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Taco Bell beefs up menu with Paleo protein: Low carb diets gain muscle

If you're on a low carb diet, it's time to belly up to the bar at Taco Bell. At least that's what the fast food franchises hope as the company unveils a new meaty menu patterned after the Paleo plan, reported the Washington Post on July 11.

Fast food gains muscle at Taco Bell.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Taco Bell describes its offerings as "the next evolution of its Cantina Bell menu." Dubbing it the Cantina Power Menu, the executives have concocted food items that contain more than 20 grams of protein and twice as much meat. The message behind the menu: Paleo power is here to stay, and low-carb dieters are overtaking the calorie-counting weight watchers when it comes to financial muscle.

Summing up the rationale for the non-rationing of meat, company president Brian Niccol explained, "We heard customers requesting a higher protein solution with the flavors Cantina delivers, so here is Cantina Power." And he disdained the notion that people come to Taco Bell for weight loss meals.

"People are not looking for diet food. They want food that gives them energy," said Niccol. Despite that comment about "diet food," the company will emphasize the calorie counts as well as the "where's the beef" low carb diet factor in their new featured meals, reported the Los Angeles Times on July 11.

Items on the Power Menu will have 500 calories at the most. In addition, items higher in carbohydrates will be eliminated, such as rice and beans. Replacing those high carb foods: High fat low carb diet items such as sour cream and cheddar cheese.

What's caused diet trends to shift from low-fat calorie-counting plans to high fat low carb weight loss approaches? A perfect storm that includes new studies and research and some outspoken experts.

The latest research indicates that following a high fat low carb diet results in significantly more weight loss, with low carb dieters burning 300 calories more per day when compared to those on low-fat plans. The reaction from experts can be summed up by Nicole Glassman, a New York-based holistic nutritionist who told the Chicago Tribune in a July 11 interview that she views counting calories and avoiding fat as both dangerous and useless for weight loss.

For fat phobics who carefully toss out the egg yolk and eat only egg whites, Glassman says that they are wasting their time and wrecking their health. "Cholesterol is affected by trans fats and oftentimes by the overconsumption of sugar and white flour products," she clarified. "Eat the egg yolks; they contain a lot of nutritional benefits."

Moreover, the quality of the foods you eat trumps the quantity. You can eat massive amounts of air-popped popcorn or rice cakes, but a handful of almonds gives you "healthy fats and protein, so they will satisfy you longer," she said.

Keith Kantor, CEO of Green Box Foods and co-author of "The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice" agrees. He categorizes low-fat diets as dangerous fads. In addition, Kantor noted that no evidence exists that saturated fat and cholesterol are linked to heart disease and obesity.

"Not all calories are created equal," declared Rania Batayneh, nutritionist and author of "The One One One Diet." She suggested visualizing "how will you feel after eating 100 calories worth of jelly beans compared with 100 calories of raspberries and nuts."

Weighing in on the battle between low-fat diets and high fat low carb diets is Professor Tim Noakes. The renowned sports scientist reversed his previous views and has become famed as the champion of high fat low carb ketogenic diets. Some of his followers even simplify their description of their weight loss plans by saying that they're on the "Noakes diet."

In a recent interview, Noakes explained that by limiting carbohydrates, dieters feel satisfied while eating healthy foods such as avocados, olives, turkey and vegetables.

"Calorie counting and doing huge amounts of exercise to control weight does not work and is in any case completely unnecessary," he said. And although various versions of low-carb diets exist, from high protein to high fat, Noakes emphasizes the importance of focusing on eliminating sugar and starchy carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and cereal.

"The more fat you eat, and the less protein and carbohydrate, the more ketogenic the diet becomes. I focus on limiting carbs for everyone with insulin resistance. If you have diabetes, then it makes sense to focus on eating more fat and less protein since protein acts as a partial carbohydrate," he explained.

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