Healthy Nachos Options

nachos ingredients

It was dark outside, but little Vickie waited.  She should be asleep, but there she was, wide awake and waiting.  A little after eleven she heard the slam of the car door…dad was home from work.  And that meant one thing…nachos! A bag of chips, a pile of cheese, and a few minutes in the oven was quality daddy-daughter time.

Fast-forward to college: more late nights, hanging with friends.  There’s a Mexican fast-food place in the city that makes the most awesome nachos…a massive plate of fried tortilla chips covered with hot refried beans and fajita meat, smothered in cheddar and served with jalapenos, pico de gallo and sour cream.  Just to die for.

Nachos are a huge part of the food culture here in South Texas.  Unfortunately, traditionally-prepared nachos, while high in yumminess, rank low, low, low on the health-meter.  Chips deep-fried in oil, refried beans made with lard, high-fat cheeses and sour cream, and meat which is usually not of the lean variety.  One popular Mexican chain restaurant offers a beef fajita nacho plate that contains a whopping 1010 calories and 62 grams of fat!  Oh my.

Let’s look at how to make our favorite cheesy snacks healthier.  In short, let’s turn this:


unhealthy nachos

into this:


plate of healthy nachos



nachos cheese options table
Nutrition information for 1/4 cup serving

The commercial nacho cheese sauce that typically drowns your chips at ballgames and movies contains a laundry list of ingredients, only one of which is actually real cheese:

  • cheese whey
  • partially hydrogenated soybean oil
  • modified food starch
  • jalapeno puree
  • sodium phosphate
  • salt
  • natural flavors
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • sodium stearoyl lactylate
  • vinegar
  • artificial colors, including yellow 5 and yellow 6

Some of those ugly things I know, like partially hydrogenated soybean oil, modified food starch, and MSG (!!).  I’m not sure what sodium stearoyl lactylate is, but the fact that it starts with sodium and I can’t pronounce the rest means it’s not a good thing.

Dairy cheddar cheese, on the other hand, typically contains either three or four ingredients:

  • cultured milk (reduced fat cheddar contains reduced fat milk)
  • enzymes
  • salt
  • annatto (a natural coloring agent; white cheddar does not contain annatto)

If you don’t eat dairy, vegan cheese is another option that is much better than the fake sauce.  Ingredients in vegan cheese include:

  • filtered water
  • tapioca / arrowroot flour
  • canola and / or safflower oil
  • coconut oil
  • pea protein
  • salt
  • inactive yeast
  • natural flavors
  • vegetable glycerin
  • xanthan gum
  • citric acid
  • annatto
  • titanium dioxide


nachos beans options
Nutrition information for 1/2 cup serving

I used to purchase Rosarita refried beans but no longer, and for several reasons.  First, ConAgra, the maker of Rosarita products actively supports campaigns to defeat GMO labeling legislation.  Second, the list of  ingredients in Rosarita refried beans (I had to find it on the because ConAgra does not list ingredients on the Rosarita website) contains lard (animal fat), which I don’t want to put in my body.

The organic refried beans I now buy, however, contain organic pinto beans, organic canola oil and organic spices.   While the calories and fat grams may be slightly higher, I definitely feel it to be worth the exchange.


Use store-bought, organic chips or make your own from fresh corn tortillas.  I personally enjoy making them when I have an extra few minutes.  Check out my recipe for Chili-Lime Tortilla Chips if you want to try your hand at making your own.

But what about all the yummy toppings?

Well, pico de gallo or salsa, avocado slices or guacamole, and fresh or pickled jalapenos are no-brainers, right?

With nachos however, as with pizza, you can feel free to get creative!  Try any of the following (in any combination):

  • roasted vegetables, such as peppers, squash and the like
  • sauteed or caramelized onions
  • soy taco meat or other veggie crumbles
  • light or vegan sour cream
  • black beans, whole or refried
  • other beans — you choose what you like!
  • vegetarian chili
  • anything else that strikes your fancy!

Following a healthier diet doesn’t mean we have to abandon all of our favorite foods and step into a world of bland rice cakes and lemon water (although I happen to like both rice cakes and lemon water!).  By being aware of the ingredients we use and making informed, smart decisions we can still have our healthy nachos and eat them too!

Have an awesome way you make your nachos healthier?  Please let us know!






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