Friday, May 2, 2008


Cinco de Mayo.  What does an Irishman know about Cinco de Mayo? I do know, from living in Southern California, that it means 5th of May in Spanish, but that's about it. So I logged onto the trusty site Wikipedia for some history to enlighten us all, especially those across the pond.
The holiday of Cinco de Mayo commemorates an initial victory of Mexican forces over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, though a common misconception in the United States is that it's Mexico's Independence Day, which is actually September 16th. Cinco de Mayo is primarily a regional holiday in Mexico, celebrated in the state of Puebla, although there is some limited recognition of the holiday in other parts of the country.  In the States, Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. The date is perhaps best recognized in the States as a date to celebrate the culture & experiences of Americans of Mexican ancestry, much as St. Paddy's Day, Oktoberfest, and the Chinese New Year are used to celebrate those of Irish, German, & Chinese ancestry, respectively. Similar to those holidays, Cinco de Mayo is observed by many Americans regardless of ethnic origin and celebrations are a plenty. For the most part the celebrations combine food, music and dancing. As an Irishman, I see it as another opportunity for a gigantic piss-up.   
I have however, thought of how to make it through your celebration without putting yourself in cardiac arrest from the fat and calorie overload of the Mexican food and drink.  I know it's only one day but here are some smarter choices to think about....Where to start?
Let's start with drinks.  Margaritas and Mexican beer will no doubt be the drinks of choice on Cinco de Mayo but margaritas can pack up to 500 calories & 32 grams of carbs for about 8 ounces primarily due to the pre-made margarita mixes, which are essentially high-fructose corn syrup laced with a trace of lime juice. To put that into perspective you'll have to walk for 145 minutes or run for about an hour, swim for 45 minutes or cycle for 80 mins in order to burn off those calories.  And that's for EACH margarita consumed! Run Forrest run! A way to cut the cals is to ask the bartender to make your margarita from scratch or fresh, using a small hit of sugar to balance the tartness of the lime.  As for Mexican beers you've got lots of choices to choose from and here's how they stack up with calories based on a 12 oz serving (bottles are usually 12 ounces, pints are 16): Corona 148, Corona Light 109, Negra Modelo 155, Superior 153, Carte Blanca 128, Tecate 146, Dos Equis 149, Dos Equis Lager 156, and Sol 131. You do the math and keep in mind that in order to burn approx. 150 cals you'll have to walk for 40 minutes, jog for 16, swim for 11 or cycle for 20 (depending on your stats).  All of these calories and carbs can add up quickly and that's before you've eaten anything!  
I highly recommend eating if you're drinking. I've learned this the hard way. This is for two reasons: 1. You don't want to be a sloppy drunk and 2. Food delays gastric emptying in the stomach meaning alcohol stays there longer & is processed more slowly and broken down better with food. So eat but choose wisely.  Here's the good & the bad of a typical Mexican Cantina menu:
I'm sure you can figure out that chips are fried and full of fat but if you're going to go for it, eat them with guacamole.  Yes avocados are high in fat but the good kind of fat, monounsaturated, which means it's good for your heart. Soft tacos and Fajitas are also a good choice, but skip the sour cream and cheese to save 300 cals and 15 grams of fat.  You can even do better than that and save more calories by asking for only one flour tortilla for the fajitas and stuff it full or ask for corn tortillas on both the soft tacos and for the fajitas. They'll cut another 100 cals per taco plus they'll add a few grams of fiber. Skip taco salads. Though it sounds like a healthy choice, the reality is that it's packed with 900 cals and 55 grams of fat. Ouch! Enchiladas aren't much better. Typically the tortillas used are dipped in hot fat, stuffed, rolled, covered with sauce & cheese then baked. When topped with sour cream two enchiladas have about 750 cals, 55% of which comes from fat. Pass on rice and refried beans. Refried beans are usually mashed and cooked in lard. The rice at most of these restaurants are usually fried in oil, packing 380 cals and nearly 11 grams of fat in about 1/2 cup. Do search out the Bean Burrito if they're whole beans.  This could be the healthiest thing on the menu. The fiber in beans lowers cholesterol and helps make you feel full.  You can find many of these helpful hints I've listed above along with more tips in the book, Eat This Not That
Now off you go and enjoy your Mexican Fiesta but remember to be smart as you don't want to end up looking like the goodyear blimp bouncing down the street!      

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