Why You Shouldn't Do a 'Taco Cleanse' for Weight Loss

How a Vegan Cookbook Turned Into a Taco Diet Fad

Tacos at Rancho Pescadero, Baja California, Mexico
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Among the hundreds of fad diets that hit the media each year, one particular program has gained excitement and curiosity: the taco cleanse. Thousands of hopeful dieters are Googling "What is the taco diet?" and "Can I lose weight on a taco cleanse?" in hopes of losing weight with diet tacos. If you're one of them, hold off before you run to Taco Bell for a slimmer figure. There are a few things you should know about the program before you invest.

What Is the Taco Cleanse?

If you're having a hard time taking the idea of a taco diet seriously, you're not alone; you're on the right track. The taco cleanse is not a serious cleanse. It comes from a humorous book, "The Taco Cleanse," that provides vegan recipes for people who love tacos and want to experiment with a vegan lifestyle. All of the benefits stated in the book are based on anecdotal evidence (the personal experiences of the authors) and are added to make the book funny and enjoyable to read. 

So how does the taco cleanse work? The book authors, four self-proclaimed taco scientists, explain that the plan is quite simple. All of your meals must contain tacos. A cleanse can last for just one day or up to a month. "As one would expect," they explain, "the benefits of a high-taco diet become especially apparent as one approaches Fuego level."

Can You Lose Weight on the Taco Diet?

Despite the fact that dieters are trying to lose weight on the program, the authors of "The Taco Cleanse" do not promote the book as a weight loss program.

Their tone and content, in fact, are anti-diet. They also are very clear about their opinions of diet cleanses in general.

"It’s pretty clear we think cleanses (other than the Taco Cleanse, of course) are unhealthy," they say. The authors go on to list a number of resources that debunk fad diets and also provide a link to a reputable organization for people who might be struggling with an eating disorder.

So, does that mean you won't lose weight on the taco cleanse? Not necessarily. If you choose to follow the taco cleanse and fill your tacos with healthy ingredients that are portion-controlled and lower in fat and calories, you might slim down. But there are pros and cons to using this program for weight loss and improved health.

How to Follow the Taco Cleanse

Throngs of dieters are trying to follow the taco cleanse and reporting their results in the media. Consumers who see the articles may not actually buy the book, but follow the program without full knowledge of the humor behind it.

 To follow the cleanse they must follow these rules: 

  • You must eat at least one taco at every meal, including breakfast.
  • Taco size matters. You must be able to hold each taco with one hand.
  • Alcohol is allowed. Supplementing with margaritas is suggested and encouraged.
  • You can get creative with tacos, but "taco" is clearly defined. A taco only has one fold (e.g.,  a burrito is not a taco), it must be flat, and not be "bready." Waffles are considered tacos. According to the authors, they are "grandfathered in." 
  • Tacos must be handheld and portable.
  • You can use a wide range of tortillas for your taco. You can buy them or make them (recipes are provided) from wheat, corn, collard greens, or plantains. 

    Taco Diet Pros and Cons

    If you choose to take on a taco challenge consider these factors before starting the program. 

    Pros

    • The book encourages planned meals and mindful eating.
    • You learn how to cook your own food and to prepare and bring meals with you to keep your eating program on track.
    • You'll be inspired to try new ingredients, many of which are whole foods that provide nutritional benefits.
    • You'll decrease your intake of bread and other starchy carbs on the plan.
    • Sample menus are portion-controlled and suggest a nutritious intake of a wide variety of veggies and ingredients.
    • In order to follow the taco cleanse, you need to increase your intake of vegetables, and the book provides suggestions to people who don't like to eat veggies.
    • The authors provide lighthearted tips to help you stay on the program. The tips can be applied to any diet, such as asking waitstaff for guidance at a restaurant, getting support from friends, journaling, yoga, and growing your own vegetable garden.

    Cons

    • The grocery list for the taco cleanse includes items that aren't necessarily healthy. For example, tater tots, canned refried beans, and tortilla chips are not necessarily considered nutritious foods. 
    • The program includes recipes for less-than-healthy items like Beer-Battered Portobellos and other fried foods.
    • The plan encourages the inclusion of alcohol, which can add empty calories to your diet and may not be healthy for everyone. 
    • Any diet based on a single food is not sustainable. The book authors don't sell the program as a serious lifestyle, but dieters who don't read the whole book and simply follow online versions of the taco diet should understand that it is not a diet that you are likely to maintain for weight loss or healthy eating.

    Do It the Verywell Way

    If you love tacos and need to lose weight, there are ways to include diet tacos in a healthy calorie-controlled meal plan. You can also include nutritious Mexican food in a long-term program to maintain your weight. But not all Tex-Mex fare is good for your diet. 

    Try to avoid pre-packaged taco kits and canned products to prepare your healthy Mexican food. Taco shells that are precooked may contain unhealthy trans fat and are higher in calories than the ones you make at home. And taco additions like canned refried beans are likely to be higher in fat and sodium. Some prepared salsas and guacamoles are healthy, but your favorite brand may contain added sugars or artificial ingredients. Check the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients to choose a healthy brand or make your own guacamole and salsa at home to include fresh ingredients.

    Use these guidelines to create your own healthy version of a taco diet.

    • Plan one night each week to enjoy Mexican food and experiment with healthy diet taco recipes. Taco Tuesday is the perfect night to gather your friends or family and cook fun south-of-the-border foods.
    • Use healthy cooking methods to prepare the taco shells. Instead of frying your tortillas, either warm them in the oven wrapped in foil (for soft tacos) or bake them in a hot oven to make them crisp.
    • Broil, steam, or roast taco fillings to cut back on oil. 
    • Focus on filling your tacos with a wide array of flavorful vegetables and include lean protein to boost satiety (fullness). Try fish tacos, shrimp tacos, tuna tacos, bison tacos, and ground turkey tacos.
    • Use healthy fats sparingly. Avocado is a good source of healthy fat. Sour cream and cheese are dairy products that also provide benefits for your body. But these delicious ingredients are also high in fat. Choose one and include just a single portion in each taco. 
    • Watch your sodium intake. Many taco fillings (like beans, cheese, and olives) are high in salt. Look for low-sodium alternatives and try to avoid canned or processed ingredients.
    • If you choose to enjoy a cocktail with your meal, choose a low-calorie margarita recipe and keep portion control in mind. 

    "The Taco Cleanse" is a fun book to read, and the authors have a healthy perspective on diets and cleanses. But if you don't read the book and instead follow online versions you might not know that. If you want to lose weight with a taco diet, use healthy ingredients and common sense to reach your goals.

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