A chicken taco salad can be a healthy source of calories when eaten in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet. A healthy chicken salad includes nutrient-dense foods. Portion size is important when eating chicken taco salad because large portions can lead to overeating and excess calorie consumption.
The calories in a chicken taco salad provide the body with energy. Calories are essential to life but eating too many calories is unhealthy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), eating too many calories leads to weight gain and obesity. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. Individuals can reduce calorie intake by eating smaller portions and filling up on nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods like fruits and veggies, lean proteins, low-fat dairy products and whole grains are naturally low in calories but high in essential vitamins and minerals.
The calorie contribution of the chicken in a chicken taco salad depends on how the chicken is prepared and what part of the chicken is used. Thigh and leg meat has more calories than breast meat, and chicken with skin has more calories than chicken without skin. For instance the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) calculates that a raw 3 oz. chicken breast without skin has 98 calories but with skin it has 144 calories. A 3 oz. skinless chicken thigh has 100 calories and with skin it has 177 calories.
Chicken is lower in calories when prepared with little or no fat (i.e., oil, butter, lard or margarine), because fat is high in calories. Low-fat cooking methods include grilling, poaching, steaming, roasting, boiling and broiling--while deep-frying, pan frying and sautéing are higher-fat methods. The NDL says a 3 oz. fried chicken breast has 186 calories versus a 3 oz. roasted chicken breast, which has 165 calories.
The vegetables in a chicken taco salad are nutrient-dense and naturally low in calories. All vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and sodium. They also contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, which protect the body and prevent diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The USDA says vegetables are a good source of fiber. High-fiber diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and help support a healthy weight.
Chicken taco salad toppings and accompaniments can be high in calories, so choose wisely and regulate how much you consume. Low-fat dairy toppings like fat-free sour cream and low-fat cheese should be consumed instead of regular varieties. MyPyramid says 2 tbsps. of regular sour cream has 62 calories but low-fat sour cream only has 44 calories. Salsa is a healthy, low-calorie condiment at only 17 calories per ¼ cup compared to ranch dressing which has 143 calories per 2 tbsps. Taco salad shells and tortilla chips are usually deep-fried and can be high in calories and fat; MyPyramid says a 6 inch taco shell has 98 calories and 1 cup of tortilla chips has 160 calories.
Portions in the United States are often oversized, which contributes to weight gain due to excess calorie intake. For instance, the Chicken Ranch Taco Salad at Taco Bell contains 910 calories, which is close to 50 percent of the 2,000 calories that most people need over an entire day. The American Dietetic Association recommends reducing portions by ordering smaller portions whenever possible, sharing entrees and sides when eating out and requesting high-calorie condiments on the side to control how much you consume.