Mexican cuisine is known for its bold, zesty flavors. However, many classic dishes can be high in sodium. If you love Mexican food but want to watch your salt intake, here’s what you need to know.
How Much Sodium Is In Typical Mexican Foods?
Many common ingredients in Mexican cooking are high in sodium, including:
- Cheese: Queso fresco, cotija, and other Mexican cheeses are salty. A 1 oz. serving can have around 150-200mg sodium.
- Meats: Chorizo sausage and smoked ham have around 400-700mg sodium per 3 oz. serving.
- Beans: Canned refried beans can have 600-800mg sodium per 1⁄2 cup.
- Salsa: A 1⁄4 cup of salsa can range from 150-300mg+ sodium depending on brand.
- Tortillas: Flour tortillas average around 120-170mg sodium each. Corn tortillas have about 15mg per tortilla.
- Chips and salty snacks: Tortilla chips, chicharrones, and salty nuts should be eaten in moderation.
- Seasonings: Mole sauce, fajita seasoning, taco seasoning, etc. can be high in added sodium.
Popular Dishes To Watch For High Sodium
Here are some classic Mexican menu items that tend to be higher in sodium:
Loaded nachos topped with meat, beans, cheese, and salty toppings like jalapeños easily top 1,000mg sodium for a single serving.
Tacos with fillings like chorizo, carnitas, or carne asada can have 500-800mg+ sodium each, especially if made with flour tortillas and topped with cheese.
A large burrito with fillings like rice, beans, meat and salsa can contain your full daily recommended sodium intake (2,300mg).
Cheese-filled quesadillas can have around 800mg sodium each. Adding meat and sauces increases the sodium content.
Chicken or steak fajitas seem healthy, but the seasoning mix alone can add 500mg+ sodium per serving
Chips and Guacamole
While the guacamole is sodium-free, a basket of salty tortilla chips can easily provide over 1,000mg sodium.
Healthy Guidelines For Mexican Dining Out
Here are some tips to reduce sodium when eating Mexican food at restaurants:
- Pick grilled proteins like steak, chicken or shrimp fajitas. Avoid salty meats like chorizo.
- Ask for corn tortillas. They have less sodium than flour.
- Choose fresh toppings like salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole instead of cheese and sour cream.
- Avoid chips and salty appetizers. If you do indulge, ask for fresh unsalted chips.
- Limit portion sizes, as Mexican dishes tend to be large. Share an entree or take home leftovers.
- Modify menu items by holding salty ingredients like cheese, ham, bacon, pickled jalapeños, etc.
- Order simpler dishes like soft tacos, rice and beans, ceviche, grilled fish or shrimp.
Tips For Preparing Lower Sodium Mexican Favorites At Home
Cooking Mexican food yourself allows you to control the sodium content. Here are some tips:
Use fresh ingredients
Cook with fresh produce like tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocados, limes, and cilantro. Rely less on canned or packaged foods that have added sodium.
Make your own tortillas
Homemade corn or flour tortillas let you control how much salt goes in them. Store-bought tortillas can be high in sodium.
Prepare beans from scratch
Cook dried beans yourself instead of using canned refried beans, which are very high in sodium. Don’t add extra salt to the cooking water.
Use spices, acids and heat for flavor
Boost flavor with spices like cumin, oregano, garlic and chili powders instead of salt. Add a squeeze of lime instead of salt. Use salsa and hot sauces to add a kick.
Limit high-sodium ingredients
Go easy on salty ingredients like cheese, sausage, canned goods, sauces, dressings, seasoning mixes (fajita, taco, etc.), and salty snacks.
Make your own salsa
Restaurant salsas can be loaded with sodium. Make fresh pico de gallo or tomatillo salsa yourself for a low-sodium option.
Healthy Low Sodium Mexican Inspired Recipes
Here are some delicious Mexican recipes lower in sodium:
Marinate shrimp in a tangy mix of lime juice, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and peppers. Serve with low-sodium crackers.
Chicken Fajita Bowl
Sauté chicken breast strips with bell peppers and onions. Serve over cilantro lime rice and beans.
Bake or grill fresh fish like tilapia or cod. Place in corn tortillas with shredded cabbage and fresh pico de gallo.
Fill corn tortillas with shredded chicken, peppers, onions and enchilada sauce. Top with avocado instead of cheese.
Grill onions, peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and corn. Place in a whole wheat tortilla with avocado or beans.
Top a bed of greens with ground turkey or chicken, black beans, fresh salsa, avocado and baked unsalted tortilla strips.
The Bottom Line
Yes, many popular Mexican dishes are high in sodium. But by choosing fresh, whole food ingredients, controlling portions, and limiting salt, cheese, and processed foods, you can still enjoy the delicious flavors of Mexican cuisine while maintaining a healthy sodium intake.
Being mindful of sodium levels and making smart menu picks goes a long way. With some simple substitutions and smart preparation techniques, Mexican food can be a healthy, colorful part of your diet.