By: Dr. Julian Alfaro, medical doctor graduated from the University of Montemorelos, Nuevo Leon, currently he serves as a representative of Molina Healthcare in New Mexico
Obesity in Latinos is a growing epidemic in the United States. According to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, a Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report (RWJF), twelve states have obesity rates of more than 30 percent, whereas four years ago there was only one state with obesity rates that high. The rate of obesity has grown in New Mexico as well, doubling over the past 15 years, from 11.6 percent to 25.6 percent.
More specifically, the Latino population in New Mexico has an obesity rate of 30.7 percent, according to F as in Fat. Socioeconomic status and lack of safe recreational areas in communities contribute to the prevalence of obesity among Latinos. As a Latino, I know firsthand that our culture and traditional foods can play a role.
Traditional Latino meals consist of meats in large portions and fats, making us more likely to become overweight or obese. Although they taste great, these foods can also be hazardous to our health. We can make modifications that foster our customs for ourselves and our families, while living a healthy lifestyle.
A balanced diet and exercise can help minimize the risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes, among many other unhealthy conditions and diseases that are often caused by obesity. Here are some tips to stay true to your roots while living healthy.
- Use the oven instead of frying. Try baking meats such as chicken and pork. These meats already contain fats. Adding oil to fry adds to the grease.
- Eat beans and vegetables. Incorporate these foods into your daily meals, again avoid the frying pan and bake your beans instead. You don’t need to give up the refried beans, simply bake them and mash them for a similar taste. Save the frying for special occasions.
- Choose corn over flour. Mexican dishes are often accompanied by tortillas. Try using corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas as they have less calories and fat grams.
- Serve smaller portions. Often, Latinos serve large food portions and end up overeating simply because there is more food on our plates. Also, we are more conscience of wasting food so we tend to overeat. Instead of serving ourselves large portions and overeating, we should store leftovers for a following day’s meal.
- Substitute healthy snacks. Latino snacks are commonly fried potato chips, fried pork skin, and fried plantains among other fried foods. Substitute fruits with your own spices such as lemon juice and chili powder, for a traditional touch.
- Eat dinner before 7 p.m. Many Latinos eat dinner later in the evenings. Eating your last large meal before 7 p.m. allows your body to digest your meal before you lie in bed.
- Walk more. Walk at least 20 minutes at least three times a week. Do it with your family. If you have not been exercising regularly, you may want to check with your doctor before starting a more strenuous exercise program.
Obesity is a public health challenge throughout the United States, not only in the Latino population. Obesity can complicate your life by increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, which can lead to premature death. Income and geographical region affect the prevalence of obesity, but individual habits make a difference too. With these small adjustments to your lifestyle you can continue to celebrate Latino culture while being conscience of your health.