Mexican Food and Diabetes

Here is a question I recently received from

Q: I have type 2 diabetes and love Mexican food.  Could you give me some tips on what to order at my favorite Mexican restaurant?

A: Mexican restaurants may be one of the tastiest yet most challenging places to eat for someone with diabetes. Besides the massive portions served at most restaurants, the majority of the food served at Mexican restaurants contains carbohydrate including the chips, tortillas, beans and rice. However, equipping yourself with knowledge of portion sizes can give you great freedom.

The following serving sizes are equivalent to 1 carbohydrate serving/choice (or 15 grams)

  • 1,  six-inch tortilla (corn or flour)
  • 1 oz of tortilla chips – about 10 chips
  • 1/3 cup of rice – a third of the size of a woman’s fist
  • 1/2 cup of beans – half the size of a woman’s fist

Each person is different and therefore will have a different number of carbohydrate servings they may eat per meal. Talking with a dietitian can help you determine what amount is right for you.

Meats, cheeses, guacamole and sour cream will not affect your blood sugar. However, these foods are higher in fat and calories and can affect your waistline, so it is important to watch portion sizes with these foods as well. Below are recommended portion sizes for each of these foods.

  • Meats – 3-4 oz – palm of a woman’s hand (fat and calories will vary depending on type of meat)
  • Cheese – 1 oz – size of your thumb (depends on cheese but approximately 8 grams of fat & 100 calories)
  • Guacamole – 2 tablespoons – size of a ping-pong ball (5 grams of fat & 45 calories)
  • Sour Cream – 2 tablespoons – size of a ping-pong ball (5 grams of fat & 45 calories)

When ordering, consider foods with fresh salsa (salsa is a free food!), grilled steak or fish or items with soft tortillas like soft tacos, tacos al carbon, or chicken or shrimp burritos and fajitas. Avoid crispy chips and shells as these are fried and high in fat.  Fill half of your plate with free vegetables such as salad or grilled vegetables.

If you know your plate will arrive loaded with more food than you should eat – consider splitting the meal with a friend or ask your server to box up half of the dish (to take home) before serving it to you. This way you’ll eliminate the temptation to overeat, you’ll have a great meal later, and you’ll save money!

Buen Provecho!


Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s website Nutritionistics.