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If you head to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac and fries, there’s a good chance you’re doing it because a craving hit—not because you think it’s full of nutrients. The same goes for getting an order of fried chicken at Popeyes or a roast beef sandwich at Arby’s.
But if you’re thinking about eating at Chipotle, it’s likely because you’re craving Mexican food and want something healthy. Sure, it’s still a fast food chain, but the ingredients are fresh so that must make it healthier, right?
“Being that Chipotle only uses fresh ingredients and no artificial or processed additives, this ranks high for me on a nutritional level and I feel good about ordering here,” registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD, says. However, just like virtually any other restaurant, how healthy your meal is varies greatly, depending on what you order. Here, registered dietitians break down what to order at Chipotle to keep your meal nutrient-rich as well as ingredients you may want to minimize or skip.
The healthiest menu items at Chipotle
If you have specific health goals in mind, Married to Health co-founder and registered dietitian Dahlia Marin, RDN, says it can be helpful to head to Chipotle’s website before you go to the restaurant. “They offer a nutrition calculator where you can see exactly what you are getting. Go to the ‘nutrition’ tab and there you can find the option to create your own meal,” she says. If you want to make sure you’re getting a certain amount of protein, for example, you can use the nutrition calculator to see how much protein different menu items offer. Or similarly, if you’re trying to cap your carbs at a certain amount, the nutrition calculator can tell you that too.
Too much work? Married To Health co-founder and registered dietitian James Marin, RD, says a general rule to keep in mind when ordering is to prioritize plant-based foods linked to promoting gut health. This includes complex carbohydrates (like beans and brown rice), and fiber-rich vegetables. “Make plants the majority of what you’re eating,” he says. “Plants will not only have the filling and necessary macronutrients, but they will also have things animal products do not have like fiber, prebiotics, and phytonutrients, all of which help feed your inner-ecosystem we call the gut microbiome.”
James says that some ingredients to consider ordering are black beans, pinto beans, cilantro-lime white rice, brown rice, cauliflower rice, fajitas (sautéed bell peppers and onion), sofritas (braised tofu with poblano and chipotle peppers), vegan chorizo (made of soy), fresh tomato salsa, corn, green chili salsa, lettuce blend, cilantro, and tomatillo red salsa.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of options. “These ingredients come together for a balanced meal including protein, fats, and fiber which will keep you full longer and satisfied,” James says. Dahlia adds that these items can be used to make a really nutrient-rich burrito bowl.
What to skip or order in moderation
Ordering a burrito bowl and prioritizing any combo of the ingredients highlighted above will ensure you get a nutrient-balanced meal. But what about the ingredients you should skip? Dahlia says that shredded cheese, queso blanco, and sour cream are all high in saturated fat and should be enjoyed in moderation.
The same goes for the meat protein options. “[Meat and cheese] contain saturated fats and cholesterol,” she says. “These nutrients are not necessarily ‘bad’; humans make cholesterol in the liver and saturated fatty acids serve a purpose as well. The part where these fats cross the line is when it comes to the quality of the animal and the amount being consumed.” In other words, meat and cheese can certainly be healthy, but the tried-and-true adage of moderation being best is certainly relevant here.
James says to be mindful of the amount of refined carbohydrates in your meal, like flour tortillas or tortilla chips. He says that not only are refined carbs low in fiber and other nutrients, but they can also spike blood sugar levels, leading to spikes and drops in energy and mood.
Last, Rifkin says to be mindful of the sodium in the tortilla chips, dressings, and sauces as too much sodium can negatively impact the heart. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. A large order of chips and guac has 1,330 milligrams and considering that most people pair it with an entree, it’s easy to see why being mindful of the sodium in your meal is important.
In general, Chipotle is a healthy place to eat. But just how healthy you want your meal to be is up to you. Prioritize plant-based foods when creating your meal and you can rest assured that a dietitian would give you the thumbs up.