When you think about Taco Bell, you probably don’t associate it with healthy meal options. In fact, you probably picture drunk college kids polishing off Dorito-dusted taco shells in the early hours of the morning. But thanks to some recent changes on their menu, we’re giving the fast food chain a second glance.
For a restaurant that also serves a 980 calorie Breakfast Crunch Wrap and 760 calorie Fiesta Taco Salad, Taco Bell has made some major nutrition leaps over the last decade. Turns out, the chain has a dietitian on staff and she’s been the driving force behind a handful of major health changes in the company.
Beginning in 2007, Taco Bell introduced "Fresco style", allowing customers to replace heavier ingredients like mayo-based sauces, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole with pico de gallo. The simple swap can slash calories and fat up to 25 percent, and diners can opt to make most of the menu items Fresco style.
In 2013, Taco Bell announced that they wanted 20 percent of their combo meals to meet one-third of the federal government’s dietary guidelines by 2020, according to USA Today.
The on-staff dietitian helped plan and launch the Power Menu in 2014, offering six high-protein meals under 510 calories. The new menu included options like the power veggie burrito, with only 430 calories, 18g fat, 6g saturated fat, 15g protein, and 9g of fiber.
The brand ditched artificial colors and flavors, added trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup in 2015—and they launched a nutrition calculator on their website to help customers make healthier decisions when ordering. Diners can now create well-balanced meals, like two fresco soft tacos with shredded chicken, for only 300 calories, 12g fat, and 4g saturated fat. Plus, you get the added bonus of 18g protein and 4g of fiber—not bad for an on-the-go meal!
Taco Bell is also one of the only fast food restaurants to push for vegetarian- and vegan-friendly menu options. In 2016, Taco Bell became the first quick-service restaurant to be certified by the American Vegetarian Association, boasting 12 vegetarian items—all of which are under 480 calories—and a multitude of vegan options. The chain has also been transparent with diners about the potential cross-contamination of seemingly vegetarian items with meat.
Last year, Taco Bell announced their commitment to improving the quality and nutrition of their menu items. They applauded themselves for successfully reducing sodium by 15 percent since 2008, selling chicken raised without antibiotics, and eliminating 40-ounce soda cups from their restaurants.
Taco Bell recently expanded the use of cage-free eggs to all egg ingredients, and plans are in the works to remove preservatives and and additives where possible. They also want to reduce sodium another 10 percent by 2025.
We're proud of the changes the company is working toward, and we applaud some of the menu offerings. Plant-based proteins like beans provide fiber, and many menu items include fresh produce like lettuce, tomato, bell peppers, and avocado.
We’re definitely not saying Taco Bell should be your go-to spot for every meal, but we know that sometimes fast food is the only option. So, if the choice is between a burger and fries for 470 calories, 19g fat, and 4g fiber, or a Fresco bean burrito for 350 calories, 9g fat, and 9g fiber— we’ll take the burrito.