The question “is Chipotle healthy?” is one that you might assume you know the answer to. It’s fast food, right? What could possibly be healthy about overstuffed burritos, bowls and tacos? Turns out, a lot actually (hallelujah!). This is largely thanks to the new improvements Chipotle has made to its menu and to the transparency and quality of its ingredients. The chain promises that all the ingredients are sourced from reputable farms and that things like health of the soil, farming techniques and welfare of animals are considered when passing out contracts. But you don’t have to take their word for it—Chipotle is nutritionist approved.
“I would consider Chipotle a healthy option, and I am impressed by how they have considered the health of their customers by revising their ingredient list and removing preservatives and unnecessary additives,” says Rhode Island-based nutritionist Wendy Leonard. “Everyone can read the ingredient list without looking up the name of a ‘hard-to-pronounce’ chemical preservative or additive.”
The chain’s new menu is created entirely from a list of 53 “clean” ingredients, but not all of them are going to nourish your healthy bod in the same way. To ensure you’re making the best decisions when hitting up the “food with integrity” restaurant, Leonard has armed us with her tips below.
1. What to skip at Chipotle if you’re trying to eat healthy
Avoid: Burritos, tacos, chips, queso, cheese, sour cream, white rice, sofritas and carnitas
That list of 53 ingredients Chipotle is serving up includes many options that will make your doctor and waistline happy, all while pleasing your palate. But some should avoided if you’re being super health-conscious. “I’d stay away from the chips and queso,” says Leonard. “This combo is high in total fat and saturated fat.” She also recommends skipping bottled or fountain drinks and opting for water instead to save yourself 200 calories. Choose brown rice over white to add fiber and protein that will keep you feeling fuller longer, and breeze right by the cheese and sour cream (or ask for just a little bit to get the taste without all the calories and saturated fat).
To avoid a whopping 320 calories and 50 grams of carbohydrates—the equivalent of four slices of bread—swap out the tortilla that Chipotle’s burritos are wrapped in and go with a bowl instead, like the Whole30 Salad Bowl. “Load up on as many vegetables as you can to fill you up, and skip the rice entirely. If you really want rice, ask them to go light on the brown rice,” Leonard says.
Sofritas (a plant-based protein) are cooked with added sugars, and the carnitas are higher in saturated fat than steak or chicken, according to our pro, making these seemingly healthy options less nutritious than Chipotle’s other proteins.
2. Ingredients to order at Chipotle
Order: A bowl/salad, guacamole (a little), steak, chicken, brown rice and all the veggies your heart desires
An exception to the no-fat rule is guacamole. “Guac has some plant-based saturated fat but mostly contains monounsaturated fats (similar to olives and olive oil), which are heart-healthy fats,” Leonard says. Even so, keep a close eye on the amount of guacamole on your burrito bowl and don’t ask for extra.
The steak at Chipotle is a lean cut, so you don’t have to feel guilty if you find yourself with a sudden hankering for some red meat, and we all know that chicken is a healthy choice. The chain is also a great place to avoid meat altogether and go with a vegan or vegetarian option and load up on fiber-rich veggies, Leonard advises.
3. How to eat Whole30, paleo, keto and more at Chipotle
Whole30, paleo, keto, vegan, vegetarian and high-protein dieters, Chipotle’s got your back. The restaurant recently launched an entire line of bowls and salads dedicated to these specific diets in order to better serve their customers who are trying to stick to strict rules. They’re called Lifestyle Bowls, and they’re making your life so much easier.
“I especially like the Whole30 Salad Bowl and the Paleo Salad Bowl because they are full of veggies, have a healthy fat source from the guacamole and have a good amount of protein,” Leonard says. “I also like the New Supergreen Salad that Chipotle is offering, which includes romaine and antioxidant-rich baby kale and baby spinach.”
4. Save half for later. Or not.
We hear it all the time: If you’re going to eat out, you should try to have about half of what’s on your plate and bring the rest home for a second meal, because restaurant portions are so big. This definitely applies at Chipotle if you’re getting something with high calorie and fat totals—like that tortilla burrito we talked about earlier. Or you can go for a healthier option, like a bowl or salad, and eat to your stomach’s heart’s content.
“You can order a bowl with steak, vegetables, lettuce, salsa, a sprinkle of cheese, black beans and guacamole for around 400 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrates,” says Leonard. “This would be fine for anyone following a regular healthy-eating plan.”
Remember that all foods—even healthy options—can become not so great for you if eaten in excess, so it’s important to always watch your portions and try not to overeat. With these tips, however, eating wherever you want, even a fast-food joint like Chipotle, is possible.