Making Tacos a Healthy Choice

Plate of Carne Asada Tacos

Tacos have been around since before the Europeans arrived in Mexico. The term actually comes from the word plug/wadding, that soon evolved into light lunch.

Tacos have, for years, been a junk food staple in the United States and Canada because of our familiarity with fast-food restaurants or store bought taco kits that serve them filled with ground beef, cheese and sour cream. However, tacos can be prepared so that they are actually healthy. Of course we are not talking about the dish we are used to seeing wrapped up in paper and accompanied by a side of fried tortilla chips and melted cheese product. No, in order for tacos to be a part of a healthy diet some things have to change.

The Shell
Fried hard taco shells date back to a cookbook called The good life: New Mexican food published in 1949. These crisp shells are fried in oil until golden brown; a process that gives them their unique U shape. But we all know by now that soaking anything in hot oil is going to add calories and fat. Instead, opt for a steamed flour tortilla to cut back on the calories. Better still, go authentic and use a soft corn tortilla that has been steamed. These have even less calories than their flour counterparts and are more filling.

The Main Ingredient
When we think of tacos we often conjure up images of ground beef soaking in an orange liquid. That is because the seasoning has been soaking mixed with the fats that have cooked off the meat.

Some people have tried to substitute ground turkey breast for ground beef, but that gives the meat a sweeter taste. Instead, go with some thinly sliced steak like sirloin or grilled chicken breast. Either of these will taste much better than the cheap ground meat used in the fast food joints. Simply brown the meat in some olive oil and then add a bit of water to the pan along with some ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and salt. And of course seafood lovers will certainly want to try out fish tacos or even shrimp filled tacos.

For an extra kick, try some habanero-flavored olive oil from one of those boutique oil shops.

Supplemental Protein
Most of the time tacos are served with refried beans and rice. Beans are considered healthy; refried beans are not. Instead of slopping brown bean paste on the side of your plate, heat up some pinto beans and add them to the taco filling. This adds some flavor as well as extra protein and fiber. If you have room, toss a small bit of rice in there for some added texture.

The Fillings
Authentic Mexican tacos come with many different fillings, but most consist of chunks of beef served with raw onions and cilantro, that’s all. Again, the fillings that we expect to go along with tacos are usually a touch of lettuce, a few pieces of diced tomato and then a heap of what is supposed to pass for cheddar cheese and sour cream. First, leave the sour cream off unless it’s a fat free or light version. Even still, go easy with it. Next, the cheese needs to be a lower fat option and it shouldn’t over power the taste of the meat.

Now is where you can get interesting. This is a perfect opportunity to get some colorful vegetables into your diet. Start with corn. Heat up some frozen kernels of corn and add them to your tacos for a real southwest touch. Lettuce and tomatoes are great, but why not add some purple cabbage for a nice crunch? You can also get the benefit of adding avocado by spreading a bit of guacamole on your tacos. We have heard for years that guacamole is high in fat, but remember that the fats come from avocado and they are healthy fats. Of course for those who want the health benefits of capsaicin, toss some sliced jalapeno or habanero pepper into the mix.

We already knocked the traditional taco side dishes, so we have no other choice than to offer some alternatives.

Instead of the rice and refried beans, black beans and rice or pinto beans and rice offer a nice alternative. But for the truly adventurous, and authentic, try some sliced jicama with lime-juice and adobo seasoning. Make sure, however, that you peel away the fibrous skin as it contains a chemical called rotenene that can be toxic.

The best thing about making tacos with the ingredients listed here is not only that they are healthy, but that they will taste far better that those soggy excuses for a meal that you can get in a fast food restaurant.

How do you make your tacos healthy? What are the secret ingredients you like to add to your taco recipe? Share your thoughts with us!

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About Jeff Orloff

Jeff writes about foods and recipes that work well with programs like Weight Watchers and eDiets He regularly contributes to blogs that offer information about healthy meal options and popular diet plans. He is married and enjoys spending time with his family and coaching youth football and basketball. You can follow him on Twitter @Jeorl.


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