By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Cinco de mayo is one of my favorite holidays – it’s fun, festive, and great food is almost always assured (and drinks too!). While many of the traditional Mexican style foods offer healthy nutrients, some (like with any foods) can be higher in calories and saturated fat (think, cheese). To help guide you toward making healthy food choices this coming Cinco de Mayo, I’ve broken down a list of the healthiest Mexican foods and included some of our favorite, healthy recipes too.
Top 7 foods to pick on Cinco de Mayo:
Avocados are a total favorite of mine, and are certainly a staple in many Mexican dishes, ahem…guacamole!. These green creamy gems are absolutely loaded with nutrients including monounsaturated fat that also contains heart healthy and anti-inflammatory properties. Avocados are also majorly satisfying due to their fat content that can help to slow digestion and help prevent blood sugar spikes. Recipe: Guacamole – Have your guacamole with whole grain tortilla chips or even better, cut up fresh vegetables like carrots, celery or cucumbers.
Tomatoes & Tomatillos
Tomatoes are loaded with vitamins A and C that are skin and immune-healthy, and they’re also a good source of anti-cancer lycopene (made more available to your body for use when cooked), and carotenoids. Red, tomato-based salsa is a favorite staple in Mexican dishes, and is low calorie, requires only few ingredients, and is delicious!Tomatillos are another major favorite in Mexican cooking and are a relative of the tomato but are green in color instead. They have a less-sweet taste, and are used to make salsa verde (green salsa), that often also contains healthful herbs and spices (see herbs and below) including jalapeños and cilantro amongst others. Recipe: Salsa: Pair your salsa with whole grain chips or the quinoa dosas in the recipe, or slice vegetables for an even healthier side.
Black beans are common in Mexican salads and dips. Black beans are a source of key nutrients and minerals including calcium, energizing iron, heart-healthy magnesium and folate. Black beans also contain anythocyanins- a family of nutrients that can help to fight inflammation in the body. Lastly, black beans are loaded with fiber that can help to promote healthy digestion (also helping to prevent blood sugar spikes) and also can help to moderate cholesterol.Recipe: Black bean and mango salad – Serve this salad over greens or as a side dish on this Cinco de Mayo.
The spicier the better when it comes to key nutrients and metabolism-revving benefits of hot peppers. Spicy peppers like jalapeños are offered in many different dishes on Cinco de Mayo and in Mexican food in general. Jalapeño peppers can be extremely spicy, so be careful (don’t touch your face after cutting them with your hands), but the natural spice can help to rev metabolism, and nutrients in jalapeño – capsaicin contains anti-inflammatory properties and also may help to promote pain relief. Finally, some research also suggests that peppers in general may be helpful with reducing risk for certain types of cancer. Recipe: Piping Hot Palate-Pleasing Pepper Juice — This juice is a great addition to your Cinco de Mayo day- either as a replacement for snacks or as part of a meal.
Onions are great served many ways- raw or cooked; onions are also certainly a part of Mexican cooking. Onions contain sulfuric compounds and a flavonoid compound, quercetin. The sulfuric compounds in the onion contribute to their pungent odor, but it’s those in concert with the flavonoid nutrient that can help prevent disease and promote heart-health and lower the risk for certain types of cancers. Recipe: Whipped Roasted Cauliflower and Onion Soup – Start your Cinco de Mayo meal with this delicious soup
Cilantro & parsley: Both cilantro and parsley are loaded with nutrients, and personally some of my favorite herbs to use. Cilantro contains anti-microbial properties, while parsley contains nutrients that may help the liver produce natural detoxifying enzymes. Not only are they healthful, but cilantro and parsley are staples of Mexican cooking and dishes, and this Cinco de Mayo, the more you add to your dishes, the better. Recipe: Broccoli Cilantro Pesto Salad – Try this delicious salad at your upcoming Cinco de Mayo meal.
Summer Gazpacho in Your Juice – This crowd-pleasing juice has healthful nutrients and also contains tomatoes- another Cinco de Mayo staple.
Papaya and mango: Papaya and mango are also classic tropical fruits that may appear at your Cinco de Mayo meal. Both fruits are a personal favorite of mine and both offer healthful nutrients. Papaya contains natural digestive enzymes that can help promote healthful digestion, as well as vitamins A and C- both key for immune and skin health. Mango is also a source of vitamins A and C and also potassium that is key for balancing blood pressure and promoting heart health.You can use both of these fruits on their own as a dessert option, or you can also include them in smoothies, salads and salsas this Cinco de Mayo. Recipes: Mango Tomato Salsa– Try this as a swap for a traditional salsa dish, it’s deliciously sweet yet refreshing! Tropical Avocado, Papaya & Ginger Salad– This salad is delicious and refreshing and combines a number of different nutrient packed ingredients, try it as a side dish or as a more savory dessert this Cinco de Mayo.