Rich and cheesy, Mexican food might be indulgent, but it certainly isn’t diet-friendly. Traditional Mexican food, which focuses more on fresh seafood, beans and vegetables, might be easier on the waistline, but when visiting an American establishment, it can be harder to find these nutritious, lighter dishes. Therefore, to enjoy your meal, make some hard choices and customize your order so it doesn’t destroy your diet plan.
Before Your Meal
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Before you head to the restaurant, scope out the menu online, if possible, and make some choices with nutrition in mind. This seasoned dieting strategy can help you avoid dietary temptation once you're sitting at the table. When you're at the restaurant, ask the server to hold the chips and salsa, a major dietary pitfall. If you can't resist, portion out just a few chips so you don't go overboard. A healthier south-of-the-border appetizer is ceviche, fresh seafood marinated in citrus juices. Some restaurants also offer a shrimp cocktail with Mexican seasonings, another healthy choice for a starter. A broth-based soup rich with vegetables can also be a healthy and filling appetizer.
Pick Entrees Wisely
Skip anything made solely of cheese and refried beans, such as the cheese and bean enchilada. Instead, go for a customizable dish such as fajitas, where you can pile on the vegetables and skip some of the cheese, sour cream and guacamole. The American Heart Association suggests ordering corn tortillas in lieu of flour ones. “Cooking Light” also says that beef tacos are one of the smarter choices at a Mexican restaurant because they tend to be lower in calories and sodium. If you choose a burrito, ask for it as a bowl -- meaning the tortilla is left off. This significantly reduces calories and carbs in the dish. If beans come as a side dish, ask for frijoles negros -- black beans -- instead of refried beans.
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A salad seems like a healthy option, but be cautious in a Mexican restaurant. There’s a chance it might come in a tortilla shell, which is deep-fried and can add nearly 400 calories to your meal. If you’re craving a salad, look for one that’s served on a bed of lettuce and topped with lean protein like chicken or shrimp and black or pinto beans. Use salsa as a dressing instead of sour cream or guacamole.
Keep it Custom
To keep your meal as close to authentic as possible, customize your meal -- the worst they can say is "no." Request grilled chicken or fish with sauce on the side; you can go a step farther and ask that it be cooked with minimal oil, sugar or salt. Top your protein with pico de gallo or slices of avocado and add a side of black beans cooked without fat or sodium.
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Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and editor based in central Maryland. Her clients have included Livestrong, School Nutrition magazine, What's Up? Media, American Academy of Clinical Chemistry, SmartBrief and more. She has a formal education in personal training/nutrition and a bachelor's degree in journalism from The Pennsylvania State University.