Published May 04, 2013
If you're trying to eat healthy or watching your weight, you don't have to ditch your Cinco de Mayo festivities. There are plenty of healthy food swaps you can make to stick to your diet without sacrificing your favorite Mexican fare.
These 10 simple swaps incorporate fresh vegetables, lean protein, and fiber-rich beans, lowering the fat and sodium content of your favorite Mexican meals.
Use it instead of: Shredded iceberg lettuce
Why it's healthier: Cabbage is a more nutritious taco topping than lettuce. A low-calorie vegetable (just 22 calories per cup), cabbage is filled with antioxidants and is an excellent source of vitamin C, providing roughly one-third of your recommended daily intake in just one cup. A cup of iceberg lettuce, by contrast, provides only about 3 percent of your daily dose.
As an added bonus, cabbage packs a crunchy bite and comes in a variety of colors, ranging from bright purple to green, that look great on your plate.
Use it instead of: Ground beef
Why it's healthier: Fish is a leaner protein option that's full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and is lower in calories than ground beef. Swapping beef for fish also cuts down on dietary cholesterol.
Using lean fish—such as tilapia or mahi-mahi—in taco recipes keeps the calorie count low, without skimping on flavor or forgoing a "meaty" texture.
Low-fat Monterey Jack
Use it instead of: Regular Monterey Jack cheese
Why it's healthier: Shredded cheese—and especially Monterey Jack—is a must-have when it comes to Tex-Mex fare. Luckily, cheese is actually quite nutritious, fueling your body with protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and phosphorus. But you need to choose reduced-fat varieties to avoid unwanted calories and saturated fat.
Tillamook's Reduced Fat Monterey Jack, for example, contains 30 fewer calories, 3 fewer grams of fat, and 10 fewer milligrams of cholesterol per serving than the brand's regular Monterey Jack.
Raw jalapeno peppers
Use them instead of: Pickled jalapenos
Why they're healthier: Mass-produced pickled vegetables are soaked in preservatives (such as sodium benzoate) and often contain added sugars and sodium. Raw jalapenos, on the other hand, are sodium-free and have just 4 calories per pepper—not to mention a fresher, spicier flavor.
Plus, research has shown that raw peppers have a higher concentration of antioxidants, including capsaicin, a compound that gives peppers their heat and makes your body temperature rise, helping you burn fat and calories faster.
Use it instead of: Store-bought guacamole
Why it's healthier: Yes, making guacamole in your own kitchen takes time, but store-bought varieties are often loaded with preservatives and firming agents, like sodium benzoate and calcium chloride.
Some mass-produced guacamoles also are surprisingly high in sodium. For example, Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole contains no fewer than 280 milligrams (or 12 percent of your daily limit) per two-tablespoon serving.
Use them instead of: White-flour tortillas
Why they're healthier: Whether stuffed as a burrito, folded as a taco, or rolled as an enchilada, tortillas are key ingredients in most Mexican dishes. They can also be a good source of fiber if you choose the right kinds. Opt for whole-wheat tortillas to add filling fiber and protein.
Using Mission brand 96 percent Fat Free Whole Wheat Tortillas instead of the enriched-flour version of the same tortillas provides 2 more grams of fiber, 1 more gram of protein, and 2 fewer grams of carbs per tortilla, for instance.
Use it instead of: Margarita mix
Why it's healthier: Sipping a margarita is pretty much a must on Cinco de Mayo. Whether you choose a frozen, on-the-rocks, or flavored variety, be aware of the calories that go into the drink mix. Some margarita mixes are packed with sugar. Jose Cuervo's Original Margarita Mix, for instance, contains an estimated 110 calories and 24 grams of sugar per 4-ounce serving.
Using freshly squeezed lime juice will lighten up your tangy cocktail. Four ounces of lime juice contain roughly 30 calories and 2 grams of sugar.
Use them instead of: Refried beans
Why they're healthier: Beans are loaded with filling fiber, but they can add sodium and fat when refried and packaged in can. Choose whole bean, non-refried, or low-fat canned varieties when you are looking for convenience, or buy dry beans if you have time to make them from scratch.
A can of S&W brand whole black beans has nearly 140 fewer milligrams of sodium, 3 more grams of fiber, and 1.5 fewer grams of fat than Rosarita traditional refried beans, for instance.
Homemade pico de gallo
Use it instead of: Store-bought salsa
Why it's healthier: Mass-produced salsas typically contain processed ingredients (such as tomato paste and dehydrated onions), but the real health downer is the sodium. Just two tablespoons of Tostitos Chunky Salsa, for instance, contains 250 milligrams of sodium, about 10% of your daily limit. And who stops at just two tablespoons?
Pico de gallo (also known as salsa fresca), an easy-to-make mixture of minced vegetables and chiles, offers a similar kick of flavor and spice, but with roughly one-fifth the sodium.
Drink it instead of: Regular beer
Why it's healthier: Throwing back a cold Mexican beer with your plate of tacos is a fun tradition and delicious combination. It's also one that can add calories and carbs to your meal.
Enjoy a Corona Light with a lime wedge for 49 fewer calories and 8 fewer grams of carbs than a regular Corona. If you're not a big drinker, opt for Coronitas, a 7-ounce bottle that has only 58 calories and 3 grams of carbs.