Salud Saturday: Healthy Latino Meals? Si Se Puede!

Guest post by Christina Elizabeth Rodríguez (@kikisbetes)

~ “Mom, why are you making chiles rellenos?”
~ “Because your brother is visiting tonight and it’s his favorite food!”

~ “Mija, what food do you want me to make for your birthday? It’ll be my gift to you.”
~ “Bistec de milanesa!”

Tell me, honestly, that you’ve never heard either one of these phrases at least once in your life in your Latino household! I have. Both. All the time. Want to know how many times I got milanesa steaks for my birthday? I think my family got sick of eating the same thing year after year. So, where am I going with this?

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Diabetes stems from one thing (Type 2 does) which is too much food! The majority of people who develop the disorder at a later age find that it is because they are overweight and basically unhealthy. But why? You ask! Because we’re Latino and food is a big part of our culture.

“It meant home cooked meals and family gatherings… and definitely the best birthday present,” says Yamira Perez, from Chicago. Well, amen to that, sister because I think we all feel the same way!

Although eating lots, especially when you come from poorer parts of the country, meant you were well off, fat and happy, it doesn’t mean the same here. Where my family came from, you didn’t have a lot to eat and if you did, it was because you grew everything naturally. It was organic before it was cool. It was a way of life. Not to mention, working hard and laborious jobs were part of the daily routine. This also meant that using all of the energy that you have in your body happened around the clock and so much insulin didn’t need to be produced because you were using all that simple sugar and glucose.

Regardless of all of that, there are staples that we have here in the United States that we can’t shake. For example, Victor Gonzalez, from Chicago, says that he can’t give up “Vitamin T– Tortillas, Tacos, Tortas, Tamales, etc.”

For us, from our immigrant families, we learn how to appreciate and love food because we have it now– and in abundance! It’s the way we show we care, (ask my fat dog) and how much we love one another, bringing families and friends together (ask my friends who eat every time they’re at my house).

So, why is this now our poison, after all the time we’ve worked to get to this position. Well, there are various reasons. One, the food isn’t as healthy here. We have to pay big bucks to be organic, and we can’t just go and pick stuff that we plant ourselves (that is unless you live in a climate that allows you to do so. I’m jealous if you do). How many times do you hear about the chemicals, hormones and all those other foul things that go into our meat and other foods? American cheese isn’t even cheese! Just go to another country, even Mexico, to find out what food actually tastes like.
It’s amazing.

My blood sugar was always so good when I was in Mexico because it was healthier than up here. My tia said so, too! I took my insulin according to what I was eating and it was lower than it should have been because of everything else that gets in the way. It’s easier to eat healthier when the food is healthier. Not to mention, food tastes so much better.

Another reason why this has turned into a bad equation for Latinos is because of the work we do. The majority of work that gets done is done sitting. We sit at desks all day, many don’t have time to work out but we eat the same! There’s a problem there!

So for you diabetics and non-diabetics alike, start eating better! There’s nothing wrong with eating the food you love, just eating smaller amounts of it.

  • If you want to stick with Latino foods, use better substitutes to cook with.
  • Instead of vegetable oil, use olive oil. Instead of pork or beef, cook with chicken only.
  • Try not to eat things out of cans, like beans, but prepare your own after thoroughly washing them. Of course, this takes more time, but your health means a lot, doesn’t it?
  • Try cutting down your milk from Vitamin D to one percent.
  • Instead of white bread, buy wheat bread or multi-grain. It’s even more delicious!
  • When it comes to snacking, eat fruit!! You can never have too many. Apples, pears and bananas are a great source of fiber and they help control blood sugar levels. Fiber is your friend!
  • Beans. Here’s the one thing you don’t have to give up. Loaded with fiber and protein, legumes can only lead you in a more positive direction.
  • Yogurt. It’s sweet and it has pro-biotics which help your stomach. It makes a great snack with added granola or nuts for crunch and fiber.

The trick here is switching things out and replacing them with something else, like Lorena Diaz, a Miami transplant to Chicago, who says if it has to do with her health, she can cut anything out of her diet. She’s recently found seaweed chips, which are salty, flaky, green and like eating air, but they grow on you! Trust me, I’ve tried them and liked them. And one whole package has less calories and carbs than two slices of bread. Check it out if you’re adventurous.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christina is a writer who lives in Chicago. She has a Master’s in journalism from the UIUC and writes non-fiction, fiction and poetry. You may find her inspired musings on life, media and music at Mine & Mine Only. Christina is a Type I #diabetic and she writes about living with the disease at the Diabetes Types A Blog.  You may also know her as @kiki416.

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