Dietitian's Corner: 3 Ways to Lean Out Latin & Mexican Cuisine

Tacos and corn salsa and pico de gallo on a wooden table

Created by: Allison Kuhn, RD, LD, Corporate Dietitian for The Kroger Co.

Sour cream…fried tortillas…guacamole. If you’re watching your waistline, it’s hard not to get a little anxious when Mexican or Latin American cuisine is on the menu. But did you know that in addition to these (in)famous diet-detour temptations, Mexican and Latin menus also are known for a number of nutrient-dense, healthful offerings?

Here are 3 easy ways you can serve up a fiesta of flavor—without an extra serving of saturated fat and sodium.

1. Customize Your Salsa

One Mexican favorite that’s a dieter’s best friend is salsa. It’s fat-free and full of flavor—so you’ll want to double down on this condiment while getting your guac on a bit more sparingly. That’s why it’s crucial that you serve up a salsa that will be a treat to your taste buds. The best way to do that is DIY-style.

Salsa is a food that is widely open to interpretation. Generally speaking, it’s a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers. Dicing these ingredients by hand creates a nice chunky salsa, but can also take a lot of time. Never fear! The tools for a speedier salsa are likely already in your pantry.

Simply blend 1 can of diced tomatoes, ½ fresh onion (roughly chopped), ½ bunch fresh cilantro (leaves only), ½ de-seeded fresh jalapeno, and 1 peeled garlic clove. Then add whatever other spices your heart desires for a customized condiment.

Another bonus to this method? Canned tomatoes actually have more lycopene, a vitamin A-like compound, than fresh tomatoes.

2. Tackle High-Sodium Taco Seasonings

That classic packet of taco seasoning may be bringing an excessive amount of sodium to your table. How about making your own salt-free taco seasoning? A huge benefit of ethnic-themed foods is their reliance on herbs and spices, not salt, for fantastic flavor. So capitalize on this health opportunity and crack open that spice cabinet!

Mix together 2 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cumin, 1 Tbsp. paprika, 1 Tbsp. onion powder, and 2 tsp. garlic powder. Make a large batch and keep on hand for making taco meat, sprinkling inside quesadillas, and for use in seasoning Mexican vegetable medleys.

3. Ditch the High-Fat Dairy

The whole enchilada is probably not on your plate if you’re trying to avoid weight gain—at the very least, you’re probably skipping the sour cream and cheese toppings. But don’t get caught in another dairy detour: cream cheese. It seems like every party has at least 2 or 3 cream-cheese based dips or dishes. While these are party favorites, cream cheese adds a significant amount of saturated fat to foods.

Try this as an alternative: drained yogurt, also known as “yogurt cheese.” This is prepared by placing yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and allowing it to drain in the refrigerator for several hours. The more liquid that is drained, the thicker it becomes.

Since yogurt is already a nutrient-dense, lower fat option, a drained yogurt with its cream cheese type consistency is really a nutrition trade-up! Use as a base for your creamy dips, and make sure to set out sliced veggies along with chips. Bonus: use it to top that enchilada instead of the sour cream!