Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Street Tacos Bad For You?



Short answer

Street tacos can be a nutritious addition to a balanced diet when consumed mindfully. Choosing grilled proteins, corn instead of flour tortillas, and fresh vegetables as toppings can lower calorie and fat intake. Being cautious with high-calorie sauces and toppings like sour cream and guacamole is advised to avoid unnecessary caloric intake. Opting for fresh, lower-sodium ingredients and mindful portion sizes allows for enjoying street tacos without compromising nutritional goals. Thus, street tacos are not bad for you if enjoyed responsibly and in moderation, making informed choices about fillings and toppings.



Long answer

Nutritional Content of Common Street Taco Ingredients

Tacos, a staple of Mexican cuisine, have found a global audience, with street tacos bringing authentic flavors to food lovers everywhere. However, with their rise in popularity comes the question of their nutritional value. The health implications of consuming street tacos largely depend on their ingredients, which can vary widely. Here's a detailed breakdown of the nutritional content of common street taco ingredients:

  • Corn Tortillas: A traditional choice for street tacos, corn tortillas are a good source of fiber and contain less fat than their flour counterparts. One medium (about 6 inches in diameter) corn tortilla provides approximately 60 to 65 calories, 1 gram of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, and 1.5 grams of protein.
  • Flour Tortillas: Often used in larger, "gringo-style" tacos, flour tortillas are higher in calories and fat. One medium (about 6 inches in diameter) flour tortilla offers around 90 to 100 calories, 2 to 3 grams of fat, 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, and 2 to 3 grams of protein.
  • Protein Choices:
    • Grilled Chicken: A lean option, offering about 26 grams of protein, 120 calories, and 2 grams of fat per 100 grams.
    • Beef (Carne Asada): Slightly higher in fat, with about 200 calories, 15 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat per 100 grams.
    • Pork (Al Pastor): It contains around 275 calories, 25 grams of protein, and 20 grams of fat per 100 grams. This variation can be higher in calories depending on the preparation.
  • Toppings and Condiments:
    • Onions and Cilantro: These add minimal calories but are a good source of vitamins and antioxidants.
    • Guacamole: High in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. About two tablespoons contain 45 calories, 4 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of protein.
    • Salsa: Generally low in calories, with about 10 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. It's also a good source of vitamin C.
    • Sour Cream: One tablespoon contains around 30 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and 1 gram of protein. While it provides calcium, it's also high in saturated fat, so it's best used sparingly.

Understanding the nutritional content of these basic ingredients provides insight into how street tacos can fit into a balanced diet. The key to enjoying street tacos healthily lies in moderation and making informed choices about fillings and toppings. Opting for grilled proteins, avoiding excessive cheese and sour cream, and adding plenty of fresh vegetables can make street tacos a nutritious part of any diet. Remember, the freshest ingredients not only offer better nutrient profiles but also ensure a more authentic and delicious taco experience.

Hidden Caloric Bombs: Sauces and Toppings

While the essential elements of street tacos—typically small corn tortillas, meat, onions, cilantro, and lime—may seem relatively innocent in terms of caloric content, the devil, as they say, lurks in the details. One of the most significant areas where calories can sneak into our street taco indulgence lies within the sauces and toppings. Let's dissect these components to better understand their nutritional impact.

Sauces, ranging from the mild to the explosively hot, can transform a simple taco into a taste sensation. However, it's crucial to recognize that many of these flavorful additions are also hidden caloric bombs. For instance, creamy sauces such as sour cream or guacamole can add substantial calories. A single tablespoon of sour cream, for instance, adds about 30 calories, while the same amount of guacamole can pack in approximately 50 calories. Multiply these numbers by the number of tacos consumed, and you can see how quickly they add up.

Here's a brief breakdown of common sauces and toppings and their average caloric addition per tablespoon:

Topping Calories (approx.)
Sour Cream 30
Guacamole 50
Queso Fresco 25
Salsa 5-10
Mayonnaise-based sauces 100

It's not just creamy sauces that warrant caution. Even salsa, usually considered a healthier option, can contribute additional calories, especially if it's a fruit-based salsa like mango or pineapple salsa, which contains higher sugar levels.

Moreover, it's important to be mindful of the cumulative effect of these toppings. Layering several sauces or opting for extra cheese can transform a modest taco into a caloric heavyweight. For those keeping an eye on their dietary intake, choosing lighter toppings like fresh salsa, lime juice, or a sprinkle of cilantro can provide the flavor enhancement without the calorie surplus.

Expert opinions suggest that moderation is key. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) often recommend tailoring each taco with an awareness of these caloric additions. Opting for fresh, low-calorie toppings and measuring out higher-calorie sauces can help maintain the balance between enjoying street tacos and adhering to a healthier eating plan.

In summary, while the base ingredients of street tacos might lean towards the healthier side, sauces, and toppings can substantially increase their calorie content. By being informed and making mindful choices, taco lovers can enjoy these delicious staples without overindulging in hidden caloric bombs.

The Sodium Pitfall: Salt Content in Street Tacos

When indulging in the vibrant world of street tacos, it's essential to navigate the hidden dietary pitfalls that could lurk beneath their deceptively simple and inviting exteriors. One significant concern for health-conscious individuals is the sodium content often found in these mouthwatering treats. High sodium intake is linked with increased risks of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke, making it crucial for us to scrutinize the salt content in our favorite street food delights.

Street tacos, with their varied fillings and flavors, can contain surprisingly high levels of sodium. This comes not just from the pinch of salt added for taste but from multiple components that constitute a taco:

  • Meat: Whether it's beef, chicken, or pork, meat used in tacos is frequently marinated and seasoned with salt-laden mixes.
  • Sauces and salsas: These flavorful additions, though they enhance the taco's taste, often come packed with sodium.
  • Cheese: A popular topping, cheese can significantly up the sodium content of a taco.
  • Tortillas: Both corn and flour tortillas can contain added salt for flavor and preservation.

To put this into perspective, consider that the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, moving toward an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults. A single street taco can contain anywhere from 200 to 500 milligrams of sodium, depending on its size and ingredients. Consuming multiple tacos in one sitting can easily push one's daily sodium intake to the upper limits, or beyond, of what is recommended.

It's not all a salty despair, though. Making informed choices can help mitigate the sodium trap without forsaking the joy of savoring a good street taco. Opting for tacos with grilled instead of marinated meats, requesting no cheese, or choosing salsas with lower sodium content are simple adjustments that can significantly reduce overall sodium intake. Moreover, many street vendors and taco stands are becoming more health-conscious and may offer low-sodium options upon request.

The correlation between high sodium intake and health risks such as hypertension cannot be understated. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology highlighted the direct link between excessive salt consumption and increased risks of cardiovascular disease. This underscores the importance of being mindful of the salt content in everyday foods, including seemingly innocuous choices like street tacos.

In conclusion, while street tacos can be a sodium pitfall, they don't have to be off-limits. By making conscious choices and opting for lower-sodium versions, taco lovers can enjoy this delightful street food without compromising their health.

Meat Quality and Food Safety Concerns

When sinking your teeth into a delicious street taco, the last thing you might ponder is the source and safety of the meat nestled inside that soft tortilla. However, the quality of meat and adherence to food safety standards are paramount concerns that can significantly impact the healthfulness of these delectable bites. Let's explore the often-overlooked aspects of meat quality and food safety concerns related to street tacos.

Understanding Meat Quality

Meat quality in street tacos can vary widely depending on the vendor. The term 'quality' encompasses several factors, including the type of meat (beef, pork, chicken, etc.), its origin, how it was raised (grass-fed, organic, conventional), and how it was processed before reaching the taco stand. While high-quality meat is typically characterized by being rich in essential nutrients like protein, B-vitamins, iron, and zinc, low-quality meat may not only lack these nutrients but could also contain harmful substances like antibiotics and growth hormones, used in some conventional farming practices. According to a study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, meats sourced from animals raised in healthier, more natural environments tend to have a beneficial fatty acid profile and lower levels of unwanted chemicals.

Food Safety Measures

The journey from farm to taco stand is fraught with potential for foodborne illness if proper food safety measures are not in place. Street food vendors, due to the nature of their setup, may face additional challenges in maintaining food safety standards. Key concerns include proper refrigeration, avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked meats, and ensuring meats are cooked to safe temperatures to kill harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria.

To mitigate these risks, reputable street taco vendors often adhere to local health regulations and food safety practices, such as:

  • Regular health inspections
  • Use of gloves and utensils to handle food
  • Keeping raw and cooked meats separate
  • Cooking meats to recommended temperatures
  • Providing clean eating areas for customers

Despite these efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the importance of consumers being cautious, especially in areas where food safety regulations may be less stringent or inconsistently enforced. Personal observations of a vendor's cleanliness and food handling practices can serve as additional cues on the safety of consuming their street tacos.


The meat quality and adherence to food safety standards are fundamental to determining whether street tacos are a healthy choice. While there are potential risks, informed choices and vigilance regarding the source and safety practices of the vendor can mitigate most concerns. Ultimately, enjoying street tacos can be a delightful and relatively safe experience when you trust the vendor's commitment to quality and safety.

The Balancing Act: Street Tacos in a Healthy Diet

Integrating street tacos into a healthy diet requires a nuanced understanding of their nutritional components and knowing how to balance indulgent meals with overall dietary goals. The key lies in moderation, ingredient choices, and customization options. Let’s break down how you can enjoy these flavorful items without derailing your health objectives.

1. Choose Your Ingredients Wisely

Street tacos can vary widely in their ingredients and preparation methods. Opting for lean proteins, such as grilled chicken or fish, can significantly reduce the calorie and fat content compared to more traditional fillings like chorizo or carnitas. Including a variety of fresh vegetables as toppings not only adds crunch and flavor but also boosts your intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. For those looking to lower their carbohydrate intake, choosing corn tortillas over flour can offer a whole grain option that is lower in calories and carbs.

List of Preferred Ingredients:

  • Proteins: Grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, lean beef
  • Vegetables: Lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, avocado
  • Tortillas: Corn tortillas instead of flour
  • Toppings: Salsa, lime wedges, a small dollop of guacamole or sour cream

2. Mindful Portion Sizes

Street tacos are typically smaller than their restaurant counterparts, making them a seemingly ideal portion size. However, it's easy to overindulge, given their delicious taste and small size. Being mindful of how many tacos you consume in one sitting is crucial. A good rule of thumb is to start with two or three tacos and assess your hunger before deciding on more. Remember, balancing doesn't mean deprivation but rather enjoying in moderation.

3. Balancing with Other Meals

If you're planning to enjoy street tacos, consider how they fit into your day's overall nutritional intake. If your tacos are higher in fat and carbs, aim for lighter, nutrient-dense meals throughout the rest of the day. Focus on incorporating lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into your other meals to maintain a balanced diet.

4. Listening to Your Body

Understanding your body's cues is essential in maintaining a healthy diet while indulging in street tacos. Eat slowly and savor each bite, paying attention to how full you feel. Stop eating before you feel overly stuffed to avoid unnecessary calorie intake. This mindful eating practice can enhance your enjoyment of the tacos while keeping your diet on track.

By choosing ingredients wisely, being mindful of portions, balancing other meals, and listening to your body, street tacos can fit into a healthy diet. Embracing these strategies allows you to indulge in the delicious flavors of street tacos without compromising your nutritional goals.

Healthier Choices: Selecting Ingredients for Better Nutrition

Making healthier choices when indulging in street tacos can significantly impact your nutritional intake without sacrificing flavor. It's about striking a balance between satisfying your cravings and providing your body with what it needs. Here's how to build a more nutritious street taco:

1. Opt for Lean Proteins: Choose lean cuts of meat like chicken breast, turkey, or fish over fatty cuts of beef or pork. Grilled options are preferable, as they require less oil for cooking, reducing the overall fat content. For vegetarians, consider black beans or lentils as they’re high in protein yet low in fat.

2. Whole-Grain or Corn Tortillas: Instead of refined flour tortillas, go for whole-grain or corn tortillas. These alternatives offer more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Corn tortillas are naturally gluten-free and provide a distinctive flavor that complements the taco fillings.

3. Fresh Vegetables: Load up your taco with fresh vegetables to add vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a crunch. Consider lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Adding avocado can provide healthy fats, though it should be used in moderation due to its high calorie content.

4. Skip the Heavy Sauces: Many of the cream-based sauces or dressings can add unnecessary calories and fats. Opt for salsa, pico de gallo, or a squeeze of fresh lime juice for flavor without the added fats. If you must have a creamy sauce, consider a dollop of plain Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream for additional protein.

5. Watch Your Cheese: Cheese is a beloved taco topping, but it’s also high in saturated fats and calories. Choose lower-fat options like part-skim mozzarella or reduced-fat cheddar, and use them sparingly. Alternatively, a sprinkle of cotija, which is used sparingly due to its stronger flavor, can reduce the overall amount needed while still delivering plenty of tastes.

6. Consider Your Cooking Methods: How ingredients are prepared can significantly affect the healthiness of your taco. Favor ingredients that are grilled, baked, or steamed over those that are fried. Also, minimizing the use of oils and butters in cooking can reduce unnecessary fat intake.

By being mindful of these selections, you can enjoy street tacos that are not only delicious but also beneficial to your health. Remember, balance and moderation are key to a well-rounded diet.

Frequently asked questions

Street tacos can be gluten-free if you use corn tortillas, which are naturally free from gluten instead of flour tortillas. However, it's important to consider cross-contamination issues, especially if the tacos are prepared in an environment that also handles gluten-containing ingredients. Always check with the vendor if you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

Absolutely, street tacos can be included in a weight loss diet. The key is to choose lean proteins like grilled chicken or fish, opt for corn tortillas over flour for lower calorie and carb intake, and load up on fresh vegetable toppings. Be mindful of portion sizes and high-calorie sauces or cheeses. With smart choices, street tacos can be a delicious and satisfying part of your weight management plan.

To boost the protein content in street tacos while keeping fat to a minimum, opt for lean protein sources such as grilled chicken, turkey, or fish. You could also consider plant-based proteins like black beans or lentils. Additionally, using a small amount of plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream can increase protein without significantly adding fat.

To minimize sodium intake with street tacos, you can request no added salt on the grilled meats, choose fresh vegetables as toppings instead of cheese or processed sauces, and go for salsas with lower sodium content. Additionally, asking vendors about low-sodium options or preparing your tacos at home where you can control the ingredients can also help keep sodium levels in check.

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

Possible short-term side effects

  • indigestion
  • bloating

Possible long-term side effects

  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • obesity
  • increased cardiovascular risks

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high protein
  • fiber intake
  • vitamins and minerals
  • antioxidants

Healthier alternatives

  • grilled lean meats
  • corn tortillas
  • fresh vegetables
  • salsa
  • avocado in moderation
  • whole-grain or corn tortillas
  • plain greek yogurt

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 07-12-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 07-12-2024

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