Is Mexican Rice Healthy? You May be Surprised

Ever wonder if Mexican rice is healthy? Most people think it’s unhealthy, but the truth is more complicated than that!

I’m a Latina dietitian and I’ve dedicated my career to showing how healthy our cultural foods can be! 

It’s a common misconception that Mexican food is unhealthy, but our food traditions have been nourishing us for thousands of years! 

The truth is, Mexican rice is one of the healthiest ways you can prepare rice! 

If you’re curious about the nutrition content of Mexican rice, keep reading! I’ll share Mexican rice nutrition facts, the health benefits, and also some tips on how to make your Mexican rice even healthier!

So let’s jump in!

The big picture: Mexican rice is one of the healthier ways to eat rice. Cooking rice with vegetables and olive oil adds extra vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your rice. Add extra frozen veggies for even more nutrition!

mexican rice in a bowl. text reads "is mexican rice healthy?"

Mexican rice nutrition facts

The exact nutrition facts for Mexican rice will vary depending on the recipe you use. 

But as an example, here are the nutrition facts for a Mexican rice recipe.

½ cup of Mexican rice provides (1):

Calories138.5 kcal
Carbohydrates24 g
Dietary Fiber1.5 g
Fat3 g
Protein3.5 g
Lycopene810 mcg
Iron1.35 mg (~7% daily value)
Sodium378 mg (16% daily value)
Folate40 mcg (10% daily value)
Thiamin (vitamin B1)0.33 mg (30% daily value)

As you can see, there are some interesting nutrition facts when it comes to Mexican rice!

In the United States, almost all white rice is fortified with iron, folate, and vitamin B1 (among other nutrients) (2). 

This is why the nutrition facts panel shows Mexican rice to be a good source of iron, folate, and thiamin. This may be different if you use rice grown in another country.

Health Benefits

So now that we’ve looked at the nutrition facts, what does this mean for the health benefits of Mexican rice?

Provides Lycopene (Powerful Antioxidant)

One of the main ingredients in Mexican rice is tomato, which gives it the signature red color. 

Tomato is a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help prevent cancer and reduce cholesterol (3). 

Perhaps the coolest part about the tomato in Mexican rice is that cooking the tomato may actually help increase the lycopene benefits. 

Many of us think that we have to eat raw vegetables to get the most benefits, but the lycopene in tomatoes becomes more available when we cook them (4). 

Similarly, we absorb lycopene better when we eat it with a fat source (4). 

So cooking your Mexican rice in oil and adding tomato can help you get the most antioxidant benefits out of your meal. 

Helps manage blood sugar

I know you probably hear rice and think “too high in carbs,” right? Wrong!

There is almost always space for carbohydrates in an overall healthy diet. As a dietitian, I recommend my clients eat a small carb portion with every meal.

On top of that, how you cook your carbs and what you serve with them makes a big difference in how your body responds. 

If you’re worried about your blood sugar, you may be excited to hear that Mexican rice is higher in fiber than plain white rice. 

A ½ cup serving of plain white rice has about 0.3 g of fiber, while a ½ cup serving of Mexican rice has 1.5 g of fiber (5). This difference may seem small, but 1.5 g is about 6% of your daily fiber requirement (6)!

This is noteworthy because fiber helps you manage your blood sugar (7). 

Anti-inflammatory benefits

We already talked about lycopene, but there are even more antioxidants in Mexican rice that can help you fight inflammation. 

Sauteing onion and garlic in olive oil increases how many antioxidants we can absorb from these vegetables (8). This is similar to the health benefits we get from cooking with sofrito. 

How to make Mexican rice even healthier

Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that Mexican rice can be a healthy addition to your meals. But maybe you want some tips to get even more nutrition out of your Mexican rice!

Follow these tips to maximize your Mexican rice’s nutrition:

  1. Add more veggies: Frozen vegetables like peas, carrots, and green beans are commonly added to Mexican rice. Increasing the quantity of frozen vegetables can further increase the fiber, vitamins, and minerals in your meal. 
  2. Serve with a side of beans: Combining rice and beans helps manage blood sugar and creates a complete protein! Plus it adds fiber and protein. 
  3. Portion sizes: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the ideal portion size for a starch like rice is ½ cup per meal. This leaves plenty of room for extra vegetables and proteins for an overall balanced meal. 
  4. Use olive oil: To get the most antioxidants, use extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in polyphenols (9). 
  5. Watch the sodium: Many Mexican rice recipes use chicken bouillon powder, which could potentially add a lot of extra sodium. If you’re watching your blood pressure, you could try a low-salt variety or use homemade broth instead. 


Is Mexican rice gluten-free?

Yes! Rice is a gluten-free grain, and most Mexican rice recipes don’t include any gluten-containing ingredients. If you use chicken bouillon powder for your Mexican rice, be sure to check the label. 

Do I have to use brown rice?

No! While it’s true that brown rice does have more fiber than white rice, remember that cooking Mexican rice with vegetables like onion and tomato also adds more fiber. You are welcome to use brown rice if you like it. But if you don’t, no worries!

Final thoughts

Mexican rice is one of the healthiest ways to eat rice! The tomato adds so many antioxidants. And you get more fiber, vitamins and minerals by cooking your rice with a variety of vegetables like you do in Mexican rice. 

This just goes to show how healthy our food traditions are!

That’s why I help Latinas learn about nutrition through our food culture, and help them plan nourishing meals using their favorite Latino foods. 

Ready to get started cooking healthy Latino meals? Grab my Free 1-Week Healthy Mexican Meal Plan. Sign up below!


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