Maybe you're going out for Mexican food tonight in honor of Cinco de Mayo, or maybe you've just come home from a Cinco de Mayo celebration and you're wondering how many calories you've just consumed.
Some Mexican dishes have more calories than you could possibly imagine while others are relatively low calorie. Often, it's the cheese and sour cream that does the most dietary damage. Fast food or "Fresh Mex" Mexican is often the worst offender, while authentic Mexican restaurants that make traditional Mexican food with less cheese are often lower in calories and saturated fat.
In 2003, the Center for Science in the Public Interest sent several dishes from Chipotle Mexican Grill to an independent lab for testing since the company wouldn't publish fat or calorie info themselves.
They found that some of the burritos, such as the Vegetarian Burrito at 1,300 calories, had more fat and calories than a Quarter Pounder with fries and a Coke.
They also looked at Baja Fresh:
Its chicken, cheese, or steak quesadillas average 1,230 calories and have a nearly two days' worth of artery-clogging saturated fat. That's like having three Quarter Pounders with another half-day's sat fat thrown in ... Baja's Nachos are even worse. With a day's worth of calories (2,000) and sodium (2,890) with two days' worth (39 grams) of saturated fat, the average order of nachos (made with steak, chicken, or just cheese) is worse than four Quarter Pounders.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't eat Mexican food. To cut down on fat and calories when eating Mexican, whether it's at the so-called Fresh Mex places or elsewhere, avoid dishes laden with cheese and sour cream. Guacamole is fattening, too, but at least you're getting the health benefits of avocados while you eat it. Just don't eat two bowls.
Tortillas often take a big caloric toll. Avoid fried tortillas and chips and opt for corn tortillas, which are much lower in calories than flour. Refried beans also carry a lot of calories and, depending on the restaurant, they may also contain artery-clogging lard.
A lot of Mexican restaurants offer grilled vegetables. Order these in place of a side of rice and beans. Use salsa to liven up dishes instead of piling on extra cheese or sour cream.
Whenever I order a burrito at a restaurant I ask them to hold the cheese and sour cream. The burrito tastes just as good without it. I might say it tastes even better without the cheese because it allows me to taste the other flavors better. We're so used to relying on cheese to make things taste good that we've forgotten what food tastes like without it.
My favorite healthy dish at Mexican restaurants is shrimp diablo (shrimp in a very spicy red sauce). There's no cheese or sour cream in the dish and shrimp is low in calories and fat. Now, if only my favorite Mexican restaurants would use wild shrimp instead of farmed!