Many women crave fast food during pregnancy. If you read the pregnancy forums online, many have a particular craving for Taco Bell. Knowing that most fast food is somewhat unhealthy, you may be asking what can pregnant women eat at Taco Bell?
While many of Taco Bell’s menu items are high in calories, fat and sodium, there are still some healthier options available. Contrary to internet rumors, Taco Bell’s meats and cheeses are safe for pregnant women to eat. The most sensible options are chicken soft tacos, Power Bowls, and bean burritos.
Below we’ll answer some common questions about Taco Bell’s ingredients and their safety for pregnant women. We’ll also look at modifying menu items and suggest three healthier options to try when you go.
Is it okay to eat Taco Bell while pregnant?
Taco Bell is one of the few fast-food chains to put their money where their mouth is in terms of cleaning up their menu. Over the last 15 years, they have committed to being transparent, simplifying ingredients, adding healthier options, and reducing sodium content in their foods.
For those of us that eat junk food as a guilty pleasure once in a while, yes, it’s okay to eat at Taco Bell while pregnant. With the caveat that you stay away from items that are too high in calories, fat, or salt.
Let’s look at some facts, and dispel a few myths about Taco Bell just to be sure.
Is Taco Bell cheese safe during pregnancy?
Taco Bell uses cheddar cheese and also a four-cheese blend on some of its menu items containing shredded cheese. The blend is made from Mozzarella, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, and American cheeses. Of these, only Cheddar is a hard cheese.
Hard cheeses contain less moisture, so they are less likely to develop bacterial growth than semi-soft and soft cheeses. Semi-soft cheeses contain less moisture than soft cheeses, but as long as both are made with pasteurized milk, they are also fine to consume during pregnancy.
Is Taco Bell cheese pasteurized?
Both hard and semi-soft cheeses that are produced for interstate transport (sold across state lines) are regulated by the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA).
The cheeses used by Taco Bell in their menu items are all required by the FDA to be made from pasteurized milk. This means they are safe to consume during pregnancy.
Are Taco Bell sauces safe during pregnancy?
Most food in the United States is safe to eat thanks to the regulations and oversight of the FDA. However, the FDA does warn against consuming any unpasteurized or undercooked foods (such as eggs and meat) to prevent contracting foodborne illnesses such as listeria, salmonella, and e. coli.
All of the sauces on or for Taco Bell menu items are safe to eat during pregnancy. All commercially made mayonnaise, dressings, and sauces made with egg and milk products in the United States are required to be pasteurized or be made from pasteurized dairy products.
Below is a list of all the Taco Bell sauces. The other sauces that are not made with eggs or milk products are also safe. For a detailed list of ingredients in Taco Bell foods click here.
- Sour cream
- Avocado ranch sauce
- Creamy chipotle sauce
- Creamy jalapeno sauce
- Spicy ranch sauce
- Border sauces (Diablo, Fire, Hot, and Mild), red chili sauce
Are Taco Bell meats safe during pregnancy?
Most fast-food restaurants have had to respond to online rumors about the meats they use. Taco Bell uses 100% USDA-approved chicken and beef in its menu items.
Many of Taco Bell’s traditional items are made with ground beef. Ground beef is safe to eat when it has been fully cooked.
Taco Bell has a two-step process for cooking their ground beef, which ensures that you receive it fully cooked in the foods you order. The beef is first slow-cooked with spices added at their meat supplier’s plants, then packaged and sent to each store. The stores then recook the meat a second time before it’s added to their menu items.
This process also accounts for the particular texture of their ground beef.
Chicken and Steak
Don’t worry, the safety of your chicken or steak chalupa isn’t in the hands of the 17-year-old at the drive-through window. They’re not giving it the smell test or leaving meat out on the counter all day. They stopped preparing most of the food locally in the early 1990s.
Taco Bell stores do not store or handle any raw meat, and their process for cooking makes it safe to eat during pregnancy. All meat is cooked at 3 plants owned by their meat supplier, Tyson Foods. It’s then packaged in plastic bags and sent out to Taco Bell stores. The local stores then reheat the bags of meat in a rethermalizer.
Rethermalizers are designed to rapidly heat refrigerated or frozen packaged food to temperatures above 165 degrees to kill any bacteria. It then holds the food at serving temperatures above 140 degrees.
The best things to order at Taco Bell during pregnancy
Most fast food is high in calories, fat, sodium, and refined carbohydrates. During pregnancy, it’s best to limit your intake of these to ensure you’re getting proper nutrition and to avoid issues with blood pressure and high blood sugar. You can make modifications, like choosing vegetarian or chicken as a protein over ground beef.
- Chicken Soft Taco
- Veggie Power Bowl
- Bean Burrito
Chicken Soft Taco
Chicken soft tacos are one of the menu items lowest in calories, fat, and sodium. If you want more punch, order them with tomatoes, onion, and black beans for added veggies, protein, and fiber.
This loaded version has only 220 calories, 7g of fat, 630mg of sodium, 5g of fiber, and 15g of protein in each taco.
Nutritional information (1 original chicken taco):
- 160 calories
- 5 grams of fat
- 500 grams of sodium
- 12 grams of protein
- 1 gram of fiber
With the Power Bowl, a few modifications can make it into a yummy Steak Power Bowl that can be an occasional treat.
The sodium is a little high on this one, so you may have to adjust to other meals to compensate. Substitute steak for the chicken and double the lettuce. Then, remove the rice and sour cream. The steak boosts your protein and removing rice and sour cream lowers fat and refined carbs.
Now you have grilled steak and cheddar cheese with black beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, and Avacado Ranch sauce.
Nutritional information (Modified Steak Power Bowl):
- 290 calories
- 16 grams of fat
- 920 grams of sodium
- 22 grams of protein
- 11 grams of fiber
Bean burritos are already high in fiber and protein. If they’re a little too boring, just add some lettuce, onion, and tomatoes for a veggie burrito treat. You can also add a little sour cream, which only adds 30 calories and 2 grams of fat.
Nutritional information (1 modified burrito w/sour cream):
- 380 calories
- 11 grams of fat
- 1040 grams of sodium
- 14 grams of protein
- 11 grams of fiber
Diet and nutrition safety recommendations for pregnant women
During pregnancy, both you and the baby need to get the proper nutrients. You can do this by eating a well-balanced diet, and staying hydrated. It’s equally important to know which foods to limit or avoid to stay healthy.
Foods to avoid while pregnant
Foodborne illnesses are a primary concern during pregnancy. To avoid contamination with harmful bacteria, some foods should be handled with care and others avoided during pregnancy.
Pregnant women are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Here are the foods to avoid while you’re pregnant.
- Unpasteurized milk, yogurt, and cheeses
- Brie, Camembert, or blue-veined cheeses can contain the bacteria Listeria.
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Cookie dough, Caesar dressing, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce made with raw or undercooked eggs can contain salmonella.
- Raw fish or seafood
- Including sushi, oysters, shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish contain high levels of mercury that can damage the baby’s nervous system.
- Raw/undercooked meat
- Undercooked steak, poultry, and pork can be infected with Toxoplasmosis, Salmonella, Listeria, or E.Coli.
- Contains extremely high levels of vitamin A, which can affect fetal brain development.
- All forms of alcohol
- Excessive alcohol consumption has been associated with several fetal issues.
- Lunchmeat, hot dogs, and other processed meats
- Unless they are cooked until steaming to kill bacteria. They are also high in salt and saturated fat.
- Avoid drinking tea with meals. The tannins prevent the absorption of iron.
- Energy drinks
- These are high in caffeine and not recommended during pregnancy.
Foods to limit while pregnant
The following foods and drinks should be limited during pregnancy to prevent adverse effects on your or your baby’s health.
- Caffeine – How much: limit to less than 200 mg per day.
- Tuna – How much: limit to two cans or two fresh steaks per week due to mercury levels.
- Sugary sodas, juices, and flavored waters – How much: 1 per day or less. These drinks are low in nutritional value and high in sugar or may contain artificial sweeteners, which can be harmful.
Nutrition recommendations for pregnant women
A healthy diet can help reduce some of the more unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy like constipation and nausea. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats will also promote your baby’s growth.
You should also ensure you’re getting plenty of the following nutrients. You can get them naturally through your diet and they can also be contained in prenatal vitamins suggested by your doctor.
- Folic acid – Prevent birth defects
- How much: 0.4mg per day
- Found in: leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruit, and fortified breakfast cereals.
- Calcium – Strengthen bones
- How much: 1,000 milligrams a day.
- Found in: dairy products, broccoli, kale, fruit juices, and some breakfast cereals.
- Vitamin D – Promotes bone strength
- How much: 600 international units (IU) per day.
- Found in: fat-free dairy, skim, or 1% milk, soymilk, juice, eggs, fish.
- Protein – Promotes growth
- How much: 71 grams per day.