Traditional Mexican food has health benefits

The intake of phenolic compounds (PCI) from traditional Mexican food positively affects health conditions and supports the hypothesis that specific nutritional foods have a particular effect on certain diseases, according to researchers from the Institute of Sciences of the Benemrita Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP), Puebla, Mexico.

Their study, published in the journal foods, is the first to produce tables showing the phenolic content of Mexican dishes. Physicians and nutritionists can use this information as a reference tool when making dietary recommendations for patients who could benefit from higher intakes of phenolic compounds (PCs).

Mexican dishes Description Total phenolic compounds per single serving of each recipe (TPCr)
Red mole / red mole Mole sauce, a unique sauce from Mexico. Cocoa and spices are the protagonists of this sauce. 4834.9
Arroz con frijol/Rice with beans A mix of previously boiled beans and rice; it is seasoned with salt and spices. 1591.0
Enfrijoladas A dish made using two basic ingredients: tortilla and beans. The tortillas are dipped in a broad bean purée and stuffed with fresh cheese. It usually has a vegetable topping (lettuce, tomato or onion). 1619.0
Red Enchiladas/Red Enchiladas A dish of tortilla chips and Mexican salsa. The tortillas are dipped in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce and then stuffed with chicken or vegetables. It usually has a vegetable topping (lettuce, tomato or onion). 11,111.0
Pippin A dish with roasted pumpkin seeds, spices, pork or turkey. 345.6
Salsas rojas/red sauces A condiment made from tomatoes, hot peppers and spices. 1300.6 (average)
Salsas verdes/green sauces A condiment made from tomatillos, hot peppers, and spices. 1504.8
Verdolagas/Portulaca A purslane and pork based stew, covered in a green sauce. 2952.9 (average)
Ensalada con espinacas/Spinach Salad A salad with spinach, oilseeds, spices, olive oil and sour cream. 1339.3

“Until now, there was no table that we nutritionists and doctors could look at and see exactly which foods were richest in these compounds. In USA, European countries, Asian countries all had food tables; Mexico, we didn\’t do that,” said lead author Julia Alatorre-Cruz, PhD, a biological scientist and postdoctoral researcher at BUAP. “So, it\’s quite an innovative contribution. As a bonus, the information can be used to analyze the relationship between diet and NCDs in the Mexican population.\”

In recent years, nutritional science has focused on tackling nutrient deficiencies and certain diseases by identifying active food components. The diet offers the possibility to improve the health condition of the patient by using these components or functional foods.

PCs are a heterogeneous group of plant micronutrients, some of which modulate physiological and molecular pathways involved in energy metabolism. They can act with different mechanisms; the most important of them are carried out by anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-allergic activities.

Furthermore, recent studies explain how PCs positively influence some diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, thrombocytopenia and metabolic syndrome. Several common features characterize these pathologies including the redox balance and a remarkable inflammatory response that strongly alters the biochemical and functional characteristics of the affected tissues.

Traditional Mexican food is characterized by grains, tubers, legumes, vegetables and spices, most of which are high in PC. However, the Mexican diet has changed in recent decades as traditional food has been replaced with ultra-processed, high-calorie foods. Furthermore, some vegetables and fruits are preferentially consumed after processing, which affects the quantity, quality and bioavailability of PCs. Furthermore, diseases associated with food habits have increased by more than 27% in the Mexican population.

The study\’s goal was to determine whether participants with a higher PC intake from Mexican drinks or dishes had better health than those with a lower intake.

A total of 973 adults (798 female, 175 male) aged 18 to 79 years were enrolled in this cross-sectional study. The data was obtained from a validated, self-administered food consumption survey that was posted on social media (Facebook) or sent via WhatsApp or email. In one section was a listing of Mexican fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, spices, beverages, and dishes. Participants were asked to indicate how many times they had consumed these products in the past month. There were also sections for providing identification data (for example, age, gender, marital status), height and weight information, and medical history.

\”The study was conducted during the pandemic, hence limited contact with participants,\” said Alatorre-Cruz. \”Not being able to interact directly with them was a challenge. For example, we would have liked to have taken those anthropometric measurements ourselves.\”

The researchers performed K-mean clustering to determine the participant\’s level of health, resulting in two groups: those with fewer diseases (LD, n = 649) and those with more diseases (MD, n = 324).

Using the biochemical composition of foods reported in multiple articles, the researchers calculated the average total phenolic compounds (TPC) for each item listed in the survey. For Mexican dishes, they added the TPC of each recipe ingredient, then recalculated to get the TPC for a single serving of each recipe (TPCr). To analyze the results of the LD group and the MD group, the intake of phenolic compounds of the recipe for each participant was calculated.

For Alatorre-Cruz, the biggest challenge has been determining the compound content in traditional dishes. \”Extensive and extensive research has been done to gather as much information as possible about all foods, especially local and regional ones, because we have such a wide variety trying to see where that information would match up with exactly how the compounds of interest have been extracted.\”

As expected, the team found that high PC food was associated with better health. However, the consumption of Mexican drinks and dishes fell short of their expectations. As noted in the article, the Mexican diet has changed over the past few decades as traditional food has been replaced with high-calorie, ultra-processed foods.

The authors suggest that their data confirm previously reported alarming changes in Mexican dietary changes, possibly due to the increased influence of other countries through social media and economic globalization. However, they also found that the intake of beans, corn (mainly tortilla chips), and nopal remained preserved in Mexican dietary habits.

Their statistical analyzes revealed that gender, age and education appear to play a role in the presence or absence of disease in the Mexican cohort. Men, participants older than 29, and those with less education had more illnesses.

Alatorre-Cruz said Medscape spanish edition that the Foods the article opens up new lines of research for the group to pursue. \”A future proposal seeks to enroll patients with conditions in which there is increased oxidative stress that we know to have a rather detrimental effect and examine possible links to their diet. But now, perhaps the focus can be on patients with a single condition and using these traditional food tables to find links. We also want to learn more about the molecular or biochemical mechanisms that are modulating the association that we have seen before in animal models.\”

Laura lvarez, MD, a clinical nutrition specialist, is the founder of the NUTRIENT project, which focuses on nutrition and strength training. According to her, the study enhances the benefits of Mexican food. \”I\’ve always thought that people have this idea that Mexican food isn\’t good. Like, thinking it\’s very high in fat. But actually, Mexican food is very high in nutrients.\”

He added that the research should be expanded, enrolling a larger group of participants and evaluating not only more and more variety of Mexican dishes, but also new variables. “I think body composition could be taken into account. In this study, they looked at BMI to assess overweight and obesity, but… BMI doesn\’t tell us much. Overweight can be due to fat or due to di If we could be even more specific and find out which type of fat, we would have more information about others [possible] diseases that… must be taken into consideration.\”

This research was funded by the Institute of Sciences, Benemrita Autonomous University of Puebla. Funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analysis or interpretation of data; in drafting the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results. Alatorre-Cruz and lvarez did not disclose any relevant financial relationships.

Follow Mara Nayeli Ortega Villegas of Medscape Spanish Edition on LinkedIn.

This article was translated from Medscape spanish edition.

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