Mexican food is the third most popular cuisine in the United States and is lovingly enjoyed more than just on Cinco de Mayo. There’s a common misconception that Mexican cuisine is unhealthy and high in fat and calories. This could not be further from the truth. Plus, it’s an unfair stigma placed on people whose heritage embraces these cultural foods.
In this article, we aim to dispel the myth that Mexican food can’t be healthy and celebrate the wholesome side of Mexican cooking. We’ve curated a collection of dietitian-approved Mexican food recipes that will satisfy your taste buds and support your well-being. From savory sides to satisfying main dishes and traditional desserts, these recipes offer a delightful balance of flavors and nutrients.
Is Mexican Food Healthy?
Mexican food can be very healthy. Recipes often include a variety of fresh and wholesome ingredients that are part of a balanced diet. Several elements make Mexican food a healthy option.
Abundance of Fresh Vegetables
Mexican dishes are often packed with vegetables like tomatoes, bell peppers, avocados, and various types of chili peppers like green chiles. These provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Lean Protein Sources
Many traditional Mexican recipes incorporate lean protein sources such as beans, chicken, and fish. These are excellent choices for maintaining a healthy diet.
While Mexican cuisine includes fats, they can often come from heart-healthy sources like avocados and olive oil. These fats can provide a satisfying nutrient boost.
Spices and Herbs
Mexican cuisine relies on a vibrant array of spices and herbs, such as cilantro and cumin. These not only enhance flavor but also offer potential health benefits.
Corn is a staple in Mexican cuisine, often found in tortillas and tamales. Whole grains like these can be a nutritious source of complex carbohydrates.
Ingredient Swaps to Make Mexican Food Healthier
Making Mexican dishes healthier is definitely possible with some simple swaps and modifications. Here are some ideas:
- Use Whole Grains: Instead of refined white rice or flour tortillas, use whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat tortillas. These provide more fiber and nutrients. You could even omit grains altogether and use cauliflower rice as a substitute.
- Lean Proteins: Choose lean protein sources like skinless poultry, lean cuts of beef or pork, or plant-based options like beans, tofu, or tempeh instead of fatty cuts of meat or processed meats.
- Reduced Fat Dairy: Use low-fat or non-fat versions of sour cream, cheese, and yogurt in your recipes to reduce saturated fat content.
- Avocado for Creaminess: Use mashed avocado instead of heavy sour cream or mayonnaise-based sauces. Guacamole is a nutritious addition to any meal.
- Fresh Salsas: Opt for fresh, homemade salsas or pico de gallos using tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime juice. These are much healthier than jarred, store-bought salsas high in sodium.
- Grilled, Baked, or Steamed: Instead of frying, prepare your meats and vegetables by grilling, baking, or steaming. These cooking methods reduce the amount of added oil and calories.
- Limit Added Cheese: While queso is a staple in many Mexican dishes, use it in moderation. You can also choose lower-fat options or use less to reduce the overall fat content.
- Portion Control: Be mindful of portion sizes. Eat slowly and mindfully to avoid overeating.
- Less Salt: Reduce the salt in your recipes and use herbs, spices, and citrus to add flavor.
- Healthy Fats: Use healthier cooking oils like olive oil or avocado oil instead of lard or other saturated fats.
- Load Up on Veggies: Add more vegetables to your dishes. They provide essential nutrients and fiber, making the meal more filling.
- Beans as a Protein Source: Incorporate beans like black beans, pinto beans, or refried beans as a source of protein and fiber in your dishes.
Remember, making Mexican dishes healthier doesn't mean sacrificing flavor. You can still enjoy the rich and delicious flavors of Mexican cuisine while making choices that support your health.
18 Healthy Mexican Food Recipes
While it’s nice to enjoy a meal at a Mexican restaurant, there are plenty of healthy Mexican recipes across the internet, but we’ve rounded up some of our favorites just for you so you can minimize your time searching and get straight to cooking.
Healthy Mexican Side Dishes
Full of tender meat and veggies, this easy Mexican chicken soup recipe (caldo de pollo) is loaded with flavor and toppings. It makes a great side dish or an appetizer to enjoy before dinner.
- Avocado Salsa
This yummy avocado salsa is the perfect mash-up of guacamole and salsa verde. It’s amazing as a dip for tortilla chips but is also fantastic on burritos, taco salads, nachos, and more! Plus, it’s gluten-free, paleo, vegan.
This grilled corn recipe is perfect when served as a side for meat lovers and vegetarians alike. Pair this with chicken tacos for a flavor-packed feast.
The grilled veggies in this vegan recipe add a smoky flavor and texture that pairs well with crunchy pepitas and the creaminess of the avocado cilantro lime dressing.
Make this recipe in about 30 minutes for a vegan dinner or side dish that everyone will love! This savory rice, combined with red beans and the perfect amount of spices, is full of flavor!
This crunchy Cilantro Lime Slaw recipe is easy to make in 10 minutes. It tastes extra fresh and light and works great as a zesty side dish or as a topping for tacos, tostadas, tortas, and more.
Healthy Mexican Main Dishes
These simple street-style Mexican shrimp tacos are topped with the most flavorful salsa and a kiss of crema! We love that this comes together in 20 minutes, making it the perfect recipe for weeknight dinners.
These delicious chicken burrito bowls are loaded with fajita chicken, bell peppers, black beans, sweet corn, red onion, cilantro lime rice, fresh romaine lettuce, avocado, and cilantro lime dressing. This burrito bowl recipe is super versatile and perfect for meal prep, dinner, or lunch. These easy, flavorful burrito bowls will become a staple in your rotation!
This enchilada recipe is one of our favorites. These amazing vegetarian enchiladas are stuffed with black beans, broccoli, bell pepper, and spinach and then topped with homemade red sauce. Not a vegetarian? Use Signos’ slow cooker shredded chicken recipe to save time making chicken enchiladas.
This turkey tostada recipe is ready in under 30 minutes, plus it’s high in protein. It’s also a great way to use up leftover taco meat.
These tacos are so easy to make and so healthy and delicious! The mahi-mahi is drizzled with lime and sprinkled with flavorful seasoning, then baked to perfection in the oven. Top your favorite whole wheat flour or corn tortillas with cabbage, cilantro, avocado, baked mahi-mahi, and a flavorful cream sauce for an easy fish taco recipe that everyone will love.
This Chicken Fajita Casserole is the easiest healthy dinner recipe! It’s made with sliced fajita veggies, shredded chicken breast, smoky fajita sauce, whole wheat tortilla pieces, beans, and spinach. Add cheese and cilantro to your liking and throw it in the oven for a melty, savory dinner recipe you’ll want to make again and again.
Healthy Mexican Salad Recipes
This easy, low-calorie, low-carb taco salad is made using ground turkey and an array of colorful veggies. Spicy, creamy, and savory are the best ways to describe this dish. You could also use grilled chicken instead of ground turkey.
This lightened-up Mexican Street Corn Salad is made with sweet corn, mayonnaise, jalapenos, fresh cilantro, cotija cheese, and lime juice. It’s creamy, delicious, and perfectly accompanies any main dish. It tastes just like the classic street food dish.
This Mexican Chopped Salad with Lime Vinaigrette is packed with black beans, corn, avocado, tomatoes, mango, jicama, and a delicious honey lime dressing.
Healthy Mexican Desserts
This Vegan Tres Leches Cake is one of our favorite Mexican dessert recipes. It has a light vanilla cake soaked in a triple dairy-free milk mixture. Top with fluffy coconut whipped cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and sliced strawberries; it’s just as beautiful as it is delicious.
Dates replace sugar in this healthier version of homemade horchata. Hints of cinnamon and vanilla shine through in each sip. It’s perfectly refreshing on a warm day.
Avocados aren’t just for guac. This chocolate avocado pudding is so rich, creamy, and so chocolatey, that you’ll forget you even added avocado in the first place. The chile powder, cinnamon, and salt add just the right amount of contrast to the chocolate.
Learn More About Healthy Nutrition with Signos’ Expert Advice
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Frequently Asked Questions
What Mexican dish is the healthiest?
One of the healthier Mexican dishes is grilled chicken fajitas. Fajitas typically consist of grilled chicken, bell peppers, onions, and spices. They are often served with corn tortillas, salsa, and guacamole. This dish is relatively low in saturated fat and can be a good source of lean protein and vegetables.
What Mexican foods are the lowest in calories?
Mexican foods that are lower in calories typically include options like pollo a la plancha (plate of chicken) and shrimp ceviche (a fresh seafood salad). Chicken or veggie tacos with lean protein and many vegetables are also low-calorie options. These dishes tend to be lighter in terms of calories compared to some of the more indulgent Mexican dishes.
How can a Mexican eat healthy?
To eat healthy in a Mexican diet, consider the following tips:
- Choose lean proteins like grilled chicken, fish, or beans.
- Opt for whole grains like corn or whole wheat tortillas.
- Load up on vegetables and use fresh salsas for added flavor.
- Limit cheese and sour cream, or use reduced-fat versions.
- Be mindful of portion sizes and eat slowly to avoid overeating.
- Reduce the use of frying and opt for healthier cooking methods.
What are healthy Hispanic foods?
Healthy Hispanic foods can include options like "Grilled Fish with Mango Salsa," "Cuban Black Bean Soup," "Arroz con Pollo" made with brown rice and lean chicken, "Ensalada de Frutas" (fruit salad), and "Grilled Vegetable Tacos." These dishes incorporate a variety of lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.