Viva Hispanic Cuisine

National Hispanic Heritage Month, the a period each year from mid-September to Mid-October  recognizes Hispanic Americans’ multiple contributions to the U.S., and celebrates Hispanic culture and heritage. But with a deep, rich history spanning many countries and continents, where do you start?

Try the kitchen. Not only does Hispanic food pack amazing health benefits, but it’s simple to prepare and affordable. If those reasons aren’t enough, the taste alone will have you exclaiming fiesta before the day is over.

Many Choices

 Lorena Drago, MS, RD, CDN, CDE

In the United States, Mexicans are the largest Hispanic sub-group so it’s natural for many Americans to equate Mexican and Hispanic cuisine says Lorena Drago, a registered dietician with Hispanic Foodways, author ofBeyond Rice and Beans: The Caribbean Guide to Eating Well with Diabetes, and a regular guest on New York’s “Diálogo con Glenis,” a live Spanish community cable show where she discusses nutrition. She explains, “Mexican cuisine is well known for using an array of chilies. Chili peppers contain a substance called capsaicin, a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Capsaicin is a common ingredient in arthritis relief medications. Chili peppers also ease congestion, as anyone who has eaten chili peppers can attest!” Other studies report that capsaicin may play a role in fighting fat, pain, and blood pressure.

As the Health Power Population Tables for Hispanics show, the U.S. is also home to many Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans who all contribute to the diversity of the Latino palate. Lorena says, “These cultures brought root vegetables with them like cassava, plantains, and yams which are part of a highly seasoned cuisine that’s not too spicy. Try variations of plantain dishes such as mangu; a breakfast made of boiled, mashed green plantains seasoned with onions.”

South America also contributes to Hispanic cuisine and heritage. Says Lorena, “quinoa and amaranth are delicious, nutritious, gluten-free whole grains from South America. “Con arepas, a round patty made of corn, can substitute bread and are popular in Columbia and Venezuela”.

Because many Hispanic foods are plant based, they are healthy and affordable. In addition to the examples above, beans and rice are an inexpensive, versatile option. Beans can be the main ingredient in soups that include cilantro, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. You can make rice with coconut milk seasoned with salt and spices. Fish is also often prepared with coconut milk. Coconut products, however, should not be used too often because they are high in fat and calories. Many of the spices used in Hispanic cooking–cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, and chilies–have beneficial antioxidant qualities.

Try This!

Power your morning with a heart-healthy breakfast quesadilla. Later, whip up a mango shake for a tasty midday treat. For dinner, try oven-fried yucca or cassava. Don’t forget to make a big batch of fresh salsa or pico de gallo to compliment all your meals! Our Health Power website has all these recipes waiting for you…and more! Simply go to our website’s Food and Fitness Channel, Click on Cultural Specialty Recipes, scroll down and selectHispanic Specialty Recipes

Health Power also asked Cecilia Pozo Fileti, MS, RD, FADA, President of Latino Health Communications for the National Hispanic Medical Association, one of its Cross-linked Web Partners, if she had any must-try suggestions. Her answer? “Yes! Try different types of corn dishes and purple potatoes…and maybe even a sprinkle of chile powder on your favorite dish. Chile and cacao are often found together in delicious mole sauces used on chicken, lean pork, or even eggs. Empanadas are flour-based, stuffed treats used in savory and sweet combinations.”

Enjoy el sabor Latino!