Watching calories and fat? Mexican food sometimes gets a bad rap. Sure, high fat ingredients like cheese, sour cream and guacamole are hallmarks of Mexican cuisine, but all three can be healthy in small doses. Guacamole, for example, is loaded with healthful omega-3 fatty acids, cheese is chock full of calcium and sour cream contains immune-boosting probiotics. If you are watching calories, it helps to know that 1 Tbl of shredded cheese (cheddar) is about 30 calories, 1 Tbl sour cream is 25 calories, and 1 Tbl guacamole is about 20 calories. So each of these can fit into a great Mexican meal if added in small amounts.
More importantly, the crux of Mexican fare includes power packed ingredients like beans, whole grains, lean meats and fish, as well as antioxidant-rich spices. In fact, experts say eating these foods not only fills you up without weighing you down but may help boost your immunity, to boot.
While nearly every ingredient in Mexican cuisine is loaded with both flavor and nutrients, here are a few of our favorites:
- Black Beans: Beans are loaded with fiber, a nutrient associated with lower risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They’re a great source of protein. And they digest very slowly, providing sustained energy and preventing the blood sugar roller coaster commonly associated with high-calorie American meals. What’s more, beans help lower cholesterol. In fact, experts say eating one cup of cooked beans a day can lower your total cholesterol by up to 10 percent in just six weeks. A bonus: beans are loaded with protective phytochemicals, antioxidants and vitamins.
- Cilantro: Cilantro is a key ingredient in Mexican salsa. And that’s good news, since cilantro contains powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities. In fact, studies show that cilantro is a safe, natural means of fighting salmonella, a frequent and sometimes deadly cause of food borne illness. This pungent herb helps destroy the viruses and germs that cause colds, and regular intake has been linked to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and higher HDL (good) cholesterol. A bonus: studies show that cilantro helps remove heavy metals like mercury, aluminum, and lead from the body, which is one of the many reasons it’s a staple in so-called “detox” diets.
- Onions: A number of studies show that the onion (and other members of the allium vegetable family, like garlic, scallions, chives and leeks) is an impressive cancer-fighting food. Onions contain smelly sulfur compounds, which have surprising health benefits. Indeed, experts note that onions contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiviral properties. And they’re tasty, too. Plus, studies show that onions may help build strong bones (a compound in onions inhibit the activity of the cells that break down bone).
- Peppers: Sweet or spicy, peppers offer myriad health benefits. They’re low in calories but packed with important nutrients like vitamin C, A and potassium. Plus, peppers contain cancer-fighting ingredients like lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin. Plus, hot peppers may boost metabolism – makes sense when you think about how eating hot peppers can make you sweat. Hot peppers are also used to clear congestion, enhance immunity and prevent stomach ulcers by killing bacteria.
- Salsa: Salsa adds more than a dollop of flavor to your fajita, burrito or taco. It also offers a slew of health benefits. Weighing in at just four to five calories per tablespoon – and zero fat – salsa boasts plenty of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B6, C, iron, magnesium and potassium. Plus, with a base of tomatoes, salsa is loaded with cancer-fighting lycopene. And, more often than not, it also contains immune-boosting favorites like cilantro, onions and peppers, too! What more could you ask for from a condiment?
With all of these health-enhancing perks, who can resist? More importantly, who would want to? So, what are you waiting for? Hit a Healthy Dining Mexican restaurant, order a skinny margarita and toast to your health.