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The best Mexican Food to stay healthy and lose weight

Updated on August 13, 2015
Chunky Gazpacho (cold tomato soup)
Chunky Gazpacho (cold tomato soup) | Source

Which of these Mexican foods is your favorite?

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Healthy Mexican Foods

I have another fun food challenge for you this week- eating healthy at your favorite Mexican restaurant.

Most of us that are trying to lose some extra pounds, for example, put them on because we love food. That's not going to change. We should love food. We are made to love food. Food is one of our most basic physical needs. It should be enjoyed. This doesn't necessarily mean we can't eat healthy though. There's a lot to love in foods that are good for us!

Variety and spontaneity in your diet is very important in sticking to it. Following a list of predetermined meals that cycle over and over and over will only lead to wanting to break out- and pig out. It is arguable that the less healthy foods are made more available and visible to us, but with a little different outlook, we can change that. Those availability and visibility factors play on popular routines. Dare to be different! So what if it's dollar taco night and everyone is eating ten of them- do your own thing. Don't shop the commercials and the table-talkers (those little ads on every table)- take the time to look over the menu and find what fits all of your requirements. Just like you don't want to just point to the most tempting thing, you probably don't want to just point to the most sensible thing either. You can compromise. This is a treat, after all. You're out enjoying yourself with your friends or family- don't pick a dinner that's going to bum you out. But the flip-side of that is that even a treat needs to be within reason.

In Week Two, I introduced you to the idea of trying one new cuisine or dish that you haven't tried before. I think it's great to try something that's new to you at least once a week. Mom told you a million times when you were a kid, and it's still true, you'll never know if you like it until you try it. Our taste buds are constantly changing too, so even if you didn't like it last year, you might love it this year. Many things (brussel sprouts come to mind) are often prepared horribly and can actually be really delicious if prepared in a way you're not used to.

Olluquito con pollo y arroz blanco
Olluquito con pollo y arroz blanco | Source
A mixed platter of beef and chicken fajitas with onions and rice
A mixed platter of beef and chicken fajitas with onions and rice | Source

Making Better Choices at Mexican Restaurants

First of all, you probably think Mexican food is about as ethnic as Italian. True, these have been very well incorporated into the American diet. I want you to forget about Taco Bell and Chipotle for now though. I want to talk about real, authentic Mexican food.

Many Mexican restaurants will start you off with chips and salsa, much like an Italian restaurant will start with bread for the table. Ask the server not to bring them, unless your companions are dead-set on them for themselves. Chips are fried. Some may be baked, but they're still coated in oil to crisp them up nicely. You don't need to eat all your calories before your meal even starts.

Now, let's take a second to talk about add-ons. It might be nice to customize your item with guacamole or sour cream, but you're just adding calories on calories. And if the restaurant you're at even serves liquid cheese- turn and run!

There's a couple scary things about popular Mexican food, when it comes to calories. Tortillas, and cheese. Tortillas are traditionally made with lard and are much more fattening than a loaf of bread even. It shouldn't be a shock that cheese is fattening- it is, in effect, condensed cream. It does have protein and a little sprinkling is great, but because of popular demands for more and more and more cheese, you usually get way too much of good thing. The double-whammy is the cheese quesadilla. I've heard people proclaiming that they're getting something “light” when they get a quesadilla. My, how wrong they are. Another tricky little item is the taco salad. This seems like a healthy option, right? I mean, look- salad. Nope. Bad plan. One of the worst items on the menu!

The beef they use for taco meat is also more fattening that ordinary beef. The fat is needed to make the, kind of “taco gravy” that coats it all. You know, that sort of orangey-red spicy goodness- mostly chili powder and fat. Have you ever taken home leftovers and gotten that hard taco candle wax in the refrigerator? That's fat. Opt for baked chicken or fish dishes instead.

Now, let's talk about beans. Beans are great. The magical fruit, right? No, that rude little rhyme is not why. They are full of protein and fiber. And actually, the more you eat- or the more often that you eat less of them- the less you'll toot. You body adapts it's enzyme balance to better digest them. And they're practically fat free- until someone went and refried them. That tasty concoction is actually full of fat. It may be better than the beef option, but chicken or fish are much better.

So, I seem to have a lot to say about what to avoid at Mexican restaurants. Let's talk about what's great to have there!

Definitely be sure to get rice with anything you get. It will fill you up, help control over eating, and provides fiber and b-vitamins. The same way that, in Week Two, we talked about getting soup before the meal at Chinese restaurants, getting rice with your meal will help. Something with beans (but not refried beans) will also help you fill up sooner.

If you can order the fajitas without the tortillas and order a side of rice to eat the meat and veggies on, that would be great. You could also order arroz con pollo (chicken with rice). A good gazpacho is delicious too. Or, pollo asada (grilled chicken) with some rice and beans. If you're nearer the border or lucky enough to have more authentic Mexican restaurants nearby, you could even try out things that aren't as readily available across the US. Like, ceviche or jicama salad or quinoa.

The popularity of Mexican restaurants is often equal parts the work of the kitchen, and of the bar. Instead of a specialty margarita, made with sugary sour mix, get an old-school margarita with just the tequila, lime juice and triple sec. Or just do the shot of tequila. Skip the Corona too. There's a reason that pregnant man look is called a beer belly.

And just like any other meal, take your time and enjoy your company and the ambiance just as much as you enjoy the food and drink. You may have heard before that it takes the stomach 20 minutes to realize there's anything in it. So, if you're inhaling your meal in under 20 minutes, your body hasn't even had the time to tell you that you're full yet. Focus more on each other and the experience you're having, than on the food.

I'll leave you this week with some popular Mexican food choices and healthier alternatives:

Popular Choice
Better Choice
Best Choice
Arroz con Pollo
Bean or Beef Burritos
Rice and Beans
Pollo Asada
Jicama Salad
As you may notice, the closer to authentic, the healthy the choice.

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    • twillnurse profile image

      twillnurse 6 years ago from North Carolina

      I love Mexican food, and if fixed right it is good for you.

    • Matthew Ryczko profile image

      Matthew Ryczko 6 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you Teaches12345! When I started writing this hub, I was a little overwhelmed by the vast differences between Mexican restaurants. There are so many different options, I couldn't possibly cover them all, so I tried to stick with the most common. I was quick to dismiss the fast food options, in hindsight, so here's a couple bonus tips. Anyone interested in Taco Bell options- read my hub titled, The Best Fast Food for a Diet. For Chipotle, enjoy their whole menu with the general exceptions listed in this hub- skip the guac, chips, cheese, sour cream and the tortilla (they offer bowls). I was actually surprised to learn that they blow Subway away when comparing calories, fat, carbs and sodium! I might have to write another hub some time just on Chipotle :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Good analysis of Mexican food and the caloric intake. Your suggestions are healthy and will also help keep the harm from fats and oils down. I used to frequent a great Mexican Restaurant in Batavia, El Rincon, it had a better "lighter" selection to choose from. Other than that, Chipolte restaurants do offer a healthy organic menu to help combat calories. The best thing is to make homemade where you can really watch what goes into the food. Great hub and covered well.