Is Taco Bell's New Protein-Packed Power Menu Any Good for You?

Psst: Most Americans already get way more protein than they need.

(Photo: TacoBell.com)

Jul 15, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Meat lovers across the country can heave a laudatory grunt: Taco Bell has announced that it's rolling out its protein-packed Cantina Power Menu nationwide July 17. The new menu features double portions of chicken or beef alongside ingredients that are lower in fat and carbs.

Reduced fat and carbs are undoubtably a good thing in a country where almost 35 percent of the population is obese. But do we need this much protein?

Whether or not we need it, Taco Bell execs are betting protein will sell. The chain announced that the Cantina Power Menu is just “the first iteration” in the taco giant’s “Power Platform.” Taco Bell says that it’s embarking on tests of a Power Breakfast Menu in Omaha, Neb., which will include a steak bowl, a steak burrito, and—right on trend—Greek yogurt.

Each item on the Cantina Power Menu serves up a minimum of 20 grams of protein. During the recent nationwide launch, Taco Bell President Brian Niccol said in a statement: “We’ve evolved the Cantina platform based on consumer feedback. We heard customers requesting a higher protein solution with the flavors Cantina delivers, so here is Cantina Power.”

“Solution” to what, exactly? Despite what any number of Axe-drenched, Red Bull–swilling 20-something guys harboring secret fantasies of their own set of Men’s Health–worthy six-pack abs may think, there’s pretty much nothing to be gained by wolfing down more meat.

Yes, protein is vital to just about every natural metabolic function in your body. But guess what? You likely already get way more than you need. According to the USDA, adult men in the U.S. consume, on average, almost 100 grams of protein a day, while adult women consume 70 grams.

That’s far more than the recommended daily allowance of about 56 grams for men and 46 grams for women.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks it down, here's what that looks like for guys: one cup of milk, a three-ounce piece of meat, one cup of dry beans, and eight ounces of yogurt. Skip the yogurt, and ladies will have their day's worth of protein.

What’s worse, high-protein diets have been linked to kidney problems, weight gain (and not just muscle), and certain cancers. A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found people who eat lots of protein are four times more likely to die of cancer—a risk on par with smoking.

“I don’t care about all that,” you say. “I just wanna get ripped, and you gotta gobble the meat if you want bigger guns.”

Let me just point out that this guy is a vegan. And so is this guy.

Take it from an expert. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University and all-around food-industry gadfly, recently told The Huffington Post: “[B]ecause Americans consume so much protein, and there is plenty in foods from both plant and animal sources, and there is no evidence of protein deficiency in the U.S. population, protein is a non-issue.... Protein used as a marketing tool is about marketing, not health. The advantage for marketing purposes of protein over fat or carbohydrates is that it's a positive message, not negative. Marketers don't have to do anything other than mention protein to make people think it's a health food.”

Free Range is a biweekly column that covers the often weird and sometimes wonderful world of food industry news. From the latest hits at the drive-through to the front lines of the battle over restaurant wages, Free Range is your source for news and commentary on the latest in food. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Participant Media.