On Nutrition: New Mexico memories

Some things never change. Some do.

I realized this after a recent trip to New Mexico for a reunion with some of my rodeo buddies from New Mexico State University. It’s been several decades since I met up with these folks. And while I knew my old roommate right away, let’s just say name tags would have been helpful for the rest of us.

After we figured out who was who, the stories got more and more entertaining … especially when mixed with good ol’ New Mexican cuisine.

The Land of Enchantment is known as the chile state. In fact, the varieties of chile you’ll find there have their own scientific name: Capsicum annuum, New Mexico chile group.

It’s a long-lasting tradition that when you order food in a New Mexican restaurant, you’ll be asked, “Red or green?” meaning, “Do you want red or green chile?”

If you can’t make up your mind, just say “Christmas” and you’ll get a little of both.

Which is hotter? It depends more on the variety than the color. So ask! Red chile comes from the same plant as green; it’s just been ripened longer.

During our visit, we drove through the Hatch Valley, where my family lived when I was a toddler. This area of southern New Mexico is well known for developing several unique varieties of chile. According to the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, these types cannot use the “Hatch chile” label unless they are grown locally in New Mexico.

I was surprised to learn that New Mexico has another official state vegetable in addition to chile. In 1965, the New Mexico Legislature designated chile and pinto beans as state vegetables based on the decision that the two staples were inseparable.

I totally agree. There’s an amazing balance of nutrients between the two foods.

Cooked pinto beans (as well as other types of beans) are a rich source of protein. They also provide bone-building calcium, blood-fortifying iron and immune-protecting zinc.

And get this: Much of the carbohydrates in beans comes from dietary fiber, a form of carb that does not contribute calories or make blood sugars rise. You’ll get more than half the dietary fiber you need in a whole day in one cup of cooked beans.

Lastly, because of their nutritional versatility, beans are considered both protein sources as well as vegetables, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Red and green chile pack a nutritional punch as well. Salsa, for example, is a great source of vitamin C that promotes strong bones and immune systems.

And ever hear of lutein and zeaxanthin? These plant-based chemicals are well known for their role in preserving eyesight.

Growing up, my mom always made enchiladas when it rained. It was raining when we got home from this trip. Guess what we had for dinner?

Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at [email protected].