MyPlate diversification: Latin American cuisine (2023)

Dietary Guidelines for Americansand his staffmy plateThe charts are commonly used resources for learning more about healthy and nutritious eating. the newly updatedDietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025places a greater emphasis on adhering to dietary recommendations while considering cultural preferences, and resources highlighting culturally inclusive approaches are valuable tools for translating MyPlate's overall message and dietary guidelines to more Americans.

This article is part of aSerieIt shows how healthy eating can take many different forms outside of the Western diet. While meals may not seem exactly like MyPlate to many, guest authors will share what healthy eating looks like in their culture and how many food groups and principles are passed down across cultures and cuisines. Each article in this series is written by a nutritionist with experience incorporating culturally inclusive approaches into her work.

About the Author

My name is Krista Linares and I am a registered nutritionist of Cuban and Mexican descent. In my private practice, I help Latina women manage conditions like PCOS and Type 2 Diabetes while focusing on and celebrating cultural foods. To tell a bit about my story, my parents immigrated to the United States from Latin American countries, but I grew up in the Midwest. Because of this, I often felt that food was the most important way to understand and learn about my heritage. When I became a nutritionist, I thought about this connection and wanted to make space for other Latinas to bring our food culture with them as they work to improve their health.

What is Latin American food?

Latin American cuisine has many different influences, including native, Spanish, and African cuisines. In addition, Latin American food exhibits great diversity and regional variations. For example, foods from the Caribbean will have their own standards compared to foods from Mesoamerica or South America. Even in a country like Mexico, there are so many different cooking styles and eating habits. For example, the Mexican food that we are used to in the United States is much more like the food of northern Mexico, with its greater use of wheat, beef, and dairy products, than the food of the southern coast of Mexico. Mexico, which can contain more fish, root vegetables, and sour flavors Although each region is different, in this article I will address Latin America as a whole due to my own origins (since I come from two different regions of Latin America) and some key similarities, such as influences and basic ingredients.

Some of the most important ingredients in Latin America are beans, corn, rice, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. Plantains are a staple in Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico and Cuba, and southern Mexico. Potatoes, on the other hand, are an important staple in Peru and other parts of South America. Another great regional variation in Latin American cuisine has to do with spices! The spice that we associate with Latin American food in the US is actually quite unique to Mexico. The South American and Caribbean regions of Latin America contain less spicy flavors than Mexican food. Other spices like cumin, oregano, and garlic are popular throughout Latin America!

Eating habits in Latin America

It is quite common for lunch to be the largest meal of the day and eaten as a family, while breakfast and dinner may be relatively smaller meals. It is important to note that some foods, such as tortillas, rice, and beans, can appear at any meal or time of day. Basic carbohydrates such as corn or banana serve as the basis for many dishes; Examples include tamales or pastries, tortillas, pupusas, and empanadas.

At breakfast there are many variations in the type of food served. Some of the more traditional breakfast dishes are soups, stews, and egg dishes. It is not uncommon for breakfast to consist of a simple coffee with sweet bread.

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Lunch and dinner involve similar types of food, although lunch is usually a larger and more elaborate meal. At both meals, you'll most likely see a soup or stew with omelettes on the side, or a starchy vegetable in the soup itself. Proteins like chicken, beef, or fish are often cooked with vegetables and served with rice and beans.

Bocadillos are also an important part of Latin American food culture. Fruits and vegetables are very popular snacks, including chunks of raw fruits and vegetables served with a dip (hot chili sauce is popular in Mexico) or fresh juices and smoothies. Some of the foods that we in the US think of as classic Mexican dishes, like tacos and quesadillas, are popular in Mexico, but they tend to be seen more as snacks.

vegetables to flavor

Another key element of Latin American food is the use of vegetables for flavor. Salsas are one of the most important elements of Latin American cuisine and are usually made with vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and onions or avocado (like guacamole).

Vegetables are also used as a hearty, crunchy garnish. For example, curtido is a popular fermented cabbage salad in Central America, while pickled onions are popular in the Dominican Republic.

How do the MyPlate food groups align with the dietary preferences of Latin American cuisine?


Many dishes are prepared with the so-called vegetable basegrilled meatoMessage;One version of this base is made with bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and garlic and is used to flavor beans, soups, and stews. Vegetable garnishes made with cabbage, radish, onion, or carrot are often used to garnish soups and other main dishes. Fresh parsley can also provide tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Other commonly used vegetables include many varieties of squash, nopales (cactus pops), and avocado. In addition, Latin American cuisine features many starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yuca (manioc), and others. These are vegetables but are usually grouped with starches or carbohydrates when preparing a dish.


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Beans and other legumes are popular throughout Latin America, and it is common for beans to be eaten daily (or even several times a day). Some of the most commonly used beans are pinto beans, black beans, pink beans, and mayocoba beans (sometimes called Canary or Peruvian beans). Other protein options include fish, shellfish, chicken, pork, beef, and eggs.


Corn and rice are two of the most popular grains in Latin American cuisine. The corn dough can be used to make tortillas, tamales, and even drinks. Rice is usually served with beans. Wheat is also popular in the form of bread or flour tortillas.


There is a wide variety of fruits that are consumed in Latin American cuisine. Tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and papaya are particularly popular. Other common fruits are apples, berries, melons, coconuts, and bananas. While foods like avocados, squash, and bananas are technically fruits, they are often used in savory applications.

Dairy products

Dairy products are common in Latino diets, although generally in smaller amounts than American diets. It is common to see cream cheese, like queso fresco, as a garnish. Milk is commonly used in desserts and drinks, and fermented milk drinks like liquid yogurt are also popular.

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important considerations

Latin American cuisine offers a large number of foods from each food group on MyPlate. A challenge in interpreting MyPlate within Latin American cuisine is that many Latin American dishes are combination plates, where all food groups are prepared together, such as:broths(stews). It can be hard to imagine how many vegetables are actually consumed, as vegetables are often used as a flavor base for other dishes and as a garnish at the end in the form of sauces or chopped or raw chopped vegetables.

Also, in some regions of Latin America, the most popular carbohydrate sources are actually starchy vegetables like potatoes, plantains, and cassava. While grains are well known throughout Latin America, starchy vegetables may be a more popular carbohydrate source in regions like the Caribbean and South America. Guests may have questions about where these vegetables fit into the dish, since they can be considered a source of vegetables and carbohydrates.


Many of my clients feel they have to choose between their health goals and their cultural foods. In these cases, I'd like to point out some of the nutritional lessons we can learn from Latino cooking: how to use vegetables for flavor and how often to eat healthy sources of fiber like beans. Every food culture has nutritious and delicious food, and our food culture deserves to be celebrated!

Latin American cuisine is one of many different cuisines that can serve as an example of a healthy and nutritious diet. This cuisine can broadly encompass the recommendations advertised in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the associated MyPlate table.

Questions and answers on culturally sensitive approaches to nutrition

What challenges did you or your clients/patients encounter when using features like MyPlate and how did you manage them?

The American style of eating and preparing meals treats each ingredient or food group separately from the others. In most of the example dishes, there is a relatively large source of protein and a relatively large source of vegetables, and they are separate from each other. In Latin American cuisine, it is more common for dishes to contain many different ingredients in smaller amounts. For example, instead of a side of vegetables, I cook my beans with a stir-fry, then add shredded cabbage and onions to my main dish, and perhaps a small serving of pickled or roasted vegetables as a side dish.

Additionally, many Latino staples can also be found in different food groups. For example, beans can be considered a source of protein or a vegetable, while root vegetables like cassava can be considered a vegetable or a starchy vegetable. Clients may need guidance on how to think about these types of commodities.

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What assumptions or misconceptions about diet from other cultures do you think need to be addressed and challenged as we move towards more culturally sensitive approaches in this area?

There is a misconception that, as a nutritionist, emphasizing Latin American cuisine means rebuilding food traditions and recipes to be healthier. But I start from the assumption that our cultural foods are naturally nutritious. For nutritionists outside of the Latino culture, it's easy to assume that vegetables, for example, are simply not commonly used because they don't see them on the plate the way they're used to.

It's also easy to visualize a culture's cuisine based on what we see in the media or on restaurant menus, which are often less based on what people in that culture eat and cook at home on a daily basis. For example, most non-Latino nutritionists I talk to are surprised to learn that Latinos see soups and stews as a key element of Latino cuisine, since most Latino restaurants they visit don't like them. especially this kind of dishes. I encourage dietitians to let their clients tell them what their daily eating habits are, rather than trying to fill in the blank with guesswork.

What guidance would you give other nutritionists to incorporate a culturally sensitive approach into their own practice?

It's almost impossible to learn everything you need to know about a specific food culture, including your own! I am Mexican and Cuban, but since I grew up in the US, I continue to learn about Latin American food every day. There is no end point that you are trying to reach in terms of knowing another culture. Rather, the goal is to have a knowledge base and resources that enable the same care for all patients, regardless of their dietary culture.

An example of unequal nutritional care is giving your patient a workbook of food sources for a nutrient that you recommend increasing in their diet, but none of the examples in the workbook include foods from their culture. This means more work for the customer as they have to do additional research themselves to figure out how to incorporate their cultural foods or learn new methods of cooking foods they are unfamiliar with or prefer. Instead of worrying about learning everything there is to know about a particular food culture, focus on making sure your customers get the information they need, and in a way that fits their lives.

This article was written by Krista Linares, RD.




What influences Latin American cuisine? ›

Latin American food has many different influences, including indigenous, Spanish, and African foodways. Additionally, Latin American food has a lot of diversity and regional variations. Food from the Caribbean area will have its own patterns compared with food from Mesoamerica or South America, for instance.

What three foods are basic in the Latin American diet? ›

The traditional Latin diet is simple and healthy; it is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and one-dish meals.

What are the 5 food groups that the MyPlate illustrates? ›

As the MyPlate icon shows, the five food groups are Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy.

What influence that has the greatest impact on Latin American cuisines? ›

European influence

Europeans brought their culinary traditions, but quickly adapted several of the fruits and vegetables native to the Americas into their own cuisines. Europe itself has been influenced by other cultures, such as with the al-andalus in Spain, and thus their food was already a mix of their world.

What are the three main cultural influences in Latin America? ›

European, African, and indigenous cultures have shaped and molded Latin American cultures to what we see today. Many of the cultures and traditions are rooted in religion, and the predominant religion in the region is Catholicism.

What are the differences between Latin American food and American food? ›

They both are prepared with ingredients commonly found locally. American food uses a wide variety of ingredients since its origin is from different countries while Mexican food is usually prepared using avocado, chili peppers, corn, and other fresh herbs and ingredients that are available in Mexico.

What is the most important meal of the day in Latin America? ›

For some cultures, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but not in Latin America, where lunch is the key meal. In most Latin American countries, breakfast tends to be light while almuerzo (lunch) is the heaviest meal of the day.

Why is food important to Latin American culture? ›

Whatever the preferred metaphor, food has an important role in achieving the ideal of cultural citizenship, the belief that all people have the right to determine their own cultural practices. Latino foods reflect the enormous social diversity resulting from Latin America's history of settlement and intermarriage.

In what MyPlate food group are French fries? ›

Now we know where potatoes fit on the plate, in the Vegetable Group.

What are the 2 biggest sections of the MyPlate? ›

The MyPlate image is a plate that is divided into four sections, with each section representing how much of each food group you should eat. Vegetables make up the largest section, followed by grains. Together, fruits and vegetables fill half the plate while proteins and grains fill the other half.

What are the 6 MyPlate food groups? ›

Start Simple with MyPlate

It's important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy or fortified soy alternatives.

What is the most popular ingredient in Latin American cuisine? ›

Most famously, tomatoes are the primary ingredient in Latin American soups, stews, and salsas. Their bright acidity brings a solid base to a number of dishes and are used in a majority of Latin American cultures.

What is the largest food producer in Latin America? ›

Brazil. Brazil is the world's third largest agricultural exporter after the US and the EU, with annual exports that have averaged USD 98 billion over the past three years.

What are the two major influences on Latin America? ›

Although most of Latin America was colonized by Spain, the countries of Portugal and France also had major influences on the region.

What are the influences of Latin American culture? ›

The richness of Latin American culture is the product of many influences, including: Spanish and Portuguese culture, owing to the region's history of colonization, settlement and continued immigration from Spain and Portugal.

What other food is also important in defining Latin American food cultures? ›

Latin American food traditions

Corn was the basis of their food, along with beans and other vegetables like squash and peppers. The Inca people also grew potatoes and quinoa, a small grain that's gained popularity as a health food in many parts of the world today.

What are the 5 values of Latino culture? ›

Traditional Latino values include familism, respect, religion, and traditional gender roles while mainstream values include independence/self-reliance and competition/personal achievement.

Is Latin America culturally diverse? ›

The main defining trait of Latin American culture is its diversity. Across this vast territory, we can pick up on significant cultural differences between neighbouring countries, and even within each region.

How is Latin American culture different from American culture? ›

The first difference between the two cultures is language. While English is the official language of the U.S., Spanish is the primary language in Latin America. In the United States, English is the dominant language with over 230 million speakers. Spanish comes in second with more than 37 million speakers.

Is Latin American food the same as Mexican food? ›

Many foods from Latin America and Spain share commonalities with Mexican food. As with any country or region, Mexico's agriculture has had the greatest influence on its cuisine.

Why is Latin American culture unique? ›

The culture of South America today stems from a diverse set of cultural traditions, dating back to those of pre-Columbian civilisations and indigenous tribes, which have mixed with those of African slaves as well as Asian and European immigrants. This vibrant and unique cultural mix is reflected... More...

What is one common Latin American food similar to traditional African food? ›

Tamales uses one of the African cooking techniques widespread in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the use of the green leaves of banana trees to seal dishes that require concentration of flavor, moisture, and consistency, being cooked slowly.

What Latin American country eats the most meat? ›

The biggest consumer of meat per capita in South America is Argentina, where people consume an average of 117 kg of meat per capita per year. Brazil comes in second, with 99 kg of meat. Chile is third, with 92 kg. The lowest meat consumption can be found in Peru (25 kg), Venezuela (36 kg) and Paraguay (41 kg).

What time is dinner in Latin America? ›

South America

Places like Brazil, Chile and Peru have its most popular dinner timings are 8-9pm, while Argentina is a little later even (9-1opm).

How does food bring people together in the Latino culture? ›

Importance of Family and Food in Latin Culture

It brings connections to their roots, cultural heritage, and identity. Food brings families together in unison as eating with family is valued in the latino culture. Therefore, food brings a sense of togetherness as it cues the importance of family.

What is the most important challenge facing Latin America today? ›

Most important problems faced by Latin America according to opinion leaders and journalists in 2021
CharacteristicShare of respondents
Inequality reduction51%
Fight against corruption47%
Fight against insecurity/crime/drug trafficking43%
Better access to education35%
6 more rows
9 Feb 2022

What food group is pizza in? ›

Many popular foods don't fit neatly into one Pyramid group. For example, cheese pizza counts in several Pyramid groups: Grains (the crust), Milk (the cheese), and Vegetable (the tomato sauce).

Which food group is mayonnaise in? ›

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. This food group includes oils you cook with, plus foods that are mostly oil, such as mayonnaise and salad dressing.

What food group is spaghetti in? ›

Grains. Any food made from wheat, rye, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or other cereal grain is a grain product. This includes bread and pasta, breakfast cereal, grits, tortillas, and even popcorn.

Why is MyPlate wrong? ›

MyPlate does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables. The Healthy Eating Plate recommends eating a colorful variety of fruits. Read more about the benefits of fruits.

How is MyPlate controversial? ›

“USDA's MyPlate is making Americans sick,” PCRM president Neal Barnard, MD., said in a release. He added: “MyPlate should help Americans stay healthy; instead, it overemphasizes one nutrient—protein—and encourages consumption of dairy products that fuel the nation's diet-related disease epidemics.”

Which food group band in MyPlate is largest? ›

The wider the band, the more foods you should choose from that food group each day. The orange band in MyPyramid is the widest band. This means that you should choose more foods from the grain group than from any other single food group. The green, blue, and red bands are also relatively wide.

What is the difference between MyPlate and the Food Pyramid? ›

The MyPlate approach differs from the Food Pyramid by focusing on what foods you eat instead of a specific food group. In other words, it is less about what you don't eat and more about what you should be eating.

What is MyPlate and why is it important? ›

The purpose of MyPlate is to promote messages based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. MyPlate emphasizes five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy products. Consuming balanced each of these food groups as recommended in MyPlate helps you build and maintain healthy bones.

What are the MyPlate recommendations? ›

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products are healthy choices. Include a variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and eggs. Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.

What are 4 key foods that are important to the Latin American cuisine? ›

Some of the most foundational ingredients across Latin America are beans, corn, rice, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. Plantains are a staple in Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as in southern Mexico. Potatoes, on the other hand, are a major staple in Peru and other parts of South America.

Which Latin American country has the best cuisine? ›

Because foods across Latin America are all based around similar staples such as rice and beans, Mexico tends to be everyone's first choice when it comes to Latin American food.

What are traditional Latino foods? ›

The ingredients in traditional Hispanic foods are fresh and vibrant. Ingredients such as beans, cheese, onion, tomatoes, limes, and garlic are layered together to create deeply flavorful dishes including empanadas, arepas, tacos, maduros, ceviche, and paella.

Which Latin country has the healthiest food? ›

The numbers are in! Costa Rica has officially been ranked as the happiest as well as the healthiest country in Latin America.

What foods are the base of most Latin American cuisine *? ›

Some items typical of Latin American cuisine include maize-based dishes arepas, pupusas, tacos, tamales, tortillas and various salsas and other condiments (guacamole, pico de gallo, mole, chimichurri, chili, aji, pebre).

What is Latin America known for producing? ›

Within the first group the most important commodities are sugar, bananas, cocoa, coffee, tobacco, beef, corn, and wheat. Oil, natural gas, and petroleum products dominate the second group, while linseed oil, cotton, cattle hides, fish meal, wool, copper, tin, iron ore, lead, and zinc top the third group.

What is the most important crop in Latin America? ›

Corn (maize), a native of tropical America and now a staple in countries around the world, is the most widely cultivated crop throughout the continent. Argentina became a major exporter of corn during the 20th century.

What is the history of Latin America cuisine? ›

Latino foods reflect the enormous social diversity resulting from Latin America's history of settlement and intermarriage. The indigenous inhabitants of the Americas domesticated three highly productive and nutritious staples: corn, potatoes, and manioc, which are now eaten widely around the world.

What are some African influences on Latin American cuisine? ›

Many of our national dishes have ingredients and techniques of African origin that were reinvented and adapted over the years in the kitchens of our lands. Yam, pigeon peas, Candia, guinea fowl, sweet pepper, coconut milk, yucca, banana, black beans, and long rice are just a few.

What influenced Mexican cuisine? ›

The Mexican cuisine was influenced most by Spanish food. They brought new livestock with them, including sheep, pigs, and cows. They also brought dairy products, garlic, as well as many other herbs, wheat, and spices.

What is the most diverse Latin American country? ›

Colombia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the Western Hemisphere. Its population is the result of indigenous racial mixture, African and European. The indigenous ethnic groups and Afro-Colombians inhabit 24% of the country.

How did Africans contribute to Latin American culture? ›

A strong African influence pervades music, dance, the arts, literature, speech forms, and religious practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africans, whether as slaves or free immigrants, brought a variety of different cultural influences to the New World.

What are 2 examples of dishes that are a part of Latin American cuisine which has roots in African culture? ›

From Bahia in Brazil to the Garifuna in Central America, here are eight foods that Latin Americans can thank Africa for:
  • Mangú Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla. ...
  • Mofongo. Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla. ...
  • Mogo mogo. Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla. ...
  • Rondón. ...
  • Vatapá ...
  • Tacu tacu. ...
  • Tapado. ...
  • Quimbombo.
1 Mar 2016

What heavily influenced Spanish cuisine? ›

Much influence on Spanish cuisine has come from the Jewish and Moorish traditions. The Moors were a strong influence in Spain for many centuries and their food is still eaten in Spain today.

What cultures influenced Spanish cuisine? ›

Over the centuries, Spanish food has gained elements from different cultures: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs, who contributed to the cultivation of olive trees, giving origin to the word aceite (“Az-zait” means olive juice).

What was one of the two great outside influences on Mexican cuisine? ›

Spanish influence in Mexican cuisine is also noticeable in its sweets such as: alfajores, alfeniques, borrachitos and churros. Asian and African influences were also introduced during this era as a result of African slavery in New Spain and the Manila-Acapulco Galleons.


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