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Vegan 101: Mexican Restaurants

Eating vegan doesn’t mean you have to miss out on some of your favorite restaurants. This includes Mexican restaurants, which have many tasty options that can meet your nutritional needs. Here’s a guide that will help you order vegan when you want to eat South of the border.

Mexican Starters

Salsa and guacamole with tortilla chips are a go-to vegan appetizer. Nachos can also be made vegan by skipping the cheese and sour cream, and substituting in beans and avocado.

Tortilla chips can come packed with saturated fat and sodium, so stick to one handful or ask for a side of steamed corn tortillas instead.

Black bean soup is often made vegan. Ask your server if their version has been made with vegetable stock and skip any dairy toppings.

Vegan-Style Fajitas, Burritos, Tacos

Veggie fajitas are a nutritious entree choice as they usually contain at least a full serving of vegetables and can be customized to fit your taste. Choose corn tortillas, as they often have less saturated fat than flour tortillas. Skip any sour cream or cheese, and top with guacamole and salsa instead.

Order burritos and tacos filled with tofu or beans instead of meat. If available, tofu is an excellent protein choice because it contains a large amount of protein with very little saturated fat. Fill your burrito or tacos with as many vegetable choices available to get the most bang for your nutrition buck.

Quesadillas can be made vegan by skipping the cheese and substituting in vegan refried beans. Also, you can request that it be filled with vegetables such as corn, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms.

Hidden Ingredients in Mexican Food

Even after skipping the meat and cheese, you may still find non-vegan items hidden in some of the menu items found in a Mexican restaurant.

Guacamole is most often made vegan. However, some restaurants add sour cream to their guacamole, so be sure to ask if it’s dairy-free.

Refried beans and pinto beans are sometimes cooked with lard, bacon or chicken broth. Many restaurants denote whether they’re vegetarian on the menu. If that’s not the case, ask your server if black beans are available, as they’re usually a vegan option. If you spot black beans anywhere on the menu, you can request that they be used instead.

Mexican rice can be cooked with chicken stock and butter. If it’s made vegan, order a side of rice and beans. Together, rice and beans are a complete source of vegan protein, meaning that they contains all of the essential amino acids.

Queso dip is an appetizer that contains cheese and ground beef. This dish can be high in saturated fat and sodium. If vegan refried beans are available, order a side to mix with salsa for a vegan bean dip to take the place of queso dip.

Tamales and empanadas might have lard or shortening in the dough. Ask if they’re made with one of these ingredients or with regular oil. You’ll want to avoid shortening anyway as it can have some unhealthy trans fats from hydrogenated oils.

Crema is a sour cream-based sauce that’s used to top enchiladas or tacos. Restaurants usually use full-fat sour cream, which is high in saturated fat. Skip the crema and opt for more salsa or guacamole instead.

Bobby is the community and social media manager at Zipongo. He has a degree in nutrition and dietetics and previously worked as a health educator.

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