HEALTHY MEXICAN FOOD, KEEPING COOL #460 05/18/2011
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Delicious and Healthy Mexican Food

By Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee

Overstuffed burritos, deep-fried chimichangas, and greasy enchiladas smothered in cheese are prominently featured on the menus of most Mexican restaurants in the United States. In reality, however, genuine Mexican cuisine is very different. Colorful vegetables, flavorful salsas, grilled seafood, whole grains, and a variety of beans make up the backbone of the authentic Mexican diet.

Mexican Food

Here are some ways to incorporate the bountiful variety of flavors of Mexican cuisine into your diet, in a way that's designed to help you lose weight and maintain good nutrition.

Avoid fat and fried foods. Some common Mexican dishes like refried beans are traditionally made with lard. Eating your pinto beans whole (instead of mashed and refried) and simmering them in water or broth (instead of lard), or replacing the lard with minimal amounts of olive oil, can make a huge difference. It may be hard to resist the basket of fried tortilla chips that appears (and keep magically refilling) on your Mexican restaurant table. However, you can ask for baked tortilla chips or whole-corn tortillas to dip into your salsa instead.

It's also really easy to make your own baked tortilla chips at home. Just cut up corn tortillas into triangular wedges. Lay them out on a baking sheet and spray with a bit of olive oil cooking spray. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven until crispy for just 12 to 15 minutes, flipping once so both sides crisp evenly.

Choose whole grains. Either corn or whole wheat flour tortillas can be the foundation for a delicious Mexican fiesta. They have less fat, fewer calories, and more fiber than their white-flour cousins. Choosing 6-inch tortillas over 10-inch ones can also help you with portion control.

Beans and Rice WrapEmbrace rice and beans. There's a reason why rice and beans are the other staples of Mexican diets. Black, pinto, and kidney beans are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. As previously mentioned, whole beans simmered in water or broth instead of refried are also naturally low in calories.

To cook Mexican rice at home with little or no fat, sauté some chopped onions, garlic, and a bit of jalapeño (if you want that extra heat) in a pan with just a bit of olive oil. Add uncooked rice and sauté a bit longer. Add some low-fat chicken or vegetable broth and chopped fresh tomatoes and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked through and fluffy, about 20 minutes. Voilá! Delicious and nutritious rice that's convenient and easy to make. Use brown rice instead of white for whole-grain goodness.

Go with fish—and make it grilled. Along the coastal towns and fishing villages of Mexico and Baja, people eat healthy seafood fresh from the sea. We can embrace that sunny, relaxed lifestyle by eating tacos filled with tasty fish that's grilled (not fried), enjoying ceviche prepared with plenty of lemon or lime juice, or baking a tilapia fillet topped with spices.

Get spicy. Speaking of spices, Mexican cuisine has yet another bonus: It's full of some truly delightful spices and other flavorings, which can help you avoid adding extra salt to your diet. Although your typical Mexican restaurant meal may be loaded with sodium, you don't have to eat that way for a flavorful south-of-the-border-inspired meal. The staples of Mexican cooking include chili powder, oregano, cumin, cilantro, and chili peppers. And remember that hot peppers are a super metabolism booster. Even if you have a delicate palate, you can turn down the heat while still getting the benefits of these peppers by removing the seeds and veins, where most of the heat lives. Lime juice, another staple in adding authentíco flavors, is another great way of enhancing flavor without upping the sodium content.

VegetablesSample a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Mexico is blessed with some of the most delicious fruits and vegetables in the world. Tropical fruits like papayas and guavas, as well as a variety of peppers and squashes, grow abundantly in the hot, sunny climate.

A typical Mexican street-cart food is often just a bunch of fruits (like mangos, pineapples, papayas, watermelon, or honeydew) and vegetables (including cucumbers and jicama) that have been sliced and seasoned with lime juice and chili powder. You can easily prepare this dish yourself for a delicious and nutritious afternoon snack, at home, at work, or for a road trip.

Don't forget salsas and salads. Let's not forget the soul of Mexican cuisine—salsa! There's a seemingly endless variety of salsas that can be made from tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, onions, peppers, limes, and more. The more colorful the salsa, the more nutritious it'll be. The good news is that freshly made salsa is good for you, so you can pile as much as you want on your tortillas, grilled fish, or salad.

And an easy way to make a nice Mexican salad is to get a bowl of mixed greens and toss in some corn, cooked black beans, and a few chopped avocados (but don't overdo it, since avocados, while nutritious, are high in calories), then top everything with a generous serving of your favorite salsa. If you like, add some slices of grilled chicken or a few grilled shrimp. There you have it—lunch!

Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee is a food and travel writer, an artist, and a chef. A James Beard Award nominee, she has authored several books. Her latest, Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking, includes delicious and nutritious Mexican recipes that you can make in just 30 or fewer minutes of work time. When she's not climbing a mountain somewhere, she writes, eats, and gardens in Los Angeles, California.

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, May 23rd, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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7 Tips to Keep Cool on the Cheap

By Joe Wilkes

Summer is almost upon us and that means heat, heat, heat. Here in California, we're always looking for ways to beat the heat. Other parts of the country are also likely to experience long, hot summers this year, and with the price of fuel and electricity going through the roof, cranking up the air conditioning seems like a less feasible option all the time. So what can you do besides sweating it out? Here are a few tips for keeping it cool.

Man Cooling Off in Front of a Fan and a Thermometer

  1. Drink yourself cool. But don't reach for the margaritas. Cool? Yes. Hydrating? No! The key to staying cool is to stay hydrated. And the best thing to drink, as always, is water. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol, because they'll dehydrate you and make matters worse (although if you've passed out from drinking alcohol, you might not mind the heat so much). Herbal iced tea, lemonade (make your own but go easy on the sugar), and sparkling water are all great summer beverages.
  2. Hand closing window blindsEmbrace your inner vampire. Whether or not you have air conditioning, the sun is your worst enemy when you're trying to keep cool. By keeping your blinds and drapes closed during the day, you can keep your place cool without running up the air conditioning bill. If you don't have air conditioning and want to open your windows, lower the blinds to the height of the open windows and keep the windows covered on the side of your house where the sun's shining.
  3. Spice up your life. This may seem counterintuitive, but summer is the best time to eat spicy food. Think about cuisines from countries close to the equator, like Mexico, India, and Thailand, that incorporate chilies and curries. Spicy peppers cause your pores to open and let the cool air into your body. They'll also encourage you to drink more water!
  4. The poor man's air conditionerr. And I'm the poor man of whom I speak. During periods of poverty in my youth, I came up with the frozen-towel method of staying cool. Take a washcloth, a hand towel, or even a bath towel if it's really hot, dampen it, and stick it in the freezer. When it's stiff (though not frozen solid), remove it from the freezer and wrap it around your neck. Heaven! When it thaws, refreeze and repeat. If it's really hot, try doing the same with a T-shirt!
  5. Ice, ice, baby. Instead of always going to the big-box supermarket chains, check and see whether there are any farmers' markets and/or food co-ops in your area. The food will be fresher, cheaper, and hopefully not as coated with pesticides, waxes, or other unsavory elements. It's a good way to save money while supporting your local community's resources. Here you can get organic produce for the same price or cheaper than traditionally grown produce. It's also worth it to check out how your state defines "organic." Organic food is great, but if you're trying to save money, traditionally grown food isn't any less nutritious than organic; it may just need a little more scrubbing.
  6. FootFeet, don't fail me now. Keeping your feet cool is key to keeping your whole body cool. Soak your feet in a dishpan or bucket of cold water. Try wearing damp or frozen socks (see #4) to bed as well. It'll help fool your brain into thinking your whole body's cool.
  7. White is the new black. And anyone who's seen my wardrobe knows how painful this tip is for me. Black and dark-colored clothing absorb heat and will cook you like a potato in tinfoil. Wear white or light-colored clothing to reflect the heat. Loose-fitting clothing is also good—it'll allow a breeze to move through instead of trapping in the warmth.

Related Articles
"5 Fun Summer Beach and Water Sports for Fitness"
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Joe WilkesQuestions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, May 23rd, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, recently named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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Plantain Tacos

Here’s a great vegan recipe featuring a top-tier ingredient from Michi’s Ladder. After you sweat out a bunch of minerals during a great workout, plantains contain the magnesium and potassium your body craves.

Click the menu button at the bottom of the player to download the Takeaway Tip to get the recipe.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Recipe: Mexican Frittata

Mexican Frittata

Not quite an omelet. Not really a quiche. What it is, however, is delicious! This high-protein dish features a healthy combo of eggs and egg whites, along with peppers, onions, and your favorite salsa. ¡Olè!

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1/4 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 cup salsa (use your favorite kind)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, combine milk, eggs, egg whites, salt, pepper, and cumin; blend with a whisk and set aside. Heat oil over medium heat in a 12-inch nonstick skillet with oven-safe handle. Add pepper and onion and sauté until tender. Pour egg mixture into pan with sautéed vegetables and cook without stirring until eggs are slightly set, then flip over. Place pan in oven and bake until eggs are cooked, about 5 minutes. Place frittata on a plate and top with salsa. Serves 1.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
371 31 grams N/A 25 grams 15 grams 3.8 grams

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"How do you tell when the eggs are about set, and how do you flip a full skillet?"

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