Identified health challenges and menu tips to benefit your Latino customers.
Cultural and traditional food is helps people feel connected to their roots. However, not all cultural dishes are created equal in terms of health. Different ethnic groups can also face different health challenges due to lifestyle and other characteristics. If your business is serving primarily Hispanic customers, you might want to consider expanding your menu to include some more health-conscious items. There are ways you can incorporate more healthy cooking techniques and ingredients to keep your customers feeling close to home, while still supporting their health.
The main health risks affecting Hispanic communities are obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic liver disease. Of course, these are major health challenges that affect people all over the United States. However, recent studies show that Hispanics are at a higher risk for developing conditions. Understanding more about these health issues can help set up your business for success, and ultimately support your community.
Obesity is a huge problem across the country, regardless of ethnicity, in both children and adults. However, Hispanic Americans are 1.2 times more likely to fall into this category than non-Hispanic whites. This isn’t simply a matter of being overweight, as obesity can lead to a multitude of other health problems. Obesity prevention is one of the best ways to combat further health complications.
Much like obesity, diabetes is a condition that affects a large swath of the population. Based on recent data, studies indicate that close to 40 percent of adults are expected to develop type 2 diabetes at some point. While that number is already high, over 50 percent of Hispanics are predicted to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at some point in their life. Type 2 diabetes is much more likely in those already experiencing obesity, but it can also show up in people who might not appear overweight.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a condition that affects adults all over the country. According to research, close to 1 in 4 Hispanics suffer from high blood pressure. It’s important to know that high blood pressure isn’t something to take lightly, as it increases your risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney disease. Much like the conditions listed above, these health concerns don’t exist entirely on their own and often contribute to other health problems.
Chronic Liver Disease
Another major concern is chronic liver disease. Studies have shown that Hispanics are at a much higher risk for developing liver diseases. Possible reasons for this could be exposure to viruses like hepatitis B and C, or even chronic alcoholism. The direct cause has not yet been determined, but the risk is real and likely a result of lifestyle factors.
Using your menu to support the Hispanic community
With some simple changes, you can make your menu health-conscious, without taking away from traditional options. One of the most effective ways to do this is by looking at how you prepare your dishes and what ingredients you use.
Preparation is key
Even if the ingredients you use are the same, the cooking method you choose will have an immediate effect on the nutritional value of your food. Many Hispanic foods are fried, which is probably the unhealthiest way to prepare them. While it might be traditional to deep-fry certain items, there are ways around this that don’t involve a customer abstaining from their favorite croquetas and churros. For items that you might traditionally deep-fry, you could offer a baked option, or if you have access to equipment like an air-fryer this is also a great way to get that same fried effect, without the health implications. If you can avoid using a lot of butter and lard when preparing foods, this will also have an immediate impact on the nutritional value of your dish.
Balance your ingredients
One of the best ways to expand your menu to offer healthier options is by swapping out some main ingredients and adding more of the beneficial ones. A lot of Latino-style dishes rely on ingredients that are high in fat and cholesterol. The National Lipid Association provides many recommendations for healthier options that will still retain the essence of traditional flavors.
Many Hispanics don’t reach the recommended intake for fruits and vegetables, so making that a priority is a must. A helpful way to measure this is by filling half of a dish with cooked and raw vegetables. Some heart-healthy options are green, yellow, and red bell peppers, as well as squashes like nopales and chayote. For snack and dessert options, you can offer different preparations of papaya, mangoes, or pineapple. You can fill one-fourth of the remaining space on the plate with fiber-rich whole grains like brown rice.
The protein you use in your dishes is also important. Try to use lean beef and pork instead of fattier cuts of meat, and when using chicken breasts, make sure they’re skinless. You can also add more black and pinto beans to your servings as they’re a healthy source of plant-based protein.
When it comes to dairy and cheese, you should always look for ways to lower unhealthy fats. Instead of using lard and butter in cooking, you can opt for healthier oils. Avocado is a great source of healthy fats, and it is already a staple in most Hispanic cooking. Avoiding full-fat milk and cheese will also help to reduce the unhealthy fat content of your dishes.
Most, if not all these recommendations consider ingredients Hispanics already have in their kitchen, making it even easier to start changing things up!
Food is the best way to experience culture without traveling. It is a way to feel at home when you’re miles and miles away from your family. When people are told to pay more attention to their health, it can be depressing to remove food items that remind them of home. So, with that in mind, there’s no better time to work on expanding your menu in a way that honors tradition, while supporting the needs of your Hispanic community.