996 after a successful career as a microbiologist and now offers nutrition counseling as part of her private practice, DietGenics. Vázquez is also a member of ENC’s Health Professional Advisor panel.
The Hispanic population in the United States is currently over 54.1 million and, according to the U.S. Census bureau data, is expected to reach 59.7 million (17.8% of the total population in the U.S.) by 2020, making Hispanics the nation’s second-largest racial or ethnic group. 1,2
In celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, we explore how Hispanic traditions are influencing national consumptions patterns and how, in turn, Hispanic dietary patterns are transformed by the process of acculturation. Eating patterns of Hispanics in the U.S. are influenced by their country of origin, customs, religion, family traditions and socio-economic status, and many families still maintain their traditional flavors and meal customs. One of the categories where Hispanics are influencing consumption is at breakfast, where the preferred carbohydrates include non-toasted bread and cold cereal, while eggs constitute the most common source of protein. Dinner is also being influenced by Hispanic patterns. Rice, which is consumed more by Hispanics than non-Hispanics, is now increasingly being included as a side dish by the overall population.3 Hispanics tend to seek the fruits they are accustomed to consuming in their native countries. The increased demand, and in turn increased availability, allows the overall population as well to access and enjoy more tropical fruits. Supermarkets, in particular, offer greater availability of fruits such as guava, mangos and papaya, which are not only delicious but also nutritious; these fruits are excellent sources of Vitamins A and C and other nutrients. 4
Acculturation of eating patterns, however, comes with both benefits and consequences. The reciprocal influence between Hispanic and American cuisines has been found to alter the diet as well as the eating behaviors of the Hispanic population leading to both positive and negative associations with healthy dietary patterns. For instance, while acculturation has led the Hispanic population to consume fewer refined carbohydrates such as white bread, it has also led them to lower their consumption of legumes (an important source of protein in the Hispanic diet), fruits and non-starchy vegetables. In addition, acculturation is also associated with a more sedentary lifestyle.5
Adaption of U.S. cultural practices while maintaining the core of Hispanic traditions needs further understanding, so as to combine the healthiest habits of both cultures. This could result in closing the gap in health disparities. After all, everyone wants to move in the direction of a healthier lifestyle and reduce the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are more prevalent in the Hispanic population.
1Pew Research Center 11 facts for National Hispanic Heritage month: http://www.pewrearsh.org/fact. Accessed September16, 2014.
2U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2011. Accessed September 16, 2014.
3Hispanics’ Growing Number and Eating Traditions Begin to Influence Country’s Overall Eating Patterns. NPD Reports. Accessed September 16, 2014.https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases
4Thomas R, Gebhardt S. Tropical fruits and nectars typically consumed in Latino communities are excellent sources of Vit A, C, and other nutrients. USDA website.http://www.ars.usda.gov/Articles/ADA2009. Accessed September 16, 2014.
5Rompay V, Mckeown N, Casteneda-Sceppa C, et al. Acculturation and sociocultural influences on dietary intake and health status among Puerto Rican adults in Massachusetts. J Acad Nutri Diet. 2012;112(1):64-74.