Often fresh, never boring, but infamously high in fat, Mexican food has a built-in fun factor that might make all those extra calories seem worth it. But one look at the nutrition profile of most south-of-the border fare, and you know you're also in for a fiesta of fat and salt. Unless you choose your dishes carefully, you're all but guaranteed to get at least half your daily fat allotment in any one dish and more than a day's worth of fat and sodium in a single meal. Even if you're there to indulge, however, you can still make healthier choices.

Best Bets

Some restaurants have healthy options marked on the menu, and that makes it easier to choose lower-calorie, lower-fat foods. If not:

Start your meal with a cup (not a bowl) of black bean soup or a fresh seafood appetizer such as Cocetel de camarones, which is a combination of shrimp, pico de gallo, cucumber and diced fresh avocado.

Order fajitas with grilled chicken or meat and vegetables and skip the traditional sides of sour cream and cheese.

A grilled chicken salad (even if it's in a taco bowl) with dressing on the side packs fewer calories and fat than most dishes. Use just a little dressing, if any.

Order beans, rice and veggies from the side dish section and make a meal of it.

Poor Picks

The real killers at a Mexican restaurant are the sour cream, guacamole, and extra cheese that come with so many dishes. Eat these toppings sparingly, if at all. Choose guacamole or cheese over sour cream to get some nutrients along with your fat.

Nachos. Unless you're splitting them with someone as your main dish, skip the chips and toppings when choosing a first course.

Nutritionally speaking, quesadillas are just another name for nachos and often have the worst nutrition profile on the menu.

Chile rellenos makes the poor picks list because this classic dish not only because of overt-the-top calories, but this dish gets more than half its calories from fat, thanks to its cheese stuffing and fried batter coating.

When it comes to burritos, keep in mind that at some restaurants, the fish burritos have more fat than the beef. Even though a bean or vegetable burrito can also have as much fat as beef, it can also have two to three times the fiber, which helps make it a healthier choice.

Chimichangas (and flautas) contain all the same ingredients as the dishes above, plus they're deep-fried! We think that's just asking for trouble. Some restaurants served grilled chimis; that's a healthier choice if you don't pile on the sour cream and other toppings.

Don't want to give up any old favorites? Order a kid-size meal to cut back on your portion size, split your main dish with someone else, or have an appetizer or soup as your main course. Fill up on water before, during and after your meal. And keep in mind that every margarita can add another 300+ calories to your meal, not to mention the day's limit for sodium, riding on the rim.






The Daily Plate