South America contains 12 countries, each with their own very distinct cuisine, however, there are some nutritional trends that transverse across the region. Traditionally three meals a day are eaten but lunch is the largest dish of the day. The main grain varies considerably but often consists of corn, rice, and the ultra grain quinoa which is grown in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Coffee, Yerba Mate (type of tea), and Red Wine are popular beverages. In terms of nutritional deficiencies, the most common concerns are low iron, Vitamin A, and Iodine.
With improvements in healthcare, infrastructure, and literacy in South American infant mortality rates have gone down steadily, however, the danger as with many regions “in transition” is that the incidence of chronic illness will continue to rise. The World Health Organization published an in-depth report in 2003 called Diet, Nutrition, and The Prevention of Chronic Diseases where global nutrition trends were examined in parallel with the rise in chronic diseases.
Something that I found interesting from this report was that as regions move from developed to more economically prosperous , the shift brings about a rise in obesity and malnutrition. With more and more disposable income, what is happening is that traditional high nutrient diets which are commonly plant heavy and largely non-animal based protein are being replaced with calorie dense, high fat, animal based meals. Such dietary habits are a key contributor to chronic illnesses such as Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes. A combination of communicable (water born or person-to-person) diseases and chronic illness has been coined “the double burden of disease”. Unfortunately, South America is in the midst of this intense battle.
Many countries in South America are in transition or still in the early stages of development so it will be interesting to see how their government handles nutrition and public health in the upcoming years.
Stayed tuned to the Worldly Nutrition Series when we stop in North America tomorrow.
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