Can you really eat low-carb at Taco Bell?
If not “low-carb,” you can at least eat “lower-carb” at Taco Bell, and get some quick tasty affordable nutrition while you do it. Of course, you must go in with a plan, and that means conducting a little research. Even then, I’m not suggesting that Taco Bell — or for that matter, any fast-food restaurant — is a good place to eat while on the induction phase of the Atkins plan. It’s hard to keep your net carbs down to 25 grams a day if you eat anywhere but home.
Use the nutrition calculator
Taco Bell, like many restaurant chains, makes this easy by providing online nutrition facts for their menu items. Indeed, the company’s web site sports an excellent Nutrition Calculator that allows a customer to make changes in the standard menu fare to see what the nutritional impact will be.
The site also provides nutrition facts in the form of a table on the Full Nutrition Info page. It’s searchable, and allows you to re-order items by, say, their carb-count. However, the calculator has finer-grained information, and is more interactive. It’s a terrific interactive resource, well-designed and well-executed. (No, I’m not an employee, stock-holder or affiliate of Taco Bell — just a guy who appreciates software that works.)
You would ideally use the calculator before getting into the drive-through or bellying up to the counter at Taco Bell. Otherwise, the folks behind you may get annoyed.
Ditch the shell (and a few other components)
For starters, you probably want to avoid items that feature corn or flour shells, or else limit yourself to one or two such items. Several of the tacos on the menu, including some of the Doritos versions, come in at 9-12 net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) and 170 to 190 calories. But watch out — other tacos have 30 or more net carbs and over 300 calories.
Salads, without some adjustments, are not the answer. The Fiesta Taco Salads (chicken, beef and the steak) all contain 65 or more net carbs. But not eating the shell would save you more than 30 net carbs, and you could reduce the carbs even further by skipping the re-fried beans, rice, and tortilla strips. A Fiesta Taco Salad with grilled chicken and without shell, beans, rice, and strips has only 210 calories and 8 net carbs (down from 720 calories and 65 net carbs to start with). Unfortunately, there’s not much fat left in the salad, either — just 9 grams out of an original 33 grams. Even as adjusted, it’s not a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) salad. With only just over 200 calories, it’s basically a side-salad for me.
Consider a Power Menu Bowl
Personally, to eat low-carb at Taco Bell, I go for a Power Menu Bowl, and usually get the steak version. For a little over five dollars, I get a nice-looking bowl of steak, black-beans, lettuce, sour-cream, cheese, Pico de Gallo, and guacamole.
However, there is one more major component, which you can see peeking out from under the guac and lettuce. Yes, it’s rice — long-grained, seasoned white rice. The other ingredients are resting on a bed of the grain. That explains why the original version of the dish contains 47 net carbs (55g of carbs minus 8g of fiber).
Just telling Taco Bell to hold the rice lowers the net carbs to 14g (21g of carbs minus 7g of fiber). Total calories drop to 330. Without the rice, the total sodium is also significantly lower.
You do lose a little fat when you ditch the rice, which lowers the total fat of the bowl from 21g to 17g.
The rice-less bowl has 24g of protein and 3g of sugar. It provides a significant percentage of your daily requirements of vitamin A (45%), vitamin C (100%), calcium (20%) and iron (20%).
If taking this bowl home to eat, consider having the reduced-fat sour-cream held, too. It actually contains more carbs than fat! Then you can add a big dollop of full-fat sour-cream, and get this thing closer to a real LCHF meal. (Or you can ask for extra Avocado Ranch Sauce, which is fattier than the reduced-fat sour-cream.)
But is this good nutrition?
At the start, I characterized Taco Bell as offering “quick tasty affordable” nutrition. Having examined the actual ingredients of the Power Menu Bowls (also available in the Nutrition Calculator), I will stick with that characterization, and not venture beyond. It is fast-food, after all. With fore-thought and research, you can make the nutritional experience better. You probably can’t make it perfect.
That’s what home-cooking is for.