How to Eat Rice and Beans When You Have Diabetes

Unfortunately, Hispanics are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the rest of the population. If you're Hispanic like I am, you probably love your rice, beans, and guacamole. Having diabetes doesn't mean you have to give them up.

rice and beans and diabetesBeing Hispanic increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes but it doesn't mean you have to give up loving beans and rice.

Chances are if your Abuelo had diabetes, you are at higher risk of developing diabetes in your lifetime.The reason is not just because you're related, but rather because you could share similar habits that are sabotaging your health.

We’ve all heard type 2 diabetes runs in the families.In fact, Hispanics are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to the general population. But diabetes is also influenced by our environment and lifestyle choices. We can’t change our culture, race, age or gender, but we can certainly change our habits. 

According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the US comprising over 17% the population. By 2060, Hispanics will reach 119 million residents in the US, making 28% of the US population. Despite this growth in numbers, Hispanic health outcomes don’t seem as promising. Hispanics are not only likely to have diabetes but are 50% more likely to die from diabetes compared to whites. Moreover, the rates of kidney failure among Hispanics are one a half times higher than the general population. We know the causes of type 2 diabetes are multifactorial. Genetics and hereditary play an important part, but so does our environment.  Aka, our food choices, exercise routines, family dynamics, and even health perceptions.

Some of the well-known risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Overweight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • History of gestational diabetes

Culture is so ingrained in who we are, what we eat, and how we perceive our world around us. Latinos, for example, “love to have family meals” says Lorena Drago, CDE, a certified diabetes educator specializing in multicultural education author of Cultural Food Practices. “Part of this interaction involves large portion sizes in family gatherings or the family pressure to “clean your plate” at each meal.” But you don’t need to sacrifice your cultural traditions or favorite family dishes. Instead, you need to develop healthy habits and be aware of your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Below are simple strategies you and your familia can do to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes:

  • Double up on the beans and guacamole—Contrary to what many people believe, traditional Hispanic food can be very healthy. Many varieties of legumes, fruits and vegetables are commonly found in conventional Hispanic dishes. Beans, for example, are loaded with fiber and are low glycemic which means will have a slow impact on blood sugars. Avocado, a stable in Hispanic dishes is also a great option because it is high in healthy fats, known to help improve heart health and satiety. Note: portion sizes matter. To be sure you don't overdo it, limit guacamole consumption to 1/4 cup and don't eat more than 2/3 cup beans. 
  • Know your risk—Many Hispanics are unaware they have pre-diabetes. It’s estimated that one-third of people with diabetes, don’t know they have it. Drago recommends testing blood sugar level and hemoglobin A1C (average blood glucose over the past 2-3 months) to screen for pre-diabetes or diabetes. “Take an inventory of your diet and make healthy adoptions,” says Drago.
  • Make healthy substitutions—Hispanics have one of the highest consumption rates of sweetened beverages in the US, especially Hispanic youth. Drago recommends swapping sweetened for unsweetened drinks such as water, seltzer, flavored waters, and teas.  Which will result in fewer calories and added sugars. Another strategy is to add veggies to traditional dishes like soups, rice, and stews. This is a great way to add fiber and decrease total fat and calories.
  • Dance it off—Exercise should not feel forced or a sort of punishment.  Find an activity that you enjoy, like dancing, and do it for short bursts of time. Research shows that a 5% in weight reduction could significantly reduce your risk of preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes.

There are some things in life we can’t change, as our family and genes. If you are one of the 56 million Hispanics in the US, know that you are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But you still have the power to prevent it. As they say, knowledge is power. You can still enjoy your favorite foods and Hispanic traditions without sacrificing your health. Just remember to do what abuela said and eat your veggies.

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