Regarded as greasy and unhealthy, Mexican food dishes are getting an image upgrade.

A group of Tucsonans recently began meeting to learn about nutrition and share traditional Mexican recipes that are low in fat and calories.

Some tips are simple: using agave syrup instead of refined sugar, for instance. But participants emphasize that reducing sugar - regardless of its type - is most important.

Organizers say the 20-person group - some members are diabetic - shares a concern for their health and the health of their children. The meetings are held in Spanish.

Salvador Barajas, one of the organizers, says the yet-to-be-named group is made up mostly of friends and neighbors and started about a month ago.

Thanks to high interest and attendance, the group is preparing to do presentations at public libraries.

"OK, so we need to come up with the list of Mexican dishes we'll include in our presentations," Barajas tells the group at a recent meeting held at Valencia Branch Library.

Mary R. Tasho, whose idea to use prickly pear in ceviche was a hit, has diabetes, and so does her daughter.

"Not everyone who has diabetes likes fish or chicken, so ceviche with nopal (prickly pear) instead of fish is a good idea," says Tasho, who just returned from a nutrition conference in Mexico.

Barajas has been studying Mexican food and its origins and says it's been modified into unhealthy recipes.

In its original form, it's not as unhealthy as people think, he says.

"We need to learn that our food is rich," he says. "We need to go back to our roots."

For more information

How to contact the group

• Salvador Barajas at 807-1544

• Josefina Meranza at 889-3082

try this one

Ceviche with nopal (prickly pear)

• Makes 8 servings


• 2 pounds diced prickly pears

• 3 cucumbers, peeled and chopped without seeds

• 1 pound diced tomatoes

• 1 red onion, chopped

• 1 stalk of cilantro, chopped

• 5 stalks of celery, chopped

• Salt to taste

• Clamato juice to desired consistency

• 20 limes, squeezed


• Combine onions, prickly pear, lime juice and salt. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes then add the remaining ingredients and stir well.

• Serve chilled.

Recipe courtesy of Mary R. Tasho.

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