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Diet Fast? Good, Bad, Ugly of Taco Bell's Diet Menu.

Diet Fast! Fast food 'diets' pop up like daisies in springtime nowadays, but Taco Bell has taken their diet to a whole new arena: the drive-thru! No need to get out of your cozy car folks, if you can roll down your window, you can order up some yummy diet food. Or so we are told.

Fast food chain, Taco Bell has pulled out all the stops for their new marketing campaign. Reminiscent of Subway's "Jared" marketing campaign, Taco Bell brings us the Taco Bell Diet, aka the Drive-Thru Diet. Sounds like a joke, right? Well numerous television commercials, a full Taco Bell DriveThruDiet.com website, a Fresco menu and even a "it worked for me!" spokeswoman (Christine) tells us that Taco Bell execs are 100% serious about their "thinking outside the bun" idea. I knew I had to give this 'diet' a closer look. See what I found: the good, the bad and the ugly...

Taco Bell Diet

Quickie Facts: Taco Bell has created a "Fresco Menu" to accompany their new diet campaign. The fresco menu items range in calories from 150 to 340 calories. The menu has 7 items with under 9 grams of fat. The basis of the menu is that to make any Taco Bell item "Fresco" Taco Bell employees will replace any cheese and sauce components with Taco Bell's new Fiesta Salsa. The Fiesta Salsa is a combination of tomatoes, onions, cilantro and some sort of salsa dressing. Taco Bell says about their new salsa:

"Our Fiesta Salsa is a delicious blend of tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chili seasonings that we prepare fresh daily. In Mexico, this combination is known as "pico de gallo," which translates literally as "rooster's beak." Some attribute the Spanish name to the beak-like shape and red color of the chilis traditionally used to make it. Another possibility is that the chilis make your tongue feel like it has been pecked by a rooster. Whatever the reason, we prefer our name!"

So even though Taco Bell wants you to think the Fiesta Salsa is 100% fresh veggies and just like a traditional Pico salsa, it also contains a 'fiesta salsa dressing' that contains partially hydrogenated corn oil. Not exactly a Pico de Gallo ingredient. Here are the full ingredients in the Fiesta Salsa (the mainstay component of the Drive-Thru Diet menu philosophy).

Fiesta Salsa - Tomatoes, White Or Yellow Onions, Cilantro. Fiesta Salsa Dressing: Diced Green Chili (Green Chilies, Citric Acid), Vinegar, Water, JalapeƱo Chili, Partially Hydrogenated Corn Oil, Salt, Garlic Powder, Xanthan Gum, and Less Than 0.1% Sodium Benzoate Added As A Preservative.

The bottom line: The Fresco menu does not have any "magical" healthy weight-loss items, it is simply the traditional Taco Bell menu, sans the cheese and sauce and plus the Fiesta Salsa.

Numbers Can Lie. It's a drive-by for sure. On your road to diet fast, who can pay attention to real facts anyways. Just stick a few pleasing numbers up on the nutrition board and smile contently as you drive on by. You deserve better. The worst thing a 'diet menu' can do is only focus only on calories and fat. The Fresco menu boasts a gloss-over view of fat and calories. If you want to see all the facts, you have to click on a pop-up window with a long list of nutrition facts. Numbers can lie, or they can tell the truth. Confused? Don't be.

Point A) If you only focus on calories and fat in your diet and discard factors like: ingredient quality, freshness, fiber, vitamins, minerals and whether or not it is organic, you are failing your body. Health is not born out of numbers. Health is born out of high quality nutrient dense foods paired with a healthy lifestyle. Exercise, stress reduction, healthy relationships, spiritual and occupational wellness are other factors to consider. See the 6 Dimensions of Wellness here.

Point B) If you want to lose weight, you will indeed have to consume less calories than you metabolize or burn off. But if your 'low-calorie' diet is devoid of nutrients, you may be damaging your body - even if you are losing weight. I would personally choose higher calorie, higher quality food over low-calorie fast food any day of the week. Why risk your health for weight loss? Isn't the point of losing weight to get healthy? If you want to lose weight and get healthy, you should put healthy foods with plenty of nutrients into your body (and keep the bad stuff out, like empty-calorie foods, chemicals, preservatives and food additives.) And unfortunately, Taco Bell items contain a lot of these food additives.

Another Way to Look at the "Numbers Lie" Scenario... You know those famously rich folks who are well known for making millions of dollars each year? Well a few of those high income folks, years down the road, turn out to have money trouble! You stop and think, "How in the world did Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon or MC Hammer have money trouble, when they were making so much money?" The simple answer: You can't use one or two numbers to analyze and predict an outcome. You can't look at "income" and predict someones lifelong wealth. Just as you can't look at calories and fat and predict the health impacts a food will have on someones body. Income and calories are both important numbers, but they are not sole factors to take into consideration.

Onto my menu analysis. I perused the Taco Bell "Diet" site as well as the traditional menu. Note: I analysed both Fresco menu items as well as traditional menu items. Note to Vegans: If you are seeking a 'vegan' option at Taco Bell, you are not in luck. The only vegan menu items seem to be the Cinnamon Crisps and the Guacamole AND the Fresco style bean burrito. The traditional style bean burrito contains cheese. Some salsas and sauces may also be vegan, but really, I think you should just pass on any Taco Bell fare. Vegans, run from this border. But for those of you who are seriously contemplating squeezing Taco Bell into their diet plan, here are a few facts I found that are good, bad or just plain ugly...

THE GOOD.

*Portion Control. Unlike McDonald's famous "Super Sized" menu, Taco Bell does keep its portions pretty controlled. They don't encourage you to buy 5 tacos at a time either. The Fresco menu items maintain nice controlled portion sizes ranging from 150 to 340 calories.
*What's 'Whole' Food? According to the Taco Bell ingredients list, the only menu items that are 100% whole foods are tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lettuce. No chemicals, food additives or preservatives are used on these items. The ingredients in tomatoes are simply tomatoes.
*Good Guac. Haas Avocados are the first ingredient in guacamole. And the guac appears to be animal product free.
*Taco Bell is MSG and Lard free. "None of the Taco Bell® menu items contain the following potential allergens: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP), Sulfites or Sulfiting agents, Shellfish, Nuts or nut extracts (especially peanuts), Undeclared fish or seafood, Yellow #5, Lard."
*Hmm...This 'good' part is getting pretty tricky. I guess it's good that Taco Bell has a nice disclaimer about their Drive Thru Diet. The disclaimer does mention something about 'exercise'. Hmm. It reads "DRIVE-THRU-DIET® IS NOT A WEIGHT-LOSS PROGRAM. FOR A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE, PAY ATTENTION TO TOTAL CALORIE AND FAT INTAKE AND REGULAR EXERCISE. TACO BELL'S FRESCO MENU CAN HELP WITH CALORIE REDUCTIONS OF 20 TO 100 PER ITEM COMPARED TO CORRESPONDING PRODUCTS ON OUR REGULAR MENU. NOT A LOW CALORIE FOOD. FOR COMPLETE NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION PLEASE VISIT TACOBELL.COM"

THE BAD.

*Caramel color added to Green Chili Sauce.
*Corn Syrup is 5th ingredient in Green Tomatillo Sauce (17 ingredients total).
*Where's the Cheese? Nacho Cheese sauce 5th ingredient is cheddar cheese (shouldn't it be first?).
*Flour tortilla contains Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil and sugar.
*TB Hearts Milk. Every single pre-made item contains milk (except cinnamon twists). Does not include salsas or guac.
*Bad Beans. Though Taco Bell brags that its refried beans are actually not fried, they are not fat free, and contain Partially Hydrogenated Soy Bean Oil as the second ingredient.
*Reduced Fat Sour Cream contains gelatin, which is made from from the collagen inside animals' skin and bones, aka crushed animal bones.
*High fructose corn syrup, HFCS, is in their salsa and pizza sauce.
*Not so Festive Fiesta Salsa. Partially hydrogenated corn oil in Fiesta Salsa. (Aka they 'healthy menu' mainstay ingredient)
*Lava Sauce 4th and 5th ingredients are egg yolks and corn syrup.
*Reduced fat sour cream #1 ingredient is still: cream. Cream is high in saturated fat.
*The sodium content in many of the menu items is pretty outrageous, as is the case with most fast food menus.
*Oily Dressing. The first ingredient in the dressings is "Soybean Oil".

And now a few facts that I consider to be just plain ugly:

THE UGLY.

*The Frutista Freeze, (talk about a deceiving name) does no actually contain fruit! Strawberry flavor ingredients-Treated Water, Sugar, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Yucca Extract, Salt, FD&C Red #40, Sodium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness), Potassium Sorbate (Preserves Freshness). And I know Red#40 is common nowadays, but it still scares me.
*There's Bugs in my Taco Shell? Red Strips and Red Taco Shell contain Carmine as a red food coloring agent. If you don't know, carmine is a red food coloring additive made from the crushed shells of insects. Ground up bugs.
*Ugly Marketing. Taco Bell is running a Twitter contest for a whopping $550 in Taco Bell food (sarcasm indeed). All you have to do is tweet your rave review of Taco Bell's new Drive Thru Diet menu. You'll win a Taco Bell Diet for a year, aka worth $550. Wow. "Motivate your followers with your most creative praise and you could win free Fresco for a year! ($550 value)" That's one way to get people to tweet exaggerations (or lies) about how great and healthy this new menu is. Oh, you can even make a Frescolution pledge online and send motivating ecards to your friends. Again, wow. And, how creative of you. E-cards, really?

Another Fun Fact: Oddly, when you look at the Fiesta Salsa in the Nutrition Calculator, it has only 5 calories and 0 grams of fat. This seems odd when the salsa has an oil-containing dressing. Even a small amount of oil should be listed. I found this quote from a restaurant employee about this mysterious 'Fiesta Salsa Dressing"

Commenter 1, Mandy: "I'm looking for the fiesta salsa recipe from taco bell. I know it's tom., green onion, cilantro, but what else? Mine is missing something!"
Commenter 2, Anon: "Mandy, I work at taco bell right now, and I know that the fiesta salsa has all of the ingredients you listed, and then some sort of dressing mixed in with it. I think it's some sort of spicy/sweet mixture (since I remember reading the ingredients once and it has jalapenos in it), but I can't remember it off the time of my head."

...so it's clearly not all veggies. I posted the full Fiesta Salsa ingredient list early on in this post. Comment Source: Recipe Clones webpage.

Diet Fast? I think you should take a snail's pace on this one.

For more info on Taco Bell's diet:

http://www.drivethrudiet.com/frescolution
http://www.drivethrudiet.com/
http://www.tacobell.com/
http://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/ingredient-statement/#fiesta-salsa

image source: tacobell.com



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