Is Carne Asada Healthy? [+ Recipe]
Carne asada is a popular dish in Mexico that brings warm memories for all of us that grew up there. At family gatherings, carne asada was a common dish throughout the year. Delicioso!
The key to making carne asada healthy is to use lean cuts of meat and serve it with grilled vegetables and salsa. You can also add guacamole and corn tortillas.
What is Carne Asada?
The word “asada” means “grilled.” So, carne asada is simply grilled beef. For those who avoid red meat, it’s also common to grill chicken and vegetables.
Traditionally, skirt steak is used to make this dish, but many other types of beef also work well. This traditional food can be served as a main course or in tacos.
The meat is seasoned and then grilled over an open flame. Often, onions, tomatoes, and jalapenos are grilled along with the beef to make a salsa.
More health-conscious people grill vegetables in addition to beef to make a well-balanced meal that is lower in calories.
What are the Nutrients in Carne Asada?
Beef is an excellent source of protein and provides all the essential amino acids the body needs. It’s also a good source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12, niacin, and riboflavin. Beef also provides minerals, including iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and selenium.
The exact number of calories in carne asada will depend on the cut of meat and the seasoning. But to give you an idea, a 4-oz serving of grilled sirloin is 276 calories with 30 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat. The nutrients are similar if carne asada is made with skirt steak.
So, while it’s a little high in fat, carne asada made with sirloin or skirt steak can fit perfectly into a well-balanced meal.
What to Serve With Carne Asada?
The great thing about carne asada is that it can be served in many different ways. Of course, the most common way is to make tacos, but this traditional food can also be served as a main dish with grilled vegetables or a salad.
If you’re making tacos, the usual toppings are salsa, chopped cucumber, onions, and cilantro. This is where making truly Mexican-style tacos are important to health; topping tacos with vegetables add healthy nutrients without adding a significant amount of calories.
What’s more, Mexican tacos are usually made with corn tortillas, which are normally lower in calories than flour tortillas or hard shell tortillas.
Finally, Mexicans tend to skip the rice and beans that are usually served with tacos in the United States and other countries.
If you’re serving carne asada as a main dish, you can add grilled vegetables or salad, guacamole, and salsa. Tortillas and baked potatoes are included in this meal. Remember to limit carbohydrates to two or three tortillas or a small baked potato without butter to keep it healthy.
The bottom line is this: to make carne asada healthier, take a close look at what you serve it with.
The Health Effects of Red Meat
Let’s talk about the main ingredient in carne asada: carne or, in English, beef. We have already discussed the nutrition facts of red meat, so let’s focus on health.
Processed vs Unprocessed Red Meat
Science distinguishes between the side effects of eating processed vs non-processed beef. There is a higher risk of heart disease with processed red meat when compared to non-processed.
The quality of the ingredients is important here. Choosing carne asada instead of hamburgers or hot dogs can make a positive difference to your health.
Red Meat and Disease
Observational studies suggest that eating red meat increases the risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease.
However, this risk appears to be greater when eating processed red meats like bacon and sausage.
More studies are necessary to better understand the effects of red meat on health. The higher risk may be linked to red meat’s iron and fat content and/or the salt and nitrates in processed meats.
How Much Red Meat Should You Eat?
Currently, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting red meat to 12 to 18 ounces a week.
The American Heart Association recommends eating more plant-based proteins. They also suggest that if you eat meat, you choose unprocessed chicken or beef.
Cooking Methods and Disease
While the effect of red meat on disease is not clear-cut, it is known that high-heat cooking, like grilling, may create cancer-promoting compounds. To minimize the risks, turn the beef frequently to avoid burning it.
Alternatives and/or Additions to Red Meat
If you are having friends and family get together and you have vegetarians coming, grilling delicious portobello mushroom steaks is a great way to make them happy.
Portobello steaks also make a wonderful side dish. It’s much easier to limit portion sizes of carne asada when tempting and healthy side items are available.
Pollo Asado (Grilled Chicken)
It’s also common to make grilled chicken for those who don’t eat beef. In fact, when the carne asada is just for the immediate family, Mexicans will frequently grill chicken to use for the next few days in salads or tacos. Advance meal prep at its best!
Healthier Carne Asada Sides
Common vegetables to grill in carne asada include onions, green onions, and tomatoes. There is no set rule about this, though. Grill anything you have in the house or any vegetable you love. Using a grilling basket* makes cooking the vegetables easier.
Also, grilled fruit makes an excellent dessert too! For example, try grilled pineapple with a dash of cinnamon.
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Oh, salsa! It adds tons of flavor and nutrients with a minimal amount of calories.
While making carne asada, try grilling the main salsa ingredients: jalapeno peppers, onions, and tomato. You will love the flavor of the salsa!
A traditional salsa served with carne asada is salsa molcajete, which is popular because you can make it next to the grill using a molcajete.* But if you don’t have one of these, anything that mashes the vegetable will work, or you can use a blender or food processor. Don’t forget to add lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper.
Mouthwatering guacamole is a staple of Mexican cuisine. Nutritionally speaking, guacamole contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Guacamole is quick to make by mashing avocados and adding a little bit of the salsa you made previously, plus lime juice and a dash of salt and pepper. Easy, delicious, and nutritious!
Nutritionally speaking, corn tortillas triumph over flour tortillas and go particularly well with carne asada and complementary dishes.
Corn tortillas are low in calories and carbs. One tortilla usually has 50 calories and under 10 grams of carbohydrates, but the nutrient content will vary depending on the size and thickness of the tortilla, so it’s important to read your labels.
As for the way you eat them, corn tortillas are generally used to make tacos; burritos are difficult to make using this type of tortilla. Interestingly, when it comes to whether you serve carne asada as tacos or as a main dish, most people make tacos!
The Bottom Line
Eating carne asada is a fun way to eat beef and enjoy the company of others. Be sure to add plenty of fresh salsa, guacamole, and grilled vegetables to make it a healthier meal.
Limit eating red meat to no more than 12 to 18 ounces a week and choose unprocessed meats, such as carne asada.
Don’t forget that grilled vegetables make excellent sides for carne asada and add important nutrients to the meal. Salsa and guacamole are also ideal healthy sides.
Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide if carne asada is healthy for them. Still, as a Registered Dietitian, I can confidently say that carne asada is a healthy alternative to common grilled meat choices likes hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausages.
Carne Asada Tacos
- 1 Grill
- 2 each limes juiced
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 pounds flank steak or your choice of beef
- 18 corn tortillas
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 1 cucumber chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro chopped
- 6 green onions
- 3 limes
- In a resealable bag (gallon size), combine lime juice, crushed garlic, chopped cilantro, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Seal the bag and shake it to mix all ingredients.
- Add the steak and seal the bag. Let it rest for at least two hours.
- Heat an outdoor grill to high heat.Remove the steak from the marinade.
- Cook on the grill until the desired temperature. Remove from heat.
- Grill peppers. Remove from heat.
- Chop cooked beef into small pieces.
- Warm the tortillas.
- In individual plates, place three tortillas per person. Distribute beef evenly into the tortillas. Put a green onion on each plate.
- Place chopped onions, cucumbers, sliced limes, and salsa on serving plates and let people add them to their tacos.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL. She is passionate about helping women over 40 live their best lives through healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Su-Nui is a doctor in clinical nutrition, able to translate complicated evidence-based science into practical advice. Su-Nui is the former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.