The Five Most Unhealthful Foods at Mexican Restaurants: Findings

The Physicians Committee

The Five Most Unhealthful Foods at Mexican Restaurants: Findings

A Report from PCRM's Cancer Project
Spring 2010

Findings | Key Factors | Rating System/Detailed Results | Healthful Options/References

As Americans prepare to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, they may want to reconsider what they’ll order from their favorite Mexican fast-food restaurants. Today’s fast-food versions of Hispanic foods often contain astonishingly high levels of calories, fat, and sodium, as well as carcinogenic processed meats and high-fat dairy products. The consequence of consuming unhealthy meals such as these is that one-third of adults in America are obese, increasing their risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

To determine which menu items pose the greatest risk to consumers’ health, The Cancer Project analyzed entrées from five leading Mexican fast-food and casual-dining restaurant chains.


The Cancer Project’s dietitians found that some entrées at Mexican restaurants contain more fat, saturated fat, and sodium than a person should consume in an entire day. All are high in calories, and many contain processed meat products, which can increase cancer risk. The five most unhealthful items were ranked from worst to least bad. Here are the five worst entrées:


Worst Mexican Items



Charbroiled Steak Nachos

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill

2nd worst

Grilled Fajita Salad

Chevys Fresh Mex

3rd worst

Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken Crispers


4th worst

Pulled Pork Burrito

Qdoba Mexican Grill

5th worst

Ground Beef Burrito

Moe’s Southwest Grill


Cinco de Mayo is a holiday observing Mexico’s victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This is not Mexico’s Independence Day, nor is it celebrated in Mexico like it is in the United States. For many Americans, Cinco de Mayo is a day of revelry that includes indulging at Mexican fast-food restaurants. But it is also an opportunity to celebrate Mexico’s healthful cuisine.

Replacing unhealthy Mexican-style fast food with traditional Mexican staples—beans, corn, rice, and seasonal vegetables—could help reverse America’s obesity epidemic.

Diet-related health problems are serious issues for all Americans, but the National Institutes of Health has found that Mexican-Americans are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. Obesity rates among Hispanics are particularly high in Arizona, California, and Texas, resulting in elevated diabetes and cancer rates.

Review Process

In March 2010, dietitians with The Cancer Project researched Mexican food offered by national fast-food and casual-dining restaurants.

Dietitians obtained menu information by reviewing company Web sites, visiting restaurants, and contacting restaurants located out of state by phone. A comprehensive review of nutritional information was obtained.

Dietitians evaluated each item based on specific nutritional data, including the item’s calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Ratings also reflect whether the product contains processed meats, which are linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer.