Tamales, platanos, fried ice cream, and arroz con frijoles (rice and beans) are just a few of the delicious yet carb-heavy Latin foods. For those like myself who have to watch their blood sugar because of diabetes or hypoglycemia, the choice is often between enjoying Abuela‘s famous fried and carbohydrate filled homecooked meals or attempting to chew salad leaves while your friends live it up on flan and a pollo milanesa or paella. Follow these simple healthy tips to enjoy your favorite Latin dishes in a low carb and enjoyable way.
Skip the Arroz
It may seem simple, but most dishes at favorite Latin restaurants, from Mexican restaurants to the Cuban diner on Calle Ocho, will often give most patrons a coma-inducing amount of rice with every meal either as a side or as a filler for favorite burritos and tacos. Instead of rice and beans you can request the beans alone or a delicious black bean soup or small side salad. Enjoy healthier options like chicken tortilla soup with a salad for the same Mexican tastes without the additional carbohydrates. Trust me, you won’t miss the carbs and you won’t miss the sleepy feeling you get as your body protests the incredible amount of rice moving through your digestive system.
Greens are your best friend
While it doesn’t sound as filling to request a taco salad minus the tostada over delicious enchiladas or pastelitos de carne, there are ways to enjoy the tastes of Latin cuisine without all of the extra carbs from tortillas and breading. When you cook low-carb Spanish food at home, like steak or chicken fajitas see if you can offer large lettuce leaves instead of tortillas for wrapping or cook up some delicious Cuban fried pork with a side of salad instead of yucca, a favorite root. Be creative by incorporating more greens into your diet, from fresh spinach and bean burritos with cheese to mango salsa tilapia with a light tomato and avocado salad. Instead of deep-frying meats, try more healthy ways of cooking them like broiling, grilling, or even using your slow cooker or pressure cooker and add in hot peppers for extra flavor.
Salsa can become your best friend. All you need is a few key ingredients – tomatoes, onions, and peppers – to make a delicious fresh salsa that will add extra Latin taste to your meal without a lot of calories. You can choose fresh tomatoes (I like deep red tomatoes for fresh salsa, the kind you might find at the farmer’s market) or go for the diced canned tomatoes in a pinch. Dice the fresh tomatoes by hand or use a food processor if you like a more liquid texture. I personally enjoy some crunch to my fresh salsa, so I will do most of the chopping by hand. Depending on how much spice you can handle, you can choose any variety of peppers from hot scotch bonnets to mild poblanos. I usually find that two or three cups of tomatoes, one cup of peppers, and one cup of onions mixed together makes a nice blend for salsa. For variety, add in crushed garlic, diced mango, pineapple, or cucumbers. Cilantro, cumin, and a touch of lime make a nice compliment to the salsa. Top fish, chicken, quesadillas, salads and more with this healthy and tasty treat. Store in a sealed container in your fridge for a few days.
It’s a wrap
Finally, if you can avoid the additional breaded fair, a staple in Cuban and Dominican cuisine, you can avoid both unnecessary calories and carbohydrates. Still want to enjoy some delicious fried pork? Then have a small serving in a lettuce wrap with some homemade salsa and a spoonful of beans. Enjoy tostones (fried plaintains)? Then limit yourself to a small handful of the tasty treats with a small salad topped with broiled fish and cilantro. Are you a big fan of refried beans? Eat half a portion with a lettuce wrap and avocado instead of cheesy tortillas. The key is to find a way to enjoy your favorite meals, keep your portions manageable, and avoid the unhealthy pitfalls that are often seem impossible to avoid in traditional Latin cooking. While I wish there were healthy options for some of my favorite Spanish desserts like flan and tres leches (a sugar-filled rich cake that is pure heaven itself with each delicious morsel), the reality is that sometimes Abuela‘s way tastes best. But at least if I have a fajita salad for dinner, I might be able to enjoy that one bite of coconut flan guilt-free!