Mexican food is spicy and flavorful, but it can be a diet downfall if you're not careful about what you order. Follow these tips to avoid going overboard on calories.
Chuck the Chips
Okay, don't literally throw the chips. But just as the complimentary bread basket can be hard to resist at American-fare and Italian restaurants, those seemingly-endless baskets of tortilla chips can derail even the most vigilant healthy eater. Most people simply can't snack on a few chips and then stop--we're more likely to keep reaching for those warm, crunchy, salty tortilla chips until the basket is completely empty. And then the server brings another basket, and the mindless munching continues until your main meal arrives.
To avoid this dilemma altogether, ask your server not to bring you any chips. You'll save calories and get to catch up on conversation with your fellow diners. If you must have chips, ask your server to bring you a half-full basket and then don't have it refilled.
Make Your Margaritas on the Rocks
It's almost impossible to think of Mexican food without margaritas coming to mind. If you choose to imbibe, opt for your refreshing margaritas to be made on the rocks instead of frozen. The frozen margaritas are a veritable sugar bomb, providing upwards of 500-700 calories for the jumbo versions. Stick with a 3.3 ounce cocktail glass of margarita over ice, which clocks in at a much more reasonable 150 calories.
Forego the "Fixins"
Sour cream, shredded cheese and cheese sauce are loaded with fat and calories, and provide few, if any, beneficial nutrients. Plus, it's really easy to overdo it with the condiments because most of us don't use the correct portion. For sour cream, the correct portion is two tablespoons, but most of us pile it on in amounts three to four times that size. These calories can really add up. Stick with salsa to add flavor to your entree.
Beware of Certain Beans
While beans can definitely be a healthy option, most Mexican restaurants cook them with added lard and cheese, making this otherwise-healthy choice a saturated-fat disaster. Ask for black beans or pinto beans in place of the refried beans.
Customize Your Order
You can always ask your server for a side of steamed or lightly-sauteed veggies in place of higher-calorie sides, including rice and beans. Also, ask lots of questions about how the dish is prepared. You can request that certain items be made with less oil, or you can ask that certain ingredients be omitted, such as meat, cheese, guacamole or sauces.
Dishes to Avoid
Try avoid any of the fried dishes, such as taquitos, chimichangas, and chalupas. Also, don't let the word "salad" in taco salad fool you into thinking it's a light dish--that deep-fried shell that it's served in is loaded with fat and calories. Watch out for dishes covered in cheese sauces.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.