If you’ve been in Texas for long, you’ve probably worshiped at the shrine of queso on many occasions. You know that the frozen margarita machine was invented in Dallas, and you can find the perfect avocados for guacamole in a grocery store without skipping a beat.
But if you’ve recently embarked on a mission to eat more healthfully, you may be thinking you are going to have to skip all of your favorite haunts. We turned to Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine to see whether it’s possible to eat well and eat Tex-Mex.
Bearden offers up three tips to keep in mind when dining at a Tex-Mex restaurant: Choose wisely, limit portion sizes and drink responsibly.
Bearden says when surveying the menu, look for grilled or baked meats and high-fiber sides like black beans and steamed vegetables. Also load up on low-calorie, flavorful items such as salsa, salsa verde, pico de gallo and cilantro. Limit high-calorie, high-fat items like queso, sour cream and creamy sauces, and dishes that contain them.
It’s hard not to eat more than your fair share of chips and salsa while waiting for your food but considering a serving size of chips is about six to eight, it can easily blow your attempts at eating healthier. Bearden suggests putting some chips on a small plate and eating slowly, which can carry over to your main course. Paying attention to fullness cues can help you keep your portion size in control, and the best part is you’ll have leftovers to take home.
As for that margarita that you may think is off limits — many of which contain up to 600 calories — Bearden says as long as you can find a “skinny” version on the menu, you can go ahead and treat yourself to one glass.
A local Tex-Mex chain, Mattitos, decided to take a look last year at the calorie counts of some of its most popular menu items and posted the findings on its blog.
Some of the lighter items you will find on a typical Tex-Mex restaurant menu include:
- One hard taco with ground beef, cheese and lettuce — 156 calories
- One soft chicken taco with cheese and lettuce — 185 calories
- Chicken fajitas without tortillas — about 360 calories per one-skillet serving
- Two bean burritos without cheese — 447 calories
Some of the heavy hitters:
- One cup (a typical side serving) of refried beans — 397 calories
- Two beef burritos with cheese — 632 calories
- Two beef and cheese enchiladas — 646 calories
While the majority of menu items are high in calories and fat, Bearden says there are several healthy options on most Tex-Mex menus. For dips, she suggests choosing guacamole over queso because avocados provide heart-healthy fats and queso is rich in saturated fat. There is one caveat, though. Try to keep that guacamole intake to about a fourth of a cup because all fats, even the healthy ones, are more calorically dense.
As for an appetizer, choose a cup of tortilla soup over nachos.
“Broth-based soups containing lean protein and vegetables make for a filling, flavorful appetizer or entrée,” Bearden explains. “Nacho toppings are often layered on thick, providing excessive calories and fat for an appetizer.”
When it comes to your main meal, choose fajitas over enchiladas, and black beans over refried beans. Fajitas can be a lean, well-balanced meal because they have lean grilled meat and sautéed vegetables, while enchiladas — usually covered in creamy sauces or cheese — contain much more saturated fat. As for the beans, black beans are full of fiber and protein, which refried beans mimic, but because refried beans are usually prepared with oil or lard they tend to be higher in fat.
It’s no secret that Tex-Mex can easily blow the lid off of any diet plans you may have, but with the tips above, it is possible to eat a balanced, healthy meal at many of your favorite local spots.
This post was originally posted on AreYouaWellBeing.TexasHealth.org.