The Conflict Between Diabetes and Latino Cuisine

In many ways, the conflict between diabetes and Mexican food is similar to the issues with traditional Southern and soul food — it’s mostly about what’s added. A standard Mexican dinner in an American restaurant, however, also offers the person with diabetes a steady stream of carbohydrates — tortilla chips as a warm up, tortillas on the side or as a wrap, a generous helping of beans, and so-called Mexican rice.

Even though added fat, like lard in refried beans, deep-fried poblano chili rellenos, or the generous use of cheese and sour cream, is something a person with diabetes should avoid, the carbohydrates may be the real challenge with Mexican food.

The good news is that the carbohydrates aren’t usually hidden away in sweetened sauces or gravies — they are right there in front of you. A look at the menu items of a popular Mexican franchise shows that the entrée items — tacos and burritos — come in at 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrate for single tacos, with larger burritos ranging from 40 to 100 grams.

A dine-in franchise offers fish tacos and rice that ring in at 158 grams of carbohydrate, more than ten carb choices, 121 grams of fat, and 3,500 milligrams of sodium. Making the assumption that fish is always the healthier choice would be the wrong assumption in this case because of add-ons.

Mexican cuisine also includes wonderful fresh food, like pico de gallo (salsa fresca) and grilled vegetables. Whole-grain tortillas in your grocery often have so much healthy fiber that the total carbohydrate for a large one can come down to less than 10 grams after subtracting half of the fiber grams.

Burritos or tacos made with lean meats, low-sodium beans, fresh vegetables, salsa, and whole-grain tortillas can make an entire diabetes-friendly meal. Again, it’s only a matter of planning what goes in.

Some franchise Mexican restaurants focus on these kinds of healthy choices, and you can decide what you want to eat from the nutrition information on their websites.

It’s worth mentioning the pre-meal tortilla chips, which are usually served with healthy salsa . . . anytime food is placed within your reach is an opportunity for what’s called mindless eating. That’s where your hand automatically travels back and forth from the tortilla chip basket to your mouth while your brain is preoccupied with deciding what to order.

A few tortilla chips aren’t going to ruin your meal plan, but if you don’t stay conscious of this temptation, you can easily get well beyond a few chips.

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