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Low-carbing it in Mexico

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Stay healthy on vacation

It's getting easier every day to maintain a low-carb diet while eating out in the United States, as restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining are rolling out low-carb menu choices. International travel, however, can present you with eating challenges.

Fajita on skillet

Mexico can be especially difficult, with its maze of maize products like tamales, and the rice, beans and tortillas that accompany many Mexican dishes. But relax! You can enjoy your Mexican vacation and continue on your low-carb diet!

Eat a variety of proteins

Nutritionist Colette Heimowitz, vice president of education and research for Atkins Health and Medical Information Services, says that although Mexican food is known as high in carbohydrates, folks following low-carb diets like the Atkins Nutritional Approach can succeed with this lifestyle choice by eating a variety of proteins that contain natural and healthy fats, such as oily fish with omega 3, poultry, meat, eggs, vegetables and some cheeses. The keys to south-of-the-border dining satisfaction, then, are planning, careful menu perusal and creativity.

Plan ahead

As always, don't let yourself get hungry! Plan to sit down for all meals: food grabbed on the go will often be high-carb options like tamales or sugary fruit drinks. And bring packets of your own sweetener so you don't have to rely on what's provided.

Sunny southern carb counts

Consider bringing a carb-count list with you, as you may encounter unfamiliar foods on your journey.

Hominy — 18.82 grams per cup

Masa harina (used in tamales) — 86.95 grams per cup

Corn tortilla — 10.8 grams each

Flour tortilla — 25.3 grams each

Refried beans — 39.14 grams per cup

Fresh lime juice — 8.61 grams per ounce

Papaya — 11.21 grams per cup

Pineapple — 11.19 grams per cup (cubed)

Mango — 25.08 grams per cup (sliced)

Coconut — 6.23 grams per cup (shredded)

Coconut cream — 1.17 grams per ounce

Spicy green chile peppers — 3 to 8 grams per pepper (very good for you!)

Oysters, raw — 4 to 5 grams per oyster

Clams, raw — 2.57 grams per clam

Hot sauce (Tabasco, etc.) — 0 grams per 1/4 teaspoon

Navigate the menu

Study the appetizers: order a few to make a meal and you won't pay for side dishes you can't eat. In coastal regions of Mexico, try raw oysters and clams dosed with hot sauce. Avocado halves filled with shrimp and smothered in a creamy mayonnaise sauce are common favorites. Eat guacamole and ceviche (seafood "cooked" in lime juice with chopped onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro) with a spoon instead of the chips you'll be served. A spoon is actually better for capturing every delectable drop of ceviche anyway!

Low-carbers face more challenges inland, where the bulk of a meal may be pure starch. "Carne asada is a huge and very lean cut of beef, and great with a salad," says David Edelberg, M.D., who also follows a low-carb diet. Low-carber Rhonda Gillespie finds fajitas an easy choice: try dipping the meat and veggie filling into sour cream and guacamole by the forkful, ignoring the tortilla wrap served separately, she says. Chile rellenos (peppers stuffed with cheese or meat, then fried) differ widely from region to region and you can fill up by ordering two or three a la carte.

Get creative

Nothing suitable on the menu? Improvise! Shrimp cocktail is often served with a ketchup-based sauce. Just ask for sides of mayo and mustard and mix your own low-carb dipping sauce. If your vacation isn't complete without a margarita, make your own. Avoid the carbohydrate-laden mix and sugary orange liqueur used in the frozen drink with Akumal, Mexico resident Kay Walten's low-carb recipe: order tequila (no carbs) on the rocks, add sweetener and squeeze in lime to taste (8.61 grams per ounce).

Relax!

Above all, don't let dining concerns create stress during your vacation. If you take these basic steps, you will be able to maintain your low-carb lifestyle and pamper your steadily-slimming self in the sun!

Low-carb Mexican recipes

Steak fajita stuffed avocados
Grapefruit guacamole salsa recipe
Low-carb strawberry margarita

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