10 healthy Mexican foods
Mexican cuisine is widely known for its flavor and spices, but there can often be confusion about where Mexican food fits into a balanced diet.
It may be common to think that Mexican food should be reserved for special occasions or to think that traditional Mexican meals are incompatible with a healthy diet, but this is mainly due to misconceptions.
In fact, Mexican cultures offer a wide variety of foods that have a lot to teach us about nutrition.
It also goes beyond basic staples. While Mexican staples like tomatoes, squash, and corn are generally considered healthy, there’s a whole additional category of healthy Mexican foods to consider.
Some Mexican ingredients, such as chia seeds, pumpkin, and cactus, are very popular in the health food world, but many shoppers may not consider them Mexican.
Here are 10 nutritionally good Mexican foods you’ll want to pile on your plate.
You may not consider chilies a vegetable, but whether you like jalapeños or milder poblanos, all chilies can count towards your vegetable intake for the day.
Just like other vegetables, peppers provide a wide variety of vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin A (
Although a whole pepper can be a rich source of these vitamins, it can be difficult to eat a large enough serving of the hottest varieties to get a significant amount of micronutrients.
If so, you can still enjoy the vitamin benefits of chili peppers from milder varieties such as poblanos.
Additionally, the compound that makes chili peppers spicy — called capsaicin — has been linked to reduced levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol (
Beans and other legumes have long been associated with lower LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (
Beans may also be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, as they are associated with better insulin sensitivity and may help reduce the post-meal blood sugar response to foods such as rice when they are consumed at the same time
Although beans are packed with health benefits, many people consider them a meat alternative and may not know how to incorporate beans into their diet.
Mexican cuisine can help us incorporate beans on a regular basis, as they are usually served with Mexican dishes, either as a side dish or as part of the main course. A simple side dish of rice and beans is a classic and can add a nutritional boost to a meal.
Here are 10 easy ways to use beans.
Chia seeds have rapidly gained popularity in the United States over the past few decades. They are often incorporated into smoothies, puddings and quick jams.
These little seeds are popular as a simple, neutral-tasting way to add extra fiber, calcium, and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (
What you might not know is that these seeds are part of traditional Mexican cuisine. In Mexican cuisine, chia seeds are usually consumed in drinks, combined with water or fruit juices.
In Mexican cuisine, pumpkin seeds are more than a fall treat. They can be eaten all year round, with or without their shell.
In addition to being eaten as a snack, nuggets are often used in sauces (pipian and mole, for example) or seasonings.
Nuggets are a vegetable source of protein, iron and zinc. These nutrients are commonly associated with animal products, and nuggets are a great choice for vegans and vegetarians who may be looking to fill nutrient gaps (
It’s not just the seeds that are healthy — pumpkin is a Mexican food that’s a rich source of vitamin A, which may support eye health (
In Mexican cuisine, pumpkin can be used in soups or as a dessert. Candied pumpkin is a traditional dessert that is particularly popular during the holidays.
Despite the popularity of low-carb diets, corn tortillas are a healthy staple derived from Mexican culture.
In addition to providing fiber, the processing technique — called nixtamalization — that turns corn into tortillas increases the amount of calcium in the tortillas and reduces the levels of compounds that prevent the absorption of vitamin B3 (
Jicama is a root vegetable that is usually served chilled with lime and chili as a refreshing snack.
Researchers are studying jicama for its potential ability to support blood sugar management, thanks to its status as a high-fiber, low-glycemic root vegetable (
This spice is an important ingredient in Mexican desserts and drinks, and researchers are studying its potential benefits for people with diabetes.
For example, consuming cinnamon can potentially reduce blood sugar and triglyceride levels (13).
The prickly pear, in particular, is popular in Mexican cuisine. Cactus paddles can be sautéed, grilled, or even marinated and served in a salad.
Prickly pear is a rich source of fiber and may have benefits for people with diabetes. Eating prickly pears with meals may reduce the rise in blood sugar that can occur after eating (
Unsweetened chocolate, made from cocoa beans, is a rich source of antioxidants and polyphenols (
It may also have a hypotriglyceridic effect (
Chocolate is more than just a dessert in Mexican cuisine – it can be used in drinks, as well as sauces such as mole, to provide a rich depth of flavor in a variety of meals.
Learn more about the health benefits of chocolate.
While many people think that Mexican food is a treat that shouldn’t be eaten often, the truth is that Mexican food is a rich and varied cuisine with lots of nutritious foods.
Many of the most popular natural food ingredients in the United States, including pumpkin, chia seeds, cactus, and chocolate, actually come from Mexico.
If you’re unsure how to incorporate these popular ingredients into your routine, you might want to take inspiration from their Mexican origins and try some traditional recipes.
Plus, Mexican staples like beans and corn tortillas are very nutritious and can be a great foundation for a balanced diet.