Taco Bell was never one of the usual fast food joints my parents took me to growing up. I was introduced to it by a high school friend. We would go there after school, pull up to the drive through where my friend would order 2 bean burritos with extra hot sauce and scarf them down while I sat there wondering if he would take me to Wendy’s to get a hamburger (my favorite fast food back then). I couldn’t drive yet so I relied on my friend to chauffeur me around everywhere. Eventually I decided to try a burrito instead of begging my friend to make a stop at Wendy’s too. Surprisingly, it was pretty good and had to be healthier than a burger, I thought.
Boy, was I wrong – just take a look at the ingredients below. They are not pretty. A bean burrito is one of the simplest meals ever, but Taco Bell has processed it to death. Their bean burritos contain possible GMOs, preservatives made from butane (a very carcinogenic gas) called TBHQ, hidden MSG additives that trick your brain to remember and crave a flavor and other nasty processed food chemicals no one would cook with in their home!
Watching the headlines from Taco Bell pop up on my computer screen this week brought back this memory. Many of you (The #FoodBabeArmy) wanted to hear my thoughts about what Taco Bell is up to in their latest marketing scheme by revealing what’s exactly in their food on their website.
The motivation for Taco Bell’s latest marketing move came from a lawsuit.
In 2011, Taco Bell took out a full page ad in at least nine major newspapers, in an attempt to explain what’s exactly in their beef product because they were being sued in a class action lawsuit that claimed their beef is only “35% beef” and full of extenders and fillers. Taco Bell shot back that their beef product contains “88% Beef and 12% Secret Recipe”.
And now, three years later, although the lawsuit was dropped, Taco Bell made headlines again this week regarding their webpage called “What Are Those Other Ingredients?“, which attempts to describe the other 12% of ingredients behind their secret recipe that “have some pretty weird names”. Taco Bell President said all of these ingredients are in there to “enhance flavor, texture, taste.” ABC News interviewed a chemist from Duke University that said “There’s nothing on this list I have a problem eating.” After you find out the truth – I wonder if you’ll think the same. Let’s take a close look at these ingredients and see what’s really happening here.
What Taco Bell says vs. what they should really say.
What Taco Bell Says: “It sounds weird, but it’s actually a form of mildly sweet sugar we use to balance the flavor. You may have had it the last time you had a natural soda”
The Truth: Maltodextrin is likely made from genetically modified corn and according to David Zinczenko, author of “Eat It to Beat It”, “like other sugars, maltodextrin has the potential to raise blood glucose and insulin levels.” GMO Compass explains that it is typically added to food as a filling and thickening agent. I want to know why they have to use maltodextrin to “balance the flavor” when they are already using sugar in the beef mixture in it’s pure form – seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
2. TORULA YEAST
What Taco Bell Says: “This is a form of yeast that gives our seasoned beef a more savory taste”
The Truth: This is hidden MSG. According to truthinlabeling.org and Dr. Mark Hyman in his new book “The 10 Day Detox Diet” – Torula Yeast can be a form of hidden glutamic acid – the main component in MSG that makes you crave an unforgettable taste and eat more than you should. Companies love using hidden forms of MSG like this ingredient that prevents them from actually saying “Monosodium Glutamate” on the label. So, while Taco Bell says they don’t use MSG: “Nope, None!” – I find this statement very misleading.
3. MODIFIED CORN STARCH
What Taco Bell Says: “Actually, it’s derived from corn, which is a food staple in Mexican culture as well as many others. We use a small amount as a thickener and to maintain moisture in our seasoned beef. It’s common in many foods like yogurt”
The Truth: Just because it’s “common” doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Modified corn starch is a highly processed chemically-altered form of corn starch that is added to processed food as a cheap texturizing agent – and it’s not a natural ingredient that you would use in the kitchen. The corn that it’s derived from is likely GMO, as more than 90% of corn in the U.S. is genetically modified.
4. SOY LECITHIN
What Taco Bell Says: “When you prepare as much seasoned beef as we do, you don’t want it to separate. That’s what soy lecithin does. It helps (with moisture) to bind substances that would otherwise separate — like oil and water. It’s a common ingredient in many grocery staples, like chocolate bars and salad dressings”
The Truth: This super-cheap ingredient is made from soybean oil that was most likely extracted with the toxic chemical hexane. As described by The Cornucopia Institute, “Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline refining. It is a neurotoxin and a hazardous air pollutant…Whole soybeans are literally bathed in hexane to separate the soybeans’ oil from protein”. This is yet another ingredient that is likely derived from a GMO source – soybeans.
5. SODIUM PHOSPHATES
What Taco Bell Says: This is used “to help make sure our seasoned beef is the right texture…They’re also commonly found in deli items, cheeses, coffee drinks and desserts”
The Truth: Phosphates are added to many processed foods and a phosphate-rich diet can be detrimental to your health. Diets high in phosphates are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, bone loss, and leads to a rapid progression of kidney disease. Janeen Leon, MS, RD, LD, a researcher at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, reported the following:
“We’re finding that, even among healthy adults, people with phosphate levels at the higher end of what’s considered normal have higher mortality rates… Though there’s no hard evidence that high-phosphate diets cause kidney disease, there is sufficient data showing that phosphorous does cause a more rapid progression of the disease… Doctors are making comments like, Is this the next trans fat? Is this the next cholesterol?”
6. LACTIC ACID
What Taco Bell Says: “This safe acid occurs in almost all living things, and we use a very small amount to manage the acidity to get the right flavor.”
The Truth: This type of Lactic acid is created in a laboratory, and likely derived from GMO corn starch or sugar beets. As I avoid ingredients that are derived from GMOs, this is on my “Do Not Eat” list.
7. COCOA POWDER
Taco Bell says: “Cocoa Powder doesn’t add any flavor to our recipe, but it helps our seasoned beef maintain a rich color.”
The Truth: They use cocoa powder to make the beef more appealing to the eye to trick you to eat this less than stellar product. Their ingredient label reveals that their cocoa powder is processed with alkali, which essentially destroys most of its nutritional value. Plus, conventionally grown cocoa beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops on the planet, often with pesticides that are banned in the U.S., making it essential to only consume organic and ethically grown cocoa. This begs the question: Why do they feel the need to color their “beef” brown anyway?
8. CARAMEL COLOR
What Taco Bell Says: The caramel color “is caramelized sugar, which is a commonly used food coloring (also found in cereals and pancake syrup)”
The Truth: There are four types of caramel coloring used by food manufacturers, and two of these are processed with ammonia. These two dangerous forms of caramel coloring are classified as III and IV, and they contain 4-methylimidazole, a chemical that has been shown to cause cancer. This type of caramel coloring is added to Pepsi and many other food products like some pancake syrups, so it is crucial that we find out which classification of caramel coloring Taco Bell uses. So, what type do they use?
Well, we don’t know. Taco Bell still won’t tell us.
As soon as the news broke last week, my team and I contacted Taco Bell. We called their customer service number, sent website contact forms, emails and Tweets. The representatives that we talked to at Taco Bell did not know what type of caramel coloring they used. So far – we received one response to a website contact form that we submitted – and as you can see, they haven’t answered our question:
Taco Bell states that they “go to great lengths to be open about the ingredients we use, and want you to know the truth”. Following the recent lawsuit against them, the CEO of Taco Bell stated several times that he wished that the Plaintiff had simply contacted them to get information about their beef ingredients. Well – I’m here to tell ya that based on my experience here, it’s not that easy to get detailed information from Taco Bell about their ingredients! They did respond to my tweet on Friday, which was awesome, but I have yet to hear back from the person they had me call. When someone from Taco Bell does get back to me, I will be sure to update you all here.
6/16/2014 Update: After several conversations with Taco Bell’s Head of Communications, I was able to finally confirm Taco Bell uses “caramel coloring IV” – which means it is the worst kind. This type of caramel isn’t the stuff you make at home by cooking sugar. This caramel color is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which creates carcinogenic compounds. Both Consumers Union and Center of Science in Public Interest have studied this chemical and recommended all companies drop this ingredient from their products. Also, in California, it is listed as a known carcinogen. Taco Bell’s statement online about this ingredient is VERY MISLEADING.
What Taco Bell Says: “It’s a naturally occurring sugar that we use to improve the taste of our seasoned beef”
The Truth: In all my years of researching food ingredients, this is an ingredient that I’m not familiar with, yet now its on my radar screen. This sweetener has been dubbed Japan’s equivalent to high fructose corn syrup, and it looks like we might be seeing more of this ingredient in the U.S. soon. Although trehalose is naturally occurring – Cargill is a major manufacturer of this sweetener, producing it from cornstarch in a laboratory. So, it’s likely derived from GMO corn and heavily processed. My team also contacted Taco Bell and asked for more information on the trehalose they use, and how it is sourced. So, I will update you here if I get more info.
Is Taco Bell really being “transparent” here?
While Taco Bell says their ingredients are “common ingredients also found in food items at your grocery store” they keep suspiciously quiet about some ingredients in their “seasoned beef” that could be harmful to your health:
Soybean Oil – This is one of the cheapest oils that a restaurant can use, and it is almost always hexane extracted from GMO soybeans. It is also high in omega-6 fat, which according to Dr. Michael Roizen, “causes your arteries to get inflamed, causes your immune system to get inflamed, and decreases your ability to fight infections, decreases your ability to find cancer cells and get rid of them before they cause cancer, and increases inflammation and atherosclerosis in your arteries”
Yeast Extract – This is another hidden form of MSG. Again, see Dr. Mark Hyman’s latest book for more sources of hidden MSG.
Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate – These ingredients are really only added to products that contain MSG because they are relatively expensive additives that are ineffective without MSG ingredients. The presence of them in a product is a strong indication that a product contains hidden MSG.
Here’s the complete list of ingredients – in which I highlighted the ingredients that I’m really concerned about:
Taco Bell Seasoned Beef:
Beef, Water, Seasoning [Cellulose, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Salt, Oats (Contains Wheat), Maltodextrin (Corn, Potato, Tapioca), Soy Lecithin, Tomato Powder, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Sea Salt, Yeast Extract (Contains Gluten), Spices, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate, Potassium Chloride, Cocoa Powder Processed with Alkali, Natural And Artificial Flavors, Trehalose, Modified Corn Starch, Inactivated Yeast, Lactic Acid, Torula Yeast, Natural Smoke Flavor], Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Less Than 2% Beef Broth, Potassium Phosphate, Potassium Lactate
…and what about the BEEF itself?
Yes, I highlighted the beef itself as an ingredient to be concerned about. Taco Bell is on the record saying that they buy their beef “from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods”. To me, this means that Taco Bell beef comes from cattle raised in a factory farm, fed GMO feed and injected with harmful hormones prior to slaughter. Tyson Foods openly states on their website that they feed their chickens GMO grains, and that is the standard in factory farms in the U.S. Taco Bell’s parent company – YUM Brands – has refused to take steps to label GMO ingredients on their restaurant menus and has joined forces with the Grocery Manufacturers Association to fight mandatory GMO labeling laws. It’s really important to know where your meat comes from and if it comes from animals fed GMO feed because GMO DNA has been found in the meat and organs in these animals. According to The Cornucopia Institute, when animals are fed GMO crops, the GMO DNA is “taken up by the animal’s organs and detected in the meat, milk, and fish” and the U.K. Food Standards Agency reluctantly admits that it’s “possible that DNA fragments derived from GM plant materials may occasionally be detected in animal tissues”
…and what about the “Taco Corn Shell” because no one eats the beef by itself.
Don’t even get me started. Ok fine. I will tell you. But it isn’t pretty. Traditional corn tortillas or taco shells are usually made with corn, salt, water, oil and maybe a little lime. Taco Bell takes this beautiful recipe and wrecks it with TBHQ, and many forms of suspected GMO oils – including one of the worst – cottonseed oil, that is regulated like a textile crop vs. a food crop, meaning it can contain much worse types of toxic pesticides.
The reason I say “suspected GMO oils” is because we’ve asked Taco Bell whether they use any GMO ingredients, and they have yet to provide a statement on GMOs. But if I were betting in vegas on this, I am pretty sure I’d come out as a winner winner, chicken dinner.
Also, if you are daring enough to get the XXL Taco, you’ll be eating parabens, which are endocrine disruptors linked to cancer. If you try the Doritos Loco Taco, you’ll get a nice dose of excitotoxins that can kill brain cells and artificial food dye made from petroleum.
So what do you do?
Stop eating at Taco Bell. They don’t deserve your money or your health. Instead, try one of these homemade recipes that will satisfy that Mexican craving:
- Kale Tacos
- Mexican Pizza
- Cauliflower Lentil Taco Salad
- Fast Food Burrito
- Quinoa Avocado Tacos
- Sweet Potato Quesadilla
- Mexican Casserole
- Hot Poblano Pockets
If you have a friend or a family member that likes to go to Taco Bell, here’s your chance. Share this post with them and tell them the truth. Don’t let this fast food giant pull the wool over our eyes any longer.
Hope you have a wonderful and happy Cinco de Mayo!
P.S. If you like investigations like this, sign up for my very personal email list where I share breaking information about what’s really happening in the food industry and healthy living tips every week. Xo!