Saturday, December 26, 2015

Are Our Nachos Healthy?

When we wrote about our one-year meal plan a few months back, we had nachos in the mix for a not-insignificant number of meals.  After all, they take only a few minutes to prepare, are undisputedly delicious, and, with all the vegetables we tend to heap on top of the chips and cheese, surely not a poor choice nutritionally...right?

While the first two points are self-evident (and/or subjective), the last point was an assumption (or hypothesis) that we could put to the test.  A few minutes with the nutrition labels on our ingredients, and some additional help from the ol' internets, and we could actually see (with numbers!) how our nachos stack up.

First, we need an approximate recipe, so here's a what makes up a fairly typical 8" plate of nachos for us:

THL Plate O' Nachos
21 tortilla chips (a couple handfuls)
2.5 oz. shredded cheese
0.5 cup salsa
0.5 cup plain yogurt (instead of sour cream)
1 cup chopped greens (often, lettuce)
0.25 cup chopped avocado
0.25 cup chopped tomato
0.25 cup chopped sweet red pepper
0.25 cup chopped chicken

Now, if we pull the nutrition info off the chips, cheese, salsa, and yogurt in our pantry and fridge (Sprouts brand for the first three, Mountain High brand for the yogurt), along with nutrition info from the Self Database (for romaine lettuce, avocado, tomato, pepper, and chicken), we can put together a sort of nutrition label and compare to the recommended daily values from the FDA.

So, if we're eating the nachos for one of our three meals (i.e., if we should hit about a third of our %RDV for each category), it looks like we're pretty close for calories, a little high on the fat, cholesterol, sodium and protein, and a little low on the carbs.  We're also rockin' the vitamins A and C, thanks to the lettuce and peppers.  But can these nachos make up a significant fraction of a healthy diet?  The nachos obviously aren't perfectly balanced, but if our other two meals of the day are a little more carb-heavy (like oatmeal and PBJ sandwiches!), it looks like we probably won't get too far out of whack.

But for some extra perspective, we could also compare our nachos to other entrees that we might eat instead, if we weren't so lazy busy.  We found data for another version of chicken nachos grande, and also for taco salad, quiche, spaghetti, chili, and the quintessential example of nutritionally-challenged food, a Big Mac.

Somewhat surprisingly, even with the veggies, our nachos don't stack up particularly well against anything but the other nachos, except for vitamins A and C, and calcium.  (Normalizing everything to 100-gram portions makes our nachos look better, but that's not very realistic if we're actually eating the whole plate!)  Guess we better not make a regular habit of nachos for supper, unless we cut back on the chips and cheese, and ramp up on the other toppings. 

New house rule: nachos cannot be an entree if chips and cheese are initially visible through the layer of vegetable matter on top.

Thanks for keeping us in check, science!

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