The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Healthy Choices for Latino Nutrition Month

Healthy Choices for Latino Nutrition Month

Dietitian Dialogues

September 27, 2009

Latinos in the U.S. are facing a serious health crisis as incidences of obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease continue climbing. There has been a visible shift in how Latinos in the U.S. shop, cook and eat resulting in these concerning trends. The encouraging news is that studies show eating a healthy and balanced diet lowers the risk of many of these diseases.  

To build awareness that making healthy food and lifestyle choices can reduce the rise of chronic diseases facing the Latino community, Oldways and the Latino Nutrition Coalition (LNC) has announced Latino Nutrition Month from September 15 through October 15, to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month. This is a perfect time for retailers to help their Latino customers bring healthy choices to the table.

The Stats
Hailing from at least 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Latinos currently make up 15% of the total U.S. population.  

• 10.4% of Latinos over 20 years old have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, compared to 6.6% of non-Latino whites, which translates to over 4.8 million Latino people affected by the disease.*
• One in four (28.7%) Latinos in the U.S. are obese and, overall, Latinos have a 21% higher obesity prevalence than non-Latinos.*

The Traditional Latin American Diet
The traditional Latin American diet is an eating pattern based on plant foods like whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, beans and tubers, nuts and plant oils. Including lean proteins like fish and poultry, milk, cheese and eggs, and some pork and beef, it is a tradition-based diet that incorporates regional and culinary differences while still providing a healthy way of eating based in science.

Unfortunately, many Latinos living in the U.S. have slowly started moving away from this eating pattern and have adopted the eating patterns of European America. This phenomenon is defined as acculturation or “the process by which immigrants adopt the attitudes, values, customs, beliefs, and behaviors of a new culture.” In fact, a recent study at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine showed that first-generation Hispanics in Florida are much more likely to develop cancer than people in their home countries, which could result from unhealthy habits adopted in America such as overeating. 

Border states like Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico are well-known areas with concentrated Latino populations, but there has been significant growth in places such as Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. This means that health professionals and retailers across the country can help inspire Latinos to reconnect with their flavorful and healthy food traditions in order to improve their health.

Latino Nutrition Month is the perfect opportunity to promote healthy eating by educating consumers about options available in every aisle that fit the Latin American Diet Pyramid. There are many things that can be done to draw peoples’ attention to this delicious and affordable way of eating. In fact, as consumer tastes become more global, non-Latinos may also be interested in learning more about the traditional Latino diet or sampling it. A few examples are:

    • Provide healthy Latino recipes and ingredients on end-caps
    • Order a poster of the Latin American Diet Pyramid for in-store display
    • Utilize the Camino Magico, a bilingual shopping guide and meal planner
    • Offer samples of Latino food items like fruits, salsas and grains
    • Provide store tours emphasizing healthy Latino ingredients
    • Present the Healthy Latino Diet to customers with cooking demonstrations

There are many downloadable resources available from the Latino Nutrition Coalition ( Working together, we can help show people how easy and delicious the healthy Latino diet pattern can be.

Adriene Worthington, RD, LDN, is the Program Dietitian for Oldways, a non-profit organization whose initiatives include the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, the Whole Grains Council and the Latino Nutrition Coalition. She is an active member of the American Dietetic Association, the Massachusetts Dietetic Association, the Food and Culinary Dietitians Practice Group and Latinos and Hispanics in Dietetics and Nutrition (LAHIDAN) Member Interest Group.

*Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at