Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Diabetes in the Hispanic Community

Published: October 13, 2023

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s important to recognize the rich cultural traditions and foods that are a part of the Hispanic community. These traditions and foods play a vital role in preserving and passing down the vibrant culture and values that define this community, bridging generations and fostering a sense of togetherness. However, there is a misconception that these foods are not healthy because they are known for their richness, including ingredients like cheese, meats, and fried foods. In reality, many Hispanic cultures embrace a balanced approach to nutrition that incorporates a wide range of healthy components, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These elements are integral to a nutritious diet, providing essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients for overall well-being.

Unfortunately, diabetes is a growing health concern in the Hispanic community, including individuals of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South and Central American, and other Spanish cultures. Despite these communities' unique histories and traditions, there is a shared risk of developing diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. In 2020, the prevalence of diabetes among Hispanics in the United States was 11.6%. Moreover, Hispanic adults are almost twice as likely to have diabetes compared to non-Hispanic white adults, highlighting the need for awareness, prevention, and management of this health condition within this community. This is why Dell Center Faculty, Natalia Heredia, along with the Nourish Program is working to teach healthy cooking skills in a culturally inclusive way, allowing participants to enjoy their cultural foods in a way that aligns with their diabetes management.

Their pilot study, Nourishing the Community Through Culinary Medicine, is a hands-on virtual culinary medicine intervention for ethnically diverse adults with type 2 diabetes. This study aims to promote cooking and healthy eating among these participants. The study found that the brief culinary medicine intervention significantly improved healthy eating, cooking behaviors, diabetes self-management, and cooking self-efficacy. It also reduced barriers to healthy eating and improved HbA1c levels six months post-intervention. Their results showed that the mean HbA1c levels decreased from 8.94% (pre-test) to 8.39% (post-test) and 7.85% (follow-up six months after the intervention). These results suggest that the culinary medicine intervention positively impacted HbA1c levels and diabetes management.

The program is a promising step towards improving the health outcomes of the Hispanic community. By teaching lasting culinary skills, participants can continue to enjoy their cultural foods while also managing their diabetes and potentially other conditions. So, as we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s remember that cultural foods can be just as healthy as they are delicious.

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Written by Edith Castro, UTHealth Houston dietetic intern.