Meet the woman spreading the word that “gordito” doesn’t mean healthy

Registered dietitian and nutritionist Claudia González counsels the Latino community in Miami-Dade County, Florida about ways to make healthy lifestyle changes. (Photos/Courtesy Claudia Gonzalez)

Twice a month, Claudia González heads into the Good News Care Center in Miami-Dade County, Florida and delivers free comprehensive health and nutrition information for Hispanics across a variety of ages and circumstances in a small classroom. As a registered dietitian and nutritionist, Gonzalez presents nutritional need-to-know-facts with every speech and hug  given to the community that she feels needs it most.

“Growing up in Lima, Peru, I always played outside, ate healthy but was surrounded by people dieting,” recalls the 43-year-old. “I was always curious about how physical and mental activity met nutrition to create a healthy lifestyle and in college decided that I would spend my career helping others become informed about nutrition. There were only a few Latinos in my graduating class in college, so from early on I knew there was a need for people like me to work within the community.”

Meet the woman spreading the word that gordito doesnt mean healthy tumblr m1nwhhSLkp1r1767o parenting family NBC Latino News

Claudia González, MS, R.D. has served as a nutrition consultant for a variety of organizations and served as a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association for six years.

Now, as a successful nutritionist with an independent consulting practice, González delivers community-based nutritional counseling for the elderly, children and families in the Miami-Dade area. Although the majority of her clients are Mexican-American, she has extensive experience working with Latinos from across Latin America and the Caribbean. She’s also written a book shedding light on obesity among Latino children titled “Gordito Doesn’t Mean Healthy.”

González cites her interest in childhood nutrition as a reason she’s eagerly taken on the role of community advocate. “Nutrition isn’t intuitive and as a community, we have to teach our children to do their homework, go to bed early and approach food with a healthy mentality,” says the two-time Florida International University graduate. “There’s confusion about the role of food among Latinos and we don’t pay attention to what we eat – and there are real consequences to that in childhood and beyond.”

A new report on the chronic health conditions and nutritional intake of Mexican American adults released this week by The Centers for Disease Control and Health Prevention emphasizes the need for Latinos to begin and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The report found that nearly 40 percent of Mexican-American adults 20-74 years old were obese in 2010.  This percentage of obesity was measured a solid 5 percent higher than the 35 percent obesity rate in 2006 – and with it, introduced a prevalence of obesity and diabetes among Mexican American adults.

“Being overweight means you’re carrying more weight than you should,” says González. “And our bodies know when we’re at that point – when you’re having knee and joint problems, heart burn and the like.” Those easy-to-dismiss symptoms, says González, often lead to a laundry list of serious consequences like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a high triglycerides count, diabetes and some cancers.

But the preventative solution to these potentially life-threating diseases is within grasp. Healthy fruit and vegetable intake, portion moderation and exercise are three simple “secrets” that can change a family’s life forever, says González.

“We have this culture where from day one, if your baby isn’t chubby, something must be wrong,” explains González, who has three grown children. “We overfeed them, give them the wrong foods at an early age but parents need to know that even at birth, nutrition plays an essential part of well-being.”

So González advises families to make 12 small changes over 12 months. She recommends incorporating vegetables in your diet, cutting out alcohol, limiting sugary beverages and even parking the car further away in the parking lot as habits that can go a long way in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“Obesity is a reality in our community, but all we need to do is go back to the simple concept that calories in should be less than calories out,” says González. “For Latinos, food is life, but when we exceed what’s healthy, there are severe consequences.”

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