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Happy Cinco de Mayo! Can you satisfy your craving for Mexican food while considering your nutritional health? The key to eating well is choosing carefully among the many temptations — cheese-stuffed quesadillas and fried chalupas — while following sensible guidelines that direct your everyday choices.

Americans unfortunately hunger for Mexican foods that are fried, fatty and loaded with cheese. Traditional Mexican food is actually very healthy, including an abundance of pinto and black beans, vegetables and whole grains such as masa.

All ethnic foods have dishes that are nutritional superstars—nutrient-dense, low-fat, high-fiber and rich in phytochemicals. Here are some helpful and healthful hints when ordering or preparing your own Mexican favorites:

Guacamole, one of the traditional dishes that Americans love, can be a very healthful dish. Avocados, while high in fat and calories, are also nutrient rich with healthy monounsaturated fats. Add a little kick with a little jalapeño pepper, finely diced, to get some extra heat and added vitamin C. Just remember moderation when choosing guacamole.

Indulge in salsas, which are not only low in fat, but loaded with vitamins and phytochemicals. The biggest trap and temptation when dining at a Mexican restaurant is the salsa’s traditional companion — hot, salty, greasy tortilla chips served in never-ending baskets.  One  ounce (may be as few as four to six chips) has roughly 140 calories.

Choose corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas when you are given an option. Flour tortillas are often made with lard making them full of unhealthy saturated fat.

Order grilled shrimp, chicken or beef as an appetizer. If you order a taco salad, skip the fried shell the salad is served in and ask to go light on the cheese. To control the amount of dressing, ask for it to be served on the side.

Choose grilled beef, chicken, pork or fish instead of the less healthful options such as carnitas (fried pork) or chorizo (sausage).

Avoid refried beans, which are often loaded with added fats and sodium. As a substitute, choose beans and rice, borracho beans, or frijoles a la charra.

Order chili con carne, which is often a healthful option with fewer than 300 calories in a cup.

Choose fresh salsa, pico de gallo, cilantro and jalapeños to boost flavor without adding too much fat.

Substitute fajitas for quesadillas, which are usually fried and loaded with cheese. Fajitas have similar ingredients, but the extra vegetables and less cheese make them a more healthful option.

Since Mexican seasonings tend to be high in sodium, use sparingly or substitute low-sodium options when cooking and preparing Mexican foods at home.

Whether you order out or prepare at home, some healthy options for Mexican dishes include fajitas, chili, chicken or beef enchiladas with red sauce or salsa, and grilled fish and meats.

If the traditional flan is a must-have dessert for you, try a smaller portion. Then balance it with something more healthful like fresh fruit.


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