Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Building a Healthier Taco

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 8:17 AM

When you think about building a taco, you typically think of a few key ingredients:

  • Shell
  • Protein
  • Cheese
  • Lettuce
  • Sour Cream

What could you do to build a healthier taco? Atara Schayer, Registered Dietitian at NorthShore, takes a look at each of these ingredients and suggests healthier alternatives.


The Shell – Always go with a whole grain tortilla or corn tortilla/shell. These are generally higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals which makes them a healthier choice than refined grains. Look for the whole grain stamp or “100% whole wheat” on the package to ensure the product is really considered a whole grain.

The Protein – In general, red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) have more saturated fats than chicken or fish. So when choosing your protein, choose a less fatty option like extra­-lean ground beef, fish, chicken or ground turkey. Fish tacos have added health benefits such as omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce a number of heart problems like coronary heart disease, stroke or even heart failure.

No matter your protein choice, think about healthier ways of cooking. If you choose to pan fry with extra oil, use a healthier oil like olive oil to impart more flavor and provide some extra health benefits. If you grill the protein, you enjoy a lower fat preparation. Just avoid blackening it because that can cause carcinogenic compounds linked to colon and stomach cancer.

The Cheese – Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium but can also contain large amounts of fats –especially saturated fats. Choose a reduced-fat cheese for similar taste without adding too much fat. Don’t coat the top of your taco in cheese, sprinkle it on sparingly. You might be surprised at how little you need to gain the same flavor.

The Lettuce – Iceberg lettuce provides a nice crunch to your taco, and a refreshing coolness contrasting against the other ingredients, but you can do better.  Try a green like fresh chopped spinach for extra iron, or arugula, for a more peppery, vitamin-fortified lettuce.

The Sour Cream – This one’s easy: Greek yogurt has the same consistency, mouth feel and general taste as sour cream while being lower in calories. So go crazy and slather it on. For an extra taste sensation, try mashing an avocado into it, or squirting lime into it before putting it on your taco. If you like it spicy, pick your favorite hot sauce and stir it in.