Sylvia E. Meléndez Klinger, MS, RD, LDN, CPT
Consultant to the Calorie Control Council
Hispanic culture has given the world some of its favorite drinks, from hot chocolate to refreshing bebidas or licuados, the original smoothies. These delicious drinks are part of many everyday Hispanic meals, but if you are ready to incorporate them into your everyday meal, you may have to proceed with caution. Many of these drinks may have a significant amount of calories, which can present problems for those who are overweight or have Type 2 diabetes.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s take a look at a few classic Hispanic beverages –and some easy updates to make them healthier. And when the drink calls for sugar, for a healthy twist use a low-calorie sweetener, like aspartame.
- Bebida, licuado (Mexico, Central America), batido (Cuba), and/or refresco (Puerto Rico) – these blended drinks made with fruit, whole milk, ice, and added sugar are similar to smoothies and often served with breakfast. Each drink has its own local flavor depending on the fruits used, from mango or passion fruit in Mexico to pineapple or banana in the Caribbean.
Healthy twist: use non-fat milk instead of whole milk. Or for a richer drink, replace the whole milk with a blend of non-fat milk and plain or light non-fat yogurt. If the fruit is ripe and sweet, you may be able to skip the sweetener altogether.
- Chocolate (Mexico) – Centuries ago, Mayans and Aztecs made the original hot chocolate, an unsweetened drink made of ground cacao beans, water, and spices like annatto or ground chiles. Over the years, sugar and milk were added, giving us the creamy, sweet chocolate drink that millions enjoy with breakfast or at break time.
Healthy twist: replace whole milk with non-fat milk, or a mix of non-fat milk and non-fat evaporated milk for a richer drink with less fat. . Add a pinch of cinnamon to your chocolate: the flavor boost from the spice provides additional flavor and you may find that you enjoy the flavor without needing additional sweet taste.
- Atole (Mexico) – This breakfast drink, made with fruit, milk or water, and masa (cornmeal), is served warm or at room temperature. It’s a comforting and nourishing drink for a busy morning and the masa provides a heartier, slightly thick beverage for those that may need something extra before their next snack or meal.
Healthy twist: Use water or non-fat milk. Skip the added sugar and use fruit to sweeten the drink.
- Horchata (Mexico, Central America) – Horchata is a blend of rice or other grain, water or milk, and sugar, flavored with vanilla and cinnamon. While its most commonly made with rice, there are many interesting regional variations that replace the grain with finely ground nuts or seeds.
Healthy twist: use quinoa instead of rice for a protein boost. Increase the vanilla and cinnamon slightly and reduce the added sugar
- Café con leche (Cuba) – This cup of strong coffee, whole milk and sugar is a favorite wake-up drink for millions of people. Café con leche is typically served at breakfast, but is also popular at break time or after meals.
Healthy twist: if coffee makes you jittery, replace regular coffee with decaffeinated. Use non-fat evaporated milk instead of whole milk for a creamy flavor with less fat. If you like your coffee sweet, experiment with ways to cut the added sugar. One way is to cut the added sugar in half: instead of adding 2 teaspoons of sugar, try adding 1 teaspoon and increase the flavors with vanilla or spices such as ginger, cinnamon, and chile or try adding a sugar-free flavored syrup.
Always pay attention to added sugars and fats in your favorite drinks, and experiment with ingredients that are lower in fat or sugar. You may find that you get the same great flavor with fewer calories – a big help if you’re trying to lose weight.
Here’s a favorite bebida recipe that’s low in fat and added sugar. Enjoy!
Bebida con Fresas y Piña (Strawberry-Pineapple Smoothie)
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 2 servings (12 oz. each)
1 cup California strawberries
½ cup diced fresh pineapple or pineapple canned in juice
1 cup non-fat skim milk
½ cup light non-fat vanilla yogurt (sweetened with a non-calorie sweetener)
Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Garnish with sliced strawberries and a mint sprig, if desired.
Serving Size 12.00 ounce(s) (340g)
Total Fat 0.4g
Dietary Fiber 2.3g
Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, is founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a food communications and culinary consulting company based in Hinsdale, IL. Sylvia has an impressive record and knowledge of Hispanic foods and culture. She uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to introduce new strategies for wellness to an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population. Sylvia has been a consultant for major food, beverage and pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations and has created recipes that promote healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle. Some of her clients include The Calorie Control Council, The Coca-Cola Company, Kellogg’s, The Grain Foods Foundation, and California Strawberry Commission among others.