Nachos, Lightened Up

Every so often I get a big time craving for spicy, cheesy and crunchy nachos. But when most restaurant orders top 1500 calories and 100 grams of fat, I’d much rather make them myself. Use these tips to indulge wisely.

Every so often I get a big time craving for spicy, cheesy nachos. But when most restaurant orders top 1,500 calories and 100 grams of fat, I know I'd better make them myself. Use these tips to slim down your favorite nacho mix and indulge wisely.

The Base: Chips

Corn tortilla chips are the classic choice for your nacho base. Pass on the flavored “nacho cheese” or “cool ranch” chips and stick to the plain variety -- all that extra flavoring usually means a salt overload. Tortilla chips are fried, so pick a brand that uses healthy oils (e.g. canola or sunflower oil) and check the bags for calorie counts. About 100 to 150 calories worth of chips (usually 13 or 14 chips) is a sensible portion.

Choosing baked tortilla chips can save a few grams of fat, but many brands have just as many calories and higher sodium totals. Compare labels carefully or, better still, make your own baked chips at home.

The Next Layer: Cheese

Let’s face it -- nachos must have cheese. Stay away from oily "cheese" sauces like you might find on ball park and movie theater nachos. Use the real stuff! Small amounts of really flavorful cheeses such as sharp cheddar, pepper jack or even tangy goat cheese can go a long way. A fourth cup of shredded cheese averages 115 calories, so figure no more than that amount per person.

Toppings Galore

To keep the calories from skyrocketing, pass on heavy chili and meat-topped nachos (make a pot of our lightened up chili another time). Instead, add some protein by tossing on shredded chicken or cooked beans.

Pile on the veggies for flavor -- the calories are low, so keep ‘em coming. My favorites include chopped tomatoes, onions, olives, scallions, corn kernels, sweet bell or spicy jalapeno peppers and shredded lettuce. At less than 15 calories per tablespoon, salsa is also a smart topping option.

Creaminess helps to cut through some of the heat from the spicy peppers or salsa, but be careful not to drown your nachos in gobs of fat. Small dollops of light sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt are fine. You might also try a few teaspoons (per person) of diced avocado or homemade guacamole to balance the spiciness.

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