Eating Healthy At Taco Bell

Eating Healthy At Taco Bell

We all have bad diet moments. Here's how to have Taco Bell without the next day taco calorie blues!

In a somewhat laughable attempt to jump on the health bandwagon, Taco Bell recently changed its marketing campaign from Fourth Meal to the Drive-Thru Diet. Regrettably, our lovable bug-eyed Chihuahua has been retired and replaced with Christine – a recently slim figurehead oddly reminiscent of Subway’s Jared.

Christine is selling you former fourth meal addicts a “new and improved” healthy Taco Bell menu, which advertises 7 items under 9 grams of fat. Sounds great right?! Not quite. What Christine doesn’t mention is that the Taco Bell menu is over 100 food items long (seriously, I counted.) So what to make of the other 97+ meal options? Is it possible to navigate the sea of chalupas and gorditas without spending the entire next day on the treadmill burning off Taco Bell calories?? Is Taco Bell really just a Mexican-twist on McDonalds?

You can get your Tex-Mex fix without sacrificing your waistline (not to mention your arteries, heart, gastrointestinal tract, etc.) If you are aware of the hidden sources of fat, calories, and sodium, you can order just about any item down to size. How, exactly, do we do this you may be wondering? …Glad you asked!

1. Fresco-fy it!

This seems to have flown under the radar, but Taco Bell now offers a “Fresco style” option for nearly every menu item. By asking for your taco or burrito a la Fresco, your goopy orange cheese and creamy sauces (remember, we dislike creamy condiments) are replaced with a freshly made salsa of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. Most Fresco style options have 25% less fat and up to 100 less calories than the originals. And if the fat factor doesn’t persuade you, consider this – there are 25 ingredients in Taco Bell’s Creamy Jalapeno Sauce, including: disodium guanylate, calcium disodium EDTA, propylene glycol alginate … the list goes on. Chemicals in my quesadilla? No thanks!

2. Steer Clear of Salads

I know. A nutritionist telling you to avoid salad - shocking. But hear me out. Taco Bell salads are so repulsively awful for your health, the miniscule amount of dietary fiber tucked beneath that iceburg lettuce is simply not enough to warrant consideration. All of Taco Bell’s salads contain upwards of 1500 milligrams of sodium, which is well above half your daily allowance. Add 770-910 calories and 41-57 grams of fat, and you’ve consumed almost an entire day’s recommended intake. On salad. Without dressing. Like Carolyn said, be weary of unhealthy salads!

3. Choose Tacos

This does not mean seven tacos. Think more along the lines of one or two. It truly is a challenge to find Taco Bell cuisine not loaded with sodium, fat, and calories, but your basic taco turns out to be pretty solid (exclude from this any item with “double decker” or “supreme” in the title):

Calories: 170-270
Total Fat: 7-14 g
Sodium: 330-840 mg

And just to prove my previous point, look what happens when we Fresco-fy!

Original Grilled Steak Soft Taco: 250 calories, 14g fat, 710mg sodium

“Fresco Style” Grilled Steak Soft Taco: 160 calories, 4.5g fat, 600mg sodium

Pretty noticeable improvement, huh? And if you’re still hungry, try adding a side of Mexican Rice or Pinto Beans (nix the cheese).

5. Know Your Burrito

Everybody loves a good burrito, and I fully recognize that sometimes those wimpy tacos aren’t enough to do the trick. But before you opt for the $.89 (a.k.a Beefy 5-layer) Burrito, ask yourself what you’re really paying for. If you’re looking to get 550 calories and 22g of fat a pop, then please, go nuts. Otherwise, try one of these for a healthier take on things:

Bean Burrito: 370 calories, 10g fat, 1270mg sodium, 14g protein
Burrito Supreme (Beef, Chicken, or Steak): 380-420 calories, 12-15g fat, 1340-1420mg sodium, 18-21g protein

You will want to avoid any burrito prefaced by the words Grilled Stuft, Cheesy, or ½ pound. And as always, try going Fresco!

Now, I have to admit that even I was shocked by what I’m about to divulge. And apparently I am into proving my own point today because check it out – the worst menu item at Taco Bell is:

Chipotle Steak Taco Salad with Zesty Dressing

Calories: 1100
Total Fat: 77 g
Sodium: 1950 mg

I can’t even identify a single food in that mess! So take this opportunity and run with it – avoid those Taco Bell salads and choose a healthy burrito, taco, or almost anything fresco instead.

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Alyssa Moran's picture

About the Author

Alyssa grew up in New Hampshire and is a lover of any activity that involves mountains (especially the Greens and the Whites!). She speaks Mandarin Chinese and Japanese and lived in both countries as an undergrad (which partially explains her love for Beijing eggplant, lychee, and anything green tea flavored). Currently, she lives in New York City and is working on her master’s degree in public health nutrition at NYU. For the past year, she has been working at NYU School of Medicine’s Center for Immigrant Health, and last fall was awarded the Gstalder Memorial Scholarship for her research and service in minority health. Active in the Greater New York Dietetic Association, Alyssa is working with student members to create a low-literacy cookbook and nutrition guide for cancer patients, which she hopes to have translated into Chinese and Spanish. Before getting into nutrition, she spent time working for several environmental groups, including The Nature Conservancy in Yunnan, China, the Missouri Botanical Gardens in Madagascar, and the Green Mountain Club on The Long Trail in Vermont. Alyssa was recently accepted to a dietetic internship program at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in the Bronx, where she will begin work in the fall.