Taco Bell’s Sodium Spin

This is a guest blog post by Carol Harvey, director of nutrition labeling at Palate Works.

PR people really know how to spin. Take a look at the video and press release by Taco Bell:

“Taco Bell has been quietly testing a reduced-sodium version of its menu at 150 units in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the past two months”, the chain’s president said Tuesday…

“…So 150 restaurants over the last few months have been eating great-tasting Taco Bell food with 23-percent less sodium,” he said. “And the great news is: No one even knows we’ve done it. That’s when you know you’ve been successful.

How about: That’s when you know you had a huge amount of sodium to begin with.

Twenty three percent of 2,180 mg sodium (Grilled Stuft Burrito with chicken) is 501 mg, leaving 1,677 mg (that’s 73% of your daily max for sodium in 33% of daily calories, based on the 2,000 daily calorie standard/average).

It may surprise you further that compared to other fast food restaurants, Taco Bell’s sodium actually seems low, but that’s mostly because their portion sizes are lower (to keep the price point down).

Restaurant nutrition is not based on equal portion sizes, the way food products are (or at least are supposed to be), so comparing dishes requires doing it on a per-calorie or weight basis (get your calculators out).

A 23% sodium reduction is a good start, but hold the back slapping until the numbers are more in line with dietary standards… and adding a few more veggies would be nice, too.

Note #1: per FDA regarding American Heart Association guidelines for sodium in a meal:
“…a meal containing no more than 575 mg of sodium (2,300 mg/day X ¼ daily food intake = 575 mg) could be incorporated into a diet consistent with the American Heart Association’s guidelines for sodium.” (see #52 here)

Note #2: Here are the sodium limits for packaged food products that wish to carry a “healthy” claim (including implied claims, like “better for you”):

  • For meal or main dish foods, sodium must be no higher than 600 mg.
  • For individual foods (snacks, soups, side dishes, etc.), the max is 480 mg, or 480 mg per 50 g of the food when it comes in a small serving size (e.g., condiments).

So, generally, anything with no more than 600 mg sodium is considered reasonable for a main dish or meal product sold on grocery shelves. Restaurant meals have a long way to go, but of course they are usually much bigger (portion size), which is why calories (and everything else), are also much greater compared to packaged foods.

Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail[AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

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  • roger

    all the food is still garbage, cotnaining transfat, and grade “D” meat (not truly meat, mainly consist of animal remenents (hooves, nose, etc). What worse is even the salsa there has transfat somehow!!

  • Corey


    I’m not sure where you get your information but letter grade from the USDA are only an indication of age of a beef carcass with D being 6-8 years old. While taco bell could, and for all I know, might use this sort of meat, it is not as likely because there is not very much of it since most beef is slaughtered at or before 30 months of age. The grade I suspect Taco Bell uses is called “standard-minus.” It’s good meat. It’s “almost devoid” of marbling–flecks of fat through the meat–because the less marbling they have in the meat, the less grease they have to figure out how to get rid of. Besides, almost all Taco Bell meat is ground beef anyway; what would they care about marbling? I am certain that they do not use hooves, nose, etc. because that just isn’t legal.

    Yum! brands actually has one of the best food safety programs around, not saying it’s perfect, but it’s a lot better than some places.

    I will admit that I did find partially-hydrogenated corn oil as one of the ingredients in one of the salsas, but the amount is so negligible it doesn’t amount to much.

    If you can counter my argument with cited sources I would be more than happy to take a look, otherwise from what I can tell, the ‘grade D’ bit is just urban legend.

    Just my two cents.

  • Michelle

    It’s probably parts of meat mixed with some other products, but it’s not 100% meat that’s for sure…not at that price.

  • Corey

    According to the ingredient statement on taco bell’s website:

    Seasoned Ground Beef:
    Beef, Water, Seasoning [Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil (Anti-dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Silicon Dioxide, Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor], Salt, Sodium Phosphates. CONTAINS SOYBEAN, WHEAT

    So beef, water, seasoning, salt, and sodium phosphate are the main ingredients.

    You can sell beef cheap, you can buy it cheap if you buy in large quantities (major fastfood chain can do this), and buy the cuts of meat that are not ideal for the supermarket consumer market (less tender, less marbled, cuts of meat). There isn’t anything wrong with this. A poorer eating quality cut of meat is not really an issue here since any connective tissue is mechanically tenderized through the grinding process.

  • http://www.watchzeitgeist.com/ Rob

    “Corey” = taco bell propagandist. Seriously, who defends taco bell like this, with such detailed industry knowledge, if they don’t have some vested interest? The food is disgusting and horrible for your body, period.

  • Corey

    Psh, propagandist? Nay. In fact, I don’t even like taco bell, and I don’t eat it. I have a vested interest in knowledge and the truth.

    You’re right, it is horrible for your body, but it doesn’t contain hooves and noses and the like. “Detailed industry knowledge” comes from a simple internet search coupled with my College education.