Why Is Mexican Food So Unhealthy?

Mexican cuisine often gets a bad rap for being fatty, greasy, and just plain bad for you. But is it inherently unhealthy, or does it depend on preparation and ingredients? The truth is that authentic Mexican food can be good for you, but certain dishes have earned it a reputation for being less than nutritious.

Traditional Mexican Cuisine Features Healthy Ingredients

Traditional Mexican cooking focuses on simple, fresh ingredients like:

  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Herbs

These foods contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. When prepared using healthy cooking techniques, traditional Mexican fare can be very good for you.

The abundance of veggies and lean proteins shows that classic Mexican cuisine can be nutritious and good for you.

Fried Foods and Unhealthy Fats Can Be Issues

So when did Mexican food get labeled as unhealthy? Some of the blame lies in preparation methods and ingredients that increase fat, calories, and sodium.


Dishes like tacos, chimichangas, and tortas are often fried, adding extra grease and calories. The oil used for frying can also be high in unhealthy fats if lard or shortening is used rather than heart-healthy oils.

Fatty Meats

Some Mexican dishes feature fatty cuts of meat, like pork belly in carnitas. While delicious, these meats hike up saturated fat intake.

Sauces and Toppings

Rich sauces and heavy toppings can also weigh down otherwise fresh Mexican food. Think extra cheese, sour cream, mayo, and creamy sauces. These toppings add a ton of calories.

You Can Make Healthier Choices

Luckily, there are solutions for enjoying Mexican food without going overboard on fat and calories. Here are some healthy hacks:

  • Choose grilled or baked proteins like fish, chicken, and lean steak
  • Ask for corn tortillas instead of flour
  • Load up on veggie fillings like tomatoes, onions, peppers, and avocado
  • Opt for table salsa instead of heavy queso or sour cream
  • Enjoy dishes like fajitas and soft tacos for built-in portion control
  • Use fresh lime instead of fatty sauces for flavor
  • Limit chips and only take a taste of rice/beans

With a few simple tweaks, Mexican cuisine can be fresh, nutritious, and light while still full of authentic flavor.

Spice Levels Can Also Cause Issues

Another reason Mexican food gets blamed for tummy troubles is the liberal use of chili peppers and spicy seasonings. These can irritate your stomach and cause discomfort.

Some potential effects of spicy Mexican fare include:

  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Spice tolerance varies by the individual. If you have issues, customize your food by requesting mild salsa or no jalapeños. Drinking water with your meal can also help.

High Fiber Can Lead to Bloating

In addition to spices, the high fiber content in Mexican dishes may cause bloating or gas for some people.

Beans, whole grains, and certain veggies are high in fiber but unfortunately hard for some bodies to digest. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms.

Solutions include:

  • Gradually increase high-fiber foods
  • Have Beano on hand to help break down fibers
  • Choose lower fiber options like white rice or fewer beans

Being mindful of your personal tolerance for fiber can help minimize discomfort.

Individual Sensitivities Play a Role

Some ingredients commonly used in Mexican cooking may cause problems for certain people:

  • Onions, garlic, peppers – digestive issues
  • Beans, corn, grains – gas and bloating
  • Dairy ingredients – lactose intolerance
  • Oily/fried foods – diarrhea

You may have a personal sensitivity to certain foods. Try an elimination diet or ask your doctor for allergy testing. Then, customize your Mexican order accordingly.

It’s Possible to Find a Healthy Balance

Despite its reputation, it’s entirely possible to enjoy Mexican food as part of a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips:

Focus on Balance

Aim for balance at each meal, with:

  • Lean protein – chicken, fish, steak
  • Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa
  • Veggies – peppers, onions, spinach
  • Healthy fats – avocado, olive oil

Control Portions

Be mindful of portion sizes, as large servings quickly increase calories. Tacos and fajitas neatly package food into appropriate single servings.

Pick Healthy Cooking Methods

Opt for grilled, baked, or steamed dishes rather than fried. Ask for oil and butter to be left off.

Avoid Heavy Toppings

Order sauces, cheese, and sour cream on the side to control how much you eat. Load up on fresh salsas and pico de gallo for flavor instead.

Make Customizations

Don’t be afraid to ask for foods made to your preferences. Substitute chicken for steak, hold the cheese, or add extra veggie toppings.

With smart choices and moderation, Mexican food can be a tasty part of an overall healthy diet.

Strategies for Healthy Eating at Mexican Restaurants

Dining out at a Mexican restaurant doesn’t mean you have to derail your healthy eating goals. Here are some menu strategies:

Pick the Right Protein

Choose grilled chicken, shrimp, or steak rather than fatty meats. Ask for no extra oil or butter.

Double the Veggies

Get extra lettuce, tomato, peppers, onions, and other fresh veggies in your tacos, bowls, and other dishes.

Enjoy Small Bites

Tacos, flautas, tamales and other petite dishes keep portions controlled. Resist over-ordering.

Avoid Fried Foods

Say no to chimichangas, chalupas, churros, and other fried fare. Stick to baked and grilled items.

Easy on the Cheese

Ask for half the normal cheese or just a sprinkle. Load up on flavorful salsa instead.

Sauce on the Side

Request any creamy sauces and dressings be served on the side so you control how much you dip or drizzle.

Make It a “Burrito Bowl”

Skip the tortilla and make a burrito bowl with protein, beans, rice, salsa, and fixings.

Say No to Chips

Pass on the complimentary chips and opt for a side salad instead to increase veggie intake.

Drink Water

Enjoy water with lime instead of patio-pounders like margaritas, beer, or sugary Latin sodas.

Making a few subs and tweaks to your orders allows you to enjoy the bold, fresh flavors of Mexican food guilt-free!

Smart Swaps for Healthier Homemade Mexican Dishes

You can also health-ify your homemade Mexican recipes with some simple ingredient swaps:

  • Use avocado oil instead of lard for cooking
  • Swap baked tortilla chips for fresh jicama and veggies
  • Make “no-frito” pinto beans by skipping added oil
  • Use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
  • Try cauliflower rice instead of white rice
  • Replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat for baked goods
  • Use two egg whites instead of one whole egg

With some easy substitutions, you can lighten up traditionally heavy Mexican dishes.

The Takeaway: Enjoying Mexican Cuisine in a Balanced Way

Mexican food doesn’t have to be a dietary disaster. With some simple tweaks and mindful choices, it’s possible to eat healthfully. Focus on fresh ingredients, healthy fats, lean proteins, and reasonable portions. Avoid fried foods, heavy sauces, and limit chips and rice. With balance and moderation, Mexican cuisine can be delicious and nutritious!

Share your love
Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *