Mexican Spanish rice is a popular side dish that is often served alongside tacos, burritos, enchiladas and other Mexican food favorites. It typically consists of rice that is cooked in tomato sauce along with onions, garlic, and spices like cumin and chili powder. But is this flavorful rice dish actually good for you or is it just empty calories? Here is a comprehensive look at the nutritional profile of Mexican Spanish rice.
Calories and Macronutrients
The calorie and macronutrient content of Mexican Spanish rice can vary considerably depending on the specific ingredients and recipe used. On average, a 1 cup serving of Mexican Spanish rice contains around:
- 240 calories
- 45g of carbohydrates
- 3g of protein
- 3g of fiber
- 5g of fat
So in moderation, Spanish rice can be a good source of complex carbohydrates and plant-based protein. The fiber content helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied as well. However, the fat content can quickly add up if large portions are consumed, especially if the rice is cooked with fatty ingredients like bacon or chorizo.
In addition to macronutrients, Mexican Spanish rice provides a variety of beneficial micronutrients:
- Vitamin A – From colorful peppers and tomatoes used in the sauce.
- Vitamin C – Tomatoes, onions, garlic, and bell peppers boost vitamin C levels.
- Iron – Provided by meat additions like chorizo as well as beans or peas if added.
- Potassium – The tomato sauce provides a good amount of this essential mineral.
- Lycophene – A potent antioxidant found in tomatoes.
So by using tomato sauce, Mexican Spanish rice delivers a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The additions of vegetables only boosts the nutritional profile further.
While Spanish rice has some clear nutritional benefits, there are also a few potential downsides to consider:
- High sodium – Tomato sauce, salsa, bouillon cubes and cheese can make this dish high in sodium.
- Refined grains – White rice is often used rather than whole grain options.
- Cooking oils – Frying the rice in oil adds unnecessary calories and fat.
- Additions – Ingredients like chorizo, bacon, sour cream add more fat and cholesterol.
To make your Spanish rice healthier, opt for low sodium tomato products, use brown rice, skip the oil, and go easy on fatty meats and cheese.
Here is a closer look at some of the top health benefits that Spanish rice can provide:
The lycopene in tomato sauce and the fiber from rice, vegetables, and beans helps reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and lower risk of heart disease.
Blood Sugar Control
The carbohydrates from rice along with fiber help stabilize blood sugar levels rather than causing sharp spikes and drops.
Lycopene and vitamin C are potent antioxidants that can help neutralize free radicals and lower risk of cancer.
Vitamin K from tomatoes and minerals like iron and potassium promote bone strength and health.
Vitamins A, C, and mineral like zinc, iron, and selenium from tomatoes, onion, garlic boost immune function.
The fiber aids digestion, while onions, garlic, and spices stimulate digestion and reduce bloating or gas.
Is Mexican Spanish Rice Fattening?
Spanish rice is not inherently fattening and can be a relatively healthy option when made with simple, natural ingredients. However, it can quickly become high in calories, carbs, fat, and sodium when loaded up with greasy meats, cheese, butter/oil, and salty seasonings.
Portion control is key – a modest 1 cup serving as part of a whole meal is fine, but going back for large refills or consuming an entire pan yourself can mean excess calories. Choose brown rice, eliminate frying, and minimize high-fat additions to keep your Spanish rice healthy rather than fattening.
Low Calorie Spanish Rice Recipe
If you want to lighten up your Spanish rice, here is a recipe for a lower calorie version:
- 1 cup brown rice
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (14 oz) can no sodium added tomato sauce
- 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 lime, juiced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cilantro for garnish
- Cook rice according to package directions.
- In a skillet over medium high heat, cook onion, jalapeno, and garlic until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in tomato sauce, broth, cumin, and oregano. Bring to a simmer.
- Once simmering, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened.
- Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.
- Add cooked rice to sauce and mix well.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving.
This easy skillet Spanish rice uses just a tablespoon of oil to cook the veggies rather than frying the rice in oil. Brown rice provides more nutrition than white rice. And the flavors are pumped up with lime, jalapeno, and cilantro rather than relying on cheese, salt, or greasy meats.
Healthy Spanish Rice Additions
To make your Spanish rice healthier, here are some nutritious ingredients you can mix in:
- Beans – Black beans, pinto beans, or kidney beans add fiber.
- Corn – For extra fiber, vitamins, and sweetness.
- Peppers – Bell peppers boost vitamin C.
- Zucchini – Adds moisture and nutrients.
- Leafy greens – Spinach or kale blended in increases vitamin content.
- Carrots – For added vitamin A.
- Mushrooms – Meaty texture and savory flavor.
- Chicken breast – Lean protein source.
- Shrimp – Low calorie protein.
By mixing in extra vegetables, beans, and lean proteins, you can make Spanish rice into a nutritionally balanced meal in one dish.
Rather than relying on butter, cheese, or salty flavorings try these healthy ways to flavor Spanish rice:
- Onion and garlic
- Chili powder
- Lime juice
- Hot sauce
Let the spices, herbs, citrus, and chili peppers be the stars rather than salt, fat, or sodium.
Is Spanish Rice Low Carb?
Spanish rice is not naturally a low carb food. A 1 cup serving can contain around 45 grams of carbohydrates, coming mostly from the rice. However, you can modify the recipe to make a lower carb Spanish rice:
– Use cauliflower rice instead of regular rice. Simply pulse raw cauliflower florets in a food processor until they resemble rice grains. Then use in place of white or brown rice in your Spanish rice recipe.
– Cut back on the amount of rice and bulk up on non-starchy veggies like peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, etc.
– Consider mixing in some beans which have more protein and fiber and less net carbs.
– Avoid adding higher carb ingredients like corn.
– Skip any starchy thickeners like flour or cornstarch in the sauce.
– Portion out just 1/2 cup as a side rather than 1 cup.
With these tweaks, you can make a reasonably low carb Spanish “rice” dish that fits into a keto or low carb eating plan. Add a protein like chicken and you have a balanced low carb meal.
Is Spanish Rice Keto?
Spanish rice made in traditional ways is not keto-friendly. The use of white rice and carb-heavy tomatoes means it will be too high in carbohydrates to fit into a very low carb ketogenic diet.
However, by substituting cauliflower rice and going easy on the tomatoes, you may be able to make a keto Spanish rice:
Keto Spanish Cauliflower Rice
- 4 cups riced cauliflower
- 1/4 cup diced onion
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup salsa or diced tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 oz shredded Monterey jack cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a pan over medium high heat, warm 1 tbsp oil. Cook cauliflower rice for 5 minutes until starting to soften and brown.
- Add onions, jalapeno, garlic and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in salsa/tomatoes, seasonings and remaining 1 tbsp oil. Cook for 2-3 more minutes.
- Remove from heat. Mix in cheese and cilantro.
- Season with salt and pepper.
This provides 6 servings at around 5 grams of net carbs each. Enjoy it on your own or serve it with fajita chicken or steak for a Mexican style keto meal.
Mexican Spanish rice made in healthy ways can be a nutritious side dish that provides complex carbohydrates along with an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, fried versions loaded with fat, sodium, and calories lose these benefits and become more unhealthy empty calories. Keep your Spanish rice light by opting for tomato based recipes over greasy ingredients, use brown rice or cauliflower rice, and bulk it up with extra vegetables or proteins. This allows you to enjoy the delicious flavors while maintaining balanced nutrition. Made right, Spanish rice can be an exciting and nourishing accompaniment to tacos, burritos, grilled meat, and more.