When the craving for tacos calls, you almost always have to listen. Whether you’re a fan of a classic beef taco, one made with zesty fried fish, or a vegetarian taco filled with beans and cheese, you know just how satisfying it can be to chow down on your favorite taco (or three). While this food is fairly easy to make at home, there isn’t always time or energy left in your day to make it happen. For these moments, pulling into a nearby drive-thru can help you satisfy your cravings in a matter of no time. And for those who want to enjoy tacos without completely derailing their health goals, we’ve gathered a list of healthy fast-food tacos you can try right now.
The terms “healthy” and “fast-food” don’t often coexist in the same sentence, since fast food, by nature, is going to be on the unhealthier side. This type of food is often loaded with fat, calories, saturated fat, and sodium, and is usually low in fiber and nutrients. In fact, research shows that regularly eating fast food can contribute to a number of serious diseases and even shorten your lifespan. But even though fast food is generally considered to be bad for your health, some restaurants provide options on the healthier side for you to choose from. This way, if you’re even in a bind and need to grab a fast meal on the go, you don’t have to completely ruin your nutrition goals for the day. But what do “healthy fast-food tacos” really entail?
“When it comes to healthier fast-food tacos, it’s important to note that the term ‘healthy’ can vary depending on individual dietary preferences and nutritional needs,” says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD. Some examples would be items lower in sodium, saturated fat, and calories, and higher in fiber or other helpful nutrients.
One of the benefits of choosing Taco Bell is that they offer relatively simple tacos that are easy to personalize. If you opt for a crunchy taco, you’ll be able to keep your saturated fat and sodium on the lower end compared to some of their other options. You can also choose to remove the cheese and add beans for extra fiber and protein, or remove the beef and add chicken for even less saturated fat.
Taco Bell has its signature soft shell tacos—one of which is the Beef Soft Taco Supreme, as depicted here. But they also provide a “Fresco Style” option for every one of their taco options. This means they remove the sour cream and shredded cheese and add in tomato-based salsa. So although the standard Beef Soft Taco Supreme comes in at 210 calories and 10 grams of fat, ordering it Fresco style is only 160 calories and will keep the saturated fat at only 2.5 grams.
“One of the healthiest taco options is the Fresco style at Taco Bell. This simple modification significantly reduces the calorie and fat content of the taco while adding a burst of flavor and essential nutrients,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, at Balance One Supplements,
On top of including low-calorie salsa, Taco Bell’s Fresco style tacos “provides vitamins and antioxidants from the tomatoes, onions, and spices used in its preparation,” says Best.
When it comes to fast-food taco joints, Del Taco is certainly not known for its healthy options. However, you can make your trip there as nutritional as possible if you make a few intentional choices. For example, you can choose its grilled chicken tacos instead of fried chicken or beef taco iterations.
“Del Taco’s Soft Grilled Chicken Tacos are made with grilled chicken, which is a healthier choice compared to fried options,” says Sabat. “They are also topped with lettuce and tomatoes, providing additional nutrients.”
This taco is great for those who are watching their saturated fat because it has only three grams of saturated fat, which is relatively low for fast-food items. However, if you’re trying to eat less sodium, this choice may not be the right one for you. Note that it has over 500 milligrams of sodium, which accounts for over 20% of the daily recommended intake of this mineral in a single taco.
Chipotle may arguably have the most adjustable menu, as it allows you to build your tacos from the ground up. Sabat suggests going for their soft corn tacos, “which can be filled with various ingredients like grilled chicken, steak, or their vegetarian options.”
“Opting for whole-grain corn tortillas can provide more fiber and nutrients compared to flour tortillas,” says Sabat.
For one of the healthier taco choices at Chipotle, choose their corn tortillas with chicken, cheese, salsa, and fajita veggies, and skip over the cheese and sour cream if you can.