Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Are Chicken Tacos Bad For You?



Short answer

Chicken tacos can be a nutritious choice, rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, but toppings and preparation methods greatly affect their health value. Opting for whole-grain tortillas, lean chicken, and fresh veggies can maximize benefits. Frequent or excessive consumption, especially with calorie-dense toppings like cheese and sour cream, may lead to health issues. Moderation, balanced ingredients, and healthy cooking practices are key to including chicken tacos in a healthful diet.



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Long answer

Nutritional Content of Chicken Tacos

Chicken tacos can offer a balanced mix of essential nutrients, depending on their ingredients and preparation methods. Typically, a chicken taco is composed of a tortilla, chicken meat, and a variety of toppings which may include lettuce, cheese, salsa, and sour cream. Each component contributes to the overall nutritional profile. Here's a closer look:

  • Tortillas: The base of any taco is usually a tortilla, which can be made from either flour or corn. A standard 6-inch flour tortilla may contain about 90-100 calories, 2-3 grams of fat, 15-20 grams of carbohydrates, and 2-3 grams of protein. Corn tortillas are generally smaller and lighter, with 50-60 calories, 1 gram of fat, 10-15 grams of carbohydrates, and 1-2 grams of protein.
  • Chicken: Chicken is a lean protein and the main ingredient in chicken tacos. A 3-ounce serving of cooked, shredded chicken breast provides approximately 128 calories, 3 grams of fat, and a substantial 26 grams of protein. Chicken also supplies vitamins like B6 and niacin, as well as minerals like phosphorus and selenium.
  • Toppings: The variety of toppings can greatly affect the nutritional content:
    • Cheese adds calcium but also saturated fats and calories.
    • Lettuce and other greens contribute fiber, vitamins A and C, and a minimal calorie count.
    • Salsa can be a low-calorie way to add flavor and additional vitamins, such as vitamin C from tomatoes.
    • Sour cream adds a creamy texture but also includes additional fats and calories.

Toppings can be tailored to personal preference, allowing one to increase the nutritional value of their chicken tacos. For example, incorporating more vegetables can boost fiber intake, while opting for low-fat cheese or sour cream can reduce the overall calorie and fat content. However, the nutritional quality can vary widely in restaurant-prepared or pre-packaged tacos due to their potential use of additional oils, fats, and sodium-rich seasonings.

For those preparing chicken tacos at home, controlling portion sizes and choosing healthier ingredients such as whole-grain tortillas, lean chicken cuts, fresh vegetables, and homemade salsa can contribute to a more nutrient-dense meal. Balance is key, and with careful selection, chicken tacos can be a healthy and satisfying part of one's diet. It's also important to consider the frequency and quantity in which such dishes are consumed as part of a well-rounded dietary pattern.

Quality and Preparation of Chicken in Tacos

When discussing the health impact of chicken tacos, a key factor that cannot be overlooked is the quality and method of preparation of the chicken. These aspects can significantly alter the nutritional value and potential health benefits or downsides of consuming this popular dish.

Source of Chicken

The origin of the chicken used in tacos impacts its healthfulness. Ideally, the chicken should be sourced from organic, free-range farms where poultry is raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Studies have shown that organic chicken can be a healthier option as it may contain more omega-3 fatty acids and less fat compared to conventionally raised chicken.

Marinating Process

Chicken tacos often involve marinating the meat to infuse it with flavors. The ingredients used in the marinade can significantly influence the nutritional content. While a marinade made with citrus juice, herbs, and spices can add healthful antioxidants and nutrients, those that are high in salt and sugar can contribute to increased intake of sodium and calories.

Cooking Method

The method of cooking chicken for tacos is another pivotal factor. Grilling or baking chicken is generally a healthier option compared to frying, as it reduces the amount of added fat. Conversely, frying chicken can increase the caloric content and introduce trans fats, particularly if cooked in hydrogenated oils, which have been linked to increased risk of heart disease.

Portion Size

Portion size should be considered to avoid overconsumption of calories and fat. A typical serving size for chicken in tacos should be around 3oz (85g), which can provide an adequate amount of protein while keeping calorie intake in check. Overloading tacos with chicken can lead to excessive calorie consumption which may negatively impact weight management goals.

Cross-Contamination Concerns

In the preparation of chicken tacos, it is crucial to prevent cross-contamination. Raw chicken should be handled with strict hygiene standards to avoid the spread of bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, which can cause foodborne illnesses. Safe cooking practices, including cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), are essential for eliminating harmful pathogens.

Accompaniments and Toppings

While not strictly about the chicken, the accompaniments and toppings chosen for chicken tacos also play a role in their healthfulness. Opting for whole-grain tortillas, fresh vegetables, and salsa can add fiber and nutrients. On the other hand, adding excessive amounts of cheese, sour cream, or commercial sauces can add unnecessary calories and saturated fats to the meal.

In summary, the health dimensions of chicken tacos are multifaceted, with the quality and preparation of the chicken being fundamental components. Selecting high-quality chicken, considering healthy preparation methods, being mindful of portion sizes, and adding nutritious accompaniments can transform chicken tacos into a wholesome part of a balanced diet. As with any dietary choice, moderation and balance are key to ensuring that this enjoyable food remains a beneficial element of one's eating pattern.

Tortilla Types and Their Health Implications

When assessing the health implications of chicken tacos, a critical component is the type of tortilla used. Tortillas can be made from a variety of ingredients, each bringing its own nutritional profile and potential health impacts. In order to make an informed decision, let’s explore the common types of tortillas typically used in chicken tacos.

Corn Tortillas: Traditional corn tortillas are made from ground maize (corn) flour. They are often a healthier choice due to their whole grain content, which implies a higher fiber count compared to their white flour counterparts. Fiber plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy digestive system and can help to stabilize blood sugar levels. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that whole grains, like those found in corn tortillas, may contribute to lower body weight and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Flour Tortillas: Popular in many regions, flour tortillas are typically softer and more pliable than corn tortillas, which makes them a favorite for many taco enthusiasts. However, they are usually made with refined white flour, which lacks the fiber and nutrients found in whole grains. Regular consumption of refined grains has been linked by research, including a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, with various health issues like obesity and inflammation.

Whole Wheat Tortillas: As a middle ground, whole wheat tortillas offer a compromise between the health benefits of corn tortillas and the texture of flour tortillas. Made from whole wheat flour, these tortillas contain more fiber and nutrients than their white flour counterparts. They also provide a hearty taste and additional satiety, which can help in managing weight, as highlighted by a study in the Journal of Nutrition.

Switching to whole grain options can contribute significantly to the nutritional value of a chicken taco. Consumers should also consider the presence of additives such as trans fats, which are sometimes included in store-bought tortillas to improve texture and extend shelf life. According to the World Health Organization, trans fats are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, reinforcing the necessity of reading ingredient labels carefully.

For those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, corn tortillas are a naturally gluten-free option, making them a safe choice. Meanwhile, both flour and whole wheat tortillas typically contain gluten, which can be problematic for this group of individuals.

In summary, the choice of tortilla can significantly influence the overall healthiness of a chicken taco. Opting for tortillas made from whole grains can improve the nutritional value by increasing fiber content and providing essential nutrients, while also considering potential allergens and additives.

Toppings and Condiments: Hidden Caloric and Fat Culprits

When we consider whether chicken tacos are a healthy choice, it's crucial to take a closer look at the toppings and condiments often added to this dish. While the chicken itself can be a lean source of protein, the additional ingredients can significantly alter the nutritional value of the taco. Let's dive into the common toppings and condiments to uncover their effects on your health.

Sour Cream: A dollop of sour cream is a beloved taco topping, but it is also high in calories and saturated fats. One tablespoon of sour cream can contain around 30 calories and 2-3 grams of fat. While it does offer some calcium, the trade-off in fat content may not be ideal for those watching their cholesterol or calorie intake.

Cheese: Cheese adds a delightful creaminess to chicken tacos, but it is also dense in calories and saturated fats. Just one ounce of cheddar cheese, for example, can add about 115 calories and 9 grams of fat. Furthermore, cheese can increase the sodium content of your taco, which is something to consider if you are monitoring your salt intake.

Guacamole: Made from avocados, guacamole is a healthier topping choice due to its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. However, it is also calorie-rich, with one-quarter cup of guacamole containing approximately 90 calories. Portion control is key when adding guacamole to your taco.

Refried Beans: Beans can be a nutritious addition, providing fiber and protein. However, refried beans are often prepared with lard or oils, which can add unnecessary fats to your taco. Choosing non-fried beans or those prepared with healthier oils can be a better option.

Taco Sauce/Hot Sauce: While generally low in calories and fats, some taco sauces and hot sauces can contain added sugars and a high amount of sodium. Always read the labels to ensure you're not inadvertently consuming high sodium levels, which can affect blood pressure and heart health.

Salad Dressing: Some people enjoy adding a drizzle of salad dressing for extra flavor, but many dressings are high in calories, fat, and sugars. Opt for lighter vinaigrettes or make your own dressing at home to keep the calorie count in check.

When enjoying chicken tacos, remember that moderation is key with toppings and condiments. To make a healthier choice, opt for fresh vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes, use a modest amount of shredded cheese, and measure out your sour cream or guacamole to keep calories in control. Additionally, using spices and herbs can enhance flavor without adding extra calories or fats.

Bear in mind that the accumulation of toppings can easily transform a modest chicken taco into a high-calorie, high-fat meal, so it pays to be mindful of not just what you add, but how much you add. Making smart choices with toppings can ensure you enjoy your chicken tacos without compromising on your health goals.

Portion Control: How Many Tacos Are Too Many?

When it comes to indulging in chicken tacos, portion control plays a crucial role in determining their impact on your health. The balancing act of enjoying what you eat and maintaining a healthy diet can become challenging, especially with a food item as tempting as tacos. Understanding how many tacos might tip the scales from a healthy meal to an overindulgence involves breaking down the components and considering individual dietary needs.

Firstly, let's consider the standard components of a chicken taco: a small corn or flour tortilla, chicken, salsa, lettuce, cheese, and perhaps a dollop of sour cream or guacamole. According to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines, an adult consuming 2,000 calories per day should aim for approximately 5-6 ounces of protein foods, like chicken, and 6 servings of grains, half of which should be whole grains.

Here’s a simple breakdown of a single chicken taco's potential nutritional content:

  • Chicken: 2 ounces (approximately 1/4 cup or 60 grams) – 60 calories, 1 gram of fat, 13 grams of protein
  • Tortilla: 1 small (20 grams) – 50 calories, 1 gram of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates
  • Cheese: 1 tablespoon shredded – 20 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein
  • Salsa: 2 tablespoons – 10 calories, 0 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbohydrates
  • Sour Cream: 1 tablespoon – 30 calories, 3 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of protein
  • Guacamole: 1 tablespoon – 25 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein
  • Lettuce: 1/4 cup shredded – 2 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0.2 grams of protein

The amounts listed above are estimates and can vary based on the use of specific brands or homemade variants. On average, a single taco might add up to around 200 calories. While one or two tacos can constitute an appropriate portion for a meal, it’s the accumulation of calories, fats, and carbs in multiple tacos that can potentially lead to excess calorie intake.

Frequent consumption of tacos with high-calorie toppings or in larger portions can lead to weight gain and associated health risks, such as increased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or blood sugar. It’s advised to enjoy tacos as part of a balanced diet, ensuring you're not exceeding your daily caloric and nutritional needs. Paying attention to the serving size of each ingredient, as well as the frequency of taco meals, can help maintain portion control.

While no specific number of tacos can be deemed universally 'too many,' as it greatly depends on an individual's overall diet and energy needs, nutritionists often recommend having one to two tacos per meal as part of a balanced diet, ensuring you complement them with nutrient-rich side dishes such as a fresh salad or non-starchy vegetables to create a more fulfilling and nutritious meal.

To cater to weight management goals, consider these tips for portion control:

  • Choose soft taco shells made from whole grains for added fiber and nutrients.
  • Opt for lean proteins like skinless chicken breast to keep calories and saturated fat in check.
  • Bulk up your taco with vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, and onions for fewer calories and more nutrients per bite.
  • Be mindful of calorie-dense toppings such as cheese, sour cream, and guacamole; use them sparingly or seek lower-calorie alternatives.

Portion control is about balance and understanding your body's needs. By being mindful of the quantity and quality of ingredients in your chicken tacos, you can enjoy this delicious dish while keeping your health in check.

Healthier Chicken Taco Variations for Conscious Eaters

For those looking to indulge in chicken tacos without derailing their health goals, there are numerous ways to make this popular dish more nutritious. Remember, the key components that make up a chicken taco are the tortilla, chicken, and toppings. By tweaking each element, we can create a taco that satisfies both our taste buds and our dietary preferences.

Choosing the Right Tortilla:

  • Whole-Wheat or Corn Tortillas: Opting for whole-grain tortillas over refined white flour versions can increase your intake of dietary fiber and essential nutrients. A corn tortilla is a gluten-free option that also offers fiber and a distinct flavor.
  • Low-Carb or Lettuce Wraps: For those monitoring carbohydrate intake, low-carb tortillas made from almond or coconut flour provide a lower calorie alternative, while lettuce wraps give a refreshing crunch and extra hydration with minimal calories.

Preparing the Chicken:

  • Grilling or Baking: Opt for grilling or baking the chicken using spices and herbs instead of frying. This method reduces the added fats and calories that come from frying and preserves the natural flavors of the chicken.
  • Marinating: Create a healthy marinade with ingredients like lime juice, garlic, cumin, and chili powder to infuse the chicken with flavor without excess sodium.

Toppings that Pack a Nutritional Punch:

  • Vegetables: Load up on shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers for a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The more colorful the variety, the broader the spectrum of nutrients.
  • Avocado: Adding slices of avocado or homemade guacamole can provide healthy monounsaturated fats for heart health.
  • Legumes: Black beans or pinto beans are a great addition to increase protein content and fiber, helping to create a more satiating meal.
  • Cheese and Sour Cream: Use these sparingly or opt for reduced-fat versions. Nutritional yeast or Greek yogurt can be healthy alternatives providing similar flavors with additional benefits such as probiotics.
  • Salsas: Freshly made salsa or pico de gallo bring flavor and nutrients without the excessive calories typical to cream-based sauces.

Research has shown that making such adjustments does not merely cater to personal health preferences, but can provide tangible benefits. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association highlights the advantages of choosing whole grains over refined flour, noting improved heart health and weight management. Additionally, grilling or baking methods for cooking proteins are recommended by the American Heart Association for their ability to cut down on unhealthy fats.

By carefully selecting each component, eaters with different health goals—whether it's weight loss, managing blood sugar levels, or maintaining a balanced diet—can enjoy chicken tacos that are not only delicious but also conducive to a healthier lifestyle.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, for a lower calorie cheese option, try using reduced-fat cheese varieties or substitute traditional cheese with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor without the added fat. Another alternative is to use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream for a similar tang with fewer calories and added protein.

Absolutely, to reduce sodium content in chicken tacos, prepare your own marinade with low-sodium options and avoid pre-packaged taco seasoning mixes that are often high in salt. Also, choose fresh toppings and make your own salsa instead of using store-bought varieties which may contain added salt.

To increase the fiber content of chicken tacos, use whole grain or corn tortillas, add a variety of colorful vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, and lettuce, and consider including legumes like black beans or pinto beans as a topping or side.

Corn tortillas are a natural gluten-free alternative to traditional flour tortillas. Some stores also offer tortillas made from gluten-free flours like almond, coconut, or rice flour. When buying processed gluten-free products, always check the label for any potential cross-contamination warnings.

Ask a question about Chicken Tacos and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea from overeating
  • high blood sugar from excess carbohydrates
  • gastric discomfort from high-fat toppings
  • foodborne illness from improper handling

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain from overconsumption
  • increased cholesterol from high-fat ingredients
  • high blood pressure from excessive sodium
  • heart disease risk from trans fats

Ingredients to be aware of

  • saturated fats in cheese and sour cream
  • trans fats in store-bought tortillas
  • high sodium in commercial sauces
  • refined grains in white flour tortillas
  • added sugars in marinades and dressings
  • antibiotics and hormones in non-organic chicken


  • protein from chicken
  • fiber from whole-grain or corn tortillas
  • vitamins and minerals from vegetable toppings
  • healthy fats from avocado

Healthier alternatives

  • whole-grain or corn tortillas
  • grilled or baked chicken
  • homemade marinades with natural ingredients
  • fresh vegetable toppings
  • low-fat or reduced-fat cheese and sour cream
  • homemade salsa or pico de gallo

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Siete Grain Free Tacos

  • Grain-free taco shells
  • Gluten-free option
  • Light and crispy
  • Non-GMO
  • Paleo-friendly
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-16-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-16-2024

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