Mexican Vegetables: Complete Guide from Avocado to Tomatillo

As a Latina dietitian, a myth I hear almost every day is that Mexican food does not have many vegetables. 

But I’ve found the opposite to be true, Mexican food has plenty of vegetables! Tomato, avocado, peppers, onion, squash, and cactus are all traditional Mexican vegetables, among others.

If you love Mexican food and want to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, this guide is for you! You’ll learn about some common Mexican veggies, along with their benefits and how to eat them. 

(Note: some foods mentioned on this list grow as fruits. But as a dietitian, when I say “eat more vegetables” I mean eat plant foods that are rich in fiber and vitamins, while low in carbohydrates. Everything on this list meets those criteria!)

collage of different mexican vegetables including peppers, tomato, and tomatillo


Avocados are native to South Central Mexico, and have been a staple of Mexican and Latin American diets for thousands of years. 

Avocado is a unique vegetable because it is very rich in heart-healthy fats, thanks to its creamy texture (1). These heart-healthy fats may be why avocado intake is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (2). 

Because they contain both fiber and fat, avocados are especially filling and can help address cravings and appetite. One study showed participants who added avocado to breakfast reported feeling less hungry afterward and had a lower insulin response (3). 

Avocado is easy to add to meals! It’s easy to add sliced avocado on top of tacos, tostadas, eggs, or soup, for example.

Avocado can also be used in salsa or of course to make guacamole, making it easy to add to snacks. 

Try this classic guacamole recipe for an easy way to add avocado to your celebration.


Okay you may not automatically think beets when I say Mexican food, but they’re actually quite common in Mexican cuisine!

Mexican food mostly uses beets for salads, especially around Christmastime. But beet juice is also a popular drink and remedy!

And they may be on to something. Beet juice has been associated with lower blood pressure (4).

Researchers are also looking into the potential benefits of beet juice for athletic performance, but more research is needed (5). 

Want to check out the benefits of beets for yourself? Try this jugo de vampiro (vampire juice) recipe.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are a foundational ingredient in Mexican food. They are mostly used to flavor dishes like rice, stew, and meat. You can also find bell peppers heavily featured in dishes like fajitas!

Not only convenient and tasty, bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, as well as vitamin K and vitamin B6. 


Cabbage is one of those vegetables that is so important in Mexican food, but rarely gets acknowledged for some reason!

Shredded cabbage is a common garnish for Mexican soups and stews, as well as foods like tostadas or enchiladas. It’s an easy way to add a bit of extra vegetable and crunch to whatever dish you’re eating. 

This is great because cabbage is one of those vegetable powerhouses called cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, and broccoli may be protective against multiple forms of cancer (6, 7, 8, 9).

You can simply add shredded cabbage to your favorite main dish, or you can try this simple cabbage side salad


Mexican food uses carrots mostly in soups and stews, but it can also be found in salads. 

Pickled carrots are also a useful garnish for tortas and tostadas!

Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which can help promote eye health and protect skin against damage (10, 11).


Chiles have been an important ingredient in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years, dating back to Aztec and Maya civilizations. They were valued not only for their flavor but also for their medicinal properties. 

Today, chiles remain a fundamental part of Mexican cuisine, adding heat, depth of flavor, and cultural significance to many traditional dishes.

The signature heat of chiles has a deep importance in Mexican food. In fact, going without it was considered a form of penance in indigenous Mexican religion. 

It’s easy to forget that chiles are a vegetables but they are! Most chiles are a good source of vitamins A and C. But what makes chiles so unique is the capsaicin. 

Capsaicin is the compound in chiles that makes them spicy. The hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin! 

Capsaicin has been associated with benefits for heart health, gut health, and pain relief (12, 13). But it’s important to exercise caution and not go beyond your own spiciness tolerance. 

Eating too much capsaicin can come with unpleasant side effects like nausea, vomiting, and skin irritation.

There are countless varieties of chile, but here are some of the most popular in Mexican food:  


Jalapeños are an icon of Mexican cuisine. They’re commonly found in salsas, but you may also see a grilled or pickled jalapeño served as a side dish. 


Habanero peppers are among the hottest chili peppers in the world. They are widely used in in the Yucatan region of Mexico for their fruity flavor and intense spiciness.


Poblano peppers are one of the more mild peppers used in Mexican cuisine. Because they’re more mild, it’s more common to see poblanos served as the main component of a dish. You’ll see this in dishes like chiles rellenos or in rajas (roasted poblano strips). 


Cucumbers are a refreshing addition to Mexican cuisine. They are commonly used in salads or topped with lime and chile in a fruit cup. Cucumber is also a popular flavor for aguas frescas and juices. 

It makes sense that cucumbers are used in salads and drinks, since they’re almost 95% water (14). This can make cucumbers a good way to help with hydration and cool down. 

Cucumbers are also rich in nutrients such as vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone health (15, 16).

Try this refreshing cucumber agua fresca recipe.


Jicama is another refreshing vegetable used in Mexican cuisine. It’s native to Mexico and Central America, and is known for it’s crisp texture and mildly sweet flavor. 

Jicama is most often used in salads or served with lime and chile as a snack. You’ll also find it in slaws or used as a garnish. 

Not just crunchy and refreshing, jicama is also a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin C (17). 

Try this refreshing jicama slaw on top of your fish tacos. 


Some may debate whether this corn fungus counts as a vegetable, but I say if mushrooms count so does huitlacoche!

Huitlacoche (sometimes spelled “cuitlacoche”) has similar nutrition benefits to other mushrooms, providing a good amount of magnesium and antioxidants (18).

Additionally, huitlacoche is high in beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are a type of carbohydrate found in the cell walls of fungus. They are currently being studied for potential benefits for the immune system and cholesterol (19, 20). 

Huitlacoche can be used similarly to mushrooms, making it a great filling for tacos or quesadillas. It’s also available canned, if you’re not sure where to buy it fresh. 


The more common white button mushroom is also very popular in Mexican food. You’re most likely to see mushrooms in a soup or added as a filling to quesadillas, etc. 

Like huitlacoche, white mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans, which may be associated with improved immune function (21). They are also high in potassium and vitamins B2 and B5 (22). 

This mushroom recipe is great as a side dish or a filling for tacos or quesadillas. 


Nopales are the green pads of the prickly pear cactus. They are commonly eaten as a green vegetable in Mexican cuisine. You may seem the cut into strips and sauteed with eggs, served raw in a salad, or grilled.

Nopal juice and smoothies are also very popular. These drinks are often used as home remedies or health tonics in Mexican culture. 

The tangy vegetable is very nutritious, providing good amounts of vitamin C and Potassium (23). 

Nopal may also have some blood-sugar lowering benefits, which makes it a popular food for Latinos with diabetes (24). More research is needed in tis area, however. 

The sticky mucilage in nopal (similar to okra) might be what makes it so healthy! Early evidence suggests it may help lower cholesterol (25). 

Nopales are an easy vegetable to add into your routine. To get started try this simple salad made from canned nopales and black beans. Serve with tostadas!


Onions may seem basic, but they are very versatile. They can be found in Mexican food as a flavor for main dishes or salsas. They are also enjoyed as a garnish for foods like tacos and pozole. Young spring onions, or cebollitas, are also often grilled and served as a side dish.

Because they’re so common, it’s easy to forget how nutritious onions are! Onions are a good source of vitamin C and potassium (26). 

Onions are also a good source of quercetin, an antioxidant that may help lower blood pressure (27). 

While you may already cook with onions, try making them their own dish using this easy grilled cebollitas recipe. 


It’s a misonception that Mexican food doesn’t feature many greens. In addition to the basics like spinach and lettuce, Mexican food uses a whole family of greens called quelites. 

Quelites are not actually one vegetable. “Quelites” can refer to a variety of different wild greens, including watercress, purslane, lamb’s quarters, and epazote. 

These greens are often used in dishes such as soups, stews, and quesadillas.

The nutrition content may vary somewhat because there are so many varieties of quelites. But in general, most quelites will have vitamins C, K, and plenty of antioxidants. 

Because of the high antioxidant content, quelites may help protect against cancer and support immune function (28). 

To warm up and enjoy the benefits of quelites, try this nourishing soup recipe. 


Radishes are not unique to Mexican food, but they’re easy to find at a Mexican table!

Radishes are mostly served as a garnish, with thinly sliced radishes topping pozole or tostadas, for example. 

Because they’re usually a garnish it’s easy to forget they offer some nutritional value! Radishes can be a good source of vitamin C and folate (29). 

Radish peels get their color from anthocyanins, which are antioxidants associated with reduced inflammation and improved brain function (30). 


Did you know squashes are native to the Americas? Indigenous people in Mexico and Central America, including the Maya, Aztec, and Inca, used squash for a variety of purposes. 

The flesh and seeds provided food, the tough outer shell could be a container, and the squash flowers were used in traditional medicine. 

It makes sense, then, that squashes are still an important vegetable source in Mexican food. 

There are a wide variety of squash varieties in Mexican food, but here are three of the most popular varieties: 


Mexican squash, often called calabacita, is nearly identical to zucchini. One major difference is the color of the skin, which is more of a mottled light green color. 

For this reason you can use zucchini and calabacita in the same ways. They both work great as a side dish or a plant-based filling for fajitas and tacos. 

Zucchini is rich in vitamins K and C, as well as potassium (31).

Zucchini is also a good source of lutein, an important antioxidant for eye health (32). 

This calabacitas recipe belongs next to all of your favorite Mexican dishes. 


Chayote is another type of squash that’s used frequently in Mexican food, but less known in the United States. 

Like zucchini, chayote is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, and potassium (33). Chayote is also especially high in folate. This is important for DNA synthesis and healthy fetal development, and can help prevent certain cancers (34, 35).

You may find chayote serve in salads, or sauteed as a simple side dish. My favorite way to serve chayote is in a soup


Yes, pumpkins are originally Mexican! 

In fact, one of the oldest known sweets in Latin America is candied pumpkin. We still see remnants of this dish in classic desserts like calabaza en tacha

You may also find pumpkin featured in soups, stews, etc.

And pumpkins are well-deserving of their place in Mexican cuisine. Not only are they tasty, they may be especially healthy for your skin! Pumpkins are rich in vitamins C and A, which both promote healthy skin by helping you build collagen and preventing UV damage (36, 37).


Tomatoes are one of the most important ingredients in Mexican food! Just think about how much sauces are used in Mexican food, and how many of those sauces use tomato.

Salsa and pico de gallo are two of the most popular ways to serve tomato. This makes it so easy to add a few spoonfuls of tomato to almost any Mexican meal. 

Adding tomato to meals is a great way to add some extra flavor and nutrients. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that may help protect against cancer, prevent sun damage, and lower bad cholesterol (38, 39).  

Tomatoes are native to South America. They became a critical component of Mexican food becaus of how well they paired with the spicy chile. To this day, you’ll still find tomato and chile paired together quite often. 

The simplest way to start adding tomato to your meals is a simple tomato salsa


While used similarly to tomatoes, tomatillos are technically different plants and have their own unique flavor. 

Tomatillos are native to Mexico, and pre-date the tomato in Mexican food. After tomatoes were introduced from South America, native Mexicans noted the similarities between tomatillo and tomato. They began to use the tomato in a similar way to tomatillo, primarily in sauces. 

Tomatillos are typically green, and more tart and tangy than a tomato. They also come in a distinctive papery husk. 

Tomatillos are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium, and manganese (40). The high vitamin C content of tomatillos may support a healthy immune system and skin health. They also contain antioxidants like flavonoids which may help fight inflammation (41).

Like tomato, the simplest way to add tomatillo to your meals is with an easy tomatillo salsa. 


One of the best things you can do for your health is to eat plenty of vegetables, and a wide variety of them (42, 43). 

I often hear from my Latino clients that Mexican food does not have a lot of vegetables to offer. This can make it difficult to understand how to work on your health while maintaining ties to your culture.

But as we’ve seen in this article, this is a misconception! There is a wide variety of delicious Mexican vegetables. In addition to staples like tomato, peppers, and avocado, Mexican food makes great use of onion, cucumber, squash, and more. 

This means it can be really easy to eat a healthy diet while still enjoying your favorite Mexican foods.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top