Who doesn’t like Mexican food? It’s spicy, fatty and dripping with cheese! Who doesn’t want tortilla chips smothered with queso sauce or a fried chimicanga covered with guacamole? Who doesn’t want a rich chorizo sausage burrito or a deep friend chile relleno? Oh, by even reading these words, our taste buds want to get out a sombrero and dance to mariachi music. If we’re watching what we’re eating, or if we’re counting calories or if, sadly, we’re on doctor’s order to shed a few pounds, we may have to say adios to a few of our favorite Mexican dishes. Or do we?
Is it possible to have healthy substitutes for some of our favorite Mexican dishes? Can you keep authenticity and still enjoy the rich tastes while cutting back on the fat and starch?
Si! It is possible!
Go easy on the chips and salsa. The salsa is fine! Most salsas, picante and pico de gallo sauces are perfect for the calorie conscious. These appetizers are mostly chopped tomatoes, chiles, bell peppers, cilantro, onions, lemon juice and spices. Theoretically, you could eat a gallon of this deliciousness and still be healthy. Unfortunately, it’s awfully hard to eat your salsa without chips. Tortilla chips are usually not good for the waistline. If your favorite Mexican restaurant serves complimentary chips and salsa before the meal. Make an effort to only eat a few — a cup of chips can have approximately 300 calories and 10 grams of fat.
Be skeptical of salads. Many times your favorite taco salad is a fried tortilla bowl with lettuce, meat, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, guacamole and other South of the Border goodies in it. Often it’s an easy choice because it’s a salad — it’s supposed to be healthy, right? Nope. A taco salad, in the shell, could be over 500 calories and have over 26 grams of fat. Despite the name, a traditional taco salad is not a healthy choice.
Say no to sour cream. A cup of this gooey goodness is 445 calories and has 45 grams of fat! If you choose sour cream chicken enchiladas, dripping in that amazing sauce, that is one fatty, unhealthy dish. Your heart will love you more if you choose the fajitas instead — grilled meat and vegetables with only a dollop or two of sour cream on top (and lots and lots of salsa!)
Pass on the queso. Ask for shredded cheese if you must have cheese at all. Cheese may be one of the harder temptations to resist. Think of your health! Perhaps a small side dish of queso for those chips instead of a large plate of nachos would be a healthier choice.
Go grilled or baked and avoid fried. Chimichangas, quesadillas, chile rellenos and some other dishes are fried and as a result, their calorie count goes way up. But a baked burrito and grilled fajitas are not. It is possible to have a delicious, hearty Mexican meal, combining all your favorite tastes, while avoiding the problem of fried foods.
Be skeptical of beans. Refried beans often contain lard! While this does add to their rich texture and traditional flavor, ordinary cooked beans would be a better choice. Ask your server at your restaurant if there is a substitute for refried beans.
Pick restaurants that provide nutritional information. The more you know about what in your favorite dishes, the wiser your choice can be. Call and ask. Do an internet search. Make a plan ahead of time what you will and will not eat and then stick to your plan.
Or, make your own! Mexican food is not difficult to make. If you can fry an egg, you can sauté chicken in a touch of oil with onions and peppers. If you can chop an onion, then you can chop cilantro, onions and garlic to mix with diced tomatoes to make a delicious salsa. Plain yogurt is a great substitute for sour cream. Warm canned pinto beans to substitute refried beans. Buy brown rice and mix in a bit of salsa for a flavorful and healthy substitute. Buy baked chips or cut tortillas into wedges and bake them for a few minutes in the oven. The money you save by making your own Mexican foods can go toward your new wardrobe.
Mexican food has many rich flavors. The garlic, cumin and chiles can raise our metabolism. The beans and rice combine to make complex proteins. Fresh, well-made salsa has few calories and is full of antioxidants. Lovers of Mexican cuisine who need to make healthy choice need not avoid it altogether. With a bit of knowledge and skill, their heart healthy and waistline-friendly Mexican fiesta can be just as delicious as what they’re used to.
- Tastes from South of the Border: Six Mexican Restaurants to Try in Anaheim (hmghotelsblog.com)
- Food Tour: 8 Must-Try Restaurants in Southeast L.A. County (kcet.org)
- Eating Out and Losing Weight: Make Healthier Choices at a Mexican Restaurant (weightloss.answers.com)
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