Taco meat is a flavorful protein that can be used in a variety of Tex-Mex dishes like tacos, burritos, nachos, and more. When building healthy and balanced meals, it’s important to understand the calorie and nutritional content of your ingredients. So how many calories are actually in 1 cup of taco meat?
What is Taco Meat Made Of?
There are a few main ingredients that make up traditional taco meat:
- Ground beef – This is the base of most taco meat recipes. Ground chuck or sirloin are common choices.
- Onion and garlic – Sauteed onion and garlic add a savory, aromatic foundation.
- Chili powder – This spice blend adds a signature Tex-Mex flavor.
- Cumin – Earthy, warm cumin complements the spices in chili powder.
- Paprika – A touch of paprika contributes additional flavor and color.
- Salt and pepper – Salt enhances the overall flavor while pepper provides a subtle heat.
- Optional seasonings – Oregano, cayenne, coriander or other spices may be added as well.
In addition to these basic ingredients, some recipes may also include tomatoes, peppers, lime juice or other extras to create signature flavor profiles. The ingredients used will impact the nutrition counts.
Nutrition Facts for Ground Beef
Since ground beef makes up the bulk of taco meat, it’s a good starting point for determining the calorie count. Here are the nutrition facts for a 4-ounce uncooked serving of 80% lean ground beef (based on data from the USDA):
As you can see, a 4-ounce serving of raw 80/20 ground beef contains 291 calories. There are no carbohydrates, fiber or sugar, and a significant amount of protein at 22 grams.
Factors that Impact Calories per Cup
When determining the calories in 1 cup of taco meat, there are several factors that impact the totals:
- Type of ground beef – Using a fattier ground beef like 70/30 will up the calorie count versus a leaner 90/10 or 95/5 meat.
- Raw vs. cooked – Meats lose some fat and reduce in size after cooking, so the calories per cup are a bit less for cooked crumbled taco meat.
- Added ingredients – Ingredients like oil, seasonings, tomatoes, onions, etc. will alter the nutrition profile.
- How it’s drained – Draining excess grease after browning will remove some of the fat and lower the calories.
To get a more accurate answer, it’s best to look at the nutrition data for specific recipes. Here is the calorie count for 1 cup of two common recipes:
Basic Seasoned Ground Beef Taco Meat
This recipe contains just ground beef seasoned simply with taco seasoning. It makes enough taco meat to fill about 6 hard shell tacos.
- 1 lb 90% lean ground beef
- 1 packet taco seasoning mix
Nutrition Facts per 1 Cup Cooked:
Hearty Taco Meat with Beans
This recipe adds extras like beans, tomatoes, onions, garlic and chili peppers for a meatier, heartier taco filling.
- 1 lb 85% lean ground beef
- 1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno, minced
- 2 Tbsp taco seasoning
- Fresh cilantro, for garnish
Nutrition Facts per 1 Cup:
The addition of beans, tomatoes, and onions adds more fiber and carbs and reduces the fat and calories compared to just plain seasoned ground beef.
Calorie Ranges for Different Versions
Based on the various factors involved, here are some general calorie ranges for different common taco meat recipes.
|Taco Meat Type
|Estimated Calories per 1 Cup Cooked
|Basic seasoned ground beef
|Ground turkey taco meat
|Ground bison taco meat
|Taco meat with beans
|Taco meat with rice
Leaner meats like ground turkey and bison tend to be on the lower end while fattier beef is higher. And additions like beans, rice, cheese, etc. can also boost the calorie counts. The way the meat is cooked and drained also impacts the final numbers.
Low Calorie Taco Meat Options
For lower calorie options, you can:
- Use extra lean ground beef or turkey.
- Drain off any excess fat after browning.
- Skip oil or butter when cooking onions and garlic.
- Use reduced sodium taco seasoning.
- Load up on veggies like peppers, onions, tomatoes, etc.
- Use small amounts of cheese as a garnish instead of mixing it in.
- Top with salsa rather than sour cream.
Following a recipe for light turkey taco meat or using a lean grass-fed beef can keep the calorie count under 200 per cup. Going meatless with a veggie filling made from beans, lentils or crumbled tofu is another way to substantially reduce calories and fat.
Ways to Enjoy Lower Calorie Taco Meat
Here are some healthy and delicious options for using lower calorie taco meat:
Build a salad on a bed of crisp greens and top with 1/2 cup of taco meat, tomatoes, onions, beans, avocado, and a drizzle of lime vinaigrette.
Stuffed Bell Peppers
Fill bell pepper halves with taco meat, brown rice, black beans, and reduced fat cheese. Bake until hot and tender.
Scoop out zucchini halves and stuff with taco meat, corn, black beans and cilantro.
Loaded Baked Potatoes
Top a baked russet potato with 1/2 cup taco meat, salsa, Greek yogurt and sliced scallions.
Simmer diced tomatoes, corn, beans, taco meat, onions, chili powder and cumin for a quick and easy soup.
Meal Prep Bowls
Layer 1/2 cup taco meat with Spanish rice, beans, lettuce, pico de gallo and avocado in a meal prep container for easy lunches.
You can also use lower calorie taco meat to build healthy tacos. Try these slimmer taco ideas:
- Fish or shrimp tacos – Use grilled, broiled or blackened tilapia, cod or shrimp.
- Portobello mushroom tacos – Marinate and grill portobellos to use instead of meat.
- Chicken or turkey tacos – Opt for ground chicken or turkey breast.
- Veggie tacos – Use roasted cauliflower or sweet potatoes as the filling.
- Fajita-style chicken or steak tacos with lots of bell peppers and onions.
- Southwestern egg tacos made with egg whites, black beans, corn and avocado.
You can also lighten up traditional beef tacos by using soft corn tortillas instead of crunchy shells, limiting cheese and sour cream, and loading up on produce like lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and guacamole.
Taco Meat Nutrition
Here is the nutrition breakdown for 3.5 ounces (about 1/2 cup) of 90% lean ground beef taco meat cooked with taco seasoning:
As you can see, taco meat provides a good amount of protein with over 20 grams in a typical serving. It’s also relatively low carb at only 3 grams per serving. The main dietary concerns are the high sodium content from taco seasoning packets and higher fat content if you use a fattier ground beef or don’t drain off grease.
Ways to Make Taco Meat Healthier
Here are some tips for lightening up taco meat:
- Use leaner ground turkey or grass-fed beef.
- Drain fat after cooking.
- Limit high-sodium packet seasoning and use spices instead.
- Skip oil and butter when sauteing aromatics.
- Boost nutrition with veggies like onions, peppers and tomatoes.
- Cut back on fatty cheese as mix-ins or toppings.
- Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Serve with fresh salsa, guacamole, lettuce, etc.
Should You Avoid Taco Meat?
In general, taco meat can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Leaner meats like sirloin or ground turkey are better choices than fattier beef. And be mindful of your portion size, aiming for about 1/2 cup per taco. If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, you may need to limit taco meat since it’s high in sodium and saturated fat.
For the lowest calorie options, go for veggie tacos made with beans, mushrooms or other plant proteins. But for most people, taco meat can be incorporated into an overall balanced diet.
The number of calories in 1 cup of taco meat ranges from about 200-300 depending on the leanness of meat, cooking method, and any additions like oil, beans or rice. Using leaner ground turkey or sirloin beef, draining grease, and loading up on veggies are ways to lighten up taco meat. While high in sodium and saturated fat, taco meat can be enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet. Just be mindful of portions and topping choices.