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10 Ways to Eat Healthy at a Mexican Restaurant

by Shemiah Williams

About Shemiah Williams


When you hear the term, "healthy eating," you may automatically assume it means you cannot enjoy some of your favorite foods. Yet there are no "bad" foods. Barring any health concerns, you may want to limit some foods -- but don't assume they are bad. Eating well can be challenging, particularly when you are eating out. If Mexican food is one of your favorites, you can stay on track by following a few guidelines.

Avoid Fried Foods

Fried foods in general are not healthy because of the amount of fat they contain. Some Mexican dishes use lard or shortening. Although it enhances the flavor of the foods, lard and shortening are trans fats. You should limit your intake of total fat to between 44 and 78 grams per day. Some fried dishes can contain up to 30 grams of fat, which accounts for almost 70 percent of the total fat intake on the lower end of the recommended range. In addition, these dishes can contain anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories, which generally takes up 25 to 50 percent of your recommended caloric intake in one meal.

Opt for Baked or Grilled Items

It's OK to enjoy your favorite proteins, such as chicken, beef, pork or shrimp. However, choose a dish where these proteins have been baked or grilled. This can help to shave a minimum of 200 to 300 calories from your meal.

Limit Foods Containing Fat

In many Mexican restaurants, chips and salsa are a complimentary start to your meal. While they are undoubtedly tasty, if you don't monitor your intake, you may eat more than you intended before you even order your entree. Salsa generally does not contain any fat -- but tortilla chips have a considerable amount. Limit your intake to approximately 13 chips and no more than a one-half cup of salsa, which has approximately 160 calories and 7 grams of fat, combined.

Beware of Dips

Although guacamole is made from heart-healthy avocados, it can sabotage your diet quickly because it contains high amounts of fat. For example, 2 tablespoons of guacamole has 4.5 grams of fat. Eating an average of 4 or 5 tablespoons can add up to 9 or more than 11 grams of fat from the guacamole alone.

Go Easy on the Alcohol

Many people love a good cocktail with their Mexican meal. However, an 8-ounce margarita, for example, can have up to 140 calories and 28 grams of carbohydrates, which primarily comes from sugar. Many of the calories and carbohydrates are derived from commercial cocktail mixes. An 8-ounce margarita is the recommended serving size, although many restaurants serve them in sizes that are three to four times this size. To make a healthier choice, stick as closely as possible to the 8-ounce serving size. You can also ask your waiter or waitress if the bartender can use fresh limes to make the margarita to eliminate some of the carbohydrates and calories.

Trade Your Beans

In many Mexican restaurants, entrees are served with a side of rice and refried beans. Rice can be considered a healthy grain or carbohydrate. However, the refried beans can be tricky. A 5-ounce side of refried beans can contain up to 300 calories and 11 grams of fat. Trade your refried beans for black beans and save yourself almost 150 calories and 9 grams of fat.

Only Eat What is Necessary

Mexican dishes, such as burritos, can be oversized. Although it is served on one plate, there can be two to three servings in each burrito. Start by cutting it into three pieces and eat only until you feel full. Have your waiter or waitress wrap the other half for you to take home.

Skip the Appetizer

Many Mexican menu items have several components. If you are looking to watch what you eat, eating an appetizer before your entree can increase your risk of overeating. If you are ordering an entree that is on the larger side, skip the appetizer and reduce the temptation.

Eat an Appetizer as a Meal

Try eating an appetizer as a meal if you are not that hungry. Appetizer portions tend to be smaller than entrees, but still offer a variety of options.

Don't Be Afraid of Ordering the Salad

Many Mexican restaurants offer salads. Stay away from salads that are loaded with meat and cheese, and monitor how much dressing you use. Aim for 2 tablespoons of salad dressing, preferably one that relies on vinegar or lemon juice rather than fatty ingredients.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.