When you think of Mexican food, it’s highly likely that you envision melted cheese, fried meat, and bowls of spicy nachos. But authentic Mexican cuisine is typically prepared with fresh produce and often features ingredients that contain a dense concentration of nutrients. So put narrow-minded notions of burritos behind you and check out the health benefits of these incredible Mexican superfoods.
The coconut, known as the “tree of life” because of its extraordinary versatility, abounds in Mexico. In beach resorts, you’re never too far from the fruit, whether it’s growing naturally on a palm tree or being hacked open by a street vendor and offered to thirsty tourists to drink through a straw. If you pay attention to diet fads or celebrity endorsements, you’ll also be aware that coconuts bring all sorts of health benefits. Their high fiber content benefits the metabolism, and their water is packed with potassium and magnesium. Much healthier than a sugar-filled sports drink, a glass of coconut water rehydrates, provides a mineral boost and aids digestion.
Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language, and the superfood was massively popular with the Aztecs. Spanish chroniclers said the crop was the third most important staple in Aztec culture, only behind corn and beans. The plant is jam-packed with fiber and contains a sizeable dose of Omega−3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and help brain function. In Mexico, organic chia seeds are often served in lemonade or added to healthy morning smoothies.
The fourth most popular crop in ancient Mexico, the amaranth seed is a true superfood that is still used to make porridge or toasted and mixed with honey or chocolate. A sacred grain to the Aztecs, amaranth production was forbidden by the Spanish after the conquest of Mexico. Fortunately, the plant has made a comeback because it is packed with nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron. Several studies have also shown that amaranth has serious cholesterol-lowering potential.
At some point in your life, you have probably rubbed an aloe-based cream into your skin, but the cactus is also consumed as a superfood. Native to subtropical corners of Mexico, the health benefits of the plant are pretty spectacular. Packed with vitamins and minerals, the cactus has a natural anti-inflammatory impact on the body. Aloe also strengthens the immune system and aids weight loss.
Even among superfoods, this seaweed stands out from the pack. Loaded with vitamin B, the plant actually contains more protein than beef. It was cultivated by the Aztecs on Lake Texcoco and sold as cakes in what is now Mexico City. Yet the plant disappeared after the Spanish invaders forcibly drained the lake and began building on top of it. As an ecologically sound superfood, spirulina is being studied as an answer to malnutrition and as a possible food source for long-term Mars missions.
Cocoa has been cultivated in Mexico and Central America for at least 3,000 years. The Aztecs regarded the bean as a gift from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. In fact, cocoa seeds were so ubiquitous that they were used at one time as a form of currency. The beans are an incredibly rich source of antioxidants and lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Cocoa also has the highest magnesium content of any food; it can help prevent high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression.