This year’s Cinco de Mayo conveniently falls on Taco Tuesday, and with a little planning, patients with diabetes can enjoy the annual celebration. Despite the reputation that Mexican food has for being high in fat and carbs, it’s possible to make healthier swaps that keep your eating on track.
The best choice, of course, is to prepare your own food so you can control the ingredients and the portion size. But whether you cook at home or order from a restaurant, certain food choices will allow you to celebrate without sacrificing your health or well-being.
- Choose your beans wisely.
Traditional refried beans are often prepared with salt, spices, and lard or bacon fat, making them high in sodium, saturated fats, and cholesterol. These saturated fats, which stay solid at room temperature, raise the level of unhealthy blood cholesterol.
The beans themselves, whether you choose black or pinto, are full of soluble fiber, protein, iron, potassium, and other nutrients, making them a good choice for anyone trying to make healthier food choices. They don’t cause sharp rises in blood sugar, and they help delay hunger by causing you to feel full longer.
If you’re ordering from a restaurant, ask for black beans or pinto beans with your order, or find out whether a vegetarian, low-sodium option exists. If you’re cooking them yourself, starting with dry beans offers the healthiest choice, but even canned beans can be healthy if you rinse them before cooking.
Saute garlic and onion in olive oil and add spices with the beans. Mash them as they cook.
- Select healthy tortillas.
Tortillas are rich in fiber, iron, and vitamins, but they aren’t all created equal. A 6-inch corn tortilla has about 60 calories while the same sized flour tortilla has about 100. Better yet, whole-wheat tortillas provide a full serving of whole grains, and blue corn tortillas have more protein, fewer carbs, and a lower glycemic index than the others.
Choose a smaller tortilla (6-inch instead of the larger 10- or 12-inch) to help with portion control. Realize, too, that if you choose corn tortillas at a restaurant, they may use a double layer to make the taco sturdy.
- Pass on the cheese dip.
Traditional cheese dip can add hundreds of calories to your meal, without figuring in the chips you eat along with it. Because restaurants offer bottomless chips as an appetizer to a meal, many of us overeat chips and dip because we eat mindlessly.
Unlike queso, salsa is full of healthy vegetables that provide nutrients and antioxidants, as is its cousin, pico de gallo. Guacamole, like salsa, is full of heart-healthy fats and other veggies, but it’s also calorie-dense.
If you’re going to eat chips with your meal, break them into small pieces which should slow your consumption. Avoid mindless eating by placing a serving of chips on your plate and stopping when they are gone.
- Opt for chicken or fish instead of beef.
Beef recipes generally contain higher cholesterol and saturated fats than fish or chicken. The good news is that most restaurants now offer a wide variety of fish, poultry, and vegetable dishes. Consider veggie quesadillas, shrimp or fish tacos, and even veggie fajitas.
- Don’t eat the bowl.
Mexican menus often include a taco salad, which includes all the ingredients of a traditional taco, served in a giant tortilla bowl. Because the shell is deep-fried, it’s often high in calories as well as fat and carbs.
If you order the taco salad, request it without the bowl, or throw away the leftovers as soon as you’ve finished eating the salad so you won’t be tempted by the bowl.
- Make your drinks healthy.
You don’t have to skip the celebratory beverages just because you’re being mindful of what you eat (unless your provider recommends it). Choose low-carb beer or dry wine, or a sugar-free or low-sugar margarita. Keep the tequila and lime juice but bypass the sugary mixers, opting for agave nectar instead.
- Add cilantro.
Cilantro reportedly stimulates the secretion of insulin and stabilizes blood sugar levels for diabetic patients. Because it’s high in fiber, it helps you feel full longer and it reduces your cholesterol. Finally, it raises HDL levels (good cholesterol) and lowers LDL levels (the bad ones).
Although this year’s Cinco de Mayo will look different than years past because of quarantine and social distancing, you don’t have to skip the celebration. Order from a restaurant that offers healthy food choices like those mentioned above. Or, use the opportunity to plan your own healthier version of traditional favorites, and then celebrate the fact that you prioritized your health.