While the fast food Mexican chains spreading across the country may not produce the most authentic fare, their cheap eats are certainly popular -- and tasty.
The last 20 years have seen a boom in these chains, HuffPost's Latino Voices reported earlier this year, although many have questioned the authenticity of a Taco Bell nachos or a Chipotle burrito "bowl."
"The burrito and chimichanga aren't really familiar foods to most Mexicans from Mexico. They are much more Mexican-American or Tex-Mex than they are real Mexican food," John Mariani, food critic and author of "How Italian Food Conquered The World," told Latino Voices.
If our expanding waistbands are any indication, Americans are happy to opt for taste over authenticity.
That's why we asked Heather Bauer, R.D., C.D.N., author of "Bread is the Devil" and HuffPost blogger, to talk us through some of her favorite ways to make the healthiest choices when ordering Mexican. Arm yourself with these savvy tricks, and let us know in the comments how you make healthier choices to go.
Be Careful With Chips
When your to-go order includes a brown bag stuffed to the brim with warm tortilla chips, it can be tempting to keep dipping back into the stash. But stick to a handful -- a big one's okay -- says Bauer, and put it on a plate so you're not tempted to keep reaching. <br><br> Salsa, however, since it's so notoriously low in calories, is essentially unlimited, she says. <br><br> If you're ordering takeout from a slightly more upscale joint, try asking for <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2727/2" target="_hplink">sliced jicama</a> to dip in your salsa instead of chips, she suggests. You'll get a boost of filling fiber with no fat and very few calories. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mandydale/338773195/" target="_hplink">mandydale</a></em>
Go Easy On Guacamole
There's no doubt that avocado is good for us, but everything in moderation. A 7.5-ounce serving of chips and guac at Chipotle will set you back 40 grams of fat. Yes, some of that is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/holly-b-clegg/foods-to-boost-mental-health_b_969085.html#s368409&title=Avocado" target="_hplink">heart-healthy monounsaturated fat</a>, but a person eating around 2,000 calories a day only needs around <a href="http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity Files/Nutrition/DRIs/5_Summary Table Tables 1-4.pdf" target="_hplink">44 grams of fat a day total</a> -- this <em>appetizer</em> nearly reaches that limit! <br><br> Stick to two big spoonfuls, says Bauer. "Put that on your plate and don't go in for seconds," she says. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimg944/5335998867/" target="_hplink">jimg944</a></em>
Swap Nachos For Tostadas
A plate of <a href="http://www.tacobell.com/food/menuitem/Volcano-Nachos" target="_hplink">Volcano Nachos at Taco Bell</a> adds up to almost 1,000 calories, 60 grams of fat and 1,590 milligrams of sodium. Hopefully, you're sharing any time you order nachos, but be smart about toppings, too. Pick between guac, cheese and sour cream, says Bauer. Otherwise you're piling on too much fat. <br><br> Can't resist the craving for a heaping pile of toppings on a crunchy base? <em>Men's Health</em> recommends <a href="http://eatthis.menshealth.com/slideshow/10-ways-eat-healthy-mexican-cantina" target="_hplink"> opting for a tostada instead</a>: <blockquote>This dish is made by taking a crispy corn tortilla, and loading it with a heap of beans, meat, cheese and salsa. Ordinarily that sort of pileup approach would lead to trouble, but with the tostada, the perimeter of the corn shell halts the expansion before it gets out of hand. The result: A delicious, spicy meal for about 300 calories.</blockquote> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3014275639/" target="_hplink">stevendepolo</a></em>
Unwrap Your Burrito
When it comes to burritos, it all comes down to portion size, and nowadays chains serve up wraps the size of your head, and, if you're not careful, more than <a href="http://www.chipotle.com/en-US/menu/nutrition_calculator/nutrition_calculator.aspx" target="_hplink">half a day's allotment of calories</a>. <br><br> When you don't have control over the size, you can at least ditch the tortilla. Opting for a Burrito Bowl at Chipotle drops your total calorie count by almost 300, even with all the fixings. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/4180671692/" target="_hplink">Mr. T in DC</a></em>
Making your own at home is one thing, but when you're ordering a quesadilla to go, Bauer is skeptical. "You don't know how much cheese they use or how much oil. You may be better off skipping that," she says. <br><br> Try switching up your order for a fajita instead. "Everything's on the side," Bauer explains, so you control what goes into the mix. When it comes to fillings, fajitas are often heavy on the veggies, and you can pick a lean protein like chicken or shrimp. <br><br> For any entrée that comes with sides of rice and beans, she adds, stick to fist-sized portions of each. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/annethelibrarian/5649548655/" target="_hplink">annethelibrarian</a></em>
Tacos = Instant Portion Control
"From a volume standpoint, it can be easier," Bauer says of tacos, since a standard order of two or three will be closer to an appropriate serving than that gigantic burrito. <br><br> Stick to soft-shelled tacos, since those aren't fried, and lean options when it comes to protein, like grilled chicken or fresh fish, she says. <br><br> You'll find some refreshingly figure-friendly options even in the most surprising of Mexican fast food joints. Taco Bell's Fresco menu, for example, boasts a 150-calorie <a href="http://www.tacobell.com/food/menuitem/Fresco-Grilled-Steak-Soft-Taco" target="_hplink">Grilled Steak Soft Taco</a> with only 4 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein. <br><br> How'd they manage to cut back from the <a href="http://www.tacobell.com/food/tacos/Soft-Taco-Supreme" target="_hplink">Soft Taco Supreme</a> with beef, which contains 230 calories and 11 grams of fat? The secret's in the toppings: the Fresco pick is decked out with just lettuce, tomatoes and salsa. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/6190737115/" target="_hplink">stevendepolo</a> </em>
Beware The Salad Shell
The word "salad" tricks many healthy-minded diners into ordering a massive meal disguised as a smart choice in all variety of restaurants. On Mexican menus, anything that comes in a crunchy tortilla "bowl" is a bad idea, as the shell can add hundreds of calories and a heaping dose of fat. The <a href="http://www.qdoba.com/menu-nutrition/mango-salad-menu-nutrition" target="_hplink">Crunchy Flour Tortilla Bowl</a> at Qdoba, for example, adds 390 calories and 22 grams of fat to a dish that would otherwise be a smart pick. <br><br> Or consider that salads at Baja Fresh all run 300 to 600 calories -- before dressing -- except for those in a shell, which are <a href="http://www.bajafresh.com/nutritionals.php" target="_hplink">900 to 1,200 calories</a>! <br><br> Instead, stick to a base of just lettuce, then added grilled chicken or shrimp, salsa and any kind of fajita veggies, like peppers or onions, plus fresh tomatoes, says Bauer. Beans can add an extra hit of protein and fiber, she adds, but opt for black or pinto over refried. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/heatheronhertravels/6934821026/" target="_hplink">heatheronhertravels</a></em>
Make Over Your Margarita
While only some restaurants will let you take one to go, we can't ignore the fact that margaritas are one of the big draws of Mexican food, especially now that the weather is warm. <br><br> But many are <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2006/12/06/fattening-drinks-cocktails-forbeslife-cx_1207cocktails_slide_3.html?thisSpeed=undefined" target="_hplink">loaded with empty calories</a> -- as many as 740, according to Forbes. <br><br> Bauer suggests picking up your takeout, then mixing yourself a slimmed-down version at home, with just tequila on the rocks and some fresh-squeezed lime juice. "It's not going to taste as sweet," she admits, "but you'll save on the calories and sugar." <br><br> Don't forget to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/07/drinking-water-week-more-water_n_1474999.html" target="_hplink">drink a little extra water</a> while you're at it, she adds, since Mexican food can be high in salt. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilovememphis/7023751359/" target="_hplink">ilovememphis</a></em>
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