In 2019, Taco Bell debuted two new offerings: the “Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme,” which contains 510 calories and consists of black beans, nacho cheese sauce, tomatoes, reduced-fat sour cream and lettuce; and the “Black Bean Quesarito,” which contains 630 calories and consists of black beans, reduced-fat sour cream, cheese, nacho cheese sauce, chipotle sauce and seasoned rice.
A closer look at these vegetarian options reveals that they are not much better than their meaty alternatives. Nutritionist Christina Crowder said these items are not at all healthy food choices.
“Most individuals would want more than just one of these items for lunch, and they already have half the daily sodium, minimal protein, and a lot of carbohydrates,” said Crowder. Most Americans are not going to be satisfied with these two high-fat, high-calorie foods alone; they're usually accompanied by diet soda, chips, salsa and queso. "[That’s] why we live with an obesity crisis.”
Senior dietitian Dana Hunnes of the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center agrees. According to Hunnes, while these new vegetarian options are “better than the meaty alternatives” on the menu, they still consist of processed white flour, tortillas and a high-salt cheesy product vis-a-vis a small amount of beans and vegetables.
“Like I said, they are slightly better than the original meat versions, but they are not a health food,” she said. In fact, if you're going to Taco Bell and are looking for healthier alternatives, you don't go to its new vegetarian section but to its "power menu," added Hunnes. The items in this section come in bowls instead of the white-flour processed tortilla of traditional tacos. They also appear to have more vegetables, potentially providing greater amounts of fiber and nutrients.
For Crowder, the secret to a healthier Taco Bell meal is to limit the carbs found in tortillas and rice as well as the sodium in cheese and chips. She also urged consumers to aim for more vegetables. However, the challenge rests on finding veggie-rich options in fast food restaurants.
“Unfortunately, there are not a lot of filling veggies offered here which would help keep you full, along with adequate protein per meal of about 20 to 30 grams,” Crowder said.
She's also at odds about whether fast vegetarian options are a step in the right direction. Taco Bell's latest vegetarian options, for instance, aren't really any healthier than their meat counterparts, especially if you're eating a plant-based diet in the name of health. (Related: Fast food wrappers loaded with toxic, polluting chemicals.)
In 2019, Burger King came under fire after a vegan customer alleged that its 100 percent plant-based “Impossible Whopper” was contaminated with meat.
Customer Phillip Williams bought an Impossible Whopper at an Atlanta drive-through but wasn't aware that the cooking would leave it “coated in meat by-products.” He filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction that will require Burger King to plainly disclose whether its plant-based burgers and regular burgers are cooked on the same grill.
In the U.K., the plant-based Rebel Whopper is cooked on the same grill as the original Whopper to "deliver the same unique flame-grilled taste," making it unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans, according to Burger King's U.K. website.
Therefore, just because a burger or taco is labeled vegetarian doesn't mean it's automatically healthy. It's likely they're made of unhealthy ingredients or are not cooked under ideal conditions. It pays to scrutinize your food.
Products.news has more on the truth behind vegetarian fast-food menus.