Living in San Diego, we have a great opportunity to eat authentic Mexican cuisine. When many people think of Mexican food, they may think about all the calories associated with it. But, Mexican food doesn’t have to be high in calories or fat. In fact, like most other cuisines Mexican food can be healthy when you know what foods to add or stay away from. A few simple tips can take you from being afraid of Mexican food to embracing and enjoying it in no time.

1. Side show

Just as a salad can be overloaded with condiments that take it from healthy to fatty, so it is with Mexican food. Many dishes may come with sour cream, cheese, refried beans or guacamole standard, but the best way to avoid unnecessary calories is to ask for those items on the side. When putting these food items on the side, you are able to control the extra calories you consume.

2. Neither corn or flour

Usually, when given the option I choose flour torillas to go along with my dish. That all changed when I realized that just the torilla alone will net you about 150-400 extra calories per serving. Now, when I order out in a Mexican restaurant I choose corn tortillas; which contain less calories and are typically smaller than flour torillas. Also, another way to reduce calories is to order food that doesn’t come with tortillas as an option.

3. Side of greens instead of beans

Instead of the traditional rice and beans with your meal, try ordering a side salad instead. It’s a pretty decent way to limit the amount of calories you consume with your meal. And, don’t forget to have them put the dressing on the side.

4. Margarita Mondays

Margaritas are a staple in any Mexican establishment. While they are tasty, margaritas are full of calories and just one can derail you fitness efforts. For a regular size cocktail, you are looking at about 300 calories. If you order a pitcher or super size it, that’s adding more calories. All your hard work could be lost to just a few drinks. Instead, if you want to drink, consume a glass of water first. That will quench your thirst and reduce your chances of over-consuming high calorie, alcoholic beverages.

5. I’ll have another please…. another choice that is

In addition to skipping the margaritas, you can substitute other, less calorie-ridden drinks and enjoy a cocktail. Things such as a glass of wine, mojito or shot of tequila all pack less calories than a margarita or other fruity drinks.

6. Beans are good?

While legumes in general are a good source of protein, not all are made equal. Re-fried beans are not a good choice when you are trying to mind your diet. Black beans are a better choice as a side and many Mexican restaurants will gladly serve those instead.

7. Chips and Salsa – Free Gift?

Salsa is a wise condiment choice. However, when you make a meal of those chips and salsa, you may have consumed just as many calories as you would during dinner… and the entree hasn’t even arrived yet. Soups and other house favorites are just the appetizers to hold you over before the main meal arrives.

8. Preparation is key

When you consider what to order from a Mexican restaurant, be sure to think about how a dish is prepared. If it’s fried, made with lard or other harmful fats or just drenched in butter or other oils, be sure to stay away from order it. As a general rule, anything that is grilled, steamed or poached will pack much less calories and taste just as good.

9. Back to basics

No matter what type of cuisine you choose, if you order chicken, tofu, fish or vegetables you will be in headed in the right direction because they are naturally lower in calories. Beef or other meats will be higher in calories. Keep that in mind when you decide what type of food to get.

Overall, ordering Mexican food doesn’t have to be a scary thing. As long as you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be able to navigate Mexican cuisine to suit your diet and ensure all your hard work isn’t in vain.