What’s the Secret to Latino Longevity?

Latinos living in the United States tend to have “less education, a higher poverty rate, and worse access to health care” and “represent the ultimate paradigm of healthcare disparities,” with the highest rate of uninsured, lowest rates of health screening and counseling, and poorest levels of blood pressure and blood sugar control, as well as “other measures of deficient quality of care.” So they must have dismal public health statistics, right? According to the latest national data, the life expectancy of white men and women is 76 and 81 years, respectively, and that of black men and women is shorter by a handful of years. And Latinos? Amazingly, they beat out everyone.

Latinos live the longest.

This has been called the Hispanic Paradox (now also known as the Latino Paradox), which I explore in my video, The Hispanic Paradox: Why Do Latinos Live Longer?. Latinos have a 24 percent lower risk of premature death and “lower risks of nine of the leading 15 causes of death,” with notably less cancer and heart disease. This was first noticed 30 years ago but was understandably was met with great criticism. Maybe the data were unreliable? No, that didn’t seem to be it. Maybe only the healthiest people migrate? Turns out the opposite may be true. What about the “salmon bias” theory, which “proposes that Latinos return to their home country…to ‘die in their home’” so they aren’t counted in U.S. death statistics? That theory didn’t pan out either.

Systematic reviews “confirm the existence of a Hispanic Paradox.” Given the strong evidence, it may be time to accept it and move on to figuring out the cause. The very existence of the “Hispanic Paradox” could represent “a major opportunity to identify a protective factor for CVD [cardiovascular disease] applicable to the rest of the population.” After all, whatever is going on “is strong enough to overcome the disadvantageous effect” of poverty, language barriers, and low levels of education, health literacy, quality of healthcare, and insurance coverage. Before we get our hopes up too much, though, could it just be genetic? No. As foreign-born Latinos acculturate to the United States, as they embrace the American way of life, their mortality rates go up. So, what positive health behaviors may account for Latino longevity?

Perhaps they exercise more? No, Latinos appear to be even more sedentary. They do smoke less, however the paradox persists even after taking that into account. Could it be their diet? As they acculturate, they start eating more processed and animal-based foods, and consume fewer plant foods—and perhaps one plant food in particular: beans. Maybe a reason Latinos live longer is because they eat more beans. Although Latinos only represent about 10 percent of the population, they eat a third of the beans in the United States, individually eating four to five times more beans per capita, a few pounds a month as opposed to a few pounds per year. That may help explain the “Hispanic Paradox,” because legumes (beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils) cool down systemic inflammation.

In my video, you can see the mechanism researchers propose in terms of lung health. While cigarette smoking and air pollution cause lung inflammation, which increases the risk for emphysema and lung cancer, when we eat beans, the good bacteria in our gut take the fiber and resistant starch, and form small chain fatty acids that are absorbed back into our system and decrease systemic inflammation, which not only may inhibit lung cancer development, but also other cancers throughout the body. Latinos have the lowest rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, and also tend to have lower rates of bladder cancer, throat cancer, and colorectal cancer for both men and women.

This “systemic inflammation” concept is also supported by the fact that when Latinos do get cardiovascular disease or lung, colon, or breast cancer, they have improved survival rates. Decreasing whole body inflammation may be important for both prevention and survival.

Asian Americans also appear to have some protection, which may be because they eat more beans, too, particularly in the form of tofu and other soy foods, as soy intake is associated with both preventing lung cancer and surviving it.

Hispanics also eat more corn, tomatoes, and chili peppers. A quarter of the diet in Mexico is made up of corn tortillas, and Mexican-Americans, whether born in Mexico or the United States, continue to eat more than the general population. Looking at cancer rates around the world, not only was bean consumption associated with less colon, breast, and prostate cancer, but consumption of rice and corn appeared protectively correlated, too.

Since NAFTA, though, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Mexican diet has changed to incorporate more soda and processed and animal foods, and their obesity rates are fast catching up to those in the United States.

In the United States, Latinos eat more fruits and vegetables than other groups, about six or seven servings a day, but still don’t even make the recommended minimum of nine daily servings, so their diet could stand some improvement. Yes, Hispanics may only have half the odds of dying from heart disease, but it’s “still the number one cause of death among Hispanics. Therefore, the current results should not be misinterpreted to mean that CVD is rare among Hispanics.” Ideally they’d be eating even more whole plant foods, but one thing everyone can learn from the Latino experience is that a shift toward a more plant-based diet in general can be a potent tool in the treatment and prevention of chronic disease.


Data like this support my Daily Dozen recommendation for eating legumes ideally at every meal, and we have free apps for both iPhone and Android that can help you meet these dietary goals.

For more on the wonders of beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils, see my videos and love your legumes!:

What’s the best way to eat them? See Canned Beans or Cooked Beans? and Cooked Beans or Sprouted Beans?.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Don’t Let Their Divide and Conquer Strategy Work

Dietary changes appear to be shifting universally toward a diet dominated by higher intakes of calorie-dense foods, including corn syrup, sugar, animal products, and oils. This is all thanks to global agricultural policies that have built in a long-term focus on creating things like cheap corn. “Consumption of foods high in saturated and industrially produced trans fats, salt, and sugar is the cause of at least 14 million deaths every year.”

“Few governments prioritize health over big business. As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.”

This is difficult terrain for many public health scientists. As discussed in my video The Healthy Food Movement: Strength in Unity, “It took five decades after the initial studies linking tobacco and cancer for effective public health policies to be put in place, with enormous cost to human health. Must we wait another five decades to respond to the similar effects of Big Food?”

They do have money on their side. The chemical, tobacco, and food industries have the luxury to share similar tactics with the drug companies because they have the resources to do so. By contrast, powerful and inexpensive health-promoting activities, such as eating a healthy diet, are actually “too cheap and not patented.”

Preventing cardiovascular disease “is not an easy task because it means engaging in a battle against strong industrial sectors; but it is possible with sufficient political courage and citizen support.”

In fact, it’s not only possible—it’s been done before. The move back to breastfeeding is a great example of action in public health nutrition that is still succeeding. Breastmilk doesn’t make anyone any money, so companies like Nestle pushed infant formulas and millions of babies may have died as a result. A global movement rose up and resulted in the passage of a code regulating the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. As the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) at the time said, “Without their constant lobbying, reminding us of our duty as public health officers…WHO simply would not have had the courage to get on with it.”

“What has this got to do with nutrition and food policy [now]? Everything, if we want to improve public health. We must seek out the food and nutrition equivalents of Greenpeace…we should be prepared to stand up and be counted…Might this put our jobs and careers on the line? You had better believe that it will.”

To do this, the healthy food movement needs to stay united.

Tobacco industry giant Philip Morris is still fighting into the 21st century. Their latest campaign, dubbed ‘‘Project Sunrise,’’ was launched to lead to the ‘‘dawn of a new day.’’ Their own internal Public Policy Plan Draft calls Project Sunrise “an explicit divide-and-conquer strategy against the tobacco control movement.” Indeed, according to Philip Morris, the number-one vulnerability of the anti-smoking movement is that their success “may blind organizations to carefully orchestrated efforts by the tobacco industry and its allies to accelerate turf wars and exacerbate philosophical schisms.” So, their main objectives were to attack the credibility of the anti-smoking movement, create schisms, and force them to fight amongst themselves. Think of how much of that we already do in the healthy food movement, and it just distracts us from the bigger picture.

One of Philip Morris’ primary strategies was to drive a wedge between various anti-smoking groups. Another was to weaken the their credibility, in part by developing communication strategies to “demonstrate the extremism of the health prevention movement. First tobacco, then alcohol, then meet (sic), then other products.” Not only are the tobacco lawyers a bit spelling challenged, but public health groups are part of a health promotion movement. Health prevention is more the purview of Big Ag.


Not only do public health nutrition groups fight amongst themselves—they sometimes even bed down with Big Food. See my videos Collaboration with the New Vectors of Disease and American Medical Association Complicity with Big Tobacco.

The True Health Initiative, spearheaded by Dr. David Katz, is a great example of the strength in unity concept I’m trying to get across. Please consider joining.

For more on unbelievable tobacco tactics, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The post Don’t Let Their Divide and Conquer Strategy Work appeared first on NutritionFacts.org.

Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?

Fiber continues to be singled out as a nutrient of public health concern. We’re getting only about half the minimum recommended intake on average. There is a fiber gap in America. Less than 3 percent meet the recommended minimum. This means that less than 3 percent of all Americans eat enough whole plant foods, the only place fiber is found in abundance. If even half of the adult population ate 3 more grams a day—a quarter cup of beans or a bowl of oatmeal—we could potentially save billions in medical costs. And that’s just for constipation! The consumption of plant foods, of fiber-containing foods, may reduce the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity as well.

The first to make this link between fiber intake and killer disease was probably Dr. Hugh Trowell. He spent 30 years practicing medicine in Africa and suspected it was the Africans high consumption of corn, millet, sweet potatoes, greens, and beans that protected them from chronic disease. This twisted into the so-called “fiber hypothesis,” but Trowell didn’t think it was the fiber itself, but the high-fiber foods themselves that were protective. There are hundreds of different substances in whole plant foods besides fiber that may have beneficial effects. For example, the fiber in oatmeal can lower our blood cholesterol levels so that less gets stuck in our arteries, but there also are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients in oats that can prevent atherosclerotic build-up and then help maintain arterial function (see Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?).

Visionaries like Trowell were not entrapped by the reductionist “simple-minded” focus on dietary fiber and insisted that the whole plant foods should receive the emphasis. Fiber intake was just a marker for plant food intake. Those with the highest fiber intake and the lowest cholesterol were those whose who ate exclusively plant-based diets.

Risk factors like cholesterol are one thing, but can these individual foods actually affect the progression of heart disease, the #1 killer of Americans? We didn’t know until 2005. Hundreds of older women were subjected to coronary angiograms, where we inject dye into the coronary arteries of the heart to see how wide open they are. Each participant got an angiogram at the beginning of the study and one a few years later, all while researchers analyzed their diets. The arteries of women eating less than a serving of whole grains a day significantly narrowed, whereas the arteries of women who ate just a single serving or more also significantly narrowed, but they narrowed less. These were all women with heart disease eating the standard American diet, so their arteries were progressively clogging shut. But there was significantly less clogging in the women eating more whole grains, significantly less progression of their atherosclerosis. A similar slowing of their disease might be expected from taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. But do we want to just slow the rate at which we die from heart disease, or do we want to not die from heart disease at all?

A strictly plant-based diet has been shown to reverse the progression of heart disease, opening up arteries back up. Yes, whole grains, like drugs, can help counter the artery-clogging effects of the rest of the diet. Having oatmeal with bacon and eggs is better than just eating bacon and eggs, but why not stop eating an artery-clogging diet altogether?

Oatmeal offers a lot more than fiber, though. See Oatmeal Lotion for Chemotherapy-Induced Rash and Can Oatmeal Help Fatty Liver Disease?

Trowell’s work had a big influence on Dr. Denis Burkitt. See Dr. Burkitt’s F-Word Diet.

This reminds me of other interventions like hibiscus tea for high blood pressure (Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension) or amla for diabetes (Amla Versus Diabetes). Better to reverse the disease completely.

And for an overview of how whole plant foods affect disease risks, be sure to check out the videos on our new Introduction page!

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Rachel Hathaway / Flickr. This image has been modified.