Making a healthy, low-fat, high-protein Mexican meal isn’t too difficult, provided you have the right ingredients.
For the wrapper or shell, consider the La Tortilla Factory Low-Carb Tortillas, or another brand of healthy tortillas or wraps.
But what about the filling?
Generally, you’ll want to fill your taco or burrito with a low-fat protein source. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or an omnivore, there are a number of healthy, great-tasting choices when it comes to fillings:
Lean Ground or Shredded Beef: Believe it or not, there are actually brands and cuts of beef that are almost as lean as chicken breast. Look for 96% fat free (also called “extra lean” ground sirloin or round) at the meat counter. There are a couple of excellent national sources for lean, hormone- and antibiotic-free ground beef, including Laura’s Lean Beef and Maverick Ranch’s Naturalite Extra Lean Ground Beef. The Maverick Ranch 96% lean ground round has 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 60 mg of cholesterol and 22 grams of protein for a 4 ounce serving, putting it on par nutritionally with that perennial favorite of the fit crowd: chicken breast.
Bison/Buffalo: Bison is one of the few red meats that the Mayo Clinic has added to their list of approved, heart-healthy red meats. In almost all regards, it has a better nutritional profile than lean beef, chicken and pork. It has fewer calories, cholesterol and more protein than similar cuts of beef. Also, because it’s grass fed, versus grain fed like most beef cattle, bison is naturally high in heart-healthy Omega 3s and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acids), which some research has suggested may help people reduce bodyfat. Bison is sometimes available in grocery stores (especially specialty food stores) or can be ordered online from places like Maverick Ranch or Big Sky Buffalo. Prepare ground buffalo as you would ground beef. In terms of flavor, it is a bit richer than ground beef, but not gamy at all. Most people can’t tell the difference between the two meats, especially if it’s mixed with taco seasoning.
Shredded Pork Tenderloin: Pork is actually a fairly common meat used in traditional Mexican cooking. Shredded or sliced, pork Tenderloin is a great lean source of protein and provides a nice change from the usual chicken or beef filling. Again, pork tenderloin ounce-for-ounce is about on par with chicken breast in terms of protein, fat and cholesterol.
Chicken Breast: If you don’t eat red meat or pork, ground or sliced chicken breast is a perfect filling for Mexican food. Chicken breast can be prepared like traditional ground-beef taco filling, sliced for fajitas, or even stewed in a little chicken broth with seasoning and shredded with a fork. The shredded version is actually excellent for freezing. So make up a big batch and freeze it in individual 4-6 oz portions that you can just grab when you need it.
Ground Turkey: Extra-lean ground turkey ounce-for-ounce is higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken breast. This makes it a staple as a fitness food. The downside to ground turkey is that it can be somewhat dry, especially the very lean versions. Consider mixing in a bit of chicken broth or water along with your taco seasoning to keep it moist. Be aware that just because it says “ground turkey” doesn’t mean you are getting 100% turkey breast. Often the manufacturer will mix in dark turkey meat or skin, which raises the fat content to something on par with red meat. Look for “Extra Lean” on the label, and always read the nutritional information to be sure. If you are buying it out of your meat case at the grocery store, ask the clerk if it’s 100% turkey breast without the skin included.
Refried Beans or Whole Canned Beans: If you are a vegan, vegetarian or just trying to cut back on your meat and poultry consumption, beans are a great, healthy choice as a taco or burrito filling. Buy the vegatarian version of canned refried beans, since they are lower in fat and won’t contain lard. Canned black or pinto beans are also great choices and can even be a great addition to meat fillings. High in fiber, protein and antioxidents beans are a great way to add nutritional punch (and flavor) to Mexican food. Combined with brown rice, they are a complete protein, which is critical for vegetarians.
Meat Substitutes: There are a number of very good meat substitutes now available that can hold their own against ground beef. Boca Burger and Litelife Gimme Lean both make a vegetarian “ground beef” that has consistency and flavor very similar to ground beef. These soy-based products are very low in fat and cholesterol, low in calories and quite high in protein.
Fish: Okay, I’m saving this one for last. Yes, fish. Anyone from Southern California will be familar with “Fish Tacos.” Finally they are starting to catch on in other parts of the country, and for good reason. Not only are they delicious, but when prepared in a healthy style (meaning, not breaded and fried) they are nutritional powerhouse. High in protein, very low in fat and high in healthy Omega 3 fatty acids, people ought to eat more fish in their tacos. Generally, the best types of fish for fish tacos are mild, white flaky fish like cod, tilapia and even catfish. Dip them in egg white, roll them in panko or whole wheat bread crumbs and bake them in the oven for a tender, slightly crispy addition to your tortilla.
So there you have it, eight fitness-friendly taco and burrito fillings (they also are great additions to taco salads.)
Next up, healthy toppings that will make you forget that you’re eating food that’s actually good for you.