More Guac Please: Healthy Hacks On Your Fave Mexican Dishes

Whether it’s homemade, out of a to-go window or artistically plated at your favorite upscale restaurant, there’s no denying that Mexican cuisine is pretty great. But sadly, double-sided fried tortillas and cheese-loaded quesadillas usually don’t cut it when it comes to making healthy food choices. Luckily, we’ve found a way for you to keep tacos and empanadas in your life — with a side of guac. Here’s what you should substitute for and dig into during your next Mexican fiesta:

If you usually go for: flour tortillas
Try: corn tortillas
One of the biggest staples of the Mexican diet is corn — and for good reason. For Mexicans, growing corn is a national heritage that developed over 70,000 years ago. Not only does it have deep symbolic values, but it’s flat-out delicious and can also be very nutritious. In fact, corn tortillas have ⅓ less calories, ¼ less grams of fat, are lower in sugar and pack more than twice the percent of fiber than flour tortillas. The bottom line: When it’s time for tacos, nachos or fajitas, corn is the way to go.

If you usually go for: refried beans
Try: black beans
That melt-in-your-mouth flavor? Sure, it’s amazing, but what really gives it that addictive flavor is the fact that it’s fried in animal fat, most often bacon. You’re getting a lot of extra cholesterol and saturated fat with those beans. Instead, opt for black beans, which are tasty in their own right but pack a whole lot of nutritional punch as well. In fact, just a ½ cup offers 7 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein, both of which keep you full and energized. Black beans also contain high amounts of folic acid and magnesium (good for those baby-making ladies out there).

If you usually go for: guacamole
Try: a homemade version
You obviously can’t forgo this staple of Mexican cuisine, and why should you? It’s chock-full of good-for-you fats, along with potassium, vitamins K, A and more, thanks to its main ingredients of avocados, onions, cilantro and lime. But the kind you buy at your local grocery store is almost guaranteed to be packed with surprisingly high levels of sodium and content-preserving ingredients you never even heard of. So while a pre-packaged version may be easier, making your own is far better for your health (and tastebuds!). Try this recipe from What’s Gabby Cooking.

If you usually go for: margaritas
Try: skinny margs!
Of course you love margaritas — what else are you going to wash down guac with? But if you really look at the masterminds behind that perfect combination of sour and sweet, it’s a recipe for bloat and lethargy, all followed by a giant sugar crash the next day. That’s because your average margarita is composed of a pre-made mix like Jose Cuervos, which contains about 526 calories in just 4 oz (the typical volume of a restaurant serving). And that’s not even counting the calories from the tequila, or a homemade version with similar ingredients like simple syrup, artificial lemon, lime or strawberry purees! The solution? Make your own mix using half of the ingredients for an even more refreshing taste that doesn’t leave you feeling like an anchor in your bar stool. Family Fresh Meals offers a great, easy-to-make recipe consisting of real frozen and fresh fruits and sparkling water. Yum!  

If you usually go for: quesadillas
Try: tacos or fajitas
We don’t blame you for your love affair with the quesadilla. All that cheese melted succulently between two crispy tortillas? Understood. But with just three simple ingredients — a tortilla, cheese and some oil — quesadillas can do quite a number on your nutrition goals. We’re talking a total of 38.4 grams of fat in just one quesadilla alone. The Institute of Medicine recommends adults consume between 20 to 35 percent of their daily caloric intake from fat, meaning no more than 60 grams when consuming a 1,600-calorie diet per day and no more than 75 when consuming a 2,000 calorie diet per day. Instead, opt for the taco or fajita, which contain mostly lean meats (minus pork and the ever-flavorful chorizo) and vegetables.

If you usually go for: sour cream
Try: Greek yogurt
You load it on your fajita, taco, salad and, hey, you’ll even lick it clean off of a spoon, but sour cream can cost you major extra calories—93 percent of those from fat. Greek yogurt still gives you that tangy, savory flavor and tames the heat on hot dishes while providing some seriously health-boosting benefits you won’t get from sour cream. The added protein will give you the energy you’re lacking after a heavy meal, while the pump of probiotics will build up your immune system and help ward off tummy troubles.

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.