One of the leaders in fast, cheap food is now ready to help you shed those excess pounds. Taco Bell's Drive-Thru Diet is a clever marketing campaign masquerading as a weight-loss plan that is perfectly timed for America's annual resolution to lose weight.
Upon an initial viewing the commercials seem to be for a legitimate weight-loss plan, complete with a success story and registered dietitian's approval, but if your eye is keen enough to catch the fine print, it's clearly meant to be campy satire that promotes their Fresco menu.
The Fresco menu is basically seven regular menu items with the shredded cheese and sauce replaced by tomato, onion and cilantro salsa. This lowers the calorie count of these items by up to 100 calories.
"The Fresco items all fall below 350 calories per serving, which can fit into a meal plan but some items are better choices than others," says eDiets Director of Nutrition Services Pamela Ofstein.
"As with most restaurant-type food, sodium levels generally tend to be higher. There are a few items on the Fresco menu, like the Fresco Crunchy Taco that is lower in sodium but higher in fat. Usually with fast food there is a toss-up when it comes to weighing out the nutrients. The Fresco Burrito Supreme, for example, is higher in fiber but also higher in sodium with over 1300 mg."
Although the Drive-Thru Diet already boasts one success story, Christine Dougherty, 27, who lost 54 pounds over two years, the disclaimers make it clear it is not a diet. The fine print reads:
"Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet is not a weight-loss program", "not a low calorie food" and "exceptional experience."
This marketing ploy from the company that brought us a "hidden layer of nacho cheese" and "Fourthmeal," which is apparently squeezing in a run to T-Bell between dinner and breakfast, plays right into our New Year push to get healthy.
"They cater to those of us looking for a quick, convenient meal, but you have to look closely at the whole picture," says Pamela Ofstein. "Cutting calories can help you lose weight -- we know that part -- but understanding that weight loss involves balanced nutrition, incorporating activity and, above all, understanding the principles of healthy eating."
Like Jared's Subway diet before it, the fast food is actually just a small piece of how they lost the weight. Making better choices at fast-food restaurants as part of calorie reduction is the real key to these "fast food diets." Jared also exercised while Christine cut 500 calories from her daily intake.
"Fast food items can be worked in to a meal plan here and there," says Pam. "But you don't want to make them a regular staple, you want to include more whole, nutrient-rich foods and recipes to be sure you are getting all the nutrients that your body needs."
Making better choices is critical because you won't always have time to make something at home. But simply knowing what you are actually eating can be confusing because menu items can be misleading. For example, four out of five salads -- and I use that term liberally -- at Taco Bell have more calories than their half-pound burritos.
Even when choosing lower calorie options, your choice may still be high in fat and sodium and low in nutrients. There is generally a trade off when it comes to health and convenience. Eating an abundance of fast food is not healthy, even if it is low in calories.
It is good that Taco Bell is coming up with slightly healthier options for when we have to eat on the run; it's just unfortunate that their ads present a misleading picture of what it really takes to lose weight.
"Fast-food dieting strategies don't necessarily teach you how to eat properly, cook or prepare a meal for yourself," says Pam. "Which ultimately will lead back to old habits and regaining the weight, because it's tough to live a life of only eating at the drive-thru -- who wants to do that forever?"
So, try Taco Bell's Fresco Taco the next time you have to eat in a hurry -- anything is better than their 900-calorie salads. But instead of going to the drive-thru, try literally making a "run for the border" and get a little exercise on the way. Now that's a fast food diet!