Healthy choices in traditional cultural diets

CRS Q/A Question: Hopefully you have a unique perspective. Given the rapidly changing demographic profile of Texas specifically, and the US in general (namely significantly increasing Hispanic population), how do you approach the importance of the lifestyle modification (specifically dietary) of the high fat, high simple carbohydrate, traditional cultural diet?

Because I am not a dietitian, I asked Evelyn Arteche, RD, to answer this one! Evelyn is based in New Jersey, where she works with people who have diabetes. She is also a student in the online Master of Science in Diabetes Education and Management at Teachers College Columbia University!

Here is Evelyn’s response:

The best way I can summarize how to approach this question is with a quote by Theodore Roosevelt – “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (retrieved from here).

In order to engage the Hispanic population and help them find motivation to take better care of themselves through lifestyle changes, we must absolutely tap into their emotional center and we must be genuinely caring and authentic. Hispanic people value warm and personal relationships with their health care providers. Like Theodore Roosevelt said, they want to know that you care more than they want to know what you know.

Culture is key for Hispanic people; basing your recommendations around their culture is essential. For example, in Puerto Rico, dancing is a very significant way that a variety of occasions, such as birthdays and Christmas Eve, are celebrated, and therefore recommending dance or Zumba as a form of exercise may actually increase their excitement to be more active.

Family is also highly valued in this population, so suggesting healthy lifestyle changes that not only benefit them, but also their family members, may help to motivate the Hispanic individual, especially if they include their family in the changes they make.

Heritage is important to Hispanics and traditions are usually passed down from one generation to the next. Let them know that they do not have to lose their heritage, such as traditional foods they love and grew up with. Instead they can make simple changes in how they prepare foods, or watch their portion sizes. Using the plate method, where half their plate contains non-starchy vegetables, can encourage healthy eating habits. A 3-4 ounce serving of lean protein, preferably not fried, or plant-based protein, and the remaining ¼ of their plate dedicated to starch, preferably whole grain, make a well-balanced meal.

The point is to present it in a way that lets them know that, yes, they can still enjoy the foods they love by preparing them in a healthful way, watching their portion sizes, and including lots of vegetables. This way the starchy foods do not dominate the meal. With a little care, they can adopt a healthy lifestyle and ultimately improve their health.

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