Is Chipotle Healthy? Here's What a Nutritionist Says
These tips can help make your next meal at Chipotle more nutritious than ever.
As a nutritionist and dietitian, I've had countless clients ask me if Chipotle is healthy. The truth is, meals from the chain can be incredibly nutrient-rich and balanced-or over-the-top decadent. The key to a healthy Chipotle meal is to customize your order based on the restaurant's most optimal ingredients and your nutrition goals. Here's my take on how to select a good-for-you lunch or dinner at Chipotle.
Make bowls and salads your staples
According to Chipotle's handy nutrition calculator, the flour tortilla that wraps a burrito packs 50 grams of carbohydrate with only 3 grams as fiber. That's the equivalent of three slices of white bread. To skirt those refined carbs, opt for a bowl or salad, which also allows you to load up on leafy greens. Chipotle's salad base has just 3 grams of carbs with 2 grams as fiber, along with 35% and 15% of the daily value for immune-supporting vitamins A and C, respectively.
The wide availability of plant-based meals is a trend that's here to stay, and for good reason. In a 2020 study, researchers looked at data of more than 400,000 US men and women over a 16-year period and found that a higher intake of plant protein was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes. Studies also show that replacing animal protein with plant protein improves several heart disease risk factors.
Chipotle makes it easy to craft a plant-based bowl, with three choices for plant protein made with no animal-based additives: black beans, pinto beans, and sofritas. Sofritas are made from crumbled, seasoned soy. Build your own bowl by adding cauliflower rice or brown rice, fajita veggies, salsa, and guacamole. This combo can easily provide 15 grams of protein and an impressive 20 grams of filling fiber, over 70% of the daily target. Bonus: A veggie meal includes guac at no extra charge.
Check out Lifestyle Bowls
In certain cities, Chipotle offers Lifestyle Bowls, which essentially cater to special diets, including Whole30, keto, high protein, and paleo. Each bowl contains pre-selected ingredients that fit the corresponding criteria, but you can also tweak the order based on your preferences.
If I had to choose one based on healthfulness, I'd select the Whole30 chicken salad bowl, made with SuperGreens lettuce blend, chicken, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole.
Find allergen-friendly options
Whether you're plant-based or an omnivore, your top concern may be avoiding ingredients that trigger a food allergy or intolerance. Fortunately, Chipotle's website includes a chart to identify sources of dairy, soy, gluten, and sulphites. Plus, the chain does not use eggs (except at locations that serve breakfast), mustard, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish, or fish as ingredients; this makes it easy to avoid problematic foods. And unlike many fast food establishments, common allergens are found in few of Chipotle's items. For example, the only source of soy is the sofritas, and gluten is only found in the flour tortillas used for burritos and tacos.
Build a lower-calorie meal
A few of Chipotle's offerings are notoriously high in calories, including a side of chips at 810 calories per large bag (1,290 with queso blanco) and a fully loaded burrito, which can easily pack over 1,200 calories. If you're calorie conscious, use the brand's nutrition calculator to view the calorie content of each item you add.
You'll find that it's possible to select meals that clock in at fewer than 500 calories. A salad made with SuperGreens lettuce blend, cilantro-lime cauliflower rice, black beans, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole has 460 calories and is nicely balanced with 29 grams of net carbs, 15 grams of protein, and 24.5 grams of fat. Chicken tacos can be another good choice. Three made with crispy corn tortillas, chicken, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and lettuce have 430 calories.
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Must-gets for good nutrition
To maximize your meal's nutrient content and health benefits, three essential ingredients to consider including in your order are veggies, beans, and guac. Go for as many veggies as possible, including greens as your base, fajita peppers and onions, salsa, and cauliflower rice. In addition to the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants veggies provide, they're also good for your mental health. In fact, a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients found that a higher intake of produce was linked to higher levels of optimism and less psychological distress and depressive symptoms.
Beans are a true superfood, with benefits that include a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and microbial infections. And guac is worth every penny-avocado, its star ingredient, has been shown to reduce inflammation; protect against cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; and fend off microbes. Avocado consumption is also associated with better overall diet quality, as well as a lower body mass index and smaller waist measurement.
Bottom line on Chipotle
Chipotle offers many nutrient-rich, whole food ingredients, as well as heavier, less nutritious choices, so the healthfulness of what's in your bag is really up to you. I like that no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives are used, and I consider Chipotle to be an affordable choice given the nutritional value. To get the most nutrition bang for your buck, use the chain's tools, including nutrition and allergy info, to customize meals based on your needs and goals.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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