What Is the Taco Cleanse?

In This Article

Tacos at Rancho Pescadero, Baja California, Mexico
Christian Heeb/Getty Images

Among the hundreds of fad diets that hit the media each year, one particular program garnered mucho excitement and curiosity: the taco cleanse. Thousands of hopefuls jumped at the chance to eat nothing but tacos and watch the pounds disappear. But you should hold off before you run to Taco Bell for a slimmer figure.

What Experts Say

"While the word 'cleanse' is the authors' attempt at being silly, the Taco Cleanse is actually a cookbook filled with vegan taco recipes. While experts certainly don’t endorse eating solely tacos, the book offers a little humor along with inspiration for tasty meatless meals."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

Background

If you're having a hard time taking the idea of a taco diet seriously, you're on the right track. The taco cleanse is not a serious cleanse. It comes from a humorous book, "The Taco Cleanse," that provides vegan recipes for people who love tacos and want to experiment with a vegan lifestyle. All of the benefits stated in the book are based on anecdotal evidence (the personal experiences of the four authors) and are added to make the book funny and enjoyable to read. 

Despite the fact that readers are trying to lose weight on the program, the authors do not promote the book as a weight loss program. Their tone and content, in fact, are anti-diet. They also are very clear about their opinions of diet cleanses in general: "It’s pretty clear we think cleanses (other than the Taco Cleanse, of course) are unhealthy," they say. The authors go on to list a number of resources that debunk fad diets and also provide a link to a reputable organization for people who might be struggling with an eating disorder.

How It Works

The book's authors, four self-proclaimed "taco scientists," explain that the plan is quite simple. All of your meals must contain tacos, including breakfast. A cleanse can last for just one day or up to a month (the "Fuego" level). "As one would expect," they explain, "the benefits of a high-taco diet become especially apparent as one approaches Fuego level."

What to Eat

Compliant Foods

  • Tacos

  • Vegan side dishes

  • Alcohol, especially margaritas

Non-Compliant Foods

  • Burritos and taco bowls

  • Animal products: Meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs

Tacos

The authors have some rules for what makes a proper taco and how to do their cleanse:

  • Taco size matters. You must be able to hold each taco with one hand.
  • You can get creative with tacos, but "taco" is clearly defined. A taco only has one fold (e.g., a burrito is not a taco), it must be flat, and not be "bready." Waffles are considered tacos. According to the authors, they are "grandfathered in." 
  • Tacos must be handheld and portable.
  • You can use a wide range of tortillas for your taco. You can buy them or make them (recipes are provided) from wheat, corn, collard greens, or plantains. 

Cleanse or no, try to avoid pre-packaged taco kits and canned products to prepare your healthy Mexican food. Taco shells that are precooked may contain unhealthy trans fat and are higher in calories than the ones you make at home. And taco additions like canned refried beans are likely to be higher in fat and sodium. Some prepared salsas and guacamoles are healthy, but your favorite brand may contain added sugars or artificial ingredients. Check the label and ingredients to choose a healthy brand or make your own guacamole and salsa at home with fresh ingredients.

Sides

Side dishes and snacks are welcome on the cleanse, as long as they are vegan and as long as the meal contains at least one taco.

Alcohol

Alcohol is allowed. Supplementing with margaritas is suggested and encouraged.

Taco Imitators

As noted, burritos are not tacos, and neither are deconstructed tacos like taco salads, because the cleanse tacos must be handheld.

Animal Products

A vegan diet excludes all animal products. So no carnitas, please; substitute tofu, tempeh, or legumes, and top with soy or nut cheeses instead of queso and sour cream.

Recommended Timing

The book doesn't give strict instructions beyond the requirement that every meal contain at least one taco.

Resources and Tips

Check out "The Taco Cleanse" book for dozens of vegan recipes. You could use them long after the cleanse, too (with or without tortillas).

Modifications

Since this cleanse is just for fun, you can pick and choose the rules to follow. If you want to create your own healthy (but not vegan) version of a taco diet, use these guidelines.

  • Plan one night each week (how about #tacotuesday?) to enjoy Mexican food and experiment with healthy taco recipes.
  • Use healthy cooking methods to prepare taco shells. Instead of frying your tortillas, either warm them in the oven wrapped in foil (for soft tacos) or bake them in a hot oven to make them crisp.
  • Broil, steam, or roast taco fillings to cut back on oil. 
  • Focus on filling your tacos with a wide array of flavorful vegetables and include lean protein to boost satiety (fullness). Try fish, shrimp, bison, and ground turkey.
  • Use healthy fats sparingly. Avocado is a good source of healthy fat. Sour cream and cheese are dairy products that also provide benefits for your body. But these delicious ingredients are also high in fat. Choose one and include just a single portion in each taco. 
  • Watch your sodium intake. Many taco fillings (like beans, cheese, and olives) are high in salt. Look for low-sodium alternatives and try to avoid canned or processed ingredients.
  • If you choose to enjoy a cocktail with your meal, choose a low-calorie margarita recipe and keep portion control in mind. 

    Pros and Cons

    Pros

    • Encourages planned meals

    • Focuses on whole foods and nutrient-rich ingredients

    • Portion-controlled

    • Includes helpful tips

    Cons

    • Some less-than-healthy ingredients and recipes included

    • Includes alcohol

    • Not sustainable

    Pros

    Smart Meal Planning

    The book encourages planned meals and mindful eating. You learn how to cook your own food, prepare meals, and bring them with you to keep your eating program on track.

    Nutritious Ingredients

    You'll be inspired to try new ingredients, many of which are whole foods that provide nutritional benefits. Intake of bread and other starchy carbs are decreased on the plan, while you up your intake of vegetables. The book provides suggestions for people who don't like to eat veggies.

    Portion Control

    Sample menus are portion-controlled and suggest a wide variety of veggies and ingredients.

    Includes Tips

    The authors provide lighthearted tips to help you stay on the program, such as asking waitstaff for guidance at a restaurant, getting support from friends, journaling, yoga, and growing your own vegetable garden. These tips can be applied to any diet.

    The taco cleanse actually does have a lot of benefits when you examine it closely. However, remember that it isn't a perfect plan (no diet is). Even when followed carefully—that is, using homemade vegan recipes instead of greasy take-out—this diet does have drawbacks.

    Cons

    Not All Ingredients Are Healthy

    The grocery list for the taco cleanse includes items that aren't necessarily healthy: tater tots, canned refried beans, and tortilla chips. The program also includes recipes for less-than-healthy items like beer-battered portobellos and other fried foods.

    Includes Alcohol

    The plan encourages the inclusion of alcohol, which can add empty calories to your diet and may not be healthy for everyone. 

    Not Sustainable

    Any diet based on a single food is not sustainable. The book authors don't sell the program as a serious lifestyle, but people who don't read the whole book and simply follow online versions of the taco diet should understand that it is not a diet that you are likely to be able to maintain for weight loss or healthy eating.

    How It Compares

    Even though the taco cleanse isn't meant to be taken too seriously, it does have some of both the benefits and the drawbacks of several other, more formal eating plans. Here's how it stacks up in terms of nutrition advice, practicality, and more.

    USDA Recommendations

    Food Groups

    Guidelines from the USDA suggest eating a balanced mix of protein, grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Since the taco cleanse is vegan, it doesn't include dairy products or animal proteins. This can still be a healthy diet, but people following it need to make sure they are getting the protein and other nutrients found in animal products (such as calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12) from other sources.

    Calories

    The taco cleanse doesn't require calorie counting, which is likely part of what makes it appealing to some users. If you want to lose weight, however, you may need to count calories to make sure you are consuming fewer than you are burning. The USDA recommends a daily intake of about 1600 to 2000 calories for weight loss, depending on your age, weight, sex, and activity level. You can use this calculator to determine your calorie needs.

    Similar Diets

    Whether for real or in jest, these diets just might work for weight loss. But there are a lot of ifs, maybes, and caveats.

    Taco Cleanse

    • Nutrition: As a vegan eating plan, this cleanse excludes all animal products. Beyond that, the plant-based diet can include lots of healthy ingredients and nutrients.
    • Practicality: This diet is not about picking up take-out tacos three times a day. It requires quite a bit of cooking and most likely learning to try some new ingredients, recipes, and techniques.
    • Effectiveness: Whether you lose weight on a taco cleanse will depend a lot on what your usual diet is and how you interpret and follow the cleanse's rules.
    • Sustainability: The taco cleanse book contains 75 recipes, which is probably not enough to last you for the long term (also, you will get sick of eating tacos, no matter how delicious they are). But trying the taco cleanse might give you a sense of whether you'd like to continue with a vegan or vegetarian diet.

    Pizza Diet

    • Nutrition: Much like the taco cleanse, the pizza diet could include nearly endless variations on a familiar food. Yet, there's no pizza that could meet nutritional needs well enough to be the only food you eat. However, there are ways to make healthy pizza a part of an overall balanced, nutritious diet.
    • Practicality: Like tacos, pizzas are readily available for take-out, delivery, and eating in at restaurants. But for the healthiest pies, you'll do better making them yourself—which will take time and effort.
    • Effectiveness: You're not likely to lose weight on an all-pizza diet. But you might if you make healthier pizza one part of a plan to control your portions, cut back on empty calories, and reduce your calorie intake overall.
    • Sustainability: Even a food as tasty as pizza can get old quickly if it's all you eat. And you won't get the nutrition you need. So don't try an all-pizza-all-the-time diet.

    Mushroom Diet

    • Nutrition: This is another diet-gone-viral, but one that's actually flexible and pretty healthy. All it takes to follow the mushroom diet (or M-Plan) is making one of your daily meals mushroom-based. Since mushrooms themselves have lots of vitamins and minerals, and they often replace meat as an entree, this diet could be a good way to lower calorie intake without missing out on nutrients.
    • Practicality: This is easy to do. There's no calorie counting, food tracking, or even portion control. Just learn a few mushroom-centered recipes and you are good to go.
    • Effectiveness: Whether you lose weight on the M-plan will depend on what else you're eating along with those 'shrooms.
    • Sustainability: Given its simplicity and flexibility, it should be easy (and safe) to follow this diet for the long term, as long as you keep enjoying the taste of mushrooms.

    Vegan Diet

    • Nutrition: This is the philosophy underlying the taco cleanse. On a vegan diet, all animal products are excluded. People following this diet can still get most of the nutrients they need from plant-based sources but may need supplements for a few essentials, like vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Practicality: Eating this way takes time, practice, and motivation since the typical North American diet is heavy on meat and dairy products. It's still possible to eat at restaurants, but there is generally more food prep and cooking than some people are used to.
    • Effectiveness: Cutting out animal fats and boosting veggie intake can help promote weight loss.
    • Sustainability: Although this diet can be challenging to follow, for those who are committed it is often a life-long way of eating and living.

    A Word From Verywell

    "The Taco Cleanse" is a fun book to read, and the authors have a healthy perspective on diets and cleanses. Of course, not all Tex-Mex fare is good for your diet. If you want to lose weight, use healthy ingredients and common sense to reach your goals. You can include tacos and nutritious Mexican food in a calorie-controlled plan to lose weight, and in a long-term program to maintain your weight.

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