Is it possible to choose low calorie Mexican food in American-style Mexican restaurants? Not easily. Watching your calorie intake means steering clear of the oversized portions of fried foods smoothered with cheese and sour cream. Traditional Mexican food was nothing like this.
Traditional Mexican food featured high fiber complex carbohydrates with lots of vegetables and fresh flavor. Common foods included beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, avocado, peanuts, potatoes, and turkey. It wasn’t till the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s that wheat, pork, beef, and chicken were added to the traditional diet. The Spaniards were also responsible for introducing the concept of frying.
Even today, fried foods such as burritos, deep-fried tacos, and flautas are known in Mexico as “northern cuisine”. This refers to the region of Mexico that borders the United States.
No matter how healthy and lower calorie the original Mexican diet may have been it is difficult to find low calorie Mexican food in the United States. Most of the food served in American-style Mexican restaurants has been modified to suit American tastes.
What to keep in Mind
Traditional Mexican tortilla preparation called for steaming or grilling not frying. Whenever possible look for baked, grilled, and soft tortillas on the menu. Choose soft tacos, baked quesadillas, and salsa as a sauce or dip.
Salsa made with fresh tomatoes and other vegetables, whether a commercial variety or homemade, is almost always a low calorie choice. The tricky part is figuring out how to skip the chips that get served with the salsa. Your best bet may be to ask your server to not set any out on the table. But your eating partners won’t be happy with that!
Other words that may alert you to dishes to avoid include crispy, fried, and covered with cheese or sour cream. Watch out for large portion sizes, refried beans, and chimichangas. Desserts are often fried so choose instead to skip dessert or have a piece of fruit when you get home.
Some possible substitutions you might make include:
Chicken fajitas (marinated chicken grilled with onions, green peppers, lettuce, diced tomatoes with a soft corn tortilla) instead of quesadillas
Grilled shrimp instead of nachos
Chicken enchiladas with salsa instead of flautas, chimichangas, or burritos covered with cheese
Grilled fish or chicken instead of carnitas (fried beef or pork) or chorizo (sausage)
Decide what to order before you leave for the restaurant
Your best choice for keeping track of your calorie count when eating Mexican is to check menu choices online before you head out to eat. No matter what guidelines you may be given the calorie counts for any given menu item will vary considerably depending on the restaurant and method of preparation. One of my favorite calorie count sites for getting a quick overview of the calories in various restaurant meals is Calorie Lab. (For more calorie count sites see my previously posted article, Calorie Counts and Nutrients: Best Sites Online )
Finding low calorie meals is difficult. You might decide to pick a higher calorie meal that you will split with someone else or box up half to bring home before you even start eating.
Here’s a few lower calorie Mexican restaurant choices I found with a quick search:
The Acapulco Restaurant y Cantina offers a Halibut Filet with Salsa Tomatillo (a light and flaky grilled Alaskan halibut filet) served with fresh vegetables and rice for 420 calories.
Baja Fresh Mexican Grill has a “Bare Burrito” (charbroiled chicken, grilled peppers, chilies and onions, fresh chopped cilantro, Pico de Gallo and salsa served on rice with fresh black or pinto beans) for 640 calories. Split with someone else or choose to save ½ to 1/3 to take home.
Daddios Italian and Mexican Take & Bake has a Chicken Mexican Salad (salad mix, chicken or beef, tomatoes, black olives, onions, cheese, tortilla chips) for 392 calories (one small salad).
Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill found mostly in California seems to offer a variety of Corn Tortillas and Tacos with fish and chicken for less than 350 calories each.
Making Mexican at Home
A great way to satisfy your desire for Mexican food without all the calories is to make it yourself at home! I found an informative YouTube video on how to prepare the ingredients for low calorie chicken fajitas in quantity. Enjoy!
For more information on watching your calorie count when eating out you may want to read some of my other articles.
As always, have a great week, watch those calories, and stay healthy!