Carne asada is a favorite of many for good reason – the juicy, tender beef charred just right from the grill and buttery with every bite is perfect in a taco or burrito bowl. The secret to its deliciousness is the perfect balance of flavors in the marinade that gives it a unique bold flavor.
While carne asada is delicious, is carne asada healthy?
Carne asada is a healthy food given it’s high in proteins and has a variety of essential nutrients - it also consists of beef, which is one of the few protein sources that have all 9 essential amino acids needed to build muscle. A portion of carne asada has 265 calories with 22 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, and 2 grams of carbs.
The key to eating carne asada healthily is to eat it with the right ingredients. Carne asada is often consumed in burritos and tacos, which can have calorie-bomb ingredients that can be detrimental to weight loss. Thankfully, there are ways to make it fit into your daily diet.
💭 What is Carne Asada?
Carne asada is a steak-based Mexican dish that is marinated in a variety of spices and fruit juices. The steak is often grilled and cut into beef strips. It is a popular dish that is often served in tacos, burritos, or quesadillas, or sometimes even alone.
The direct translation of carne asada is grilled meat. It usually refers to the popular Mexican beef dish that consists of a steak marinated with a complex sauce consisting of lime juice, garlic, herbs, and chilis.
If you like carne asada, check out the following:
🍎 Calories and Nutrition
A 4-ounce serving of carne asada has 265 calories with 22 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, and 2 grams of carbs.
Most of the calories from the dish come from the beef, which is the dominant ingredient of the dish. The remaining ingredients are from the marinade ingredients, which for the most part are relatively low in calories.
Given the usage of oil and the fact that beef is not a lean protein, this is a slightly more calorie-dense dish given the higher fat content. The key to consuming this dish mindfully is portion control.
📋 What’s In It
Carne asada is a relatively simple dish made with whole and nutritious foods. There are no artificial flavors or artificial ingredients involved.
Beef – Chuck steak, skirt steak, and flank steak are popular options. Opt for flank steak for a lean cut of beef.
Oil – Olive oil is often used as a base component of the carne asada marinade as the oil helps distribute the spices and heat evenly across the beef. To make it healthier, I opted to use cooking spray to achieve the same effect without dousing the steak in oil, which is very high in calories.
Lime Juice and Orange Juice – Citrus gives the steak a delicious balanced taste from the acid and a touch of sweetness from the fruit juice.
Paprika – Gives the steak a smoky flavor and a touch of heat and the marinade its distinctive rich color
Peppers– Gives it a smokey delicious flavor and a kick. Dried guajillo peppers, ancho chili sauce, and poblano peppers are popular options.
Sugar – Brown sugar or white sugar would both work. A small amount of added sugar will help balance out the acidity and saltiness of the other ingredients
Soy Sauce – The saltiness agent of the marinade
Apple Cider Vinegar – Additional acidity to balance out the dish
Garlic or garlic powder – Key aromatic to give the dish its flavor.
Garnishes – Carne asada is often garnished with chopped cilantro and limes.
Sea Salt and Black Pepper – Essential seasonings for the steak.
🍏 Health Benefits
Carne asada is predominantly made of beef and marinated in spices and fruit juices. It has most of the health benefits of any beef dish including:
Good Source of Protein – Carne asada is an excellent source of protein. A 3-ounce serving of carne asada has about 23 grams, which is about a fifth of the recommended daily value of protein intake. Additionally, beef is one of the few protein sources that contain all 9 amino acids, which is necessary for essential bodily functions such as healing from an injury and building muscle mass.
Vitamin B12 – An essential nutrient that helps with the nervous system
Excellent Source of Iron – This is a key nutrient that is essential for major cardiovascular functions
Zinc and Phosphorus – Essential for body growth and maintenance.
Learn more about the health benefits of beef.
High cholesterol and saturated fats – As with any red meat, carne asada can raise levels of LDL cholesterol. It's best to eat carne asada sparingly if you have any cardiac conditions.
Check out this post from Harvard to learn more information about what foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol.
📋 How To Make It Healthier
To make a healthy meal featuring carne asada, it’s important to use the right cooking methods and be mindful of what it is served with. Carne asada is already a relatively calorie-dense and higher-fat protein source, so it’s best to pair it and portion it with lower-calorie ingredients.
Portion the carne asada mindfully – While oxtail is healthy, it is a relatively calorie-dense ingredient due to its high-fat content. Portion mindfully to keep your meal planning on track.
Limit and portion high-calorie ingredients when serving it. Carne asada is often served as a burrito or taco which can come with a lot of high-calorie ingredients. Here are some strategies to keep the additional calories lower:
- Opt for low-carb tortillas which are 25-50 calories instead of traditional flour or corn tortillas, which run at about 50-100 calories each
- Only use rice if eating a burrito bowl without the tortilla. In other words, opt for one or the other. One of them is plenty enough carb intake for a meal.
- Carefully portion or skip the high-fat high calorie toppings such as sour cream, cheese, and/or guacamole. These ingredients can easily add up in calories.
Using cooking spray to minimize oil – While many recipes call for using ½ cup of oil, which can be almost 1000 calories. Spray the steak with cooking spray instead so that it will still have its flavor-distributing effects.
I would not eat carne asada every day given that it is not a lean protein and makes it hard for me to hit both my protein goals and manage my calorie intake. But by following the tips here, you'll be able to enjoy the delicious carne asada while still staying on track with a low-calorie diet.
🍽 Recipe Ideas
There are a variety of different ways to eat carne asada. Here are some of my favorite healthy ways to make the dish:
Burrito – Check out my healthy burrito recipe as a starting point and swap out the chicken for the carne asada.
Carne Asada Tacos – Just add some red onions and cilantro with a low-carb tortilla.
Surf and Turf Tacos – Same as above but with some grilled shrimp. This helps add protein content without much additional fat since shrimp is a lean protein
Carne Asada Burrito Bowl – Serve over some cilantro garlic rice and top with a portioned amount of cheese and guacamole.
Main Course – Eat the steak as the main course with a side of vegetables. Vine-ripened tomatoes, yellow squash, and some dark leafy greens such as a healthy blend of kale would make this a great low-carb meal.
Cast Iron Grill – To get a perfectly smoky and grilled carne asada without having to use a grill, cook the steak with a cast iron on high heat for a similarly smoky flavor.
Marinade for the right amount of time – Marinate the carne asada for 2-6 hours, but no more than 8 hours. Raw meat gets cooked in lime juice, and over 8 hours may result in the beef getting overly chewy.
Meal prep – Make it in advance and chop it up to make some tacos or a burrito for quick lunches
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