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Do You Know What's In Your Taco?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
While fast food isn't typically the healthiest option, sometimes it is necessary when you are on the go. For this reason, our Food on the Run series attempts to provide you with helpful information to make nutrient wise choices when eating away from home.

Last week there was a firestorm of news stories about a lawsuit against Taco Bell. Apparently, an Alabama law firm filed a class action suit claiming false advertising. While Taco Bell states their tacos are filled with "seasoned ground beef," the lawsuit contends they should be using the term "taco meat filling" instead. With news stories of this nature, what are consumers to think?

Lawsuits can be successful and influential tools that create change as seen by the recent lawsuit against McDonald's Happy Meal toys. In this case it seems the law firm had the meat mixture analyzed and found a variety of other ingredients they call fillers, binders and extenders that caused them to file the suit. Many of the news articles have cited the United States Department of Agriculture definition that "ground beef can have seasonings, but no water, phosphates, extenders, or binders added." However, these standards are related to the packaging and retail sales of meat and not to its preparation and use in food. The lawsuit isn't seeking monetary rewards but simply seeks the mandate of full disclosure of what is in Taco Bell's seasoned beef.

Taco Bell has this list of ingredients for their seasoned ground beef on their website. "Beef, Water, Seasoning [Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil (Anti-dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Silicon Dioxide, Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor], Salt, Sodium Phosphates." They have also clearly stated on their website, "Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home. It then is slow-cooked and simmered with proprietary seasonings and spices to provide Taco Bell's signature taste and texture. Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88% quality USDA-inspected beef and 12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture. Our seasoned beef contains no "extenders" to add volume, as some might use." They have even taken out a full-page ad and posted a YouTube video response all in an attempt to openly share information in order to preserve their brand.

The Bottom Line

It will be interesting to follow this story to see where it goes. It will also be interesting to see how the lawsuit turns out. Perhaps it will bring attention to the fast food industry and its use of food additives. Maybe it will do nothing more than cause people to take notice of what they are eating and make a shift in their fast food behavior. Regardless of how the lawsuit turns out, being aware of what you put in your body is always a good recommendation and would be a terrific outcome of this news story.

The best way to know what you are eating is to make it yourself. When it comes to making your own seasoned ground beef, select ground meat from a local grocery store meat department or butcher. You can also grind your own from a purchased cut of lean meat. Use a combination of seasonings such as chili powder, paprika, ground cumin, garlic powder and onion powder to create lean and tasty seasoned ground beef for your favorite Tex-Mex recipe. When it comes to eating away from home, here are a few things you may also want to keep in mind.
  • Check restaurant nutrition and ingredient information before visiting whenever possible to help you make an informed decision.
  • Reserve visits to restaurants for special occasions or while traveling so you are only frequenting occasionally.
  • When possible select nutrition minded and popular local restaurants over nationwide chain restaurants. This increases the likelihood of receiving wholesome products although it certainly doesn't guarantee it.
Does news like this make you take a closer look at what you eat? What are your favorite Tex-Mex recipes that you make at home?

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How are oats and yeast seasoning and not fillers??? Report
I do on occasion eat at Taco Bell. When the story first appeared it made me think twice - again. I love Mexican food. My favorites are homemade chicken fajitas with lots of onions and bell peppers; and homemade chicken tamales made with green sauce and corn tortillas with a strong corn flavor. Totally yum. Report
I rarely eat fast food anymore because everything is TOO SALTY or unnecessarily sweet! I never liked salty foods but could easily find menu items at restaurants that were not over salted when I was younger. I used to love sugar, but that too was rare in most main dishes. Now one can't avoid being over dosed with sodium and sugar in every entrée no matter where you eat out! I have found that I am most satisfied with my own cooking! Preparing meals from all fresh and unprocessed ingredients is so much better tasting and healthier! If I see something new I might try to replicate it in my own kitchen rather than be disappointed by the fast food fare. It ALWAYS looks better in the ad than it looks and tastes in real life!! I discovered there are other flavors in food other than salt and sugar -- I really don't miss them anymore. There is so much vitality and variety in eating a diet primarily of living foods! Report
I used to eat Taco Bell all the time, then I stopped eating fast food for a few years. I had a craving for Taco Bell and got a taco....all I can say is BLECK! Report
I love Taco Bell! It always makes me feel good when I eat it. That said, I don't eat it often. I agree with the person who said thanks a lot, this is just going to make
my occasional trip to Taco Bell cost more. Worthless law suits are good for no one. Report
Before Spark I ate at Taco Bell,now I think twice before eating fast food. As long as there are customers there will always be fast food. Cheap food maybe easy on the budget but at what cost to ones health.
Since Spark entered my life I have gone back to the basics of eating meals cooked at home. No more processed food for me.
I make my tacos out of a tender cut of beef,throw it on the grill,slice it put a little on a warm corn tortilla. Top it off with diced onion,chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice. To spice it up I add home made salsa and a slice of avocado. This is my favorite way to enjoy a taco. Report
I love that people are up in arms and so "grossed out". OH NOES, there are OATS and SOY in my meat! Please. Please! If you use a seasoning packet to flavor your cow at home I'm sure it has quite a lot of ingredients in common with the Taco Bell seasoning. Hell, you can BUY dry packages of TB seasoning in conventional stores.

Honestly, I'd 100% rather eat the (plant based) fillers than the beef. Most importantly because I don't eat animals, period, secondarily because that meat is low quality, factory farmed and probably doused in ammonia. Mmmm.

Taco Bell, ditch the meat entirely and make it all oats! Joe's Oat Patties are delicious vegan burgers primarily of oats and quinoa. It'll be cost effective AND better for the fast food eating population out there. Obviously ya'll don't need 100% meat to enjoy your food...

And, with more brutal honesty, I'm glad it's not 100% meat. Every % of it that's plant based = less animal suffering. Report
I don't eat fast food and I think the people that do, don't really care what's in it. Report
Any time I've seen the tacos prepared by Taco Bell (I think they're horrid-tasting, but that's my own tastebuds) when someone I know buys one, I am always left wondering just how they determine what is in there? There isn't really enough of what they call "meat" to test! Report
Sad, but while I know that fast food is bad, I never really thought about the ingredients. I always thought more of the preparation side of things (fried, greasy, etc). Thanks for this! Report
I'm not into fast food chains, really, you never know, if the food is healthy. Never mind the awful ingredients, the calories are wicked. We used to have a taco bell, and no-one went there, and it has since closed. McDonalds' is still going strong. Report
My first reaction to this story was "oh, boy, here's another law practice trying to make a name for itself". Want to bet that prices at Taco Bell go up because of the litigation?

As far as the meat is concerned, if the meat doesn't look like something the butcher or the farmer would sell you, then it's "mystery meat", whether prepared at a fast food restaurant or the swankiest of local restaurants. Report
I think I've eaten at Taco Bell once in my life. Report
I never eat fast food much less taco, I eat very Healthy so I don't have to worry about any taco,I eat real food. Report
If I really want a taco, which is very rare, I choose a local (non-chain)restaurant whose quality I can trust. I don't think I have touched Taco Bell beef in fifteen years at least. Report
We only eat at Taco Bell one, maybe two times a year. My kids like my homemade tacos better. Report
I always put Silicon Dioxide in my taco meat at home. It helps you see it better and makes you think there is more meat than there really is. This trompe l'oeil effect makes the stomach feel fuller faster. I thought everyone did this! Report
Motivation to cook at home
Trying to switch to beans ! Report
"While fast food isn't typically the healthiest option, sometimes it is necessary when you are on the go." Really? I am constantly on the go, and we NEVER eat fast food. Really. And "Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home." Um - since when has the CAFO beef in the supermarkets been "quality?" No, thanks. I'm in complete agreement with this, though: "The best way to know what you are eating is to make it yourself." And use beef from a local, sustainable, humane farmer who employs a humane, small-scale abattoir to do the processing. Report
I admit I've never eaten at Taco Bell. No particular reason. However, my sister-in-law swore there was something in them that made you want to pig out. I have to admit that I have nothing against Fast Foods. Just make careful choices.

Another concern is Caramel Color is often made with wheat and would make someone with Celiac Disease go into a world of hurt. There are times when I've called the company who canned things to see how they made their caramel coloring. Just some thoughts to consider.

Renie Report
I'm not that worried. I don't eat fast food very often. Report
Interestingly enough Taco Bell was the restaurant that made me realize the importance of knowing nutritional info before ordering. I assumed that the bean burrito and grilled chicken taquitos would be among the healthiest items on the menu. i was with a friend and we drove through and I ordered those two items! YIKES!!! The interesting thing was I had asked my friend to drive through McD's so I could get a garden wrap...learned I should have stuck with my gut...
Taco Bell meal more than 700 calories
McDonald's would've been 320!!! Report
I really like that this article encourages frequenting local restaurants. When I first started eating healthy, I sometimes sought chains when I went out because they are more likely to have nutrition info posted. Now that I know the calories in food better and can judge portion size, I realize the many local, smaller restaurants in my city are actually offering much more healthful, sustainable food. Report
I used to eat the chicken burrito, had no clue what was in it! Haven' eaten there in years......

I like to make chicken fajitas on whole grain tortillas, m m m! Report
the real question is what is in the jack in the box taco. that is a mystery Report
That's an awful lot of ingredients for hamburger. Report
I could never get into taco bell :( Report
Stories like this in the past had made us cook more at home: see the documentary "super size me" or see how "chicken" nuggets are made...some of the cheapest food in fast food places shouldn't even be called food. (Michael Polland has several great bookas about it: the omnivore's dilema, etc)
If you are going to have unhealthy food, at least cook it at home: is still not the best for you, but at least is not processed. Report
I do mine, because I make my own at home....with soy crumbles. Report
I do eat fast food once in awhile but I get on their web site and check out the nutritional information first. I love a veggie burritto from Taco Time but once I saw how much fat and salt it had in it I said no more. I havent' since I eaten that. Report
I always say, "unless you make it yourself, you can NEVER be certain what it is made of".
It's Taco Bell. An entire meal for $2, did you expect it to be healthy?! Seriously? Report
Now I'm craving tacos. I like to use ground turkey. Makes some great tacos! Report
All I can say is YUCK!!!! Nutritional value makes it a no brainer. Cook them at home and enjoy!! Yum! Yum!! Report
Why does anyone actually care what TB calls the stuff they fill their tacos with?

Glancing at the nutrition facts should tell us enough to know we don't want to eat them:

210 calories
9g fat (4 saturated)
30g cholesterol
560mg sodium (that's over 1/4 of your daily sodium, btw)
21g carbs (2 sugar, 3 fiber)
10g protein

i.e. loaded with starch (41%), fat (40%), and salt. Report
Who needs Taco Bell when making your own tacos are so fast and easy..? Report
Someone commented that Taco Bell meat is Grade D which is inaccurate. There is no Grade D meat. See the urban legends website for clarification of this. Report
Since the nutritional info. is measured by volume, I'd be worried about "12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture." Beef has plenty of moisture, and 'texture' sounds a lot like 'extender' in a new wardrobe to me.

I've not eaten at taco bell (or almost any ff chain) since I was an undergrad, and more concerned about budget than health. Report
Staying away from fast food ~ seems safer that way! Report
The beef package at Taco Bell says Grade D Beef, still good for human consumption! Haven't eatten Taco Bell since! Report
me fast food from fast food restaurants. no junk. Only beans out of cans that I rinse off, but nothing else. All i eat is real (or mostly, i hope) Report
I don't eat at fast food chain restaurants, so I'm pretty sure all the food I eat is Real Food. Report
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