A colorful and healthy array of shredded vegetables sits atop soft taco tortillas.

Tacos are a versatile Mexican food fave that can easily be made more healthy. (Photo by Ingrid Hofstra)

Each year, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the United States observes National Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time to recognize, celebrate and pay tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have enriched our nation in areas like science, art, culture, research and development and many other fields.

In today’s Friday Fix, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) explores healthier versions of a few popular, regional Hispanic foods.

Mexico

Tacos, tamales, tostadas – when people think of Mexican cuisine, “tasty” is often the first word that comes to mind. While these Chicano staples can be high in fat, cholesterol and sodium, there are ways to add healthy fats and carbs to these dinner table delights.

For starters, cook your favorite menu items at home so you can control how much oil is used in the dishes. Rely on herbs and spices – like cilantro or red pepper flakes – for bold flavors rather than salt.

To get that creamy texture in sauces, or atop enchiladas and quesadillas, add sliced avocado or guacamole instead of sour cream. Also, opt for whole pinto or black beans instead of refried beans, and lean meats like chicken breast or seafood instead of pork or beef.

Peru

Peru may be home to more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes, but there’s more to this South American nation than spuds.

Much of Peru’s landmass lies along the Pacific Ocean, so naturally ceviche is the go-to. This national dish is usually comprised of raw fish, camote (sweet potato), onion and spices, all of which are marinated in a tangy lime juice. The dish is low in fat and high in flavor.

Sliced dragon fruits with a vibrant red skin and sweet white flesh speckled with black seeds.

There’s more to fruit than apples and pears. Try some exotic finds the next time you head to the market. (Photo by Heather Schwartz)

If you travel east from the coast, you will run into the Amazon jungle, where a plethora of exotic produce grows. While many of them haven’t yet crossed the U.S. border, you can still find several of these nutrient-rich fruits on your grocery store shelves.

Mark Twain called cherimoya, or custard apple, “the most delicious fruit known to man,” meanwhile dragon fruit often attracts fans due to its vibrant colors and sweet flavors. Depending on the season, you can also find guava, mango and cacao on supermarket shelves.

Caribbean (Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico)

The year-round sunshine, paired with warm temperatures and adequate rainfall, make the Caribbean a breeding ground for healthy produce.

Some favorite fruits include avocado, guava, mango, coconut, banana and papaya. All these tree-born foods are packed with vitamins A, B-6 and C, as well as folate and potassium.

Yes, many meals do include meat-heavy main courses, like ropa vieja (shredded beef) or chicharrón (fried pork belly), but it’s important to remember that the islands also offer an abundance of fresh seafood dishes.

Healthy shrimp sauté cooking in a veggie lime sauce.

Often high in protein and low in fat, seafood dishes can be cooked to your preferred taste. (Unsplash Photo by Dana DeVolk)

Think grilled octopus and shrimp, conch salad, seafood-stuffed avocado, fish stew and, like many Latin American countries, their own renditions of ceviche. Healthy sides include plantains lightly fried in olive oil, rice and black beans and green salad with colorful veggies like tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.

Looking for a few Hispanic Heritage Month-inspired recipes? Cook up some of the following meals to celebrate throughout the next month and year.

Contact a Patient Central Associate
Contact Patient Central for comprehensive disease information – including our booklet on diet and nutrition – and help finding a registered dietitian in your area.

Come back to our blog each week for a new installment of the Friday Fix.