What food do you typically eat or think of when you go out for or cook a Mexican meal? Quesadillas? Nachos? Tacos? These undeniably delicious foods can feel indulgent and, like many other restaurant meals, may be packed with a significant amount of fat and calories. While it is okay to indulge sometimes, it is helpful to know that Mexican food, like all food, can be a healthy choice with a few modifications.
Here are some tips to make Mexican food healthier so you can still eat the food you enjoy this Cinco de Mayo.
Start With produce The produce aisle is the perfect place to start looking for fresh and healthy ingredients you can add to your favorite Mexican dishes. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great way to add more vitamins, minerals and fiber to your meal. Tomatoes, peppers, avocados, jicama and mangoes are just some of the ingredients you can include when preparing your favorite Mexican recipes such as salsa or guacamole. These sides are typically enjoyed with tortilla chips, but try including these sides with a meat or fish dish. The tomatoes in the salsa are a great source of vitamins and potassium, and guacamole contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber and folate. If you prefer something sweet and crispy, try making a jicama and mango salad, which is packed with vitamin C and fiber. Looking to try something new? Have you tried squash blossoms? How about poblano peppers? Or a succulent prickly pear? This sweet and juicy fruit grows on a cactus plant (hence the name, "prickly!") so be careful when picking one up and cutting it open. Try adding one of these foods to you cart the next time you’re in the produce aisle.
Portions and Fat Modifications If you’re dining out for Mexican, simple requests can greatly improve the nutritional value of your meal. Ask for dips or toppings such as cheese, sour cream and guacamole to be served on the side. Though delicious, these high-calorie options can add up and lead to overindulging without realizing it. Ordering smaller portions or opting to keep these foods on the side will provide more control over the quantity of food you eat. If looking for a lower calorie option, try ordering tomato salsa instead or add more toppings such as onions, tomatoes, radishes and cilantro as these ingredients provide more flavor and satiety without the added calories. It wouldn’t be Mexican food without tacos, so choose soft tortillas instead of hard shells as the hard taco shells are more likely to be fried and contain more calories. Also, when choosing between corn and flour tortillas, corn tortillas will provide more nutrients and antioxidants.
Spice it Up Chiles are a great way to season and add flavor to any meal. They can be purchased fresh or dried and come in many varieties and heat levels. As a general rule of thumb, remember, the larger the chili, the milder it is. Whether you choose jalapenos, chipotle or habaneros, be aware that you’re not only adding a punch of flavor to your meal but also nutrients like vitamin C and capsaicin. Capsaicin is a component in peppers that give them their heat and has been linked to a number of potential health benefits.
Bottom Line: Whether it’s Cinco de Mayo, Taco Tuesday or just a desire to eat a Mexican dish, remember that these suggestions can help you feel satisfied while also keep you healthy.
Learn more about healthy eating and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.
Written by Manuel Alonso, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern