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February 28, 2012 at 1:09 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Eating Like an American: Effects of the American Diet on Mexican-American Immigrants

By Brad Ter Haar More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the A Longer Life Blog Series

Hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants enter the U.S. every year, and while they bring much of their culture with them, they also embrace and incorporate many aspects of American culture, as they adjust to life in the U.S. For many Mexican-Americans, this transition includes abandoning their native country’s diet in favor of the Western diet.

Researchers have just released a study, indicating that Mexicans who migrate to the U.S. often develop health risks, as a result of the “American diet.” University of North Carolina researchers compared Mexican-American immigrants to their Mexican counterparts, using data that spanned a seven-year period. Their findings were alarming: Mexican-American immigrants had higher rates of obesity than did Mexicans, and the UNC researchers cautioned that the American diet, when compared to the Mexican diet, increases one’s risk for heart disease, developing certain cancers, and becoming overweight.

The Mexican-American Diet

Mexican-Americans did tend to eat more fruits and vegetables after switching to the American diet, but they also consumed more sugar, saturated fat, salty snacks, and fast food than they ate in Mexico. The study revealed that Mexicans who immigrated to the U.S. drink more than doubled their intake of sugar-sweetened soda. Coffee, popular among both Mexicans and Americans alike, is typically served black in Mexico. Upon entering the U.S., however, the study found many of the Immigrants began regularly drinking mochas and lattes, and consuming their coffee with cream and sugar. Being a coffee addict myself, I know how quickly adding sweeteners and cream to coffee can increase sugar and calorie intake, as well as how tempting it can be to order that extra-large double mocha latte!

Second and third-generation immigrants were much more likely to be obese, as compared to first-generation immigrants. This means that Mexican-immigrants born in Mexico were less likely to abandon the Mexican diet than were immigrants born in the U.S.

The Mexican Diet

What’s interesting about this study is that, even if you are not a Mexican-American immigrant, the results are still applicable. The findings indicate that the Mexican diet is associated with lower rates of obesity, certain cancers, and heart disease than the American diet. Now before you sprint over to Taco Bell or Adobe (as appealing as they may seem), we must understand what the Mexican diet actually consists of.

For thousands of years, the staple of the Mexican diet has been corn, which often times takes the form of flatbread (a corn tortilla). Mexican meals often include many of the following fruit and vegetables: tomatoes, avocados, squash, papaya, mango, and pineapple. Chilies are also a large part of Mexican dishes, but this encompasses more than just the widely-known jalapeno, as the serrano, poblano, and chipotle are other popular chilies. Mexicans also make use of peppers and beans when preparing meals. It doesn’t seem surprising then, that the Mexican diet poses fewer health risks than the American diet. A cup of cooked beans, for instance, contains half of the recommended daily fiber intake, and lycopene-rich tomatoes have been known to fight certain types of cancer.

So what does all this mean for those of us guilty of frequently eating what may be characterized as, the American diet? Well, it may be time to closely track what we eat, and to consider purchasing more high-fiber beans and looking-up authentic Mexican recipes. Just because we live in America doesn’t mean we have to embrace the American diet. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking some rice and veggies sounds good for lunch…


Photo Credit:

Kevin Krejci and rusvaplauke

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  • Great blog! As a vegetarian, I depend on beans for a lot of my protein, and it's amazing how good they are for you. Black beans, I believe, are classified as a superfood.

    This isn't an authentic Mexican recipe by any means, but it does incorporate many Mexican staples - it's a guacamole pizza my mom came up with. You take a pizza crust and layer on refried black beans, mashed avocado, diced tomato, and any other healthy toppings or spices you want (onion, mushrooms, etc.) Trust me - it's incredible!

    Now I'm hungry for real Mexican food (that photo looks amazing!)

  • Thanks Laura! I believe you are correct about black beans being a superfood, and they're easy to incorporate in many different meals!
    Mmmm, that Mexican pizza sounds awesome!

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