October 4th, National Taco Day
Happy National Taco Day! It also just happens to be taco Thursday, which is just another great excuse to eat tacos every week. In honor of this glorious day, I present to you the health benefits and reasons you should stuff your face with tacos. But first, a disclaimer. I am a physical therapist, not a dietitian, and although I am knowledgeable in the topics of diet and nutrition, I am by no means an expert and this is somewhat outside of my scope of practice. I just really like tacos. In my opinion, tacos can be a very nutritious and well-rounded source of nutrients, and like all things are healthy in moderation. They contain virtually every food group: meat, grains, dairy, fat/oil, vegetables, and fruits (tomatoes and avocados are fruits, right?). They are like a food pyramid in your mouth! To prove my point, let’s break down the components of a typical taco.
There are a variety of different types of meat that can be used to fill a taco, all of which will offer protein. Using lean beef, grilled chicken, or even ground turkey are great sources of protein with little additional fat. In the case of fish and shrimp tacos, these seafood options are likely low in calories and are a good source of protein, healthy fats and cholesterol, and vitamin D, B12, and B6.
Cumin, one of the primary spices used to give taco meat its signature flavor, is high in iron and has been found to help with digestion.
Besides its obvious health benefits being a vegetable, lettuce primarily consists of water which means it has virtually no calories. It also provides various vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, K, A, and calcium.
Tomatoes, like lettuce, also have a high water content and are therefore low in calories. They also supply a variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and potassium.
Cheese, in addition to providing a source of protein and calcium, contains nutrients such as phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12. Although the saturated fats in cheese give it a bad reputation, recent research has found that it has a minimal impact on an individual’s risk of heart disease.
Avocados have become a very popular condiment recently, possibly due to the realization that they are packed with a wide variety of nutrients. They even have more potassium than bananas! And potassium has been known to reduced blood pressure, and therefore reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. They also contain a lot of “healthy fats” and good cholesterol and are low in unhealthy, saturated fats. They are packed with fiber, which is helpful for controlling appetite and regular digestion. The health benefits are endless!
If you chose to add beans to your taco, you won’t be disappointed! They are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s no wonder they are considered a super food.
The tortilla shell, although not highly nutritious, provides another source of carbohydrates to the taco, which the body needs for energy. Taco shells come in various forms including flour, corn, and whole wheat. The non-fried corn tortilla is the healthiest option, although the whole wheat tortilla contains more fiber and will keep you feeling full longer. If you do not want the added carbohydrates from the shell, a taco salad is a viable option to still get the taste and nutritional benefit of eating a taco.
Because you can’t eat tacos without a margarita! Tequila contains agave, which has been found to help with digestion as it assists the good bacteria in your colon. In other words, margaritas go well with your tacos from start to finish. Research has also found that agave may help with weight loss and to prevent osteoporosis.
In summary, when you consider all of the ingredients that make up a taco and their nutritional value, tacos can truly offer a lot of essential nutrients and a relatively balanced meal. There are also plenty of ways to adapt your taco to help reduce unnecessary fats and provide additional nutrients.