The taco cleanse is real and it’s amazing.
Last year, the internet exploded with tweets, Instagrams, and news stories about the taco cleanse, heralding it as the year’s latest and greatest diet. Obviously this sounded absurd—detox with tacos? No way that’s possible. But according to the authors of The Taco Cleanse, the tortilla-based diet is “proven to change your life.” It’s a quirky concept that’s gained so much popularity in the last year—even stars like Jennifer Aniston are backing it—that I decided to give it a test run. But not without a few caveats.
Once I got my hands on a copy of the ever buzzy book, I decided to make this a fun and approachable experience instead of a hard and haughty one. To be honest, I’m decidedly against a 30-day vegan challenge. It’s fussy (who wants to hunt around for soy bacon and add nutritional yeast to everything?) and easy to screw up if you’re not accustomed to it. Plus, cheese is amazing. And so are eggs. I did, however, choose to eat half of my tacos vegetarian-style, if only to prove that it’s not avoiding meat that’s the issue.
Even registered dietitians agree with me on this one: “The vegan lifestyle is challenging. There are reasons to be vegan but it also has it’s shortcomings,” says Jim White, R.D. and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “To the average consumer, a temporary vegan diet would be very difficult and you’d likely have a lot of deficiencies in your diet from not following it perfectly. You’d also gain back any weight you lost as soon as you switch back to your regular diet.”
And so, armed with a nutritionist’s knowledge, here’s how I ate only tacos for an entire week:
It’s Sunday and after sleeping in, I make the most of a trip to Brooklyn and seek out Tres Hermanos Taqueria in Bushwick. It’s been lauded as one of the best spots in the city for authentic tacos and, after digging into a pair of doubled-up corn tortillas, I have to agree. I tried one carnitas (slow-roasted pork) taco and one avocado-pinto bean taco, which were piled high with shredded lettuce, tomato, and cotija cheese. They were so filling that I couldn’t finish everything entirely, even as both breakfast and lunch.
For dinner, I chose a second pair of savory tacos. This time with shrimp and spicy, pan-fried chorizo with the typical spread of queso fresco, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, and sour cream. Again they were padded with two layers of tortilla, making them so substantial that I couldn’t even touch the rice and beans on the side. It seems two is the magic number here.
Skipped breakfast because I haven’t yet shopped for groceries to make morning tacos (eek!). For the sake of the story—and making this as true-to-life as possible—I took a risk by choosing Chipotle for lunch. Because making tacos on your lunch break at the office is hard and delivery is not.
My chicken, sofritas, and barbacoa tacos were great, though the three-taco portion is kind of insane. And I happily survived to tell the tale. That night, after a pit-stop at Trader Joe’s, I took to the kitchen and whipped up sautéed shrimp and tomato tacos with onions, garlic, and fresh cabbage.
Finally, my first breakfast taco. Following advice from the Taco Cleanse, I took the idea of a taco and applied it to peanut butter and banana slices (and a tiny bit of cinnamon-sugar). Protein, fiber, potassium. I folded that bad boy in half and ran out the door.
For lunch, two corn tortillas with adobo-spiced chicken, salty manchego cheese, and fresh pico de gallo. Cactus fries on the side. I’m thinking I can totally get used to this and start picking out the best taco spot to hit later that night.
Dinner today was the winner. I brought my best friend along to Tijuana Picnic in Manhattan’s Lower East Side so we could each get an order of tacos and share them—two chicken tacos with chicharrones for her, two tender steak tacos with Asian-style slaw for me. Per the book, we each had a smoky mescal margarita, too. After this night, I truly (and naively) believed that the taco diet would be totally sustainable for basically the end of time.
This morning I made an apple, brie, and honey number wrapped in a warm buttered flour tortilla that I recommend to everyone, even if you’re not embarking on your own week-long taco adventure. It kept me full until lunch, too.
Around 2 p.m. I took to the test kitchen to make black bean tacos with homemade guacamole and sharp cheddar cheese. They were so fresh and zesty thanks to a couple of lime slices and sprinkle of Himalayan salt. I’m honestly surprised I haven’t gotten sick of tacos yet, especially on day four. But that’s most likely because I haven’t been overloading myself with traditional Mexican flavors at each and every meal.
For dinner I cooked tofu for the first time, pan-frying it until the edges got crispy. On two corn tortillas, I layered the tofu bits with mango salsa and fresh diced red pepper. Sadly, I got home late from a night out with friends and was so starving that I immediately wolfed these babies down. I don’t have a single photo of the beauty that was this meal.
This morning I made my favorite breakfast of the week: salt and peppered scrambled eggs with cherry tomatoes, avocado slices, Cholula hot sauce (my favorite), and Mexican-blend shredded cheese. It was the ultimate wake-up taco. I’m still thinking about it to be honest.
Adapting one of the book’s recipes, I cooked up some baja-style fish tacos with fried halibut and a red cabbage slaw dressed with jalapeño, cumin, orange juice, and olive oil. These were so crisp and summery, my heart wanted a third but my stomach was not gonna have it. This was my first tinge of taco overload.
While out to dinner at Blockheads, a fast-casual Mexican chain, I ordered one tofu and one steak taco. (Yes, I know how contrary that sounds.) Instead of the heavy rice and beans, I asked for a side salad. Turns out, I couldn’t even finish the two tacos not to mention the greens, which I barely touched. This was my turning point. But I knew I couldn’t back down: I took small bites here and there, slowly chipping away at the soft-and-hard shell tacos in front of me. There was nothing wrong with them—the cotija was nice and crumbly, the roasted red pepper a bit sweet but still smoky. It was me. I had hit my maximum capacity.
At this point, I’ve eaten 24 tacos. I honestly didn’t want to look at another taco. So I totally avoided the idea of breakfast and researched news stories for work instead. Then more procrastination ensued as I updated my so-called taco diary with last night’s dinner as I headed to work.
Though I can’t say I finished strong, I still think this total taco diet was a success. From the first day, I was inspired to make the most of the blank canvas that is the corn (or flour) tortilla. Over the course of the week, my meals spanned a wide spectrum of fruits and vegetables. I tried new preparations, mixed and matched ingredients, and thought outside of the taco box in terms of flavors, dressings, and toppings.
Of course, this was a challenge, but it pushed me to experiment and learn new things. I got to cook tofu for the first time, practice knife skills like julienning and mincing, and make more conscious decisions about what exactly I was consuming every day.
Plus, this assignment definitely sparked creativity in the kitchen. And, according to White, that’s important not just for making nights in front of the stove more fun but for your overall health. “Variety is key not only for nutrients but to cut boredom,” he says.
So if you feel like you’re in a rut, this is the fad diet you need to jump on. Because it’s essentially a vehicle for healthy eating—just take all your favorite foods and fold them into a tortilla. After all, tacos make everything better.