Born and raised in a Cuban family means you can speak Spanish, dance salsa, party like a rockstar, but also, you were gifted with TERRIBLE eating habits.
I don’t know about you but growing up, the only vegetables I remember having on my plate were fried with tons of salt. Sometimes tomato slices would make an appearance with sliced avocado, and maybe onions on top of my palomilla steak. But that was pretty much it. My Cuban mom tried her best to not use the bad oils, for example, but even still – meals were always carbs on carbs on carbs. It was all she knew and all I knew growing up too.
My family didn’t understand vegetables.
Our daily meals would consist of some kind of protein with sides of:
- white rice or congri (black beans and rice)
- salty twice fried plantains (tostones)
- sweet plantains (maduros)
- Cuban bread slices with butter
Sometimes all on the same plate at the same time.
Dessert would consist of slabs of guava and cream cheese and/or a shot of Cuban coffee with espumita (a sugar foam that is basically crack). Sounds delicious, huh? Trust me, it is and it’s ALL my favorite things to eat ever.
Now that I’m older however, I’ve been trying to undo all these habits and it has not been easy. A lot of people tell you that you don’t have to give up the foods you love to be healthy and that’s mostly true. I’m definitely not advocating that we give up all our favorite foods but something’s gotta give. We’re not getting any younger. Losing weight is not as easy as it was before. Not to mention, heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes are on the rise.
At the core, we all want and truly desire to be healthy. Everyday is a struggle and temptation is EVERYWHERE especially when you live in the mecca of Cuban food – Miami (hi, me). Most of my friends and family are either diabetic, have high cholesterol or high blood pressure and are overweight. I’m healthy, thankfully, with no life-threatening health issues nor food allergies or food sensitivities. And I’d like to remain that way.
This is a photo of a typical Cuban breakfast – ham croquettes which are fried, pastelito de guava which is mostly sugar, cheese pastries and Cuban toast – more carbs and sugar. Honestly, how we’re all not dead or severely sick after eating like that all the time is beyond me. It’s delicious, I’m not gonna lie.
Building New Healthy-ish Habits
I like the term ‘healthy-ish’ because in essence it describes the way I want to eat. I don’t like extremes when it come to food. I can’t do juice cleanses. And I can’t subsist on bland boring chicken and steamed vegetables (honestly, I’d cry every night). But the idea that I can have a cookie for dessert after my vegetarian paella dinner makes me happy. That’s what healthy-ish means to me.
Simple Guidelines To Help Build New Habits
I’m not an expert in any way (and please consult with your doctor before adhering to anything on this site) but these simple guidelines have helped me slowly build new healthy-ish habits.
Add, don’t take away. Don’t focus on taking any foods away, instead focus on what you can add to your plate. The problem with giving up foods (unless, of course, you’re allergic to them) is that then you’ll end up binging on them later. Adding more vegetables, more grains, healthy fats, and foods that will satiate me is what I’m focused on. Also, moderation is everything.
Pay attention to labels (ingredients in particular). This one is crucial because even though something has 0 grams of sugar, it can still have sugar. The ingredients is where you’ll know the real deal about what’s in a product.
Don’t have temptation in your house. For me that means, no sweet treats. I have the biggest sweet tooth on planet earth so I rather just not have them around. Overall, just keep foods around that you won’t hate yourself for binging on them later.
Get creative with recipes. Keep an open mind and get creative. Introduce new foods to your rotation. Giving foods Latin flavors like citrus, fresh garlic, spices (check labels!), black beans or avocado always helps elevate flavors. Here are some examples of how I’ve given healthy-ish Latin twists to recipes here on A Sassy Spoon.
- 15-Minute Cauliflower Congri
- Cuban-Style Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Healthy-ish Cuban Bibimbap Bowl
- One-Pan Quick + Easy Vegetarian Paella
- Mushroom Swiss Black Bean Toston Burgers
- Shrimp Ceviche Stuffed Avocados
- Cuban-Style Vegan Picadillo Stuffed Peppers
My fellow healthy-ish Latinas (or anyone!), can I get an Amen?
I’ve done well considering I was brought up with such salty, carby, sugary deliciousness but balance is a lifelong process. I’d love to hear your comments. What are you struggling with? How can we help each other? What are your best tips for living a balanced life?! Leave them in the comments below.
This post was originally posted in July 2017 and was updated in January 2019.