Imagine you're rushing through your lunch break with a tight schedule and a health goal in mind. You walk into Chipotle, greeted by the vibrant colors of fresh ingredients lined up behind the glass counter. Instead of opting for a whopping burrito, you choose a Chipotle salad bowl: grilled chicken, a generous scoop of black beans, fresh fajita vegetables, and salsa, all without the extra calories of cheese or sour cream. Was that the healthiest option out there?

Fast-casual dining has become increasingly popular as people look for healthier options than what is available at a typical fast-food restaurant. Chipotle is a popular choice and is often perceived to be one of the healthier options out there. While the chain does offer some healthy options for those focusing on meal planning and healthy eating, Chipotle's nutrition depends on the food choices you make when ordering.

What makes Chipotle different?

What makes Chipotle different can be summed up in its motto: food with integrity. Chipotle's founder, Steve Ells, started the restaurant in 1993 with the idea that food should be ethically sourced and naturally produced. Ells continued this idea when, in 2013, the chain instituted a no-GMO policy.

One of the keys to Chipotle's success is its small menu, which means that the restaurant doesn't have to have abundant ingredients on hand, allowing it to stock only fresh ingredients and reducing food waste. A smaller menu also means faster service, and since customers choose what they want on their order, it's easy for them to control what they're eating and get precisely what they want.

Workers prepare burritos at a Chipotle Mexican Grill rblfmr / Shutterstock.com


Nutritional highlights at Chipotle

Chipotle is very transparent about its ingredients and nutritional information. Because everything on the menu is so customizable, most of their options can be prepared as high-protein, low-calorie meals.

Opting for a salad or burrito bowl over a burrito or tacos saves you the calories and carbohydrates of the tortilla, and choosing lean proteins like chicken or plant-based sofritas may be healthier than choosing steak. Opt for brown rice instead of white rice, or skip the carbohydrates and try a base of beans, lettuce, or salsa.



Caloric pitfalls to avoid

Some of the highest-calorie foods on the Chipotle menu are toppings and sides. Guacamole is the topping with the most calories, at 230, followed by the Cilantro-Lime Rice, at 210.

One of the best tips to follow if you're watching your caloric intake is to skip the sides — they're some of the most calorie-dense options on the menu. A regular order of Chips & Queso Blanco is 780 calories, and an order of Chips & Guacamole is 770.



Ingredients to include and avoid

The healthiest bet at Chipotle is choosing a salad or a bowl. The proteins are relatively low in calories, with chicken being the lowest at 180 calories per serving. While the sofritas are a vegetable-based option, they have 230 calories and 560 mg of sodium per serving. Black or pinto beans are a good choice as both are low in calories and high in plant protein. Skipping the rice can save you some calories and carbohydrates, but if you prefer rice, choose brown over white as it has less sodium and more fiber. Regarding toppings, the best choices are fajita veggies, lettuce, and beans. Avoid the cheese, queso, sour cream, chips, and salad dressing. If you want to add salsa, stick with the tomatillo versions, which are lower in sodium than the fresh tomato and roasted chili-corn options.

Veggie bowl , quesadillas and tacos at Chipotle Mexican grill Annie0303 / Shutterstock.com


How to Order Healthy at Chipotle

Eating healthy at Chipotle is easier than you might think. Follow these expert tips to make smarter, lower-calorie choices without sacrificing flavor:

  • Choose a Bowl or Salad Over a Burrito Skip the burrito and opt for a bowl or salad instead to avoid the extra calories and sodium packed in a large flour tortilla.
  • Pick Your Protein Wisely Protein options vary in calories. Steak and sofritas are lower at 150 calories each, while carnitas are slightly higher at 210 calories. Keep an eye on sodium, especially in sofritas, which have 560 mg per serving.
  • Go for Beans Black and pinto beans are both good choices, offering 8 grams of protein and 130 calories per serving. Pick based on your preferred taste.
  • Rice Options Consider skipping rice in burritos or tacos to cut down on calories. If choosing rice, opt for brown rice, which has lower sodium and higher fiber content.
  • Healthy Topping Choices Double up on fajita vegetables for extra fiber, choose lettuce for a fresh crunch, and add guacamole for healthy fats despite its higher calorie count. Opt for tomatillo green chili salsa for a flavorful yet lower sodium option.
  • Use the Nutrition Calculator Use Chipotle's nutrition calculator to keep track of your meal's nutritional content and make informed choices.
  • Order Light on High-Calorie Toppings Limit high-calorie toppings like sour cream, queso, and cheese, or ask for a half-order to reduce their impact.
  • Watch the Salsa Choices Choose lower-sodium salsas, such as tomatillo green and red chili, over higher-sodium options, like fresh tomato and roasted chili-corn salsas.
  • Consider Salad Dressing Usage If using salad dressing, request it on the side and use it sparingly to control additional calorie and sodium intake.
  • Mind the Chips Chips can significantly increase the calorie count of your meal. Share them or limit your intake to keep calories in check.


Smart choices for specific diets

Chipotle has options for many specific diets. The chain does not use eggs, mustard, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, shellfish, or fish, which is helpful for people with food allergies.

Every ingredient on the menu, except the meats, is vegetarian-friendly, and everything but the meat, dairy products, and Honey Vinaigrette dressing is vegan-friendly. This restaurant is also an excellent option for people who are gluten-free, as the only menu option that contains gluten is the flour tortilla used as a base for a burrito or tacos.

Chipotle plate and receipt with salad. dennizn / Shutterstock.com


The role of portion control

A helpful feature of the Chipotle menu is the ability to build your meal and get thorough nutritional information. Not only can this information tell you your caloric intake and your macros, but it can also help you manage portion sizes. Many fast-food restaurants offer burgers with multiple patties and large fries containing multiple portions, so you may never be sure how much you are eating.

At Chipotle, you can judge whether a 710-calorie portion of a chicken burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, roasted chili-corn salsa, and cheese is too much for one meal or if it fits into your daily meal plan.


Healthier alternatives

Burrito bowls and salads are healthier than burritos and tacos. Brown rice is slightly better than white rice, but skipping the rice altogether can mean fewer calories and less sodium. When it comes to protein options, the chicken and steak are relatively equal.

According to dieticians, some of the healthiest options on Chipotle's menu include the Wholesome Bowl, Barbacoa Salad, Chicken Salad With Queso, and Vegetarian Burrito Bowl.

You can also opt for a kid's meal serving of tacos or a quesadilla to feed your cravings with smaller servings.

  • Healthy tip: Skip the sides at Chipotle. They're not the healthiest.


Navigating Chipotle's nutrition calculator

Chiipotle's nutrition calculator is well-designed and easy to use. Simply select the meal you want, and then add your toppings. The calculator keeps a running total of the calories, fat, protein, and carbs as you add selections so you can see exactly what you are eating. It even allows you to add sides so you can see just how much adding a side of chips and queso affects the nutritional content of your meal.

Chipotle plate with tabasco sauces and drink dennizn / Shutterstock.com


Evaluating the sustainability of Chipotle's ingredients

Chipotle is so dedicated to sustainability that it launched Real Foodprint, a sustainability tracker that compares the sustainability of its ingredients to their conventional counterparts using five metrics: atmospheric carbon, gallons of water saved, improved soil health, organic land supports, and antibiotics avoided.

In 2022, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau evaluated Chipotle's sustainability claims. While the NAD did recommend some changes to the Real Foodprint tracker, it found that many of the claims that Chiptole makes about its sustainability efforts are supported with data.



It's time to eat

Many factors make Chipotle a suitable fast-casual restaurant for people who are trying to eat healthier. Because the restaurant uses limited ingredients, it is easier to keep fresh, sustainable ingredients in each store. When you eat at Chipotle, you have complete control over everything that goes into your meal. By making smart choices, you can get a low-calorie, low-sodium, high-protein meal made just the way you like it.



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