By Brooke Schohl, MS, RD
Burger King Triple Whopper – 1,020 calories
Taco Bell Crunchy Beef Taco – 170 calories
Which of the above fast food menu options looks like the healthier choice to you? Well, the taco of course! It’s much lower in calories. So, does lower caloric content automatically translate to healthy? This is the million-dollar question.
Fast food giants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell have added “healthier” options to their menus in recent years in an attempt to draw in the growing health-conscious demographic of Americans. You’ve seen examples of this with McDonald’s breakfast oatmeal, Burger King’s expanded salad section, and Taco Bell’s lower calorie “fresco-style” additions.
An article that perfectly fits into this discussion is one that a client recently forwarded me entitled “What’s Really Inside That Taco Bell Crunchy Beef Taco?” by Cristina Goyanes.
Here are the expanded nutrition facts on this particular menu choice at Taco Bell:
NUTRITION LABEL: 170 calories, 10 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbs, 1 gram of sugar, 290 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein.
LISTED INGREDIENTS: Taco shell, seasoned beef, shredded lettuce, and real cheddar cheese.
On paper, this taco appears to be a solid choice – minimal ingredients, acceptable fat content, lower calorie, and even a little fiber! After digging deeper; however, it was quickly determined by the authors that the ingredient list was not simply taco shell, seasoned beef, shredded lettuce, and real cheddar cheese as stated. Those 4 food items give way to 30-40 different ingredients.
Need proof? Check out the contents of the beef seasoning:
“Oat product isolated, salt, pepper, chili, onion powder, tomato powder, oats, soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin, soybean oil, garlic powder, yeast extract autolyzed, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder processed with alkali, silicon dioxide, natural flavors, yeast, corn starch modified, and natural smoke flavor.”
Wait – so 20 items make up the beef seasoning? Caramel color is the most disturbing item in my opinion – what color is the beef WITHOUT the coloring then? The cheese is heavily processed and includes various enzymes and anti-caking additives. The taco shells are deep-fried. Sodium runs wild throughout the taco shell, seasoned meat, and the cheese. Luckily… the lettuce is salt free!
On the surface, this taco seems pretty darn good. But upon closer investigation, all of the ingredients are heavily processed and full of additives – a far cry from the fresh, healthy image being portrayed. Food manufacturers and restaurants are tricky. Their processing techniques improve taste and shelf life but strip nutritional value simultaneously.
Demand more from the restaurants in which you choose to eat. Don’t let inexpensive meals with low calorie totals fool you. Be selective, and check ingredients lists in addition to labels. Understand what ALL of the ingredients on the label are – if you have to hit Wikipedia for answers, it’s not natural! Avoiding processed foods, and preparing meals at home are two sure-fire ways to add nutritional value back into your diet.
Interested in a FREE 30-minute nutrition consultation through Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching? Contact Brooke at email@example.com to reserve your appointment today.