Eat healthy Mexican… it’s not as hard as you think.
If I was only allowed one ethnicity of food for the rest of my life, no question it would be Mexican. It’s bold, spicy, flavorful, and just downright delicious. I could eat it daily.
Sometimes, in fact, I want Mexican so badly that it doesn’t even feel like I’m choosing it, but rather it is choosing me. Mexican is my food soul mate.
Apparently I am not alone. I’ve read that salsa is one of America’s best-selling condiments. I’ve also read that Americans buy more Mexican food from the grocery than hamburgers.
The problem is, Americans aren’t exactly the poster child for good health. Why? Not because there aren’t healthy options out there, but because Americans don’t exercise self-control and eat healthy, especially when eating out.
Therefore, I owe it to Mexican food to come to its defense and give it the attention it deserves. So here you have, THE DEFINITIVE MANIFESTO on eating healthy at a Mexican restaurant! I want you to see that it’s possible to get fit while still eating out at your restaurante mexicano local. Without further ado, here are some rules on how to eat healthy Mexican.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #1: Watch the tortilla chips.
A serving of corn chips can range from seven to 15 chips. The calories per serving can range 200 to over 500 calories. Carbohydrates can start at 15 grams per serving. Fat grams can range from six on up. Don’t get me started on flour tortilla chips.
Now this wouldn’t be so bad if you really stuck to the serving size. But that can be hard right? Let’s be honest, when was the last time the server didn’t refill the basket a time or ten. Also, because we over-eat these early on in the meal, it’s easy to eat too much once the actual meal comes.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: Remove three or four big chips from the basket and scoot the basket down the table away from you. Then break each chip into two or three pieces. Load up each piece with as much salsa as it can hold as salsa is more or less a freebie. This will allow you some indulgence without killing your whole meal out.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #2: Watch the refried beans.
Refried beans are often made with lard. So what you see on your plate is a combination of unhealthy fat, carbs (although they’re at least the complex kind), some protein and a little fiber. Not a total disaster but not ideal.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: Ask if they have black beans instead. These will not have the added fat from the lard, they’ll likely have more fiber, and they’re more flavorful.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #3: Watch the flour tortillas.
As with refried beans, often times flour tortillas are made with lard, adding unnecessary and unhealthy kinds of fat. Deep fry one and it’s like double dipping in the fat vat.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: Ask for soft corn tortillas instead of the crispy fried corn taco shells. These are usually made from corn meal, water, and salt, resulting in zero fat. I wasn’t always a fan of soft corn tortillas but now I prefer them. They have a delicate texture and the corns adds nice sweet overtone to the meal. So give them a try for a while.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #4: Watch the rice.
Mexican rice is usually white rice with salsa or oil and cilantro. It’s not the extra ingredients I have an issue with, it’s the rice itself. White rice is stripped of everything beneficial, resulting with a carb-loaded high glycemic reacting product. If it were made with wild, long-grain rice, it would be a different story.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: See if the mexican restaurant will let you sub out your rice (or rice and beans if black beans aren’t an option) for a side salad, and use salsa as your dressing.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #5: Watch out for the combination platters.
These platters are usually some combination of the above components, and more often than not, the ground beef is the primary filling, a less than optimal option.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: Don’t order a meal that starts with a number. Look over their house specials, their salads, and their a la carte options. Get out of the rut and take some chances. I cannot remember the last time I ordered a combination platter and I don’t miss them.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #6: Watch out for cheese overload.
Let’s face it, it’s hard not to want some cheese on our Mexican food. If we strip away everything we like from our restaurant outing, we may not enjoy it any more. So personally, I’m okay with some cheese. The problem you often run into is the sheer amount of cheese they put on the food. I’ve seen tacos that were two parts cheese to one part meat.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: If the meal normally comes with queso, ask for shredded cheese instead as you’ll consume far less. If you want to be extra diligent, ask for the shredded cheese on the side so you can better control the quantity going on your food.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #7: Watch out for the sour cream intake.
Since we are on the topic of dairy, let’s talk about sour cream. Personally, I like it. It certainly helps cool the fire from the generous dousing of hot sauce I add to my meals.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: Unlike sour cream, avocados contain a very heart healthy fat. And they too can tame the heat. So feel free to help yourself to a serving of avocado or guacamole instead. Or if you’re watching the fat, ask for pico de gallo instead of sour cream. Won’t help cool the spiciness but it’s packed with flavor, nutrients, and you can eat as much of it as you want.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #8: Watch the sauce.
This is kind of a rehash of #6 and #7, but dairy based sauces (queso, sour cream, etc) are fattening and the vegetable based ones (ranchero, verde, enchilada) are not.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: If you must have some dairy based sauce, try going half and half. Half queso (or sour cream) and half enchilada (or other veggie based sauce). My guess is it will satisfy your desire without adding unnecessary calories.
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #9: Hit the sauce, hot sauce that is.
There are numerous studies and articles out there showing that spicy food helps burn more calories. The chemical that makes spicy foods spicy is called capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown to suppress appetite as well as slightly increase metabolism. Of course, spicy alone won’t help you lose weight. But when eaten regularly and in combination with other healthy foods, you could get an extra boost.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: The heat from peppers comes from the veins, not the seeds as most people think. So you can cut around the veins to avoid too much extra heat. If you grill a jalapeno, that will diminish some of the heat as well. Fresh jalapeños are nearly always hotter than the pickled ones. Also, just because it’s a pepper doesn’t mean it’s blazing hot. A pablano pepper is a mild heat with a good flavor. So play around with it and live a little. If nothing else, you’ll get a little endorphin high from the hot stuff!
Eat Healthy Mexican Rule #10: Watch out for the meat’s preparation method.
If the meat is cooked in its own juices (ground beef), not good. If the meat is lightly fried (carnitas), really not good. If the meat is deep fried (chimichanga or fried fish for fish tacos), really, really not good.
Eat Healthy Mexican Tip: Look for grilled items and you’ll save yourself a lot of fat and unnecessary calories. Fajitas fall into this category. Fajita meats and veggies are generally cooked on a grill first (hence the grill marks) before they are transferred to the raging hot, cast-iron fajita plate. So a majority of the fat in the meat has been cooked over the grill, and what is left on the fajita plate is a small part of juices from the meat and a large part of juices (aka water) from the veggies.