Tips for Healthy Mexican Dining

Tips for Healthy Mexican Dining

Try these eating tips for healthy dining in a Mexican restaurant.

Mexican food is one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in the U.S. And why not? Who doesn’t love a good plate of rice, beans and tortillas?

But when you eat out, Mexican or otherwise, you need to know how to read the menu. The secret to healthy eating is to pay attention to how something is prepared in addition to watching out for large portions.

A seemingly harmless chicken quesadilla entree can cost you almost 1,000 calories and over 50 grams of fat. That’s the equivalent of two large orders of fries at a fast food restaurant.

Fortunately, there are plenty of choices in a Mexican restaurant that you can eat without feeling guilty.

Appetizers

Think twice about:

  • Excess tortilla chips. Ten chips may have as much as 250 calories and 10 grams of fat.
  • Nachos. Six nachos with cheese, refried beans, guacamole and sour cream contain almost 500 calories and 30 grams of fat.

Go for:

  • Baked tortilla chips (if available), or just a few fried.
  • Salsa and/or pico de gallo. Both are fat-free and very low in calories.
  • Ceviche. This low-fat, low-calorie fish dish is made with lime or lemon, onions and jalapeno.

Soups/Salads

Think twice about:

  • Tortilla soup. Typically contains bacon, cheese and fried tortilla strips.
  • Taco shells. These fried flour tortilla bowls add an extra 400 calories and 30 grams of fat.
  • Salads with cheese, sour cream or extra dressing.

Go for:

  • Fajita-style salads with chicken or shrimp, lettuce, tomatoes and peppers. Check that added beans are plain, not refried.
  • Salsa instead of dressing, or ask for dressing on the side with any salad.
  • Black bean soup (low in fat, but high in sodium).
  • Vegetarian chili. Use sour cream and cheese very sparingly.

Entrees

Think twice about:

  • Chalupas, tostadas and tacos. They’re generally made with fried corn tortillas and cheese.
  • Chimichangas or fried burritos. These are deep-fried and often covered with cheese sauce.
  • Enchiladas. These are made with corn tortillas dipped in hot oil and rolled with beef or cheese.
  • Mole dishes. Mole is a high-fat, high-calorie sauce made with chili peppers, nuts, spices and chocolate.
  • Chili rellenos. The peppers are stuffed, breaded and fried.

Go for:

  • Fajitas. Since these are marinated and grilled, the fat and calories are lower than most dishes. Stick to two to three tortillas and use sides and condiments sparingly.
  • Soft tacos. Chicken or beef strips wrapped in (unfried) corn tortilla.
  • Soft burritos. Chicken or beef strips, beans, rice and cheese, wrapped in unfried flour tortilla.
  • Arroz con pollo. Boneless chicken breast served with rice.
  • Grilled shrimp in red or green tomato sauce.
  • Plain versus refried beans. These will be low in fat, and high in protein and fiber.

More savvy strategies

  • Watch the carbs. A side of both rice and beans can have as much as 60 grams of carbs, not including the 150 grams that may come in your tortilla. Choose to eat just the “inside” of the burrito or to eliminate the rice or beans. Or try a smaller portion of all three.
  • Tame the toppings. Use sour cream and cheese sparingly, if at all. Guacamole, made with avocados, is rich in heart-healthy fat. Enjoy, but stick to a small portion, as the calories can still add up quickly.
  • Make requests. Ask for low-fat cheese or sour cream, brown rice, whole-wheat tortillas and/or a side of marinated vegetables. Replace one of the sides with a salad with dressing on the side.
  • Dishes made with chicken or fish. Most chicken or fish dishes will have more modest amounts of calories and fat.
  • Share. Most dishes are large enough to feed two or three people.

Hungry now? By ordering wisely, you can savor the flavors of Mexico and enjoy a healthy meal at the same time.

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