The bad news is watch those tamales. The good news is that every corn tortilla you eat provides 40mg of calcium. So how do you balance the good and the bad while you’re eating festively in Mexico, as I do most of the time during my everyday life in Guanajuato?
Most North Americans know how to avoid illness when they travel south. Drink bottled water, stay away from raw fruit and vegetables peeled by others, leave the lettuce, and, some people say avoid fish and shellfish. If you eat in the better restaurants, you won’t even have to think. All the fruits and vegetables have been disinfected before they are laid out in front of you.
But maintaining fitness in the face of Mexico’s culinary temptations takes planning. I go by three basic principles: watching snacks, eating small portions and avoiding fatty food like carnitas, cake or cookies, and pizza, all readily available in Mexico. Just as at home, fast food is usually fatty food, often made with cheese high in saturated fat.
Of course, not all fat is equally bad. When I want to snack, I munch on shelled monounsaturated peanuts or an avocado, all coming in their natural, protective covers. What could be more Mexican than one of those dark green pear-shaped fruits with the light green insides, many of them grown in the nearby state of Michoacan? At a high-priced restaurant, you may find an avocado half filled with a creamy or mayonnaise salad. Eat all the avocado and leave some of the filling. In doing so, you may even lower the low-density cholesterol level in your blood.
At breakfast, avoid eggs if you want to because you’ll find other choices. You can fill your plate with fruit, add a slice of homemade bread or make your own whole wheat toast. Yoghurt is another popular choice.. Later in the day, if you see lentil soup on a restaurant menu, you’ll be eating a dish Mexicans enjoy and add to your fiber intake at the same time. Remember, that the healthiest beans (an important source of calcium for Mexicans) are ones that have not been refried.
But what about those enchiladas suizas, shrimp cocktails, burritos filled with succulent pork, cream soups and other goodies that spice up a trip to Mexico? Keep thinking small portions, even if you leave food on your plate. A bowl of tasty chicken soup is just as tasty (and Mexican) as the cream soup you pass up. If you decide to eat fish or seafood, choose a caldo de pescado (fish) instead of one with mariscos The tasty tomato broth will be the same but you’ll be eating fish instead of shrimp and oysters.
For the early afternoon fixed-price complete meal known as comida corrida, know that Mexican restaurants usually serve smaller portions than their restaurants across the border – – you will go away feeling just right. A moderately priced mid-day meal will consist of soup, salad, a main dish, rice, tortillas or bread, a fruit drink (or agua natural if you prefer it) and perhaps dessert, which if you’re lucky, may be fresh strawberries. Just ask if they’ve been disinfected.
Guanajuato has an increasing number of restaurants where eating healthy food is available at moderate prices. I like El Burladero near the Cervantes Theatre for comida corrida, El Midi for salads in Plaza San Fernando and Esquina del Sol near the Compania Church for its vegetarian lasagna . Other possibilities are the “Hindoo-style” Yamuna above San Fernando and Las Cruces on Sangre de Cristo. El Unicornio Azul, a health foods store in the downtown, serves soyburgers and alfalfa juice.
Remember that drinking fluids is important, especially if you’re out walking a lot. Because Guanajuato is a city with neighborhood stores almost everywhere, you can always stop for bottled water, soda, fruit juice (highly sweetened) or beer. But remember, alcohol is a diuretic so non-alcoholic drinks most of the time are better..
Finally, don’t forget a side of fresh salsa, that cilantro, tomato, onion, chile mixture popular in Mexico that gives almost anything that extra spark.