In Mexico, the 5th of May is a celebration of the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
In the US, this day is treated as a celebration of Mexican-American culture with plenty of margaritas and chimichangas. Many dishes found at Mexican restaurants are high in calories and sodium due to oil from frying, cheese, cream, lard, added salt, etc. Here are some tips for enjoying Mexican-inspired dishes that are lighter on the calories and sodium.
Enhance the flavor of your dishes with traditional spices, chilis, herbs, and citrus juice rather than salt. Common herbs and spices that you may be familiar with include chili powder, cumin, fresh or dried cilantro, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic, etc.
Some less common spices to consider include ancho chile powder, Mexican oregano, tomatillos, and serrano peppers. Many local grocery stores have a Hispanic section to explore. Flavorful vegetables such as onion, jalapenos, chipotle peppers, and poblano peppers enhance flavor as well as add to your daily vegetable goal. If you feel your dish’s flavor is a little flat, try a splash of lime juice to brighten up the flavor before reaching for the salt shaker.
Make sure your dish includes at least a serving of vegetables- ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw counts as a serving.Many Mexican-American dishes revolve around the protein but increasing the vegetables not only increases the flavor but reduces the calories. For example, a half cup of cooked bell peppers is only about 25 calories.
Many traditional Mexican dishes use summer squash or zucchini. They can be added to many dishes as they take on flavor well. Salsa can count as a vegetable but many store brands are high in sodium. Summer is a great time to experiment with making your own lower sodium salsa as fresh produce becomes more abundant.
Choose lean proteins more often such as fish, chicken, ground turkey, lean steak such as top sirloin, or beans such as pinto, black, or refried beans. If using refried beans, make sure they are fat free otherwise they may contain lard, which is high in saturated fat. If using ground beef, try substituting half of the beef for ground turkey, vegetarian soy crumbles, or black beans.
Work in whole grains by substituting whole wheat tortillas for white flour tortillas and brown rice for white rice. If you are watching your carbohydrates, choose smaller tortillas or look for a low carb wrap. Many people assume tortillas are lower in carbohydrates as they are marketed as being healthier than bread, but one 10” tortilla has more grams of carbohydrate than 2 slices of bread.
Limit the added fat by choosing low fat or fat-free sour cream, reduced fat cheese, and fat-free refried beans. You can even use low fat plain Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream for a protein boost. Limit the amount of oil in cooking by using an oil spray and a non-stick pan or by baking in the oven.
The recipes below are lighter versions of popular restaurant dishes to try this Cinco de Mayo.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Dietitian’s tip: It’s easier to slice the chicken when it is still partially frozen rather than waiting until it’s completely thawed.
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1/4-inch strips
- 1 large onion, sliced
- Half a green sweet bell pepper, slivered
- Half a red sweet bell pepper, slivered
- 12 low-fat, whole-wheat 8-inch tortillas
- ½ cup salsa
- ½ cup fat-free sour cream
- ½ cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese
Directions: Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken slices and stir until chicken is well-coated. Marinate for 15 minutes. Cook chicken in pan on grill or stovetop for 3 minutes, or until no longer pink. Stir in onions and peppers. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until done to your liking. Divide mixture evenly among tortillas. Top each with 2 teaspoons salsa, 2 teaspoons sour cream and 2 teaspoons shredded cheese. Roll up and serve.
Per serving (1 filled tortilla): Calories 220, Fat 4 g, Saturated fat 1 g, Cholesterol 84 mg, Sodium 830 mg, Carbohydrate 16 g, Fiber 10 g, Protein 30 g
Fish Tacos with Tomatillo Sauce
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Dietitian’s tip: If cilantro isn’t to your liking, use parsley instead. You can use another pepper in place of the Fresno peppers and your favorite salsa in place of the tomatillo salsa (just watch the sodium)
- 12 ounces whitefish, such as cod or tilapia
- Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
- ¼ head Napa cabbage (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ small yellow onion, diced (1/4 cup)
- 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
- 2 red Fresno peppers, diced
- Zest and juice of 1 lime (½ teaspoon zest, 1 tablespoon juice)
- 4 tablespoons tomatillo salsa
- 4 wheat tortillas (6-inch diameter), lightly grilled or toasted
Directions: Season fish with salt and pepper if you like. Then bake fish at 375 F for about 20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 145 F. Or grill fish if you prefer. Place remaining ingredients except tortillas in a mixing bowl and toss to combine. Flake fish and place on tortillas. Top with cabbage and salsa mixture. Serve immediately.
Per serving (1 filled tortilla): Calories 187, Fat 3 g, Saturated fat 0.5 g, Cholesterol 39 mg, Sodium 190 mg, Carbohydrate 21 g, Fiber 2.5 g, Protein 19 g
Romi Londre is a registered dietitian with Mayo Clinic Health System