How to stay healthy when Mexican is on the menu

June 30, 2015

Despite the deep-fried, crispy tortilla chips and the prevalence of sour cream and cheese as toppings, Mexican food can be healthy if you know what to order. Here's how to build a better Mexican meal so you can have the "whole enchilada" with less fat and fewer calories:

How to stay healthy when Mexican is on the menu

Ask the waiter not to bring tortilla chips

  • If it's too hard to resist those crunchy, salty chips with the salsa, don't even allow them on the table.
  • A serving of 10 chips contains almost 100 calories and 11 grams of carbs. Instead, order ceviche (fish marinated in lime juice) or a shrimp cocktail.

Start with a broth-based soup

  • Mexican appetizers like nachos and tostadas are tempting, but the oil and cheese make them not worth the splurge.
  • Ask for the sopa de lima, a chicken and tomato soup that gets some zip with lime juice. Another option is tortilla soup, which has tomato, onion and garlic puréed into chicken broth, garnished with shredded chicken, lettuce and avocado.
  • It's customary for these soups to include tortilla chips or cheese, but you can have them left out.

Fill up on chicken fajitas

  • The chicken in fajitas is roasted and seasoned without fat to make them flavourful and light. They also come with a load of tasty peppers, onions and other veggies.
  • Just watch how many of the tortillas, which usually come on the side, you eat. Keep in mind that a 15-centimetre (six-inch) flour tortilla contains 18 grams of carbs, while a 30-centimetre (12-inch) tortilla contains 65 grams.

Be cautious about salad mains

  • As is true of many Mexican specialties, main-dish salads typically include cheese, avocado and sour cream with healthy ingredients like tomatoes, corn and black beans.
  • The worst health offender is the crispy, deep-fried taco shell that some salads are served in, which can add a lot of calories and carbs to your meal.
  • Your best course of action? Order the salad without the shell, and hold the cheese and sour cream.

Make your own main dish salad

Choose a lean dish on the menu, such as the fajitas or grilled chicken, and ask for it to be served over greens. The restaurant may charge you a little extra, but will probably oblige.

Use the right toppings

  • Top your burrito with salsa and a little guacamole, rather than sour cream and cheese. Sour cream is loaded with saturated fat — the kind that clogs your arteries and raises your cholesterol.
  • Although guacamole is made with avocados — which are full of healthy monounsaturated fat — it's quite high in calories, so use discretion.

Skip combos; order a la carte

  • Combo platters usually come with carb-heavy rice and refried beans (which are sometimes made with artery-clogging lard).
  • Good a la carte options include soft tacos with chicken, vegetables or beef, or almost anything else baked or roasted and not buried under a mound of cheese.

Order a naked chicken burrito

  • That is, a burrito without a tortilla. A giant tortilla can weigh in at more than 300 calories.
  • Have the burrito without it — and without the cheese — and you'll get a meal (chicken, beans, salsa and lettuce) that's reasonable in calories. Or order a regular burrito, cut it in half, and ask the waiter to wrap the rest.

Plan to go dancing after

  • Make a date to go salsa dancing after your Mexican meal.
  • Not only will the prospect of physical activity inspire you not to gorge yourself, you'll burn off some of the calories you did eat. You'll certainly have a lot more fun than going home and watching TV!
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