Researchers investigating the nutritional adequacy of the Mexican diet have found that Mexican’s are not getting all of the nutrients they need to be healthy and that most Mexican’s are consuming more energy (calories) than they need. Of particular concern is the stunting and micronutrient deficiencies in young children, iron deficiency in pregnant women and the high incidence of obesity and diabetes in Mexico.
Across the world the consumption of high-energy, nutrient-poor foods has increased and in recent years the average Mexican diet has changed. Traditionally, the Mexican diet contained cereals and legumes (common beans), but now most people are eating less of these foods and eating more sugars, animal products and vegetable fats.
Diets containing too many corn tortillas, refined grains, high fat foods, sugary soft drinks and alcohol can be harmful to our health – in particular because these foods may not provide important micronutrients, like calcium and vitamin D, and can contribute to tooth decay. In addition, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle (little physical activity) may also contribute to health problems.
A recent study (López-Olmedo et al, 2016) found that more than 50% of the Mexican population (aged over 1 year) are eating more than the recommended amount of added sugar and saturated fat. It also found that intakes of saturated fat and added sugars were higher in urban compared with rural areas, in the North compared with South regions, and among those with higher socio-economic status (compared with low socio-economic status).
Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and oils are the healthiest diets. Diets containing red meat, processed meat, eggs, fish, poultry and milk are OK. Foods with a high fibre content are a healthy choice.
However, many Mexican do not meet dietary recommendations for good health:
- Infant formula was consumed by almost half of infants aged <6 months (not meeting breastfeeding and complementary feeding recommendations)
- Sugar-sweetened beverages were consumed by two-thirds of children aged 12-23 months
- Less than 23% of adults met recommendations for legumes, seafood, fruit, vegetables, and dairy foods
- Foods high in saturated fats and/or added sugars contributed 26% of the population’s total energy intake
- Across various age groups there was found to be excessive intakes of added sugars and saturated fats and insufficient intakes of fibre, vitamin A, folates, calcium, iron, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Some age groups need more B vitamins and vitamin C
Barriers to making healthier choices
Making healthy choices may be difficult in some circumstances, but identifying the difficulties that some people experience may help individuals and health professionals to overcome these barriers:
- women experience difficulties related to personal, family and work-related circumstances
- men have established food preferences and lack familiarity with fruits and vegetables
- physical activity may be limited due to stress/depressed mood, lack of motivation and concern for physical well-being (will I hurt myself?)
- physical activity is usually performed within the context of work and domestic responsibilities
Behaviours or routines involving eating, activity and smoking are often well established and intertwined and can be difficult to change. High fat/high sugar foods are more likely to be eaten when watching television, or when eating on the street, at work or at school. Individuals can try to make healthier choices when snacking and watching television and interested parties could lobby for healthier food environments at work, school, and on the street.
Children’s snack choices have been found to include fruit, salty snacks, candy sweetened breads and cookies. Among older children, whole milk as a snack was partially replaced with soda and sweetened fruit drinks (Taillie et al, 2015). Children are particularly at risk of malnutrition if they are not eating a diet that provides them with the various nutrients that they require for growth and good health.
- eat more legumes/beans and fruit and vegetables
- practice healthy cooking habits
- eat enjoyable meals with family and friends
- drink water
- avoiding the consumption of sweetened beverages, grain-based desserts, and highly processed foods
Improvement’s in children’s diets could be achieved with healthier snack choices. For young children, parents should follow recommendations regarding breastfeeding and complementary feeding.
For further information
Look for El Plato del Bien Comer
See Mexican Dietary and Physical Activity Guidelines: Moving Public Nutrition Forward in a Globalized World.
Taillie LS, Afeiche MC, Eldridge AL, Popkin BM (2015) Increased Snacking and Eating Occasions Are Associated with Higher Energy Intake among Mexican Children Aged 2-13 Years. J Nutr 2015 Nov; 145(11): 2570-7.
López-Olmedo N, Carriquiry AL, Rodríguez-Ramírez S, Ramírez-Silva I, Espinosa-Montero J, Hernández-Barrera L, Campirano F, Martínez-Tapia B, Rivera JA (2016) Usual Intake of Added Sugars and Saturated Fats Is High while Dietary Fiber Is Low in the Mexican Population. J Nutr. 2016 Aug