We wear our love of Mexican food on our sleeve (sometimes literally... that stain might be from wiping salsa off our faces). Yet sometimes we don't love how we feel after all those greasy tacos, extra-cheesy quesadillas, and bottomless guacamole and margaritas.
Since we're not about to give up our obsession, we set out to figure out the best way to make our favorite burritos at home. By using the best ingredients for each component of your wrap, you'll maximize the nutrition and the flavor. Add a marg, put on a sombrero, and get this fiesta started!
Repeat after us: A bowl is not a burrito. Sure, we'll ditch the wrap when we're feeling heavy on carbs, but when you want the real thing, go for a sprouted whole-grain tortilla. “Sprouted grains are easier to digest, and your body can more easily absorb the protein and minerals,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of the forthcoming book The Superfood Swap Diet.
Blatner recommends omitting any rice. “You already have the tortilla for your whole-grain goodness, and skipping [rice] leaves more room for veggies.” However, if that's sacrilege to you, she says to use quinoa, which has more fiber and protein than brown or white rice.
“It's easy to over-consume fat—and therefore calories—with a burrito,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., nutrition consultant and author of 6 Pillars of Nutrition. “A lean meat like chicken breast gives you the protein you want without further driving the calories too high.” He suggests poaching the chicken in low-sodium broth and then shredding it with two forks.
For vegetarians and vegans, cook lentils with taco spices, Blatner says. You get protein, iron, and fiber with loads of flavor.
Call 'em chickpeas or garbanzo beans, either way they're packed with protein and insoluble fiber, Roussell says. “Upwards of 75 percent of the fiber in them is insoluble, and that's the kind of fiber that feeds bacteria in your gut, keeping your immune system, metabolism, and even brain healthy.” Doesn't hurt that a study found that adding chickpeas to your diet may increase feelings of satiety Chickpea supplementation in an Australian diet affects food choice, satiety and bowel health. Murty CM, Pittaway JK, Ball MJ. Appetite, 2009, Nov.;54(2):1095-8304. .
2-percent sharp cheddar
“What's a burrito without cheese?” says Joy Bauer, R.D.N., founder of Nourish Snacks. (A dietitian after our own heart. ) She recommends 2-percent sharp cheddar since it's lighter in calories but still has all the flavor of the full-fat stuff. Or try pepper jack: The strong flavor means you only need a little to get that melty satisfaction.
- Cabbage. “It looks like romaine lettuce, but it packs the punch of kale since it is from the same cruciferous family of vegetables,” Blatner says.
- Avocado. Did we really have to tell you to add this? “There are not many foods as nutritious as avocado,” Roussell says, adding that they are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and magnesium. And of course the fat boosts satisfaction. Plus, adding avocado may help your body absorb the beta-carotene in the salsa you add Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans is enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Clinton SK. The Journal of nutrition, 2005, Apr.;135(3):0022-3166. .
- Salsa roja. This salsa is made with cooked tomatoes, and cooking enhances the bioavailability of lycopene in tomatoes, Roussell says Lycopene from heat-induced cis-isomer-rich tomato sauce is more bioavailable than from all-trans-rich tomato sauce in human subjects. Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Francis DM. The British journal of nutrition, 2007, Mar.;98(1):0007-1145. . Or choose fresh pico de gallo, which tends to have less sodium than jarred varieties, Blatner says.
- Hot sauce. If you like it spicy, go ahead. “Some studies have shown that hot peppers may help boost metabolism,” Bauer says.