We’ve all heard the old adage: “You are what you eat!” There is the lot who proudly carry around their cookies and potato chips, wearing their doughnut holes as bellybuttons. But a burgeoning group of health-conscious Latinos is championing the junk food game with superfoods—toting them just as proudly as the greasy, unhealthy fare many have come to associate with the culture.
Good habits notwithstanding, many might be hard-pressed to find kale chips and quinoa lining the pantries of most homes, but the trend is changing.
“I started eating and buying quinoa after reading about its health benefits in a book,” explains Marilyn Kianos, an avid marathon runner in Florida, who now replaces her traditional rice and beans with quinoa to up the dish’s nutritional value. “It’s allowed me to continue eating many of my favorite dishes without feeling like something is missing, and has helped my training.”
More recently, lists of good-for-you ingredients have included fruits, vegetables and grains that, alongside all the meat and fried fare, have long been staples of Latin cuisine. Take quinoa, whose many monikers include “the mother seed” and “the gold of the Incas.” The ubiquitous, tough-to-pronounce grain isn’t rolling off the tongues of health food addicts everywhere for nothing. Besides, quinoa isn’t even a grain—it’s a seed! The complex carbohydrate (complex in that it’s both a protein and a carbohydrate) is a grain-like seed that packs more protein and nutrients that a bowl of rice or pasta.
“It’ an alkaline food and a great balance for an overly acidic diet, say one that involves lots of coffee,” explains Ayinde Howell, a vegan chef whose website ieatgrass.com is packed with easy-to-make recipes featuring quinoa.
The trick to incorporating quinoa into one’s daily diet is substituting it for other grains or proteins in the foods we eat regularly. Howell suggests swapping the meat for quinoa in a meatless, gluten-free nachos recipe.
On the sweeter side, papaya is a tropical powerhouse of nutrition with one-third more vitamin C than oranges, and tons of potassium and vitamin A. Besides being a good source of fiber, papayas are packed with papain, an enzyme that aides in digestion, and has been known to clear up allergies.
The tropical fruit coveted most in the Caribbean and Central America is also what we call a “face saver.” A papaya-based natural face mask made with oatmeal and the fruit’s flesh can help fight lines and wrinkles, as the same enzymes that aid in digestion also help dissolve the outermost layer of the skin.
Another nutrient-rich superfood to keep an eye out for when combing the grocer’s section is peppers. From Mexico’s chiles to Cuba’s aji cachucha, peppers are available in a myriad of sizes and spiciness, all with loads of necessary antioxidants. If it’s upping your intake of vitamin C you’re after, consider peppers: they contain twice as much vitamin A and C than citrus fruits. Whether roasted, eaten raw or tossed in to spice a dish, the combination of antioxidants, folic acid and vitamin B6 help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
And what list would be complete without chocolate? To overlook chocolate on the basis of ubiquity is to be remiss of its many vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants and its Central American roots. But not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate is the best choice since it contains more than 60 percent cocoa and has more antioxidants than, say, milk or white chocolate.
Better for you than most foods, superfoods aren’t meant to solve all nutritional woes but adding them to a balanced diet will help get in a bonus serving of vitamins in nutrients so often overlooked.