Taco Bell vows healthy food, but not right away

Although the chain wants one-fifth of its combo meals to meet the government's nutritional guidelines, it won't be until 2020.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 11, 2013 1:20PM

Taco Bell restaurant in Richmond, Virginia (© Steve Helber/AP Photo)Yum Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell is vowing to get healthier, but fans of Volcano Nachos -- a 970-calorie plate of cheesy, beef-topped red tortilla strips -- shouldn't freak out just yet. 

The chain is considering ways to offer more "balanced choices," but those won't be coming any time soon, according to the Associated Press. Yum's move is a reflection of the pressure on fast-food chains to offer healthier options given the obesity crisis in the U.S.

Taco Bell is testing a "range of products" this year, with some menu items potentially reformulated, Chief Executive Greg Creed said on Wednesday. 

The goal is to have 20% of its combo meals meeting federal guidelines for calories and fat by 2020, which means a single meal would have one-third of the government's recommendation for daily caloric intake of 2,000 to 2,500. 

How many combo meals currently meet those guidelines? Taco Bell didn't know, the AP notes. 

A meal with as few as 660 calories would rule out some combos, such as the XXL Grilled Stuft Steak Burrito, which can include as many as 1,300 calories.

The announcement may strike some as a cynical marketing ploy, with Taco Bell aiming to portray itself as a health-conscious fast-food chain while not necessarily making any sacrifices now. And it's also debatable whether Taco Bell customers want to zip into its restaurants in search of healthy items. 

"Does anyone actually go to Taco Bell who is worried about calories or sodium?" nutritionist Robyn Flipse asked in USA Today. "I think their target is looking for something that is convenient, low-cost and fills them up."

And Taco Bell has tried healthy options in the past. USA Today cited its "Border Lights" menu, introduced in the mid-1990s, which failed to catch on and was pulled. Its current "Fresco" line, which includes lower-calorie options, is only 2% of sales, according to AP.

Meanwhile, one of Taco Bell's recent popular marketing ploys is urging consumers to down a "fourth meal," or a late-night repast that Salon criticized as only "feeding the obesity crisis."

Fueling late-night sour-cream-laden burrito binges is going to be a tough habit for Taco Bell to kick.

Aimee Picchi owns shares of Yum, but hasn't traded in the stock for at least 12 months. Follow her on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

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Apr 11, 2013 4:34PM
For those who would have Taco Bell change their menus to provide healthier options: the onus is not on the business to make healthy choices for you. Businesses remain in business by marketing a product that sells, period - regardless of that product's effect on people's health.  The product is tacos/burritos/nachos and sodas, people.  Wake up.  You're not going to get thinner eating that stuff, and Taco Bell has never claimed that you would.
Apr 11, 2013 5:36PM

I don't eat at taco bell to be healthy


I don't want a healthy taco bell


if they make it healthier,it wont taste the same,and it still wont be healthy


so,either keep it the same,or ill eat elsewhere when I want to be unhealthy

Apr 11, 2013 5:40PM

The only thing "Feeding the obesity crisis" are those of us who continue to make the decisions to eat when we no longer need to.

Apr 11, 2013 6:23PM
I don't go to Taco Bell to eat healthy.I go for a big cheese and sour cream filled burrito which tastes great. I'm an adult. Let me choose what I want to eat and drink.
Apr 11, 2013 3:08PM

Taco Bell doesnt serve french fries. That alone will save you some calories. TB isn't healthy but it can be a healthier choice than some other big chain fast food restuarants.

Apr 11, 2013 5:10PM
Unfortunately, you can lead a horse to water... as they say.  People will eat what makes them feel good.  You could have all salads on the menu and people would still drown it in cheese, meat, and dressings.  Our sedentary lifestyle is our worst enemy, followed closely by poor eating choices.  It's the American way!
Apr 11, 2013 6:41PM
Just another example of government sticking their noses where they don't belong.  If I want to be fat, I will be fat.  If I want to exercise, I will exercise.  If I want to buy a taco, it's my decision to buy a taco.  Let me worry about me....government needs to worry about getting its own act together.
Apr 11, 2013 5:56PM
I worked at Taco Bell as a teen in 1984.  Back then, Taco Bell's refried beans were made from scratch, albeit with lard.  As I recall, my manager said they were already looking into using powdered beans back then.  I think the first step toward healthier eating is less-processed food.  Taco Bell could make a good start by going back to scratch made beans WITHOUT the trans-fats!
Apr 11, 2013 3:42PM
The Taco Bell where I live is always really good.  One of my favorite places to eat if I'm going to eat out, which isn't very often.  I think I have had one bad experience with Taco Bell, and it was at a restaurant  a few towns over from me.  Most of the time, great food!

Apr 11, 2013 5:54PM


Apr 11, 2013 5:54PM
It's a personal choice, like ice cream... And health extremists whining about Taco Bell is like a fly in my ice cream. You messa my TACO, I ringa you BELL!
Apr 11, 2013 5:45PM
Taco Bell, Taco Bell, how i love you Taco Bell. Have been eating at TB for years, never a bad expierience, satisfying and filling, don't know where some of you dudes are eating!
Apr 11, 2013 3:57PM
Taco Bell Promises Real Beef... but not right away
Apr 11, 2013 6:48PM

When I go to Taco Bell I have no concern about how many calories I'm about to consume, although I know it's a lot. Then again, I go to Taco Bell a couple times a year...not a couple times a week. Just because some people have no self control doesn't mean that ALL of us should eat bland food!

Apr 11, 2013 7:15PM
Want heathier?  Drink a water instead of a soft drink.  3 soft tacos=600 caries (Fresco is 510) which meet the guidlines.  Add a soft drink and you add another 200+ calories. 
Apr 11, 2013 7:42PM
Apr 11, 2013 6:12PM
I'll never forgive The Bell for buying out Pup 'n' Taco. . . man those were the days!
Apr 11, 2013 6:26PM
If you make a healthy menu you will lose all of your business..

Look around you these people want to eat themselves to death ..
Apr 11, 2013 6:08PM
And by 2032 they'll be offering vegetarian food to future San Angeles residents, overtaking all other food chains.
Apr 11, 2013 5:46PM
I think maybe I will stop eating pure garbage...Just not right away.
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