It’s National Nutrition Month®: Here’s How it Connects to the Latine Community

It’s National Nutrition Month®, and the theme for 2024 is Beyond the Table. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this year’s theme encourages us to think about more than just the nutrients on our plate.

I’m a Latina dietitian who advocates for Latine foods and helps people learn about just how healthy our heritage foods are.

That’s why I want to take a minute to talk about this concept of Beyond the Table and what I think this means for dietitians who work closely with the Latine population.

(*quick note on language: While I personally prefer using Latine in my own work, I will use terms like Latinx, Latino, and Hispanic when referring to research that uses that term)

vegetables on a comal. text reads "it's national nutrition month, here's how it connects to the Laitno community"

Beyond the Table

Beyond the Table encourages us to think about grocery access, our food system, and how we eat. All these factors have nutrition implications and it’s important as dietitians that we think holistically about nutrition. 

So to encourage us as dietitians to better serve our Latine clients, I’ve written up how each of these points connects to the Latine community. 

Consider Cultural Grocery Stores

The small Latine grocery store, commonly referred to as a tienda, is an important consideration when it comes to Latine nutrition. 

Tiendas to be smaller than supermarkets, and independently-owned. 

Current research suggests Latine people are more likely to shop at a tienda than a major supermarket. Latine people also reported grocery shopping more often than non-Latine White Americans (1).

Understanding and, most importantly, respecting the Latine grocery store can help you be a better dietitian for your Latine clients.

When I said that tiendas tend to be smaller and independently-owned, what came to mind for you about that shopping experience?

While there is research suggesting shoppers at convenience stores are less likely to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, the same does not hold true for the tienda. 

A study comparing the availability of healthy grocery items in tiendas versus supermarkets found that tiendas offer a similar amount of fruits and vegetables as supermarkets. The produce was of similar quality in both supermarkets and tiendas, as well (2). 

Plus, fruits and vegetables were significantly more affordable at tiendas than at supermarkets. 

The researchers estimated that a family of 4 shopping at a tienda would spend $12 less per week to meet their recommended fruit and vegetable intake than if they shopped at a supermarket.

On the other hand, this same study found low-fat milk and low-fat ground beef were less available at tiendas than at supermarkets. 

However, the connection behind Latine grocery stores and fresh fruits and vegetables is so promising. I urge us as dietitians to collaborate with our Latine clients and encourage use of their local tienda, if available.

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The Biggest Food Safety Concern May Not Be Food At All

Food safety has been in the news a lot recently, from contaminated apple sauce to recalls of popular Mexican cheeses.

Of course, I encourage all dietitians to stay abreast of the latest food safety news and help guide their clients through any recalls. 

At the same time, I want to draw your attention to water safety, which continues to be a major concern for the Latin American community. 

Approximately 38% of Hispanic adults reported avoiding drinking tap water due to safety concerns. 

And about 65% of Hispanic Americans reported believing bottled water is safer than tap water (3). 

These numbers are telling a story that we should listen to, as public health professionals. The cultural distrust in tap water among the Latine community didn’t come out of nowhere. 

Hispanic and Black communities are, in fact, more likely to have harmful levels of PFAS chemicals in the local drinking water

We must also consider Latino communities that lack access to municipal water, or that face high levels of nitrate contamination in their water supply (4). 

And the nutrition implications of water insecurity go even further. Latinos who report distrust in their tap water are more likely to drink sugar sweetened beverages (3). 

Talking sustainability?

There’s a growing movement of dietitians who want to weave sustainability into their work as dietitians.

According to Food + Planet’s Sustainability and Food Insights Survey from 2023, 95% of dietitians believe RDs should be involved in advocating for sustainable food systems.

At the same time, 42% of dietitians report they do not incorporate sustainability into their work. 

For dietitians working with the Latine community, there’s an opportunity here to connect with your clients over sustainability. 

The Hispanic community is disproportionately affected by extreme heat, extreme weather, water pollution, and air pollution. 

This results in some 81% of U.S. Hispanics reporting climate change is a personal concern to them (5). 

All this to say, if you want to incorporate sustainability into your dietetics practice, your Latine clients may be receptive! 

After all, plant-based diets are growing more and more popular in the Latine community, partially due to how naturally plant-based proteins like beans fit into our cultural foodways. 

But at the same time, not all sustainability topics may be appropriate for your Latine clients. 

Remember, there are real water-safety concerns for Latine people living in the U.S. So as an example, focusing on a client’s use of single-use water bottles may not land well. 

Always lead with curiosity and meet your clients where they are. 

It may work well to find the intersection of sustainability and affordability. Efforts like reducing food waste and incorporating more plant-based proteins like beans can accomplish both of these goals. 

And don’t forget to ask your clients! They may have tips and tricks they learned from their parents about reducing food waste and saving money. 

Who else is at the table?

Finally, think about how your clients eat, as well as with who. 

Multi-generational living is common in the Latine community, with approximately ⅓ of Latinos reporting living in multigenerational households (6).

Studies show that grandparents can impact child nutrition, and older adults can potentially benefit from joint meals with the family, as well (7, 8). 

One study suggested that families that include a grandparent in the household may consume less fast food (9). 

At the same time, there may be unique challenges to accommodating the needs of different generations at different stages of the life cycle. 

How do you manage different dietary restrictions? What about different abilities to tolerate spices? Different food safety requirements (including choking hazards)?

Plus, some research suggests multigenerational households may be more at risk for food insecurity (10). 

As dietitians, it’s important for us to consider how family dynamics and intergenerational living may affect food behaviors. 

You may get incredible insights into your clients’ mealtime experiences by asking some of the following questions:

  • Who does the cooking at home?
  • How do you decide what to eat for meals?
  • When someone else cooks, do they plate your food for you or do you serve yourself?
  • (for clients that cook) Who else is eating the meals you make? 
  • Are you expected to finish your plate, grab seconds, or eat a certain amount at family meals?

All of these questions tap into potential nuances of eating in a multigenerational household, and will reveal some unique barriers and/or advantages your client may have when it comes to nutrition.

Final Thoughts

The 2024 theme for National Nutrition Month® of “Beyond the Table” invites us to think of how we can better serve our clients. 

What other factors are impacting their food choices, and how can we meet them where they are?

With the Latine population, these factors “Beyond the Table” such as shopping environment, food safety, and sustainability are just as pertinent, even if they may take on a slightly different shape. 

Want to learn more about inclusive, respectful nutrition counseling for the Latine community? Check out one of my pre-recorded webinars or have me as a guest speaker at your event!


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