Is Mexican Food Healthy? 8 Tips To Navigating The Menu!

Mexican fare as ordered in restaurants can wreak havoc with your physique. Here's what to avoid.

Your friends are bugging you to viva fiesta at the local taco joint; the problem is you're bound to a diet. You know restaurant meals are typically high in calories, sugar and fat. But, you still hate to miss a fun night.

Lucky for you, you can maintain your progress if you order carefully. Learn to pick through the menu for healthy choices. Food choice is essential to reach your long-term goals, unless you'd rather stay home every night, but who wants to do that?

Follow these tips to healthy Mexican dining:

Chips And Salsa

Mmmmm - that basket of warm chips calls to you. Can't resist? Get rid of it. If the basket is already on the table when you sit down, ask your server to take it off the table. If it's not already at your table, ask your server not to bring that big bowl of carbs, fat and salt.

This combo might seem harmless enough, but chips and salsa contain too much fat and too many calories to fit into any good diet plan. Before you know it, you may munch the entire basket before the food you ordered arrives.

Save yourself the temptation and just say 'no.'

The Hard Shell

Hard shells are deep fried and contain added fat and extra calories that could push you over your limit.

Choose smaller, whole wheat soft shells: these are better options for your carb source.

It might be hard to say 'adios' to such crunchy goodness, but it's totally worth it.

The Refried

If you choose to dig into a bean dish (which can be a healthy option) go for pinto beans rather than refried beans. Pinto beans are an excellent source of protein, complex carbohydrates and much-needed iron.

Keep your serving size under control, and you will keep your calorie count where it needs to be.

The Sour Cream And Guacamole

Although the toppings are sometimes the best part of the burrito, spooning on globs of fatty sour cream and guacamole heaps the calories.

Although guacamole is made from avocado, and is technically a source of healthy fat, calories are still calories and folks tend to heap the toppings on, so go easy.

Your entrée will likely have more calories than what you should be taking in, so limiting the extras is a wise move. Instead of sour cream and guacamole, top your meal with plenty of diced vegetables and/or with salsa.

Salsa is a lower-calorie alternative that will also provide important antioxidants and vitamins.

The Margarita

It's icy, salty, full of tequila and delicious. It's also a diet wrecker. Adding a margarita to your meal will definitely put you over your calorie limits, so think carefully before ordering one.

When you dine out, you can't always control the number of calories that come in a beverage, so it's generally best to just stick with water. (Hardly an alternative to a margarita, I know.) But remember the big picture: Stick to your plan.

Be Picky
About Your Protein

You can probably count on getting protein in your meal, but not all protein choices are created equal. Chicken is usually a better option than beef because it is leaner and less processed. Fish is also a good choice as long as it hasn't been breaded or deep fried.

Before you order, ask your server about how the meat is prepared, and choose the best option for your diet plan.

Your Own Adventure

Some menu choices at Mexican restaurants come with the meal components separated.

Build-your-own taco, burrito or fajita is a great option because you can control what goes into the meal.

Depending on your nutritional needs, you can add or subtract whatever you wish.

The Taco Salad Trap

They have salad! ¡Ensalada! Finding that option on the menu might make you leap with joy. However, "salad" is not synonymous with "healthy." You're better off having one or two soft tacos.

The portion size will be much better and easier to fit in a limited-calorie diet.

So the next time you and your friends are down for some spicy Mexican food, remember these tips. Even though you're on a diet, you can still enjoy the social aspect of eating out.

It just takes a little extra effort to make sure you get what you need, not what you don't!

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About The Author

I’ve been working in the field of exercise science for the last 8 years. I’ve written a number of online and print articles.

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Great article.

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Feb 16, 2012 8:57pm | report

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Nice article, mexican is my favorite cheat meal. I always just order 1-2 chicken burritos without the sauce, cheese, or sour cream on it. I can usually just pour a bit of the salsa from the chips

Feb 17, 2012 11:01pm | report

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I am Mexican and all I can say is that the food that is sold at the Mexican restaurants is not the real Mexican food, I'm still eating Mexican food along with my diet, and the best way to eat Mexican food is to cook myself my own food and I never put my foot in a restaurant, I prefer to stay home and cook my healthy delicious Mexican food. So Money is the matter in those places... What's your opinion?

Feb 18, 2012 5:46am | report

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I know what you mean. I am in the same boat as you. After learning how to eat better and cook healthier I too will change the ingredients. But I am with ya all the so called Mexican restaurants are all like any other restaurant. The food is made to be quick on the go and nothing healthy about it. But I am thinking the same way as you though. Its a business and I am sure they are not putting the factor of being healthy as a priority either. So yes Mexican food or any other type of dish can be healthy if on cooks it right!

Feb 18, 2012 2:23pm | report

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great info, but what about fat free chips......

Feb 18, 2012 5:03pm | report

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you might as well just stay home, the best part about eating out at the mexican restaurants is all the food mentioned above. i would rather just go when i want to totally 'cheat' for a meal.

Feb 19, 2012 8:45am | report

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Stay at home and used ground turkey, vegetarian refried beans, and whole wheat tortillas...add a little salsa and reduced fat sour cream and it's a done deal.

Feb 19, 2012 7:34pm | report
Showing 1 - 7 of 7 Comments

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