Ready for a fiesta? This Saturday marks the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo (and no, it's not Mexican independence day -- click here for the whole story). But no matter your heritage, for many of us the fifth of May has become an excuse to load up on a (not-so) healthy dose of calorie-laden nachos, dips and margaritas.
Not to be party poopers, but the truth is that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is about being consistent. And consistency means making smart choices -- whether it's a weekend, a Wednesday, a vacation or, yup, even a holiday, explains HuffPost blogger Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., author of "The Flexitarian Diet." "You don’t have to be perfect, but just remember to always be doing a little bit better," she tells The Huffington Post. "Not perfect, but progress."
When it comes to Mexican cuisine, one way to achieve that goal is by getting back to basics. "Mexican food is inherently simple ingredients," says Julie Upton, R.D., co-founder of AppForHealth.com. "Just stick with the simple ingredients. There’s no reason you have to do a seven-layer dip."
In that spirit, here are 10 simple ways to make your Cinco de Mayo feast satisfying, tasty and guilt-free.
Make Over Your Chips
For a healthier chip for your dips, Blatner suggests making your own. Start out with corn tortillas (about 50 calories apiece and, unlike the flour version, made from whole grain) and use kitchen shears or a pizza cutter to form them into chip shapes. Mist with a light cooking spray, like coconut oil or safflower oil, and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for five to six minutes, she says. You can also season them with spices to make flavored chips, or even cut them into small strips to help keep portions in check. "Chips can be one of those things that are really easy to overeat," she says. <br><br> If DIY chips aren't your thing, be sure to buy a baked variety to cut back on oil and salt, suggests <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cheryl-forberg-rd" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</a> and author Cheryl Forberg, R.D., a James Beard award-winning chef and former nutritionist for "The Biggest Loser." And don't be tricked by a bag that says "multigrain" -- that term isn't regulated and could just mean multiple processed grains. Instead, look for the words "whole grain" somewhere on the bag, she says.
Pass The Guacamole
"Don't say no to guac," Forberg says. While this Cinco de Mayo staple gets a bad rap for being high in fat, those are actually <em>good</em> fats. Plus, it's loaded with vitamins and fiber. But it <em>is</em> high in calories, so watch portion size (about a quarter of an avocado is ideal). <br><br> For a lower-calorie version, Blatner suggests creating a salsa/guacamole hybrid. Chop up a ton of small, diced tomatoes, onions and jalapeno peppers and mix them in with pureed avocado and cilantro. Then, add in a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt for extra flavor. "This adds volume and bulk without calories," she explains.
Load Up On Salsa
"Remember that salsa counts as a vegetable serving," Forberg says, explaining that this dip is filled with vitamin C and the <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lycopene/NS_patient-lycopene" target="_hplink">antioxidant-packed lycopene</a>. "Put it on everything." <br><br> One topping you <em>should</em> avoid? Sour cream, which is loaded with cholesterol. "Fat-free Greek yogurt is just as creamy and luscious," she says.
Lighten Up Your Tacos
Usually people will start a taco recipe by using a lean beef or turkey, Blatner says -- do one better by subbing out half of that meat for finely chopped mushrooms or lentils. Both will slash calories, and the <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2482/2" target="_hplink">mushrooms are a great source</a> of niacin, copper, selenium and other nutrients, while the <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4338/2" target="_hplink">lentils are loaded with</a> fiber and folate. <br><br> Prep the meat mix with taco seasoning, serve up on a shell, and you'll have a healthier (cheaper) spin that tastes just as good as the original. "It's crazy how you can't really tell," Blatner says. <br><br> For an even lighter version, Blatner suggests, eat your tacos salad-style, with tons of romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, green onions and peppers, along with a dollop of meat and a smashed taco shell on top to satisfy the craving for crunch.
Pick Your Fat
"Tacos can get out of hand because there's sour cream, cheese and guacamole," Blatner says. "Pick your favorite." <br><br> The same goes with burritos and nachos -- choosing one can satisfy a craving, while choosing all three can create a calorie bomb on your plate.
Go With Fish
For a new twist on tacos, try fish. Blatner suggests prepping a white fish, like tilapia or sea bass, by either broiling or grilling it -- crisping it up in the pan with too much oil or frying it will negate the health benefits. Then serve in a corn tortilla with a cabbage slaw and a squeeze of lime. This option is lower cal than traditional tacos, and loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fats. <br><br> Added bonus? Fish tacos naturally don't go with the more fat-laden components of traditional tacos. "It is a major culinary violation if you are putting cheese and sour cream on a fish taco," Blatner jokes.
Rethink Your Burrito
"Where do most of the calories actually come from in a burrito?" Blatner asks. "The shell." Consider swapping out for a burrito bowl, loaded with rice (preferably brown), beans, protein and lots of healthy vegetables. <br><br> If a burrito just isn't a burrito without the shell for you, skip the rice -- you don't need an extra carb. And stick with one protein, either beans or meat, she says.
Nix The Nachos
This one's probably a no-brainer, but fried chips, tons of cheese and fatty meat do not a healthy dish make. "Nachos are one of the worst things," Upton says. <br><br> For a healthier appetizer, she suggests a fresher, easier option: Mix up black beans, garbanzo beans, cumin, cilantro and chopped onion to make a bean dip/salsa hybrid. <br><br> If you absolutely can't pass on this one, build a healthier version. Blatner suggests starting out with the homemade chips (see slide 1), and piling on lots of jalapenos and cilantro. Then choose one protein and one fat (see slide 5). <br><br> And remember that a little cheese goes a long way. <br><br> "If you're making the nachos, a little sprinkle of cheese over the top is all that's needed to taste cheese in every bite," Forberg says. "You don't have to drown it with cups of shredded cheese." <br><br> When eating, Blatner suggests portioning out a reasonable amount on a single plate instead of sharing from a communal platter. "Take a mental snapshot and then proceed to eat," she says.
Pile On Herbs And Spices
Pretty much any kind of herb or spice has more antioxidants per ounce than almost any other type of food, Upton explains. So when making at-home recipes, throw in an extra pinch or dash of hot peppers, cilantro, cumin, chipotle or adobe. "It's only going to augment the health benefits of what you're eating," she says. <br><br> Extra perk: Research suggests that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/04/how-to-improve-your-metabolism-_n_818356.html" target="_hplink">capsaicin</a>, a compound in chili peppers, can give your body a metabolic boost, Upton explains.
A Mexican meal might not feel complete without an ice-cold margarita, but the truth is that this traditional treat is loaded with sugar and <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/325943-the-calories-in-a-margarita-drink/" target="_hplink">hundreds of calories</a>. <br><br> One fun swap is a beer-a-rita. Blatner says to take a <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/nutrition-calories/food/corona/corona-light/" target="_hplink">105-calorie Corona Light</a> and mix it with a ton of fresh lime juice -- serve in a salt-rimmed glass and it won't even taste like a beer anymore. <br><br> If that doesn't do the trick for you, mix up an original margarita (just tequila, triple sec and lime juice) and dilute it with club soda to make a margarita spritzer, she says. <br><br> And if you're simply a margarita purist, Forberg says to go ahead and have <em>one</em> -- but then switch to white wine or an equally festive sangria. <br><br> Remember, too, to enjoy alcohol in moderation -- <a href="http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Alcoholic-Beverages-and-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_305864_Article.jsp" target="_hplink">according to the American Heart Association</a>, that means one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. If you want to skip drinking altogether (Bravo! Margaritas are really just empty calories, not to mention that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and cause you to eat more than you need to, according to Upton), try sipping a seltzer water with tons of lime.