Think Latin food isn’t good for you? Think again. Often described as heavy, dense, and fattening, Latin food has received an undeserved bad rap for too long. Unfortunately, the bad reputation has taken hold and convinced many Latinos that the food they grew up eating and loving is not a healthy option.
Can Latin cooks rely less on frying? Yes. Could lean cuts of meat replace the fatty ones that many rely upon? Sure. But the flavors of the Latin kitchen are bright and bursting with flavor that when added to some fundamentally Latin (and healthy) ingredients like beans and tomatoes, can be delicious and down right good for you. Here are 7 Latin ingredients and dishes that will nourish you and hopefully restore your healthy confidence in the Latin pantry.
Talk about a bad rap. For a long time avocados had been shunned as being too high in fat, but luckily this creamy and luscious fruit has made a come back. Many now know what Latinos have known all along - avocados are delicious and nutritious! Packed with good for you monounsaturated fats, avocados are heart healthy and can help control cholesterol levels. They also deliver a healthy dose of fiber (14 grams of fiber in each avocado!), not to mention potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin C.
Typical Dish: Guacamole
Sweet potatoes have definitely caught the attention of the health conscious. Luckily, this tuber has held a place at the Latin table for centuries. While the North American variety has a distinctive reddish hue, many other varieties exist in Latin America and go by names such as boniato, batata, or camote. Irrespective of what you call them, they offer almost 400 times your daily need for vitamin A as well as a slew of other vitamins. And while many are turning their backs on starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes have a very low glycemic response, which means they have little impact on your blood sugar levels.
Typical Dish: Ajiaco
A fiber powerhouse, black beans are good for digestive health and offer antioxidants via its black skin. The antioxidant, anthocyanin flavonoid, which is found in the skin’s pigment is responsible for the rich black color found on the bean’s surface. This makes the black bean stand out nutritionally over all other beans and legumes. Other good reasons to include black beans in your diet - protein, iron, and folate.
Health benefits of garlic are not due to its macronutrients - it has virtually no carbohydrates, fat, or protein, and as a result practically no calories. Instead its benefits lie in its phytonutrients, natural chemicals founds in plants that we do not need to sustain life but can provide health benefits. Studies have shown garlic to provide a positive effect on reducing total serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It may also be effective in slowing the development of atherosclerosis and seems to be able to modestly reduce blood pressure.
Tomatoes offer a good source of vitamins A and C but its biggest health benefit comes from the antioxidant lycopene it contains, which is found in its red, yellow, and orange pigment. Tomatoes are the most concentrated food source of lycopene, and while studies have shown that the body absorbs the lycopene from cooked tomato products more than from raw tomatoes, tomatoes in any form are a good idea. Even the American Cancer Society has come out with a recommendation to include lycopene rich foods such as tomatoes in one’s diet as a protection from certain cancers (specifically lung, prostate, stomach, bladder, cervix, and skin).
Typical Dish: Pico de Gallo
The Latin pantry has a seed to call its own. Pumpkin seeds, or as we like to call them pepitas, are found in many Latin kitchens and yet many are not aware at how good they are for us. For starters a handful of roasted pepitas contain about half our daily requirement of magnesium. Low intake of this mineral is associated with elevated inflammation markers, which in turn is related to health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. In addition to providing magnesium, that same handful of pepitas will deliver 125 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and a good dose of omega 3 fatty acids.
Non-gluten, plant based, complete protein. These are just some of the reasons quinoa has sky rocketed to popularity. But when you add quick to cook (less than 20 minutes) and easy to pair, then it gains culinary rock star status.
Typical Dish: Rice or starch substitute