It can be hard to work Mexican food into a low-calorie diet. The food category containing tortillas, tacos, burritos, nachos and quesadillas is the eighth greatest source of calories in the average American diet, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, with planning and some careful choices, you can find a low-calorie Mexican food option.
A salad can be a low-calorie option for Mexican food, especially if you do not eat the shell that typically comes with it. Have plenty of lettuce and tomatoes, and top it with salsa instead of sour cream or high-fat dressing. Mexican chicken tortilla soup can be low in calories if it is broth-based, and not cream-based. If possible, get the tortilla chips on the side, and do not eat many of them. Nachos with cheese and meat are high in fat and calories, so limit or avoid them.
For your main course at a Mexican restaurant, have some lean protein, such as grilled chicken breast, fish or shrimp. Another good choice is chicken or shrimp fajitas, which come with vegetables such as green and red peppers and onions. The American Heart Association recommends that you avoid high-fat quesadillas, as well as fatty meats, such as chorizo sausage and fried beef or pork carnitas. Small enchiladas with red sauce can also be low-calorie options.
Save hundreds of calories at your Mexican meal by choosing low-calorie condiments instead of high-calorie toppings. Good choices, according to the American Heart Association, include salsa, pico de gallo, cilantro and jalapeno peppers. Avoid high-fat condiments such as full-fat sour cream, cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, and ask for reduced-fat sour cream instead. Guacamole and olive slices are high in calories, but they are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Many salty condiments are high in sodium, so limit your intake or stick to fresh herbs and spices if you are trying to reduce your sodium intake.
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Small portions can satisfy your craving for Mexican food without putting you over your calorie limit. Ask for a single item, such as a taco or a small burrito, instead of a plate with greasy rice, refried beans and tortilla chips on the side. Shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes are low in calories, and they can add volume to your meal. Limit the calories in your meal low by drinking water or another beverage without calories, and do not have fried desserts, such as flautas.
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Natalie Stein specializes in weight loss and sports nutrition. She is based in Los Angeles and is an assistant professor with the Program for Public Health at Michigan State University. Stein holds a master of science degree in nutrition and a master of public health degree from Michigan State University.