Tacos can deliver vitamins, minerals and protein in a spicy, crunchy package if you're mindful about what you put in them. Sour cream, salty seasoning mixes and grated cheese all add to a taco's fat and sodium content, but if you replace them with low-fat and low-sodium alternatives and use the right kind of filling, you can make a huge difference in its total nutritional value. Overall, ground turkey is healthier than ground beef, with fewer calories and less fat, but both provide many nutrients.
Calories, Protein and Fat
The typical taco has about 2 ounces of ground meat, poultry or beans in it. If you use ground beef, you get 230 calories with 22 grams of protein in the meat portion of your taco. The same amount of ground turkey has 173 calories and 23 grams of protein, giving you more protein for fewer calories. Ground beef is also higher in fat, with 15 grams per 2-ounce serving, compared to 9 grams of fat in ground turkey. The fat content itself is important, because ground beef has 6 grams of saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and clog your arteries. Ground turkey has only 2 grams of saturated fat. The remaining lipids in ground turkey are from healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Cooked ground beef and turkey provide B-complex vitamins that help your body turn the food you eat into energy, benefiting your overall metabolism. A 2-ounce serving of ground turkey provides about one-half the niacin and vitamin B-6 you need daily. Although ground beef has a little more than half as much of those nutrients, it gives you more than 100 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin B-12, while ground turkey provides less than half as much. Each type of filling has about one-tenth of the riboflavin you need daily.
Ground beef is richer in some minerals. One taco's worth of cooked ground beef provides one-ninth of the iron and more than one-half of the zinc a woman should get daily, doubling the amount of iron and zinc in cooked ground turkey. If you're trying to increase your intake of bone-boosting phosphorus, turkey tacos are a little better. Each has 30 percent of your recommended daily intake for phosphorus, while the meat in a ground beef taco provides 25 percent. Ground beef has 82 grams of sodium, higher than the 66 milligrams of sodium in ground turkey.
Beans are Better
If you really want a healthy taco, try using black beans instead of beef or turkey. Black beans are about as vitamin- and mineral-rich as turkey or beef, but are better for your heart and your waistline. Each 2-ounce serving of cooked black beans, providing only 112 calories, has no cholesterol, compared to 79 milligrams of cholesterol in cooked turkey and 75 milligrams in cooked ground beef. Black beans are also free of fat and sodium. They provide 7.5 grams of protein and 7.5 grams of fiber, while beef and turkey have no fiber.
Maia Appleby is a NASM-certified personal trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the fitness industry. Her articles have been published in a wide variety of print magazines and online publications, including the Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, New Moon Network and Bodybuilding.com.