Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, crunchy nachos and spicy salsa…
Mexican food is delicious and highly addictive (let’s be honest here for a second).
Try it once, and suddenly you’re a Taco Bell regular.
Nothing wrong with that, but it seems that Mexican cuisine isn’t really keto-friendly if you don’t know what meals to order.
Don’t worry, though: the art of keto snacking at Taco Bell is easy to master, and today you’ll learn everything you need to do just that.
Here’s our plan for today:
- How to calculate your carbs before going to Taco Bell
- What foods to order without customization
- What foods to avoid (and how to customize your meals)
Let’s get started!
Keto is a high-precision diet, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
Calculating your macros and following them to the T is essential if you want to reach nutritional ketosis and reap its potential health benefits. Going by feel just won’t do.
Why exactly? Because you have to get no more than 5% of your daily calories from carbs and everything else should come from fat (70-75%) and proteins (20-25%).
Five percent is such a tiny limit that going by feel will crush it in the vast majority of cases, especially if you don’t have much experience with keto.
The solution is simple: calculate your carbs before going to Taco Bell.
Step 1: Estimate your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
Without going into much detail, your BMR is the guaranteed number of kilocalories you’ll burn on any given day even if you don’t get out of bed.
Your BMR depends on many different factors like your age, sex, and body weight, so you’ll need to calculate it carefully. There are several tools and online calculators you can use, but here’s the old-school way: use the Harris-Benedict equation.
BMR = 66 + (13.75 * weight in kg) + (5 * height in cm) - (6.8 * age in years)Imperial:
BMR = 66 + (6.2 * weight in pounds) + (12.7 * height in inches) - (6.8 * age in years)
Metric:BMR (kcal) = 655.1 + (9.563 * weight in kg) + (1.850 * height in cm) - (4.676 * age in years)
BMR (kcal) = 655.1 + (4.35 * weight in pounds) + (4.7 * height in inches) - (4.7 * age in years)
Example: a 25-year old man with a body weight of 90 kg and a height of 187 cm would have a BMR of about:66 + (13.75 * 90) + (5 * 187) - (6.8 * 25) = 66 + 1237.5 + 935 - 170 = 2068 kilocalories per day.
Step 2: Find your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure)
To get an accurate estimate of how many calories you really burn throughout the day, you’ll have to adjust your BMR from the previous step for the physical exercise you get on a regular basis.
Of course, this method is rough, but it’s still highly recommended if you want controllable results.
To calculate your TDEE, multiply your BMR by one of the following numbers depending on how active you are:
- Little to no physical activity on a regular basis: 1.38
- Moderate physical activity: 1.55
- Heavy physical activity: 1.72
So, a sedentary office worker who doesn’t visit the gym would have to multiply their BMR by 1.38 while a bodybuilder would most likely have to go for 1.72 instead.
Example. The young man from our previous example engages in moderate physical activity: he visits the gym about 3 times per week. Then, his TDEE would be around 3205 kilocalories (2068 * 1.55).
Step 3: Find your daily carb maximum
So, if you can get no more than 5% of your daily calories from carbs to stay in ketosis, you can calculate this maximum by multiplying your TDEE by 0.05.
The resulting number would be your daily limit of kilocalories that you can get from carbs, but how much would that be in grams? To find out, divide your result by 4, as your body burns one gram of carbohydrate for roughly 4 kilocalories.
Example. 5% of our calculated TDEE would be 160 kilocalories (3205 * 0.05). That’s roughly 40 grams of carbs (160 / 4).
Step 4: Give yourself 20% of safety ”carb space”
We don’t recommend getting all your daily carbs from fast-food. That’s too risky.
A safe goal would be to aim for no more than 80% of your daily carb limit, and then the remaining 20% would be your ”just in case” zone. Otherwise, you’ll be balancing on a fine line and worrying whether that extra bunch of greens will crush your ketosis or not.
Multiply your daily carb limit by 0.8 to get a safe estimate of how many carbs you could eat at Taco Bell and still leave yourself some space for other foods throughout the day.
Example. 80% of 40 g is 32 g (40 * 32).
Step 5: Use the official Taco Bell nutrition facts to find keto-friendly meals within your daily carb limit
Most modern fast-food restaurants offer limitless customization options for their clients, meaning that you could make any meal keto-friendly, in theory.
In practice, however, many people don’t have the patience to bother with listing all the changes they would like the staff to make to their meals. If that sounds like you, and you still want to snack at Taco Bell without risking your ketosis, here’s a quick list of meals with less than 32 g of carbs.
All numbers were taken from the official Taco Bell nutrition info.
Hashbrown - 13 g
Breakfast Soft Taco (Egg & Cheese, Bacon, or Sausage) - 15 g
Mini Skillet Bowl - 16 g
Sausage Flatbread Quesadilla - 27 g
Fresco Crunchy Taco (Beef) - 14 g
Fresco Soft Taco (Shredded Chicken) - 16 g
Fresco Soft Taco (Steak) - 17 g
Fresco Soft Taco (Beef) - 18 g
Black Beans - 12 g
Pintos ’n Cheese - 22 g
Chips and Pico de Gallo - 22 g
Chips and Guacamole - 23 g
Chips and Salsa - 24 g
Chips and Nacho Cheese Sauce - 24 g
Shredded Chicken Mini Quesadilla - 15 g
Cheesy Roll Up - 15 g
Beefy Mini Quesadilla - 17 g
Spicy Tostada - 22 g
Gordita Supreme® (Chicken) - 29 g
Gordita Supreme® (Steak) - 30 g
Chalupa Supreme® (Chicken) - 31 g
Gordita Supreme® (Beef) - 31 g
Fiery Doritos® Locos Taco - 13 g
Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Taco - 13 g
Cool Ranch® Doritos® Locos Taco - 13 g
Crunchy Taco - 13 g
Fiery Doritos® Locos Taco Supreme® - 15 g
Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Taco - 15 g
Cool Ranch® Doritos® Locos Taco - 15 g
Crunchy Taco Supreme® - 15 g
Soft Taco - 16 g (Chicken), 17 g (Grilled Steak), 18 g (Beef), 27 g (Spicy Potato)
Soft Taco Supreme® - 20 g (Beef)
Fountain Beverages (16 oz)
Aquafina® Sparkling Berry Breeze - 0 g
Brisk® Unsweetened No Lemon Iced Tea - 0 g
Diet Dr Pepper®, Pepsi®, Mountain Dew® - 0 g
Note: all hot sauces are keto-friendly. Also, none of the burritos are keto-friendly without customization.
Examples of keto-friendly meal combinations at Taco Bell
Crunchy Taco (13 g) + Beefy Mini Quesadilla (17 g) + Diet Pepsi (0 g) = 30 g Mini Skillet Bowl (16 g) + Hashbrown (13 g) + Unsweetened Iced Tea (0 g) = 29 g
Soft Taco Beef (18 g) + Crunchy Taco (13 g) + Water (0 g) = 31 g
The lion’s share of all the carbs you can possibly get from Taco Bell meals come from:
The solution? Get ready for an amazing keto lifehack.
Ask the staff to take them out of your meal and double any kind of keto-friendly ingredient instead. Here’s a quick example:
The Power Menu Bowl is a nutritious and mouth-watering meal with about 54 g of carbs, which is too much for keto. However, if you take out the seasoned rice and beans, the total calorie count of the meal drops by 50% and most likely those would be mostly carbs. Ask for double chicken and a bunch of 3 cheese blend instead - voila, you got yourself a nice keto-friendly meal. The downside of this approach is that there’s no way of calculating the exact number of carbs you’ll get from this meal, so be aware that it’s still somewhat risky.
Double these components for a keto-friendly alternative of the carb-rich list above:
- Shredded chicken
In theory, you could also ask for your taco or burrito to be wrapped in salad leaves, but it’s likely that this idea won’t do you any good. You see, there’s a good chance that the salad won’t be strong enough to keep the contents of your meal together. A pseudo-burrito falling apart is just stressful, so why risk it? Order something keto-friendly from the get-go, and you should be fine.
Mexican meals are delicious… And often packed with carbs.
To enjoy a snack at Taco Bell without blasting yourself out of ketosis, you’ll need all your willpower and determination. Stay alert, follow our guide, and remember: the long-term benefits of the keto diet are well worth the abstinence from some fast-food. :)
By the way, don’t forget to check out our other guides on keto and fast-food places: