Best Low-Carb Mexican Food Choices When Dining Out

Conch ceviche
Conch Ceviche. Rick Lew/Taxi/Getty Images

Most of the time, the phrase “Mexican food” brings to mind tacos, enchiladas, and tamales, with sides of rice and beans, and chips on the table at all times. If you can get yourself to think beyond these standards, there’s a world of low-carb Mexican cuisine for you to enjoy.

In much of Mexico, grilled meats and seafood take center stage, and the sauces tend to be based on vegetables and fruit with very little flour or other starch. Take a look at a typical restaurant menu and see some of your best low-carb bets.

Traditional Mexican fare includes many healthy low-carb menu choices. Grilled seafood, meat, and poultry dishes are smart options as long as you fill the rest of your plate with vegetables instead of rice and beans.

Breakfast

The type of Mexican restaurant you visit may determine the type of selections offered on the breakfast menu. Quick-serve restaurants are more likely to provide burritos and other foods that are easy to carry, while sit-down restaurants may provide a greater variety.

Machaca

This satisfying Mexican breakfast includes eggs, beef, and veggies sautéed together. Carbohydrates in the dish vary based on serving size and preparation method. However, you can expect to consume about 325 to 350 calories per serving. About 20 percent of those calories are carbs. Your total count will be approximately 15 grams of carb per serving (with very little fiber or sugar, mostly starch).

Breakfast Burrito

This may be your only breakfast option if you visit a fast food Mexican restaurant for breakfast. Unfortunately, the flour tortilla will drive the carb count up. In general, stick to burritos that include eggs, meat, and cheese and avoid those that include beans.

A typical breakfast burrito contains about 650 to 700 calories and 70 to 75 grams of carbohydrate, mostly starch. Keep in mind, however, that a large flour tortilla may contain up to 60 grams of carbohydrate. So if you can order the burrito as a bowl and skip the beans, you should be able to keep this on your list of go-to low carb options.

Appetizers

The most popular appetizers at many Mexican restaurants are often starchy foods that are fried. Tortilla chips are a perfect example. As you may guess, foods like these are not going to help you stick to a low carb eating plan. But you might see a few good options if you scan the menu and ask your server for modifications.

Guacamole

Not only is it delicious, but guacamole also has a high nutritional content. Ask if the restaurant has cucumber or jicama slices to dip. If not, save the guacamole to have with your main dish.

A typical two-tablespoon serving of guacamole contains about 50 calories, but only three grams of carbohydrate. Most of the calories in this popular dip come from healthy fat.

Ceviche

This citrus-marinated seafood varies from area to area and is often served with chopped raw vegetables such as bell pepper, onion, and parsley. The dish is packed with protein and other nutrients.

A single serving is likely to provide about 150 to 175 calories, but you can expect that you'll only consume about 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrate.

Albóndigas Soup

This soup has meatballs and veggies in a broth base. The meatballs usually have some rice in them, so this is probably not best if you are in a very low-carb diet phase.

If you order this soup, ask how it is prepared as it will greatly impact the nutritional breakdown. If the meatballs are made with rice, ask if you can get yours with grilled chicken or steak instead.

Salads

Salads are almost always a smart choice to follow a low carb diet. Enjoy as an appetizer or side dish, or make it a meal with some carne asada or other protein on top. Just be sure to remove any fried starchy or crispy toppings.

Main Dishes

Entrees choices will vary substantially based on the type of restaurant you visit. A traditional Mexican restaurant is likely to offer more choices for you than a popular Tex-Mex restaurant.

When watching your carbs, avoid tortillas, tacos, taquitos, nachos, burritos, tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas, flautas, and chimichangas. However, the fillings of some of these may be perfectly fine. Feel free to ask for them separately.

Also, when ordering, avoid platters altogether or ask for substitutions. Always ask to hold the rice or chips. Beans are not very glycemic, and some people can tolerate them better than other sources of carbs. Still, you may want to keep the portions small.

Seafood

Coastal Mexican food often revolves around grilled seafood with light and delicious sauces (salsas). If you seldom cook fish at home, take this opportunity to get a protein source consistently correlated with good health.

Carb counts will vary based on preparation method, but in general, a piece of grilled white fish (such as tilapia) provides zero grams of carbohydrate.

Grilled Meats

Try carne asada (steak grilled with Mexican spices) or chicken dishes, sometimes served with grilled veggies and always with salsas.

Again, carb counts vary based on the dish but most meat and poultry contain zero carbohydrates. However, be mindful of any sauces that might be added.

For example, mole (pronounced moe-lay) sauces vary. Some are sweet and may be high in carbs, but some are not very high in carbohydrates, consisting of complex mixtures of chilies, spices, seeds, and often chocolate. Most often they are seen with chicken.

Ask your server about details regarding any sauces and ask for sauce on the side if necessary.

Fajitas

This classic low-carb Mexican dish is widely available and perfect for you if you want to enjoy a low-carb Mexican meal. You just have to skip the tortilla.

In some restaurants, your server may be willing to throw in extra vegetables if you ask for no tortillas. Then your total carb count will depend on the vegetables you consume. As a reference, a whole red bell pepper provides about seven grams of carbs.

Chili Verde

This is a spicy stew, usually made with pork. Some versions of this stew may be low-carb friendly. But others—such as those made with beans—will be too high in carbs. Unfortunately, it is not likely that you can ask for substitutions on this menu item, so order cautiously.

Beverages

It's not just the food that can raise your daily carb total, but traditional drinks at Mexican restaurants can be tricky as well.

Margaritas

Some people just can’t imagine having Mexican food without one. Although most are loaded with sugar, some Mexican restaurants have sugar-free versions.

Alternatively, a traditional margarita made with tequila, lime juice, and triple sec has 8 to 16 grams of carbohydrates, depending on the amount of triple sec. But at least it doesn't have the extra sugar from a sweet and sour mix.

If you wish, you can ask for it without the triple sec and add your own artificial sweetener (keep a small bottle of Sweetzfree liquid handy).

Beer

It's a popular accompaniment to Mexican food, but beer carbs vary and you'll have to choose wisely. Low carb beer choices include Amstel Light (5 grams carbs) and Budweiser Select (less than 2 grams carbohydrate).

Dessert

Many diners at Mexican restaurants gobble up their meals in anticipation of dessert. Popular Mexican sweets are often fried and covered in sugar. For example, a serving of churros may provide up to 42 grams of carbohydrate.

Here's how a few other popular Mexican desserts compare.

Tres Leches

This popular creamy white cake is sweet—and as you might imagine—quite high in carbohydrate. You are likely to consume at least 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrate in a single serving.

Flan

Flan looks like it might be lower in carbs, simply because it is not baked. But there is a lot of sugar used in the preparation of this caramel-y dish. You'll boost your carb intake by at least 50 grams if you eat a full serving.

If you are craving a sweet treat after dinner, grab a spoonful of your dining mates selection to keep your low-carb diet on track.

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