Although “real” Mexican food differs based on the geographic region from which it is derived, most traditional dishes are much lower in fat and higher in nutrients than what you’ll find at Taco Bell or Chipotle’s.
Here are some examples of traditional Mexican dishes and the corresponding fat and calorie content of an average serving size.
Ceviche: 140 calories and 5 grams of fat.
Raw fish — usually shrimp and scallops — marinated in lime juice and flavored with spices, such as chili, salt, cilantro, garlic, and peppercorn.
Chile Rellenos: 237 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Large Anaheim chilies stuffed with spicy meat and/or cheese.
Poc Chuc: 160 to 230 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Grilled pork steak, cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices.
Huachinango a la Veracruzana: 144 to 270 calories and 2 to 9 grams of fat (depending on size of fish fillets).
Pacific red snapper sauted with mushrooms, jalapenos, chilies, onions, tomatoes, and garlic.
Satisfy your craving the healthy way
If you cannot bear to think of life without seven-layer burritos, I have good news for you: You can still eat the Mexican foods you love — I’ll just tell you how to make the Americanized versions healthier.
Avocados include oleic acid, which has been shown to lower “bad” cholesterol. They are also full of vitamin K and a good source of potassium. Whenever possible, ask for real avocado instead of the processed guacamole found in many American-style Mexican restaurants.
Beans are a great source of protein and fiber, and certain types provide antioxidant benefits. Try to avoid the fatty, refried beans you find at your local Taco Bell and ask for whole pinto or black beans instead. You’ll save fat and calories, and they usually taste better.
It’s rare that you will find real chilies at most U.S. “fast food” Mexican restaurants. However, the larger, more traditional chains are starting to include more of this all-around healthy spice in many of their dishes. Chili peppers contain an ingredient called capsaicin, which boasts anti-inflammatory and pain-relief qualities. Chilies also have cardiovascular benefits (they aid in lowering bad cholesterol), and they are high in vitamins A and C.
Corn is a staple in traditional Mexican cooking and it has amazing health qualities. Corn is high in folate and vitamins B and C, and is a good source of dietary fiber. It is a heart-healthy food that aids in digestion and can help stabilize blood sugar levels. Try corn tortillas or add corn to your burrito for extra flavor.
Mexican food is famous for salsa, no matter which region you are visiting, and fortunately, tomatoes are the main ingredient. Tomatoes are rich in potassium and vitamins C and A, and they include lycopene, which is an antioxidant that has cancer-fighting properties.
So… is Mexican food healthy? The answer is yes and no.
Traditional Mexican food is high in nutrients, packed with vitamins and is generally low in fat. Sadly, Americans weeded out the “good stuff” long ago and replaced it with oil, fat and calories — which is what you’ll find in most Mexican restaurants in the United States.
Sure, American-style Mexican food tastes good, but if you want to experience the benefits of true Mexican cooking, avoid the fast food and Tex Mex joints, and try something authentic.