5 Ways to Eat Healthier at a Mexican Restaurant
Written by Avance Care registered dietitian Julia Bumpus, MS, RDN, LDN
Here are just a few ways to try and lighten up your Mexican meal! No need to follow every single suggestion but you might a few of the following helpful if you are trying to enjoy some delicious food without overdoing it.
Limit the Chips
Tortilla chips are high in saturated fat and calories. Not to mention, many restaurants will offer unlimited refills for free! Try to skip the chip basket and save your appetite for the main meal. But, let’s be real: It’s not always possible to skip the chips entirely. Try to portion out 10-15 chips. This should be around 150 calories, which can fit into a balanced meal. Stick with healthy dips like guacamole and salsa. Guacamole is full of healthy fats and salsa is a flavorful, low-calorie condiment. Consider portioning out by putting the chips and dips on your plate so you are not too tempted to keep reaching.
Try these healthier entrees:
- Entrée Salad: Most Mexican restaurants have salads that can be topped with lean proteins such as shrimp, chicken, or black beans. It’s best to avoid the fried shell, but for some crunch try crumbling up a few tortilla chips. Adding a spoonful of guacamole can enhance the salad with healthy fats and extra flavor.
- Fajitas: Fajitas come with sautéed veggies and meat which you can portion into your choice of shell. Keep this dish on the lighter side by avoiding the sour cream and refried beans that come on the side. They are high in calories and unhealthy fats. Instead, enhance with jalapenos, a spoonful of guacamole or salsa, lettuce, tomato, or a dash of hot sauce.
- Tacos: Choose those made with black beans, fish, or grilled chicken. Choosing a corn tortilla is a lower calorie option than a flour tortilla.
- Make your own combos: Did you know that most restaurants offer this option? Mix and match healthy options like grilled meat (chicken, fish, shrimp), ceviche (raw seafood marinated in lemon or lime juice and other seasonings), black beans, brown rice, avocado salad, sautéed veggies, or tortilla soup.
Avoid or limit these entrees, sides, and toppings:
- Refried beans: unlike black beans, these are cooked with butter, oil, or lard and sometimes topped with cheese, making them high-calorie and high-saturated fat (not the good kind).
- Sour cream & queso: Both of these toppings are high in calories and saturated fat. Lighten up any entrée by skipping these toppings or choosing only one of them.
- Chimichanga: deep fried burrito
- Ground beef/pork: these meats tend to be higher in fat and calories than grilled chicken, fish, or shrimp
- Mexican rice: traditionally made by sautéing white rice in a skillet with oil and fat.
- If you’re into margaritas, choose classic over frozen. Frozen varieties, or those made with mixes, can have up to 500 calories or more due to the added sugars. Classic, on the other hand, contains around 200 calories for the tequila, liquor, and lime juice.
- If you prefer beer, go for a light Mexican beer, such as a Corona Light. This has only 99 calories compared to the 150-160 calories in the “heavy” versions.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated with water!
To be honest, it can be tough to find a healthy dessert when eating Mexican. If you skip, you can save more room for apps or fun beverages. If you’ve been waiting for the dessert all day, my best advice is just to order for the table with multiple spoons.
Julia is the registered dietitian at the West Cary and Morrisville Avance Care locations. She enjoys anything outside such as reading, running or walking the dogs. She also loves to cook new recipes, paint or do home projects like redoing furniture. She makes many weekend visits around NC to hang out with family and friends. She has 2 dogs and loves hanging with her niece and nephew (the cutie in the picture).