How to Eat Healthy at a Mexican Restaurant

Fresh tacos on a plate
Marianna Massey / Getty Images

Mexican food is filled with delicious meats and tasty sides. From chips and salsas to tostadas and enchiladas, there is a lot to choose from. But you may be wondering how to make nutritious choices with so many options available to you.

At its core, Mexican food is generally comprised of beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, meats, cactus, and chilies, among other ingredients, which are all essentially nutritious. Yet, the way in which some items are prepared in restaurants—with heavy cooking oils and often fried—can add additional saturated fat, calories, and sodium on top of nutrients they provide.

That said, you can eat nutritiously at Mexican restaurants with a little thought and planning. Below we provide some tips to help you along the way. With a wide variety of staples and choices, you are certain to find nutritious options—you just need to know what to look for.

How to Order Nutritious Mexican Food

With a few simple switches and modifications, you can find nutritious food on just about every Mexican menu without skimping on taste and flavor. In general, more nutritious options include fajitas, bean burritos, grilled chicken dishes, and soft tacos. Here are some of the most nutritious choices to look for on the menu.


Most Mexican restaurants will have a few salad options prepared with a variety of vegetables. Ask for your dressing on the side—this helps you choose the quantity for yourself. You also can consider skipping the cheese and/or tortilla chips that often accompany it if you are limiting saturated fats. Or you can limit your portion or share them with a friend.

Lean Protein

Protein is an essential part of a balanced diet, known for its ability to maintain muscle mass and its satiating effect on appetite. Order grilled over fried options, such as chicken or fish. Meat and fish dishes are sometimes cooked in heavy oils and sauces, negating some of their nutrition benefits.

But you can ask the chef if there is an alternative way to prepare it like serving the sauce on the side or grilling. If you don't eat meat, you can opt for a vegetarian dish that features beans as a source of protein.


Black beans are high in protein, low in total fat, low in saturated fat, and contain plenty of fiber, giving them the green light as a nutritious choice on the menu. Refried beans on the other hand may sound like a nutritious option, but it depends on how the restaurant prepares them.

Some refried beans are prepared with lard. And in some instances, restaurants add cheese and salt for taste. Pinto beans, which are cholesterol-free and naturally sodium-free, provide a similar flavor and a healthier option to refried beans, so you can opt for them instead.

Soft Over Crunchy

Crunchy options, such as that tempting stack of tortilla chips, are flavorful due to being fried. But they may contain more fat and sodium than you want to eat. Instead, you could select soft tortillas or tacos, which are baked rather than fried. Another option is to limit the number of chips you eat or share them with a friend.

Brown Rice Over White

Check if the restaurant has the option of brown rice, which is much higher in fiber, protein, and other micronutrients compared to its white counterpart. It also contains unsaturated lipids, micronutrients, and ranks low on the glycemic index. Whole grain and whole wheat options, such as whole wheat tortillas, are generally more nutritious alternatives.

What Mexican Foods to Avoid

Although enticing, some of the less nutritious dishes you might want to limit include nachos, chimichangas, chalupas, taquitos, chile Relleno— all of which are deep-fried—as well as enchiladas, topped with heavy sauces and cheese, and dishes cooked in cream. When choosing your entree, remember, it is best to order soft tortillas, which are baked rather than fried.

Fried Foods

Consistent intake of fried foods can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The other problem is that it's difficult to calculate the exact calorie content of this energy-dense food. If you are managing your weight, it is best to skip fried foods.

Go Light on the Cheese

Some people choose to replace cheese with a light cheese on their salad or taco (or avoid it altogether) and opt for other ways to impart flavor. To give your meal a boost, add extra tomatoes, onions, and black beans.

Sugary Drinks

A simple switch to increase the nutritiousness of your meal is to order a pitcher of water for the table instead of a sugary drink or cocktail. Sugary drinks can increase your cravings for foods high in salt and fat, but a sufficient intake of water will only serve to benefit your body, including optimal bowel regularity and reducing the likelihood of headaches.

Savvy Swaps When Dining Out

Side dishes can really make or break a nutritious meal with additional ingredients that are full of flavor, but often high in saturated fats and sodium. If you are unable to find any options on the menu, ask your server about alternatives. Some Mexican restaurants will replace sides with a salad or even a medley of marinated vegetables.

Lighten Up Salads

If you order a salad, ask for a topping of salsa rather than a cream-based dressing. If you prefer dressing on your salad, you could ask for a low-fat option, such as reduced-fat ranch dressing on the side, and blend a small amount into your salad for a pop of flavor. And, if you order a taco salad, skip the deep-fried torilla bowl and instead ask for it to be served on a plate.

Choose Dips Wisely

Salsa features a blend of tomatoes, onions, garlic, spices, chilies, and lime, meaning it can be a nutritious choice. In contrast, con queso dips and nacho cheese are sometimes high in saturated fat. Meanwhile, guacamole, made with avocado is a better alternative.

Limit Chips

Although tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant are a staple, limit your intake to a small hand full and order them to share with others at the table. One way to accomplish this is to put a small portion on your plate.

Plan on Leftovers

Many restaurants prepare large meals, which is great value for money but not helpful when you are managing your intake. Eat slowly and mindfully, stopping when you are full. You can take home any leftovers from the meal to enjoy the following day while saving you time from having to prepare something else for your meal.

Consider Making Swaps

Substitute bean burritos in place of beef or cheese burritos to reduce on fats and oils. You also can ask for corn tortillas instead of flour for a boost of fiber.

A Word From Verywell

Eating out can be a challenge if you are trying to eat nutritiously. But if you look at the menu ahead of time and make a plan, you can usually find a meal that helps you meet your goals.

If you still cannot find nutritious meals at your favorite Mexican restaurant, don't give up on eating Mexican fare just yet. It's easy to cook Mexican food in your own kitchen. Making your own meals at home will also save a few bucks, too.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lonnie M, Hooker E, Brunstrom JM, et al. Protein for life: review of optimal protein intake, sustainable dietary sources and the effect on appetite in ageing adultsNutrients. 2018;10(3):360. doi:10.3390/nu10030360

  2. USDA, FoodData Central. Black beans.

  3. Tortilla chips, yellow, plain, salted. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  4. Lee JS, Sreenivasulu N, Hamilton RS, Kohli A. Brown rice, a diet rich in health-promoting propertiesJ Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2019;65(Supplement):S26-S28. doi:10.3177/jnsv.65.S26

  5. Qin P et al. Fried-food consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of observational studiesHeart. 2020 Jan. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2020-317883

  6. USDA, FoodData Central. Guacamole.