The Best & Worst Menu Items at Taco Bell
Taco Bell may not be one of the most popular fast food chains in the United States, but that doesn't mean it's lacking a following. The first location of the quick-service chain serving Mexican-inspired cuisine opened its doors in 1962, and since then, it's grown to more than 7,000 locations and 350 franchises across the world. But how does Taco Bell's nutrition stack up?
Well, the beloved fast food place got attention this year for the launch of a test run on an all-new vegetarian menu in select locations across the U.S. But for those who have long loved the original tacos and burritos, we analyzed which menu items are the worst offenders calorically and nutritionally, as well as the ones that won't wipe out your entire day's worth of calories and sodium. We asked Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, and author of The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner to handpick what she thought was some of the best and worst menu items at Taco Bell.
Here is our breakdown of the best and worst Taco Bell menu items, based on nutrition.
Worst: Cheesy Gordita Crunch Supreme
If you abide by a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, then you'll notice this single taco eats up a little over 25 percent of your daily calories and half of a day's worth of saturated fat. According to the Cleveland Clinic, no more than 10 percent of your daily calories, or 22 grams, should be allotted to saturated fat. We know it's hard to resist ordering a side, especially when you're only getting one taco, so keep that in mind before you ask for a plate of cheesy nachos to go with this single taco.
Worst: Double Decker Taco Supreme
Similar to the cheesy gordita crunch, this taco has two layers. It's a soft taco filled with refried beans that encompasses a hardshell taco filled with beef, sour cream, and cheese. Rizzo says that you'll want to avoid ordering this taco if you want to have more than one.
"It's 340 calories, which isn't terrible compared to other fast food, but the 730 milligrams of sodium [equals] about 30 percent of what you should have in a day. Considering most people probably have more than one taco, I wouldn't suggest choosing one that is this rich in sodium," she says.
Worst: Beef Chalupa Supreme
This is the other taco you should only have in moderation, simply because it's one of the more caloric and high in sodium options on the menu. On a positive note though, this taco offers 13 grams of protein, so maybe you'll only need one to satisfy those lunchtime cravings.
Best: Chicken Soft Taco
The chicken soft taco is a dietitian-approved menu item. Rizzo prefers this taco over the rest because of its simplistic ingredients: soft tortilla, shredded chicken, lettuce, and shredded cheese.
"This taco will fill you up with lean protein without too many calories," she says. For under 200 calories, you get 10 grams of satiating protein and it only 450 milligrams of sodium—considerably less than the cheesy gordita crunch and the double decker. For perspective, you should only consume a maximum of 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day to maintain good heart health.
Best: Crunchy Taco
This taco is essentially the same as the soft taco, with the exception of a harder tortilla and ground beef instead of chicken. Comprising of just 310 milligrams of sodium, don't be afraid to order two!
Best: Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco
If you like Doritos in chip form, then you'll likely love it this crunchy taco shell form, too. In fact, did you know that one of the main reasons people love chips is because of the sound it makes as you munch? Maybe that's why people can't resist just ordering one of these tacos.
Worst: XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito with Beef
"Anything with XXL in the name is probably a giveaway that it's more than you need to eat in one meal," says Rizzo.
Stuffed with ground beef, rice, avocado ranch sauce, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, and beans, it's no wonder this burrito clocks in at nearly 900 calories and just under 100 grams of carbs.
"It also has 14 grams of saturated fat and 2,140 milligrams of sodium, which is just a little less than you need to eat in an entire day," she adds.
We suggest you skip all of the variations of this menu item at Taco Bell, from the beef version to the chicken and steak varieties too.
Worst: Beef Quesarito
If we're being entirely honest, this burrito looks incredibly delicious, especially with that layer of cheese that coats the inner layer of beef, rice, and chipotle sauce. Rizzo says that this quesadilla-turned-burrito should not be high on your list of top orders though.
"The calories are a little higher than I would suggest in one meal, but the saturated fat and sodium are definitely too high for one burrito," she explains.
Worst: Beefy 5-layer Burrito
What exactly is in this five-layer burrito? Nacho cheese, seasoned beef, beans, shredded cheese, and sour cream. With that lineup of ingredients, it's no wonder this menu item made the naughty list. Opt for one of the healthier burritos below instead to avoid feeling sluggish midday.
Worst: Burrito Supreme—Beef
The beef burrito supreme is likely one of the most quintessential menu items at Taco Bell. Inside this flour tortilla, you'll find crumbles of seasoned ground beef, a dollop of refried beans, bits of chopped onion, shredded cheese, and diced tomato. While this menu item is not nearly as unhealthy as some of the others, there are healthier options available. The sodium content is still very high for a menu item that only clocks in at 400 calories.
Best: Cheesy Bean & Rice Burrito
For all of the vegetarians out there, this happens to be one of the better choices on the menu. While it has more calories than the burrito supreme, this bean and cheese burrito actually contains less saturated fat and less sodium, which means it's less taxing on your heart. But there's a way to cut the sodium and fat content down even further. If you take out the creamy jalapeño sauce out of the mix, you cut 70 calories, 7 grams of total fat, 50 milligrams of sodium, and 1 gram of saturated fat.
Best: Chipotle Chicken Loaded Griller
"A simple burrito of chicken, sour cream, and chipotle sauce offers lean protein and one of the least amounts of sodium of any burrito," says Rizzo.
The dietitian notes that while 770 milligrams is still relatively high, it's still lower than most of the other burrito options offered at this popular fast food spot.
Best: Black Bean Burrito
Full disclosure: This bean burrito is very high in sodium for the amount that you get. However, if you're vegetarian, this is a great way to get the protein you need. Together, the black beans and cheese allow this burrito to pack 13 grams of protein. Limit yourself to just one so you don't consume too much sodium in one sitting—eating two of these would nearly amount to the recommended daily allowance of 2,300 milligrams.
Best: Cheesy Potato Griller
Who doesn't love cheesy potatoes? Pack this into a tortilla, and you've got a side dish that you can nosh on while on the go! While this burrito contains less sodium than the black bean one, it only offers 8 grams of protein for about the same amount of calories. The more protein, the more filling a dish will be and the less you'll want to eat in one sitting.
Specialty Items & Bowls
Worst: Fiesta Taco Salad
A salad that costs you nearly 800 calories? While this may seem counterproductive, note that this isn't a bed of spinach with lean protein and vinaigrette drizzled on top. This "salad" is in a league of its own.
"Believe it or not, the thing I would stay away from is the taco salad. It's not really a salad, with beef, beans, fried tortilla strips, rice, sour cream, cheese, and just a hint of lettuce. It comes in at 760 calories [with] 1,330 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of saturated fat. Don't fall for the name 'salad' and order something else," says Rizzo.
Worst: Steak Quesadilla
While we appreciate the 29 grams of protein in this meal, we aren't a fan of the more than 1,200 milligrams of sodium that it packs. For perspective, this quesadilla has as much sodium as 108 Lay's potato chips. Imagine how thirsty you would feel after munching on those, and that's likely how you'll feel after eating one of these quesadillas for lunch.
Worst: Mexican Pizza
Taco Bell's Mexican Pizza also ranks as one of the unhealthier specialty options. While the pizza form looks cute, it doesn't provide any nutritional value other than protein. Skip out on this "pizza" and opt for one of the healthier items below!
Best: Chicken Power Bowl
Now we're talking. This bowl is chock-full of healthy fats, primarily from the guacamole.
"I like this item because it's 500 calories and has 27 grams of lean protein, so it will fill you up without overloading you on calories. It has healthy items, like chicken, beans, guacamole, lettuce, and tomato," says Rizzo. "The sodium is rather high at 1,230 milligrams, so I would ask to omit the cheese and put the sauces on the side."
Best: Beefy Mini Quesadilla
If you still want that quesadilla but don't want to sacrifice 500 calories and more than a half day's worth of sodium, consider ordering this item. You slash the sodium by more than half, and you still get 9 grams of protein for only 210 calories. Order this to go, and then pair it with slices of red bell pepper and broccoli with hummus at home for additional protein and a serving (or two) of veggies.
Best: Spicy Tostada
If you're looking for something on the lighter side, the Spicy Tostada is another good option with less than 500 milligrams of sodium.
Nachos & Sides
Worst: Nacho Fries BellGrande
Nacho fries? Rizzo says this is the worst nacho combination you could order at Taco Bell, which shouldn't come as a surprise seeing as the "nachos" here are actually French fries.
"Nachos are usually considered a side dish, so I would avoid eating this many calories as a side to your meal," says Rizzo.
Not only does this side dish contain more calories than four crunchy tacos, but it also packs a whopping 1,440 milligrams of sodium, which is nearly two-thirds of your recommended daily allotment of sodium.
Worst: Nachos BellGrande
Just as bad as the French fry version of the BellGrande is the one with actual nachos. But at least with this menu item, you save about 100 milligrams of sodium and get 6 grams more protein. Still, if you're ordering this as a side, consider splitting this among two others to cut back on carbs, sodium, and calories.
Worst: Nachos Supreme
If you're going to splurge, choose the nachos supreme because you save 300 calories, at least 15 grams of fat, and a good portion of sodium. Again, don't shy away from splitting this with at least one other friend!
Best: Black Beans and Rice
The healthiest side you can order at Taco Bell is this small bowl of black beans and rice. This dish is also vegan-friendly so those who follow that lifestyle can enjoy this side dish with a bean burrito—minus the sour cream and cheese.
Best: Chips & Guacamole
"Although this item is a little higher in calories than the chips and salsa, I like that it has healthy fats from avocado," says Rizzo. "You'll get about 230 calories and 310 milligrams of sodium, but the healthy fats will help keep you full."
Best: Cheesy Roll Up
If you're in the mood for a snack, the cheesy roll up is a great way to get some protein and for minimal calories.
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