Fresh and fun elements of our favorite recipes from south of the border!
By Julie Beyer, MA, RDN
Author, Speaker, Patient Advocate
One thing I always tell my patients is that living with interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome is more tolerable if you have good problem solving skills. Sure, it is easy to end up depressed and frustrated, especially about food, if all you do is concentrate on the “do not’s” and “cannot’s”. But, if you look at your treatments and diet with curiosity and an eye for substitution, you will feel better about yourself and your choices!
For example, IC patients often grumble that they can’t have ethnic foods. This fact has not been lost on researchers who repeatedly mention Indian, Chinese, and Mexican cuisines as contributing to bladder pain and other symptoms.
Now, just so you know, I have a beautiful, multi-cultural family. My son-in-law is Korean, my daughter-in-law is Indian, my niece is African, and my nephew and cousin are Mexican. So, frankly, I think throwing entire cultures under the bus is ludicrous and irresponsible of the researchers. But instead of complaining about this, I have decided to put on my problem solving hat. What are recipes anyway? Just different combinations of various ingredients, right? So, all we have to do is look at the list of foods that are common in a culture, keep the ones that are bladder friendly, and switch out those that can be problematic.
Let’s take a look at Mexican food. Instead of bemoaning the fact that we can’t have jalapeños and chili seasoning, let’s concentrate on the fresh and fun elements of our favorite recipes from south of the border!
Meat: Consuming high quality protein is an important element of a healthy, IC friendly diet. It isn’t the meat in Mexican food that is the problem, but how you season it. Options include ground and grilled meats (beef, chicken, turkey, pork), grilled or poached seafood (try tilapia, cat fish, shrimp, or crab meat), and eggs. Are you cooking for your family? Simply separate your portion from the rest before adding problem ingredients.
Tortillas: Both corn and flour tortillas are generally well tolerated by IC/BPS patients. To help fold these traditional unleavened breads into tacos, burritos, fajitas, and enchiladas, heat briefly in a microwave or on a skillet. Don’t be concerned about the “lime” you find in the ingredient list of some tortillas. This lime is not citrus, but rather the common name of calcium hydroxide, an alkaline substance added to the water to help shell the corn kernels used to make corn tortillas. You may even see it as an ingredient on flour tortillas.
Cheese: Various cheeses are used in both traditional and Americanized Mexican foods. Cheddar, Monterey jack, cream cheese, and crema (a saltier version of sour cream) are all great toppings for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and salads.
Vegetables: Onions, colorful sweet bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, corn, and leafy vegetables are a great way to add flavor, fun, and nutrition to your Mexican-inspired dishes! Cut vegetables into small bits and add to ground meat to add in tacos and burritos, or sprinkle vegetable slices with olive oil and coarse salt then grill or roast in the oven to caramelize them, releasing the best flavors. This is a great use of “less than perfect” produce!
Avocados: Did you know that traditional guacamole only has avocado, salt, and a bit of pepper? You do not need to add tomatoes, chili peppers, or onions to enjoy this fantastically healthy dip for tortilla chips! If you want to add a little variety, combine with chopped, sweet red peppers and a spoonful of sour cream. Yum!
Beans: Pinto beans are used frequently in Mexican recipes. High in soluble fiber and protein, these versatile ingredients can even be used as meat substitutes in many dishes! When buying canned beans, read the ingredients carefully. Some contain a high amount of added fat and even jalapeños. Please note that black beans may be more irritating than pinto or pinquito beans.
Seasonings: Many traditional Mexican seasonings are actually well tolerated by IC/PBS patients. Common ingredients to try include garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Paprika, cinnamon, and cumin are also commonly used in Mexican dishes, but start with a small amount to be sure they do not bother you.
Tomatoes: Keep in mind that a eating a slice of tomato is much different than consuming a cup of tomato sauce which may include the equivalent of two or three whole tomatoes. If your bladder is in a good place, you may want to try a tablespoon or two or chopped tomatoes as a garnish on your taco or fajita. Don’t forget that yellow tomatoes, homegrown versions, and heirloom tomatoes are often less acidic and may give you the taste you are looking for with less bladder “ouch.”
Limes: Are you surprised to see a citrus food on this list? Certainly you don’t want to use the juice of a whole lime to season your meat, but adding a few drops to your guacamole may be ok. Lime zest (grated peel) can also add a lot of flavor without triggering your painful bladder symptoms. Of course, taking Prelief before a meal may allow you to eat potential trigger foods like tomatoes, lime juice, or other acidic foods
Soft Chicken Tacos with Roasted Red Pepper and Corn Salsa (makes 6)
- 1 T. olive oil
- ½ c. chopped onion
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped (optional, as tolerated)
- ½ c. chopped roasted sweet red pepper
- 1 ½ c. cooked, shredded chicken (may substitute ground meat)
- ½ t. cumin
- ½ t. paprika
- 1 t. chopped oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ c. roasted sweet red pepper, chopped and chilled
- ½ c. corn (for more flavor, use kernels from grilled corn on the cob. Chill before using.)
- ½ c. canned black beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ c. cubed cucumber
- ¼ c. chopped onion (if tolerated)
- 2 t. pear juice
- 1 t. olive oil
- 1 t. chopped cilantro
- ¼ t. lime zest
- 1 t. chopped oregano
- 6 small corn or flour soft tortillas
- 1 avocado cut into slices
Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add first ½ c. onions, garlic, and first ½ c. red peppers, cooking until slightly browned and caramelized. Add shredded chicken, cumin, paprika, oregano, salt, and pepper and heat until cooked through.
While meat mixture is heating, combine second ½ c. red pepper, corn, black beans, cucumbers, second ½ c. onions, pear juice, oil, cilantro, lime zest, and oregano to make salsa.
To warm and soften tortillas, place two between paper towels and heat for 20 seconds in the microwave. Fill with meat mixture. Top with lettuce, cheese, salsa, and avocado slices. Enjoy!