What Is the Taco Cleanse?

Taco cleanse

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your health care provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

Among the myriad fad diets that circulate the media each year, one particular program garnered mucho excitement and curiosity: the taco cleanse. But before you jump at the chance to eat nothing but tacos, you should know that the taco cleanse is not a real weight loss program.

The concept of the taco diet comes from a humorous book, "The Taco Cleanse," which provides vegan recipes for people who love tacos and want to experiment with a vegan lifestyle.

Despite reports that have circulated in recent years with promises that following an all-taco diet can help you lose weight, the authors of the book do not promote the taco cleanse as a weight loss program. In fact, the authors' message is anti-diet, and the book itself is a parody of cleanses. "It’s pretty clear we think cleanses (other than the Taco Cleanse, of course) are unhealthy," the authors write.

The authors also 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. All of the benefits stated in the book are simply based on entertaining anecdotal evidence from the authors—who are taco enthusiasts—which makes the book funny and enjoyable to read.

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

What Can You Eat?

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 You Need to Know

Since the taco cleanse is a parody, there are no strict instructions for the diet plan beyond the requirement that every meal contains at least one taco. "The Taco Cleanse" book does provide dozens of delicious vegan recipes that you can try, whether you are "cleansing" or not (with or without tortillas).

What to Eat
  • Tacos

  • Plant-based side dishes

  • Alcohol, especially margaritas

What Not to Eat
  • Burritos and taco bowls

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

As a rule of thumb, 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.

Tacos

The authors have some rules about 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

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. 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.

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.

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.

  • Designate a "taco night." How about #tacotuesday? Enjoy Mexican food and experiment with healthy taco recipes once a week.
  • 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. 
  • Fill your tacos with healthy options, using a wide array of flavorful vegetables lean proteins to boost satiety (fullness). Try fish, shrimp, bison, and ground turkey.
  • Prioritize healthy fats such as avocados.
  • Limit higher-fat ingredients. Sour cream and cheese, for example, are dairy products that provide benefits for your body (such as calcium). But they are also high in fat. Choose one and include 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.
  • Don't overeat! Be sure to keep portion control in mind, especially if you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be mindful of alcohol consumption. Choose a low-calorie margarita recipe to pair with your tacos.

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

Though the taco cleanse is not a weight loss program, you may benefit from including more healthy plant-based meals as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Review the pros and cons associated with eating more vegan tacos.

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 your intake of vegetables is increased. The book also 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.

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, which is why the authors of the book do not sell the program as a serious lifestyle. Those who are unfamiliar with the book and are only referencing online versions of the taco diet should understand that it is not a weight loss program. A taco cleanse is unlikely to promote weight loss, though it may help cultivate healthier eating habits.

The taco cleanse actually does have some benefits when you examine it closely—just remember that it isn't an actual diet or weight loss plan. Even when you opt for homemade vegan recipes instead of greasy take-out, eating tacos every day may still have its drawbacks.

Is the Taco Cleanse a Healthy Choice for You?

Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (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.

The taco cleanse doesn't require calorie counting, which some people may find appealing when trying to lose weight. However, if you want to not only lose weight but successfully maintain a healthy weight for the long term, you may need to count calories to make sure you are consuming fewer than you are burning. This is known as a calorie deficit.

The USDA recommends a daily intake of about 1,600 to 2,000 calories for weight loss, depending on your age, weight, sex, and activity level. You can use this calculator to determine your calorie needs.

Eating more tacos can be part of a healthy, balanced diet, but is not recommended as a regular eating plan. When choosing vegan meals, make sure you're still getting enough protein and other nutrients that are often found in animal products (such as calcium, iron, and vitamin B12) from plant-based sources.

Health Benefits

While some media reports have claimed that a vegan taco cleanse can result in weight loss, an all-taco diet does not support long-term weight management. Additionally, many vegan foods are often high in fat and heavily processed, which can contribute to weight gain and lead to other health problems.

If you're trying to lose weight, opt for fresh, whole foods, and choose minimally processed plant-based proteins that are lower in fat as part of a balanced diet.

Health Risks

While there are no common health risks associated with a taco cleanse, some research has shown that similar fad diets could result in post-diet weight gain and lead to nutritional deficiencies and other imbalances.

Similar Diets

Even though the taco cleanse isn't meant to be taken seriously, it does resemble other, more formal eating plans. Here's how it stacks up in terms of nutrition advice, practicality, and more. Whether for real or in jest, the following diets may be effective for short-term 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 taco cleanse 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 eventually get tired of 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. But there is 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 takeout, delivery, and dining 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 a part of a long-term plan to curb your portions, cut back on empty calories, and reduce your calorie intake overall.
  • Sustainability: Even food as tasty as pizza can get old quickly if it's all you eat. And you won't get all the nutrition you need. So don't try an all-pizza-all-the-time diet.

M-Plan

  • Nutrition: This is another diet-gone-viral, but one that's actually flexible and fairly healthy. All it takes to follow the M-Plan (mushroom diet) 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. However, the M-Plan does not have any scientific evidence to back up its claims for its ability to "spot-reduce" fat in certain areas of the body.
  • Sustainability: Given its simplicity and flexibility, it should be easy (and safe) to follow this diet, as long as you continue to enjoy the taste of mushrooms. However, the diet itself is not meant to go beyond 14 days.

Vegan Diet

  • Nutrition: This is the philosophy underlying the taco cleanse—but a vegan diet is a healthy lifestyle, not a fad diet. All animal products are excluded from a plant-based diet. Vegans 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 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: Boosting veggie intake can help promote weight loss.
  • Sustainability: Although this diet can be challenging to follow, for those who are committed it can be a lifelong way of eating. Research shows a number of positive health outcomes associated with a plant-based diet, including weight loss and prevention of chronic diseases.

A Word From Verywell

"The Taco Cleanse" is a fun book to read, and the authors have a healthy perspective on diets and cleanses in general. 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. There are healthy options available at your favorite Mexican restaurants and even at fast-food chains like Chipotle and Taco Bell. Simply skip the fried, high-fat foods and excess cheeses, and choose fresh, whole foods whenever possible.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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