But I Just Want Some Tacos!?!

by in Healthy Recipes, Meal Makeovers, May 5, 2010
Ricotta Spinach Tacos
Ricotta-Spinach Tacos - Photo by Antonis Achilleos/Food Network Magazine

When you’re craving Mexican food, tacos top the list of need-to-have foods. With some simple swaps, tacos can be part of a healthy diet — read through our tips to find out how to order (or make them yourself).

Baked, Not Fried
It’s all about the taco shell. Instead of the messy, fried shells, choose a baked soft shell or soft corn tortillas. Many markets now carry multigrain and whole-wheat flour tortillas — those are good choices to up your fiber.

The Proteins
Whether it’s chicken, pork or beef, always choose the leaner cuts and trim the fat or skin. Here’s a list of the leanest choices:

  • Pork: tenderloin or loin
  • Beef: sirloin or flank steak
  • Chicken: skinless breast

If you’re using ground beef, lighten it up by adding beans or TVP (texturized vegetable protein) for part of the beef.

Don’t count out fish and veggies — shrimp, tilapia and mahi-mahi make a mean taco. If you want to go meatless, grill up veggies like peppers, onions or zucchini or just go for good old rice and beans.

The Add-Ins
The high-fat toppers include guacamole, cheese and sour cream — most folks add too much and cause the calories to soar. Keep these tips in mind when you’re stuffing your taco:

  • Choose one or two higher fat ingredients — or just don’t buy one of them so you’re less tempted to use it (I typically skip the sour cream). Use only one tablespoon of these high fat toppers on each taco.
  • Substitute for high fat ingredients — try reduced fat sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt and lower-fat cheeses instead of the full fat varieties.
  • Pile on the salsa — it’s low in calories with tons of vitamins C.
  • Spice it up with a dash or two (or three) of hot sauce — it also has very few calories
  • Pile on the veggies — they have fiber to help fill you up

Rice and beans are another side that goes into tacos — since you already have carbs from the taco shell or wrap, skip the rice. That way you can have one or two more tacos instead. If you really need your rice and beans, try one of these lightened-up recipes.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (10)

  1. Kathy Carl says:

    Fresh Grilled tuna makes great tacos. They serve them at Chili Peppers Restaruant on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. What a meal!

  2. Karen says:

    Another option for those who (like me) are watching their carb intake is to swap a crisp lettuce leaf for a high-calorie taco shell or tortilla. If you think about it, it's the filling of the taco that we all love, right? And if all you need is a crispy holder for all that taco-y goodness, why not try a 2-calorie crunchy romaine lettuce leaf instead of the 80-115 calories that a "healthy" low-carb, high-fiber flour tortilla would cost you? For that trade-off, you could easily have 2 or 3 tacos for far less calories than just one taco made with a "low-carb" or regular shell.

    • JoAnnette Sieve says:

      I have a big rhubarb plant and was so happy to see it coming up out of the ground about two weeks ago. I put a cage over it since we have a heavy deer population here in the high country of the Colorado Rockies. I was so mad when I found that they had pushed the cage off and had eaten it to the ground! I put a bigger one on it and secured it to the ground even more. So far, so good. I wonder if it makes deer sick to eat the leaves? Please send me a rhubarb custard pie recipe if you know of one. I had it once and it was really good. Also rhubarb/strawberry jam please… sjoannette@yahoo.com

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