ordering paleo at: mexican restaurants (and in mexico!)



Greetings from Atlanta, where I am celebrating my beautiful sister’s graduation from law school. She’s such a badass – graduating Vandy undergrad in three years with two majors and an honors thesis, then being a total ninja at Emory Law. Next stop: New York big law! I’m very proud to be her delinquent little sister. Here we are celebrating like normal people:

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The best part about my sister graduating? The whole family’s going to Mexico! Holy enchiladas I’m excited.

This isn’t my first time being “mostly paleo” in Mexico – my lovely friend Dea and I celebrated my own graduation from undergrad in Mexico just a year ago. We also behaved like normal people:

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no luchadores (or chicas) were harmed in the taking of this photo 

This post is about staying healthy while enjoying Mexican food and drinks. Let me preface by saying that I am in no way an expert in Mexican cuisine. These recommendations are based on my experiences traveling in Mexico and eating any authentic (and lots of totally non-authentic) Mexican food I can find in the US.

What I do know about Mexican cuisine is that it is as diverse as American cuisine – consider the difference in food between Maine and Tennessee, New Mexico and Massachusetts. This week, we’ll be traveling in Puerto Vallarta, which is in a part of Mexico that is very new to me. I can’t wait to try the good local stuff! There are tons of things I’ve never had – but these recommendations are dishes I have often seen in Mexican restaurants, both in Mexico and in the US.

misconceptions about mexican food

When you think of Mexican food, you might actually be thinking of Tex-Mex food (smothered in cheese and sour cream and very heavy). This is the “Mexican” food I grew up with Arkansas, where the chips are free and abundant and every plate of food is served with an additional plate of food. You know what I’m talking about – that giant plate of sides, with tortillas wrapped in aluminum foil, refried beans, dirty rice, 3 shreds of iceberg lettuce, maybe some pico or guac, and a hearty dollop of sour cream?

This type of “Mexican” food is definitely incongruent with any healthy way of eating — but it’s not really reflective of true Mexican cuisine.

Real Mexican food is full of fresh, real foods like wild-caught seafood, grilled meats, heart-healthy avocados, and tons of veggies. Dishes are flavored with spices and fresh citrus. If you can keep your hands off the tortillas, it’s pretty easy to find health-supporting options in Mexican cuisine.

rules to break, rules to follow

rules to follow

The rules of eating paleo in Mexico/at Mexican restaurants are the same as anywhere else:

  1. Fill up on proteins and healthy fats.
  2. Get lots of veggies.
  3. Avoid inflammatory foods.
  4. Add flavor with spices and fresh toppings like salsas.
  5. Paws off the chips (and other simple carbs).

Finding proteins is pretty easy on any Mexican menu – you can always find several grilled or sautéed chicken or shrimp dishes. Fats are also easy – chelllooooo, there’s avocado. To avoid simple carbs and inflammatory foods, skip the chips, tortillas, rice, and beans. Eat healthy amounts of salsa for a veggie boost, and try to find a veggie side or a salad to start (with salsa as your dressing).

rules to break

If you are traveling in Mexico, be sure to try local cuisine – loosen up a bit, but do so intentionally. Enjoy some street corn, or a fruity paleta, or a cactus margarita! Or, like we had last year, cricket tacos. Chock full of protein.  😮 One of the most beautiful parts of traveling is diving headfirst into local culture and cuisine. Just savor each bite, and make it count.

what to order

Here are my paleo-friendly go-tos when ordering Mexican food — high in protein and healthy fats, low on unnecessary junk.


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grouper ceviche, be still my heart

I lived on ceviche when I was in Mexico last year. Ceviche is raw seafood that is “cooked” by marinating in acid – usually lime juice. It’s as healthy as food can get – pure, clean protein. Add some guacamole and you’re ready for more beach volleyball (or, you know, reading girly magazines).


Fajitas are sautéed proteins with veggies, seasoned with spices. As long as your chef is light on the oil, this is a great option on any Mexican menu – and you won’t feel like you’re eating “health food”. Get guac and pico as sides, and skip the tortillas, rice, and beans.

broth-based soups

This is my go-to at taco places in Nashville. Mas Tacos and Taco Mamacita both offer a fresh, savory chicken broth with pulled chicken, avocado, queso fresco, and tomatoes. Delish. Maybe not the best option when you’re in 100 degree Mexican heat, but awesome if your friends are downing enchiladas and you want to experience a savory flavor without the queso gut bomb.

grilled/sauteed meats and seafood

This one’s a no brainer. Many places I’ve been in Mexico have some sort of spicy sautéed shrimp dish that is deeeeelish. Ask your waiter for assistance in finding the meats and seafood that are prepared simply, either baked or on the grill. Get a side of veggies and some guac and you’ll have a perfectly balanced meal.

una mas?

Part of the danger of an “I’m on vacation,” or “It’s Taco Tuesday,” mentality is the propensity to guzzle buckets of dehydrating, sugary drinks like margaritas. Don’t be silly! It’s actually really easy to recreate the tangy, tropical taste of a margarita with – you guessed it – real ingredients and way less sugar. I wrote a post last week about my favorite healthy margarita recipes. Check it out here.

If you’re ordering a margarita at a restaurant, get it on the rocks, and ask for this: shot of tequila, splash of triple sec, fresh lime juice, splash of fresh OJ. It might be a little stronger than you’re used to, which is good – you’ll probably nurse it more.

If you’re craving beer, a Corona Light with a big squeeze of lime checks in at a reasonable 99 calories. It’s a great beer for the beach or pool because it’s light and refreshing.

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Both of these options keep you under 150 calories and at about a third of the sugar of your standard options.

If you’re drinking, be sure to drink a full glass of water before you order una mas to stay hydrated and avoid no-fun bloating.

I often don’t feel like drinking, but I don’t like feeling left out, either. In these situations, I order soda with lime with a festive little drink umbrella to feel like I’m part of the club.


Stay tuned for more Mexican-inspired posts. Next up: paleo rotisserie chicken tortilla soup!

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