COVID Update: Scripps provides COVID-19 tests only for patients with moderate to severe symptoms, and at-risk patients with mild symptoms. Read our FAQs.

8 Healthy Mexican Food Tips

Traditional Mexican dishes can be diet-friendly and delicious

Colorful and spicy ingredients for healthy Mexican dishes.

Traditional Mexican dishes can be diet-friendly and delicious

Never-ending chips, cheesy burritos and fried jalapeños can turn a Mexican fiesta into a caloric nightmare. Stick to healthy Mexican food options.

“The traditional Mexican-American diet can be high in fat, with frying being the preferred cooking method, and the use of lard and Mexican cream (crema) in many dishes,” says Angel Ochoa, DO, a family medicine specialist at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Oceanside. “If you make healthy choices, you can enjoy traditional Mexican food.”

While eating out or cooking at home, there are ways to be indulgent and diet-friendly. Using a few ingredient swaps and cooking strategies, you can transform calorie-and fat-laden dishes into healthy Mexican food.

At your next Taco Tuesday, try the following switches to eliminate fat and stay fit:

1. Stick with black beans

Low in fat and calories and high in protein, black beans are loaded with plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Nix the refried beans, as they are often prepared with lard, Mexican cheese blends and even bacon. If you crave refried beans, buy the fat-free version in the grocery and check the nutritional content when eating out. 

Pinto beans can be cooked in a crockpot with onion and a little salt and pepper. Instead of frying them with lard, mash them up and maybe add a small amount of olive oil.

2. Skip the dips

Queso and nacho cheese dips are tempting, but both are high in fat and calories. Guacamole is made with nutritious avocado, but a little bit can up your fat and calorie intake, so watch your portion sizes. Substitute salsa as a starter, garnish or side. It’s fat-free, low in calories and a good source of lycopene.

3. Stay away from beef and cheese

You’ll say adios to unwanted extra calories when sticking with beans instead of beef or cheese in such favorites as burritos and enchiladas. You’ll also be getting more fiber, instead of fat.

Substituting ground turkey for beef can also reduce the fat content in many dishes, such as albondigas (Mexican meatball soup).

4. Stop snacking

When you go out to dinner, forget the bottomless bowl of chips and choose a light appetizer with some nutritional value. “Ceviche is a raw fish in a citrus-marinade that is tasty and nutritious,” says Dr. Ochoa. “It’s light and usually has fruit or vegetables.”

5. Ask for corn tortillas

Tacos made with corn tortillas, instead of white-flour ones, topped with a dollop of guacamole instead of sour cream is a smart entrée pick.

6. Forget fried foods

Some popular foods to avoid are nachos, chimichangas, chalupas, taquitos and chile relleno and other dishes that are also deep-fried. Better choices are chicken fajitas, grilled chicken with peppers and onions or a soft taco.

7. Grill, bake, roast or steam

Grilled seafood, lean meat and poultry are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. “There are definitely lots of healthy Mexican food options when eating out at Mexican restaurants,” says Dr. Ochoa. “Finding them on the menu may be a challenge.”

8. Don’t go overboard with dessert

If you still have room for dessert, stay away from churros, which are fried, or tres leches cake, made with condensed milk, heavy cream and butter. Dr. Ochoa suggests a scoop of sorbet or ice cream. “If you really want to save calories, get one scoop and share it with everyone,” he says.