It turns out that the culinary delights of our neighbor to the south aren’t just tasty, they can also be a healthy addition to your diet, according to researchers.
Studies have found that these five staples of Mexican cuisine provide some substantial health benefits.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that adults who eat a cup of avocado per week have a 16 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease compared with people who rarely eat avocados. The researchers also determined that the risk of cardiovascular disease was between 16 and 22 percent lower for folks who swapped half a daily serving of margarine, butter, egg, yogurt, cheese, bacon or other processed meats for avocado.
Although the study doesn’t directly answer why eating avocados is good for your heart health, a medium-size Hass avocado contains about 13 grams of oleic acid, or about the same as two tablespoons of olive oil. Half an avocado provides up to 20 percent of the daily recommended fiber, 10 percent of potassium, 5 percent of magnesium and 15 percent of folate, according to the researchers.
In a separate study appearing in The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that (over a 12-week testing period) including an avocado in the daily diet of overweight women helped them reduce belly fat.
2. Black beans
Researchers have known for decades that beans, in addition to their high fiber and protein content, are a rich source of antioxidants. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2003 reported that, gram for gram, black beans had more antioxidant power than any of a dozen other common varieties of dry beans tested.
In general, darker seed coats were associated with higher levels of flavonoids, and therefore higher antioxidant activity, according to the researchers. The most active antioxidants in the beans were anthocyanins, which the researchers found at levels similar to what are contained in an equivalent serving size of grapes, apples or cranberries. The researchers noted that the beans are also rich in protein, carbohydrates, folate, calcium and fiber.
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Jalapeño peppers are a good source of antioxidants, but not all of the hybrids are equal, according to a study published in Natural Product Research in 2017. If you want the strongest antioxidant activity, choose either an El Dorido or Grande variety over a Tulsa, Sayula or El Rey hybrid. The researchers noted that the Grande and El Dorido hybrids had significantly higher levels of carotenoids, vitamin C and capsaicinoids than the other jalapeños they tested.
Tomatillos, which look like green, unripe tomatoes that have been wrapped in a dry husk, are the star ingredient of green salsa verde. And, it turns out, the slightly acidic fruit may have some anti-inflammatory qualities, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Chemistry in 2016. The study found that the sticky material (sucrose esters) on the surface of the tomatillo fruit may inhibit inflammation much as aspirin and ibuprofen do.
Cilantro, a leafy green herb, has been valued for centuries for its medicinal properties — although those benefits appear primarily to be found it its dried seeds, known as coriander. It contains “bioactive phytochemicals that are accounted for a wide range of biological activities including antioxidant, anticancer, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, analgesic, migraine-relieving, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory activities,” according to a 2018 report published in Food Research International.
Peter Urban is a contributing writer and editor who focuses on health news. Urban spent two decades working as a correspondent in Washington, D.C., for daily newspapers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Arkansas, including a stint as Washington bureau chief for the Las Vegas Review Journal. His freelance work has appeared in Scientific American, Bloomberg Government and CTNewsJunkie.com.