Healthy Shrimp Tacos
Photo by Kenny Sanchez
Healthy Shrimp Tacos
Photo by Kenny Sanchez

You can have your favorite foods and still stay fit!

Mexican food can be found all over Boyle Heights. You can get enchiladas from a restaurant or tacos from a street vendor. But the calories in these foods can easily add up. With Latinos having higher than average rates of obesity and diabetes, it’ s important to find ways to cook and eat healthier.

For Cecilia Sanchez, a Boyle Heights resident and parent, cooking in a healthy way is not easy. “ It’ s hard to get fresh and healthy products here,” said Sanchez. “ I wish we had more markets like Fresh & Easy and Trader Joe’ s.”

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Finding healthy foods isn’ t easy in Boyle Heights. In the last 20 years, three grocery stores have closed and have not been replaced. The Network for a Healthy California, which has nutrition data statewide, lists more than 40 restaurants serving fast food, pizza, or sandwiches in Boyle Heights and hardly any that focus on healthy menus. This has made it difficult to eat out with health in mind and also has contributed to the health problems in the area.

The health picture matches the food picture. In Boyle Heights, 33 percent of residents were considered overweight in a 2009 study by Alliance For A Better Community. Martha Walker, a registered dietician with the Keck Diabetes Prevention
Institute, said there are lots of reasons why. “ Parents are working more, so they’ re not cooking as much. They’ re eating out,” she said. “ Kids are playing more video games and spending time in front of the computer versus playing outside and having more physical activity.”

Because of the obesity problem, California passed a law that requires all food companies with 20 or more sites to tell the public about nutrition in food.

But even if restaurant menus are healthier as a result, Walker said a home-cooked meal is usually better and less fattening. When cooking at home “ you’ re in control of what you’ re putting into the food you’ re making,” she said.

Aaron J. Perez, a professional chef who grew up in Boyle Heights, likes to come up with ways to cook healthy Mexican meals that also honor tradition. With cooking demonstrations at local farmers markets, including the one in Boyle Heights, Perez wants
people to “ think out of the box.”

“ People think change is bad in”¦a traditional dish instead of exploring other ways to be creative,” said Perez. There are “ a lot of variations that you can use when you’ re cooking that people don’ t know about.”

Boyle Heights’ families who can’ t find healthy options for eating out locally may have to learn tricks to make a healthier traditional meal. Perez has made it his goal to provide people with the proper knowledge to cook a healthier meal. “ We deserve, as a community, to have the privilege of great tasting food,” he said.

For parents like Sanchez, teaching their children good nutrition is important. “ I know that if my kids don’ t eat healthy now, it’ ll be hard for them to pick it up later,” she said.

Chef Aaron J. Perez shares recipes (below) for healthier traditional dishes. For more of Chef Aaron’ s healthy traditional recipes, go to

Chef Aaron’ s Tips
1. Use grape seed oil instead of manteca.
2. Use kosher or sea salt instead of regular salt.
3. Bake instead of fry.
4. Steam, don’t boil, veggies.

Dietitian’ s Tips
1. Broil, grill, steam, poach, roast, or bake instead of frying.
2. Use canned fruits and vegetables that are low sodium or have no added salt and don’ t contain sugar syrups.
3. Fresh is best, but to save time, use frozen vegetables and fruits.

If you would like to share your own tips or healthier Mexican recipes, write us:

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