Mexican restaurants get a bad rap thanks to ever-present chips, cheese and high-calorie drinks. But the fact is, Mexican food can be a "do" when you're dieting! By learning a few simple rules, you'll can learn how to order the best Mexican food for dieters and make better choices when you dine out. And remember that you can also make healthy Mexican food at home.
Crunch Some CaloriesWhen in doubt, choose an item that includes soft tortillas. Soft tortillas are baked while crunchy shells are fried. Choosing soft tortillas over crunchy ones can easily save a few hundred calories.
Soft with SalsaA friend of mine swears by ordering soft tortillas to swap for chips. She spreads them with salsa, folds them up, and eats them like a taquito. (Yes, it can get messy.) She says these roll-ups quell her chips 'n' salsa craving in nada time flat!
The Best BeansBlack beans are an excellent choice for most any dieter. They are low in fat, high in protein and provide plenty of fiber. (Avoid black beans and rice if you're a low-carb dieter and order the beans by themselves.)
Refried beans may sound like a good choice, but they are often prepared with lard, Mexican cheese blends, and even bacon, which quickly ups the fat and calorie content of what could be a healthy side.
Bonus Tip: Order pinto beans instead and you'll get a similar flavor without the extra fat.
Dips are a "Don't"Con queso dips and nacho cheese are tempting toppers for chips, but they're both extremely rich and high in fat and calories. Same goes for sour cream. Guacamole is made with avocado which is a healthy fat, but a little bit of it can quickly add up your fat and calorie intake, so keep an eye on portion sizes.
Bonus Tip: Always select salsa as a starter, topping, garnish or side and you'll know you're making the right choice.
Smart SwitchesSwitch to bean burritos instead of beef or cheese burritos and you'll be saying adios to lots of extra calories and get in plenty of fiber to boot. Ask for corn tortillas to be used instead of flour and you'll be doing even better!
"Do" and "Don't" DishesSome popular dishes to avoid include: Nachos, chimichangas, chalupas, taquitos, chile relleno, (all of which are deep-fried) and "double decker" burritos.
Some better choices are: Chicken fajitas, bean burritos, a grilled chicken dish with peppers and onions (hold the cheese!), or a soft taco.
You may also be able to order low-fat cheese, brown rice, whole-wheat tortillas or a side of marinated vegetables.
Some Mexican restaurants will replace the sides that come with meals with a salad if you ask them to. Top your salad with salsa and you'll have a yummy, low-fat side. If you really missing dressing creaminess, ask for some reduced-fat ranch dressing and blend it in with your salsa until it's got a more dressing-like texture.
If you order a taco salad, be sure to request it be served on a plate rather than the deep-fried, bowl-shaped tortilla ... who wouldn't be tempted to munch on that?
And remember, you can also cook Mexican food at home. Learn how to cook healthy Mexican food in your own kitchen to keep the fat and calorie count in control.
Check out this handy printable Mexican Restaurants Quick Guide. You can find Quick Guides for other restaurants, too.
Following The South Beach Diet? Be sure to check out our ideas for Mexican Dining on the South Beach Diet
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in cooperation with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health. Tip Sheet: Eating Healthy with Ethnic Food.