Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal of the day, with an emphasis on choosing healthy options to power you through the day ahead of you. While there are certainly mistakes you want to avoid making at breakfast, incorporating your cultural foods is not one of them.
For example, a big misconception about Latin American foods is that they are largely unhealthy, because people tend to zero in on single ingredients, such as cheese or flour tortillas, versus a complete meal, Dalina Soto, a Philadelphia-based Dominican-American registered dietitian and author of the forthcoming book, “The Latina Anti-Diet,” tells TODAY.com.
“The wellness world frowns upon our foods because they don’t understand the ingredients or flavors,” Soto says. “But we combine foods, textures and flavors, and they give us the nutrients we need.”
And believe it or not, these combinations can include beloved items like tamales or conchas (Mexican sweet bread, also commonly known as pan dulce), adds Starla Garcia, a Mexican-American registered dietitian in Houston.
“In order to have a balanced meal and to actually balance out blood sugars in a way that’s going to be productive for energy, focus, satiety and fullness, you want to pair it with protein, healthy fats, and fiber,” Garcia says. “So when we think about Latino foods or specifically Mexican foods ... it’s just a matter of making sure that we’re creating a balanced plate first so that you can get all these benefits and still enjoy the foods you love.”
What Latina dietitians incorporate into their breakfasts
Eggs are a go-to breakfast item for Garcia because they’re a complete protein.
“The combination of the fats in there along with protein will help with satiety and fullness, and adding some spices like cumin or garlic will not only add in flavor, but be beneficial for gut health and fight inflammation, as well,” she says.
Some of Garcia’s favorite egg dishes include:
- Breakfast tacos with eggs, tomatillo salsa (which is made with tomatillos, onions, serrano or jalapeño peppers, cilantro, garlic and salt), and avocado on corn tortillas, with fresh fruit on the side
- Breakfast tostadas with eggs, black beans, avocado and tomatillo salsa
- Egg scramble with peppers, onions, tomatoes or calabaza squash with one or two beans and cheese or chicken tamales on the side
- Huevos ahogados, or poached eggs simmered in tomatillo salsa
- Migas, or eggs scrambled with corn tortillas, tomatoes and peppers, often served with black beans and a sprinkling of cheese on top
“A common misconception about Latin American foods is that they’re doused with cheese, when in fact it’s typically just a garnish to add flavor and a bit of salt, which many people tend to enjoy,” Garcia says. “Additionally, people often view salsa as just a condiment, (but) the vegetables it’s made from add in fiber to help with fullness, as well as vitamin C.”
Krista Linares, a Los Angeles-based dietitian of Mexican and Cuban descent, also enjoys chilaquiles de huevo, which is a traditional Mexican breakfast dish made with fried eggs, tortilla chips, cheese and red or green salsa.
“The combination of corn tortillas and eggs is really balanced because the corn tortillas provide energy from the carbs but also have fiber as well, and the eggs add in protein, which turns it into a really filling meal,” she says. “A lot of my clients who are Latinas come to me feeling like their cultural foods are too heavy and high in carbs, and I like to point out that Latin American food isn’t higher in carbs than any other cultural food is, and carbs are not the enemy.”
Soto adds: “I also love avocado toast with a fried egg. Avocados, which I grew up eating daily on bread or rice, are a healthy fat that are also loaded with vitamins and fiber.”
“Beans are beneficial in the morning because they provide both protein and fiber, so they’re really filling in two different ways, and they’re really good for gut health,” Linares says. “I love to incorporate beans as often as I can.”
Some of her favorite items featuring beans include:
- Leftover rice and beans, which she sometimes eats on its own, or adds avocado and salsa
- Mollete, an open-faced sandwich with beans and cheese on a toasted roll, which you can top with pico de gallo, avocado or even eggs
“Avena” or oatmeal is a cultural food Soto grew up eating.
“Oats are a whole grain and are a great source of fiber and vitamins,” she says. “I always make it with milk for protein and also add berries and flaxseed for texture.”
Diana Rodriguez, a Dominican-American dietitian in New York City, grew up eating farina, a hot breakfast similar to oatmeal or cream of wheat, made from milled wheat germ.
“Farina topped with berries is one of my breakfast favorites,” she says. “It screams childhood memories of when my siblings and I used to go to school or go to the beach early in the morning and my mother would prepare a hearty breakfast ‘for energy,’ as she would say.”
One of Rodriguez’s favorite high-protein breakfasts is mangú (boiled and mashed green plantains) with the tres golpes, or the three hits, which is a Dominican classic consisting of fried cheese, salami and eggs, as well as avocado, which she likes to add on. She loves to pair it with a morir soñando, a Dominican beverage made of blended orange juice, milk, cane sugar and ice, or fresh passion fruit juice.
“You can also serve (plain mangú) with sautéed onions, cheese and fried eggs to create a hearty and authentic Dominican breakfast,” she says.
Tropical fruit smoothies
Another one of Rodriguez’s favorite breakfasts is a batida de frutas, or fruit smoothie.
“I love to combine tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas and guavas with yogurt and a touch of honey for a refreshing and nutritious breakfast option,” she says. “They are a great source of vitamins B and C, minerals like potassium and calcium, and also provide the body with carbs (for energy), protein for muscle repair and fats for better vitamin and mineral absorption.”
Are there any foods they avoid?
All four dietitians emphasized that there are no foods they avoid eating at breakfast time, noting that anything can be enjoyed in moderation, especially when balanced out with key nutrients to keep you going all day.
"Many Latin American cuisines emphasize fresh ingredients, lean proteins, and a variety of vegetables and grains,” Rodriguez says. “Latin American cuisine is incredibly diverse and full of vibrant flavors, and while some dishes can be rich and indulgent, there are plenty of healthy options as well.”