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Latin American Food Pyramid

Latin American Food Pyramid


The Latino Nutrition Coalition

Oldways Preservation Trust

266 Beacon Street

Boston, MA 02116

Tel: 617-421-5500

Fax: 617-421-5511


The Latin American Diet Pyramid created by Oldways illustrates how traditional foods from a variety of Latino cultures can contribute to a healthy, balanced eating pattern.

Latin American Diet Food

Meat, Sweets, Eggs: Beef, Lamb, Eggs, Chocolate, Puddings, Cookies, Creams

Plant Oils, Milk Products: Plant Oils (Soy, Corn, Olive), Milk, Cheese

Fish, Shellfish: Shrimp, Salmon, Snapper, Mussels

Poultry: Fowl, Turkey, Chicken, Pork

Beans, Grains, Tubers, Nuts: Maize, Potato, Rice, Bread, Taro, Tortilla, Arepas, Beans, Seeds, Quinoa, Malanga, Peanuts, Amaranth, Arracacha, Hichintal, Legumes, Cassava, Pecans, Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Plantain, Yuca

Fruits: Lime, Banana, Avocado, Cacao, Breadfruit, Plums, Apple, Berries, Papaya, Mango, Cherimoya, Guanabana, Pineapple, Melon, Tamarind, Quince, Grapes, Guava, Orange, Kiwi

Vegetables: Kale, Cactus, Eggplant, Turnip, Chard, Squash, Zucchini, Onion, Broccoli, Okra, Spinach, Lettuce, Tomato, Tomatillo, Sweet Pepper, Chiles

Alcohol may be consumed by adults in moderation and with meals, but consumption should be avoided during pregnancy and whenever it would put the individual or others at risk.

The Latin American Diet Pyramid

This pyramid represents a healthy, traditional Latin American diet. It is based on two distinct historical periods of the culinary evolution of the peoples of the South American continent.

The first period describes the dietary traditions of regions inhabited primarily by three high cultures of aboriginal Latin Americans: the Aztec, the Inca, and the Maya. The second period describes the dietary traditions that emerged following the arrival of Columbus, at about 1500, to the present time. The dietary patterns followed today by the people of Latin America find their roots in both of these historical culinary patterns.

The selection of these peoples and of these time periods as a basis for the design follows from these considerations:

• A consistency with patterns of other healthy population groups of the world;

• Availability of data describing the character of food consumption patterns of the areas at that time; and

• The convergence of the dietary patterns revealed by these data and our current understanding of optimal nutrition based on world-wide epidemiological studies and clinical trials.

Variations of these diets have traditionally existed in other parts of Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and the southern edge United States. For the purposes of this research, the aforementioned regions are considered as part of Latin America. They are closely related to traditional areas of maize, potato, peanut, and dry bean cultivation in the Latin American region.

Given these carefully-defined parameters of geography and time, the phrase traditional Latin American diet is used here as a shorthand for those traditional diets of these regions and peoples during two specific time periods that are historically associated with good health.

The design of the pyramid is not based solely on either the weight or the percentage of energy (calories) that foods account for in the diet, but on a blend of these that is meant to give relative proportions and a general sense of frequency of servings - as well as an indication of which foods to favor in a healthy Latin American-style diet. The pyramid describes a diet for most healthy adults. Whether changes would need to be made for children, women in their reproductive years, and other special population groups are issues that need further consideration.

A principle objective of this graphic illustration is to foster a dialogue within the international scientific, public health, food and agricultural, governmental and other communities about what refinements in its specific elements and configurations, if any, are needed.

For Asians, Africans, Europeans, North Americans and others who want to improve their diets, this model provides a highly palatable, healthful framework for change. Equally positive results can be obtained either by entirely adopting a Latin American-style diet, or by alternating meals based on this Latin American model with meals inspired by healthful dietary traditions of other cultures in other parts of the world, such as the Mediterranean and Asian diet models.

Evidence is clear that people enjoy the foods of other cultures, and partake of these foods to enhance and augment their knowledge and understanding of different cultures. For those living in the Latin American region, this pyramid provides a basis for preserving and revitalizing within a modern lifestyle the centuries-old traditions that contribute to excellent health, a sense of pleasure and well-being, and are a vital part of our collective cultural heritage.

The pyramid is the third in a series developed during the 1990s to illustrate graphically the healthy traditional food and dietary patterns of various cultures and regions of the world. This initiative is a result of a multiyear conference series, "Public Health Implications of Traditional Diets," jointly organized by Harvard School of Public Health and Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. These pyramids, taken as a collection, offer substantive refinements of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid, refinements that reflect the current state of clinical and epidemiological research worldwide and our understanding of what constitutes optimal human nutrition status.

K. Dun Gifford

Oldways Preservation Trust