As you go down the line deciding which ingredients to include in your burrito or burrito bowl at Chipotle—debating whether to drop the extra couple bucks for guacamole—you’ve probably asked yourself: Is Chipotle healthy?
Chipotle is the one of the most popular fast-casual chain restaurants in the world, grossing nearly $6 billion in revenue in 2020, according to Statista. Many people rely on the Mexican quick-service restaurant as a go-to for a fast meal, sometimes after a workout. But does its convenience line up with its potential health benefits?
We talked to Roxana Ehsani, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., sports dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to get to the truth inside the tortilla.
Is Chipotle healthy?
Ehsani says that Chipotle offers an abundance of healthy choices for customers. She lauds the nutrient-dense options available, like brown rice. Plus, there are plenty of veggie choices—such as peppers, onions, lettuce, and the diverse range of salsas—that are rich with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Both pinto and black beans are excellent sources of protein (and plant-based protein at that), as well as dietary fiber. Chipotle offers guacamole too, which also contains fiber and healthy fats.
“It’s great you can modify your meal your way too,” she says. “You have the option to make it a bowl or salad, make it vegetarian or meat-based… Many fast-casual restaurants don’t have veggies, whole grains, or healthy fats on the menu, so it’s great that Chipotle does.”
Keep in mind, it’s easy to go overboard. Chipotle is set up in a cafeteria-style line, where you simply tell the person behind the counter to add whatever you like. It can be tempting to keep asking for more and more ingredients. So as you’re going through, beware of adding too much sour cream, queso, cheese, or even an extra scoop of guacamole.
“If you have all of these high-fat, high-calorie options on your burrito, bowl, or salad, those calories can add up quickly,” Ehsani says. “Even an option like a burrito bowl may end up over the recommended amount of calories per one meal.”
Does the organic stamp at Chipotle mean it’s healthier than other options?
Chipotle prides itself on its organic ingredients, responsibly-raised meat, and a lack of added growth hormones in their ingredients. But be careful about taking these buzzwords to mean Chipotle also promotes your health.
In fact, Ehsani says that organic doesn’t always mean healthy: “For example, cookies can be made with organic ingredients, but [that] doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better for you than a regular cookie made without organic ingredients.”
The positive, however, is that a brand like Chipotle can’t get away with saying their food is organic without meeting the proper USDA standards for organic handling and processing.
Produce that is USDA-certified organic is grown in soil that has no prohibited substances—such as most pesticides or synthetic fertilizers—applied for three years prior to harvest. Organic animal products won’t have growth hormones or antibiotics, and the animals themselves eat organic feed and must be allowed to graze. Both instances are more environmentally friendly than standard food production processes.
You know you’re getting better produced food that’s safer for the environment, but there’s no definitive evidence that eating organic is healthier for you. So while the organic ingredients might not carry a health halo, Chipotle is still a solid choice for fast casual food—just maybe not healthier than restaurants without a full list of organic ingredients.
What to order at Chipotle, according to a dietitian
It can be overwhelming to stand in front of that counter and constantly say “no” to every extra ingredient you’re offered. Luckily, Ehsani has a strategy laid out for you to simplify your order.
What to get in your bowl, burrito, or salad:
- Rice: Brown rice provides you with more grams of dietary fiber than white rice or a tortilla—and fiber is a nutrient people need more of each day.
- Beans: Either black or pinto beans are great options. Both are nutrient dense and loaded with dietary fiber and protein.
- Protein: You don’t even need meat—beans provide enough protein. But if you are going to order meat or a vegan substitute, don’t ask for double.
- Sides: Guacamole provides heart-healthy fat and dietary fiber. Salsa, lettuce, and fajita veggies are delicious choices to get in some produce, too. All of these sides (or toppings) are chock full of vitamins, minerals, and more of that must-have fiber.
Additional tips on choosing your Chipotle meal:
- Although guacamole is very nutrient-dense on its own, consider choosing one to two high-fat toppings. That could include any combination of guac, cheese, queso, or sour cream—just try not to choose all of them for one meal.
- Consider boxing up half your order. Restaurants typically use more fat, sugar, and salt in their cooking. You resist going overboard with those ingredients, as well as calories if you save half for later, and you’ll have a whole extra meal for tomorrow.
If you want it broken down into even simpler terms, here’s what Ehsani orders alongside the nutritional values gathered by using Chipotle’s nutrition calculator (which is based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day):
A dietitian-approved burrito bowl and its nutrition info:
- Brown rice: 210 calories; 6g of fat (1g saturated fat); 4g protein; 36g carbs (2g dietary fiber); 190mg sodium; 2% daily value vitamin A; 2% daily value vitamin C; 1% daily value calcium; 4% daily value iron.
- Pinto beans: 130 calories; 1.5g fat; 8g protein; 21g carbs (8g dietary fiber, 1g sugar); 210mg sodium; 2% daily value vitamin C; 4% daily value calcium; 10% daily value iron.
- Fajitas mix: 20 calories; 1g protein; 5g carbs (1g dietary fiber, 2g sugar); 150mg sodium; 4% daily value vitamin A; 60% daily value vitamin C; 2% daily value calcium; 2% daily value iron.
- Fresh tomato salsa: 25 calories; 4g carbs (1g dietary fiber, 1g sugar); 550mg sodium; 1% daily value vitamin A; 14% daily value vitamin C; 1% daily value calcium; 5% daily value iron.
- Lettuce: 5 calories; 1g carbohydrates (1g dietary fiber); 35% daily value vitamin A; 10% daily value vitamin C; 2% daily value iron.
- Guacamole: 230 calories; 22g fat (2.5g saturated fat); 2g protein; 8g carbs (6g dietary fiber, 2g sugar); 370mg sodium; 7% daily value vitamin A; 7% daily value vitamin C; 2% daily value calcium; 7% daily value iron.
With everything in it, Ehsani’s burrito bowl adds up to 620 calories, with 29.5g of fat (2.5g saturated fat), 15g protein, 75g carbs (19g dietary fiber, 6g sugar), 1,470mg sodium, 49% daily value vitamin A, 95% daily value vitamin C, 10% daily value calcium, and 30% daily value iron.
Sometimes, she’ll add chicken—which adds 180 calories, 7g fat, and 32g protein—or steak, which adds 150 calories, 6g fat, 21g protein, and 1g carbs.
Try your best, but don’t sweat it if you go overboard
The guidelines here are meant to be just that: guidelines. Sometimes you’re craving carnitas, so get carnitas! Other days, you might feel super hungry, so you finish your bowl instead of saving half for tomorrow. That’s fine too!
Rest assured that Chipotle is a healthy option when it comes to quick-service food. As long as you’re keeping tabs on what you order, you’ll be on the right track toward good health.
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