What are the Healthy Options at Mexican Restaurants?

Question: What are the healthiest things to order at a Mexican food restaurant? This is my husband’s favorite, and we eat Mexican at least once or twice a week. 

Answer: I don’t think your husband is alone in his love for Mexican food. Its growing popularity in the U.S. is so widespread that the Smithsonian showcased an exhibition on the topic earlier this year! But your question is certainly a concern among many, as Mexican food can be loaded with calories, fat (both total and saturated), and sodium—none of which is healthy for our waistlines, hearts, or overall health. Team up with your husband to use these tricks so that you can keep enjoying Mexican food while staying happy and healthy:

  • Start With Soup
    Like my recommendation for Chinese restaurants, start with soup. Soup can help decrease calories eaten later in a meal. Paired with another appetizer or small side item (think: taco, black beans, corn on the cob), it can also make for a smaller yet satisfying meal. Give vegetable-filled gazpacho, posole, or albondigas a try—but stick to a cup (rather than a bowl) to keep the portion to a minimum.
  • Load Up On Vegetables
    Load up on vegetables. They not only provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals—but they fill you up without filling you out. Opt for vegetable-filled burritos, tacos, tamales, etc., adding some black or pinto beans, tofu, or skinless chicken for some lean protein. Fajitas are another great veggie-packed meal that can be eaten with or without tortillas.
  • Fried Foods Are Not Your Friends
    Fried foods are not your friends. Avoid chimichangas, gorditas, taquitos—and the fried tostada shell often served with salads. For the great flavor of tortilla wrapped dishes without the added fat from frying, choose soft tacos, tamales, enchiladas, and burritos. As far as refried beans, which typically contain lard, choose black or pinto beans instead.
  • Choose Your Tortilla Wisely
    Choose your tortilla wisely. Although those endless bowls of tortilla chips and salsa are easy to devour, limit your intake of those fried chips. (Read: Don’t ask for a second bowl!) When choosing what to wrap around your taco, burrito, or enchilada, choose soft whole grain or corn (also considered a whole grain) tortillas. Or, opt for a lettuce wrap!
  • Ask For Less
    Ask for less—cheese, sour cream, and guacamole, that is. While delicious, these condiments wrack up calories and fat fast, so ask for half the usual amount in any of your dishes to easily slash calories and fat without losing the flavor.
  • Be Wise With Alcoholic Drink Choices
    Be wise with alcoholic drink choices. Mixed drinks—including margaritas—are sometimes made with sugar-laden mixers. This is especially true for flavored drinks, such as mango or peach margaritas. Keep added sugar at bay by sticking to a light Mexican beer, glass of wine, or mixed drink mixed with sweet & sour, calorie-free club soda, diet sodas or spritzers, or a splash of 100% fruit juice.