15 Lightened Up & Low Carb Mexican Food Swaps

On a recent date night, my husband and I went to our favorite Mexican restaurant. Somehow, we both ordered dishes that were heavier than we expected—which, on top of the chips and guacamole, left us feeling less than our best. (Which is not exactly what you want from a rare night out without the kid.) Since then, I’ve been trying to lighten up our weekly Mexican dinner at home with a few simple low carb and healthy Mexican food swaps.

In addition to just helping you feel lighter after a meal, these healthful swaps are also the easiest way to pack more produce into your daily diet. They are perfect for warmer weather, sure, but with classic Mexican flavors, they’re also a super simple way to get kids on board with a more healthful dinner.



When a recipe calls for…
Use this instead
Flour tortillas in tacos Bibb lettuceDelicate yet crunchy large Bibb lettuce leaves are a deliciously fresh substitution for flour tortillas in almost any taco recipe.
Corn tortillas in tacos KaleLarge kale leaves pack B vitamins, as well as vitamins A and C—not to mention crunch—and make for a nice base for taco fillings.
Tortilla chips in nachos Sweet potatoesSliced into rounds and baked until tender with a little olive oil, sweet potatos provide a subtly sweet base for nachos that pairs well with even the spiciest salsa.
White rice Cauliflower rice – With a similar texture but none of the carbs, cauliflower rice is a light base for beans and rice—or your favorite Mexican meat dish.

Refried beans Black beans – Skip the added fat in refried beans and go with antioxidant-packed black beans instead.
Queso fresco Avocado – Fresh and full of healthy fats, avocado provides richness without the saturated fat of queso fresco.
Shredded cheese (sub 1) Sliced jicama – Jicama, which when sliced into matchstick-size pieces is crunchy and fresh, has a similar look to shredded white cheese. Try it on tacos.

Shredded cheese (sub 2) Shredded carrots – Sneak in some vitamins and fiber by using shredded carrots instead of cheese in tacos, burrito bowls, and more.

Breaded fried fish Grilled fish – Lose the oil and the heavy breading (and the associated fat and calories) by opting for grilled fish tacos instead of fried.

Ground beef in tacos Lentils – Lower your intake of saturated fat by using lentils instead of ground beef in your standard taco filling (or use half and half!).

Sour cream Plain greek yogurt – Up your protein intake without losing the creamy texture you love by opting for plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Crunchy taco shells Romaine lettuce – Fresh romaine has a satisfying crunch that rivals fried tortilla shells, not to mention loads of vitamins A and C.
Crushed tortilla chips Roasted and salted pepitas – Skip fried chips made with carb-heavy corn and opt for the naturally crunchy texture of pepita seeds (sometimes called pumpkin seeds).

Corn Yellow squash – Whether in corn salsa, chili, or soup, trading in diced yellow squash for corn can instantly lighten up a dish.

White rice Quinoa – Since quinoa isn’t technically a grain (it’s related to beets and chard), it’s good way to get more protein and less carbs when used in place of white rice.

Image: Peach Lopez / EyeEm / Getty

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