Thanks to fast food chains like Taco Bell, Mexican food has gotten a bad rap in the United States. We often associate it with stomach pain and those intestinal issues no one likes to talk about.
However, the processed fast food stuff is a far cry from real Mexican food, which can be remarkably healthy. In fact, Mexican cuisine utilizes a variety of superfoods, in some truly tasty, fresh and nutritious ways.
The difference is in the ingredients and how they are prepared. For example, the tortillas used in many Mexican fast food and chain restaurants are either made of refined white flour or corn, which is often genetically modified in the US. These tortillas are often fried in processed oils, which may make them hard on your stomach.
Authentic Mexican tortillas, like the ones I just enjoyed in Mexico, are made of stone-ground corn. Organic corn contains a host of vitamins and minerals, and is a great source of energy. These tortillas are handmade with love, not frozen and packaged and reheated in subpar oils.
The meat is another factor. That meat mix served up by Taco Bell is anything but quality. Plus, the conventional meat industry is horrible in many ways, from the treatment of the animals to the growth hormones they are often pumped full of.
For my lunch, I enjoyed fresh fish tacos made with omega-3-laden, wild-caught mahi mahi, an excellent source of protein. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to both heart and brain health, and wild-caught fish is one great source.
Let’s talk about traditional Mexican produce for a moment. Tomatoes, limes, avocados, onions, garlic — these ingredients are commonly used in fresh, homemade salsas and guacamoles, and they all contain a wealth of nutrients. From the lycopene in tomatoes to the vitamin C in lime juice, the healthy fats in avocados, and the antioxidant compounds in onions and garlic, these fruits and vegetables make a powerful combination of nutrition.
We certainly can’t talk about Mexican cuisine without mentioning the hot peppers! Jalapeños, habaneros, cayenne pepper and those spicier-than-spicy ghost peppers all share one common compound: capsaicin. This compound has a world of health benefits, most notably its role as an anti-inflammatory. Capsaicin has been linked to reducing various types of chronic pain, improving circulation and even providing an endorphin rush.
So before you write off Mexican food, try some of the good stuff! A freshly made Mexican meal crafted from quality ingredients, such as the fish tacos I recently enjoyed, can both stimulate your palate and give you the nutrients you need to feel your best.
– Dr. Joshua Levitt