Holidays don’t have to mean ‘unhealthy’ when it comes to Mexican tamalesHouston, TX - 12/3/2013
For many households of Mexican descent in the United States, the days following Thanksgiving aren’t only about wrapping gifts but also about wrapping tamales. The savory treats – traditionally prepared with generous amounts of lard and lots of salt – don’t have to be unhealthy, however.
For those unfamiliar with the delicacy, a tamale is made with seasoned, cooked pork surrounded by cornmeal, or masa, encased in a corn husk (or banana leaf). It is then steam cooked. Tamale recipes can vary greatly with the only mainstays being the masa shell and the husk. Unfortunately for those who enjoy tamales, they are often not very healthy.
“My grandmother would use an entire carton of lard when preparing the masa. The amount of salt is also extensive as salt is often added to the meat as well as the masa,” said Jennifer Pascoe, a registered nurse in the Houston Methodist Hospital Weight Management Center, who educates patients on how to eat healthier and maintain special diets. “Salt should be limited in all diets especially those with diabetes, hypertension and congestive heart failure. The recommendation is to not exceed 2 grams per day.”
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. Latino populations face even higher risks of heart disease as a result of their preponderance for obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. The AHA reports that 75 percent of Mexican-American men and 72 percent of women age 20 or older are overweight.
“Compared to non-Hispanic whites, the risk of diagnosed diabetes is 66 percent higher among Hispanics and Latinos, and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among people with diabetes,” Pascoe said.
There are many substitutions that can be made to make the traditional tamale healthier, according to Pascoe. In addition, you can use a healthier recipe for tamales (see recipe below).
“For starters you can buy a leaner cut of pork or at the very least trim the fat off the meat before cooking, and then make sure you drain the fat off the meat before preparing the mixture,” Pascoe said.
Here are more tips for healthier tamales:
Pascoe said the biggest challenge to removing the lard or vegetable shortening in the masa mixture will be spreading the masa on the corn leafs, which will take more time and patience but will be worth the fat and calories saved.
“If you know you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you probably shouldn’t eat traditional tamales,” Pascoe said. “For these people I would recommend preparing a dozen or so healthy tamales, which use all of our healthy substitutions.”
And everyone should limit the amount of tamales they eat regardless of how they’re prepared.
“Moderation in the quantity of the number of tamales one eats would also be helpful. Physical activity should also be another consideration,” Pascoe said. “Go for a walk after eating. Walking for 15 minutes after each meal assists in one reaching the recommended goal of 30-45 minutes of physical activity a minimum of five days a week.”
Healthier Chicken Tamales
3.5 cups water (or enough to cover chicken in pot)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon low-sodium salt
Makes 16 tamales