Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278
GAINESVILLE — In an effort to help elder Hispanics and other minorities eat a healthy diet, University of Florida nutritionists have modified the traditional food pyramid chart to include staples typically found in ethnic cupboards.
“Old habits die hard,” said Paulina Wittkowsky, a UF assistant nutrition educator. “Even though many Hispanics living in the United States have adopted American food choices and food preparation methods, they still retain some of their cultural preferences and continue to prepare traditional dishes, especially since many of these food items are now available in stores.”
Created in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the food pyramid, as the chart commonly is known, is used as a guide for how many daily servings of each type of food a person should eat. Breads and cereals make up the larger bottom of the pyramid because more servings are recommended, while fats, oils and sweets are at the top because the USDA says they should be used sparingly.
The UF version adds specific examples commonly found in ethnic diets — tortillas and pineapples for instance — as well as some convenience foods the nutritionists say are easier for some older people to prepare.
“One of our goals is to reach ethnically diverse elders,” said Leigh Ann Martin, an assistant instructor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “By including ethnic food items on the pyramid, we hope that Hispanics and members of other ethnic groups will be able to relate to the pyramid and hopefully make it a part of their daily life.”
Martin is a project coordinator with UF’s Elder Nutrition and Food Safety Project, which developed the new pyramid as part of an overall project that provides nutrition education for elder Floridians enrolled in federal food programs. In the process of modifying the food pyramid, UF nutritionists discovered they easily could help Hispanics and other ethnic elders learn how to include familiar ethnic foods such as plantains, tortillas, papaya and chayote squash in a healthy diet.
“We wanted to provide elders of all ethnic backgrounds with a guide they can identify with,” she said. “Hispanics should be able to look at the food guide pyramid and see how their foods fit in.”
Martin and Wittkowsky said the pyramid is more than just a translation into Spanish because its developers made a special effort to include specific food examples.
“We included some traditional Hispanic foods such as tortillas in the grain group and tropical fruits like pineapple,” Martin said. “And the pyramid highlights beans, or frijoles, which are a staple food for Hispanics, by having them in a can marked ‘beans’ in the protein group.”
In the process of selecting additions to the pyramid that would benefit the Hispanic community, Wittkowsky said it became apparent that food preparation techniques were as important a facet of healthy eating as food choice.
“Beans, for example, are normally a very healthy food choice since they are high in fiber and protein,” Wittkowsky said. “However, they are traditionally prepared with a considerable amount of oil, especially when making refried beans.
“The project encourages Hispanics to limit the amount of oil they use in preparing the beans or to switch to unsaturated oils such as corn oil or canola oil,” she said.
Martin said another difference in the UF-developed food pyramid for elders is the inclusion of convenience foods.
“We included items that would be convenient for elders and ethnically diverse populations to use, such as frozen vegetables, canned beans and canned fruit,” Martin said. “These are items that are easier to prepare and allow individuals to spend less time in the kitchen cooking.”
The Elder Nutrition and Food Safety Project is funded by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.