Is Chipotle Healthy and can I eat there? {please say yes}

A few weeks back, we talked about the Panera Bread “100% clean food” claim.  Our verdict:  NOT CLEAN.  While the company’s removal of preservatives from its menu is admirable and a step in the right direction, we felt the “clean” label for a menu filled with enriched flour and sugar-laden pastries and bread items was misleading at best.  But, there is another food chain out there claiming to be healthy.  So, is Chipotle healthy and does it fit with 90/10 Nutrition?

If you are like me, you’re really hoping that the answer is YES.

NOTE: THIS IS IMPORTANT

I’ll never recommend going out to eat over (or even on that same level as) cooking meals at home with fresh ingredients that you control.  So, don’t overuse the conclusions or recommendations in this blog.  I understand eating out is probably going to happen so I’m evaluating best options here.

The Chipotle Real Ingredients Claim

Chipotle has been pushing “real ingredients” for several years now through various ads including radio.  Several of the radio ads have caught my attention because they seem to actually understand the idea of clean eating and real food a little more than other companies.

Most often, when you hear a food company talk about healthy food, they refer to calories, fat, protein, and sometimes sugar.  They lower the sugar, they decrease calories, they increase protein, but they don’t often talk about ingredients.  Or, as was the case with Panera, they talked about ingredients but seemed to ignore the refined sugars and grains.

The Chipotle claims speak to me and our ideals around food.  Below is a picture of their website (this page).  This has some serious potential.  So, let’s dive into the ingredients a little deeper and see how they measure up for those of us using the 90/10 system.

is chipotle healthy

The Ingredients

Let’s just go through this step by step…just like the line at Chipotle.

STEP 1: BURRITO, BOWL, TACOS, SALAD

Of course, step 1 at Chipotle is to decide if you want a burrito, a bowl, tacos, or a salad.  If you choose a burrito, you’ll be getting a flour tortilla.  If you choose a bowl, you can get either white or brown rice.  For tacos, you can get crispy corn tortillas, soft corn tortillas, or soft flour tortillas.  Of course, for a salad, you get lettuce instead of tortillas or rice.

Here is how all the step 1 options stack up to the TIERS:

is chipotle healthy

BURRITO – FLOUR TORTILLA

The flour tortilla for the burritos is a yellow tier item because it is not 100% whole grain.  So, choosing the burrito starts you out with yellow tier.  Of course, you get some yellow tier for the day, but the burrito-sized tortilla weighs in at 320 calories and that’s about double what most people would get for yellow tier for the day.

is chipotle healthy

BOWL – WHITE RICE

White rice would be yellow tier.  A serving comes out to 210 calories.  So, this could possibly be within your yellow tier allowance, but there is a brown rice option that is green tier, so why would you?

is chipotle healthy

BOWL – BROWN RICE

GREEN TIER!  Woo-hoo!  Check the ingredients on the brown rice HERE.  All green tier.

is chipotle healthy

TACOS – 3 CRISPY CORN TORTILLAS

These are fried and could be considered like tortilla chips, which we have on our yellow tier.  Again, 3 tortillas is about 200 calories according to Chiptole’s website, so this would take all or more of most people’s yellow tier for the day.

NOTE:  I believe you can get soft corn tortillas if you ask for them.  Those would be green tier if not fried, but they don’t show on the website.

is chipotle healthy

TACOS – 3 FLOUR TORTILLAS

These are yellow tier and 250 calories for 3 tortillas.  Again, this would take all or more than most people’s yellow tier for the day.

is chipotle healthy

SALAD – LETTUCE

GREEN TIER!  Woo-hoo!  Of course lettuce is green tier.

STEP 2: BEANS

Let’s assume you took one of the two green tier options in step 1 (bowl with brown rice OR salad).

Step 2 at Chipotle is to pick black or pinto beans.

Here is how the bean options stack up to the TIERS:

is chipotle healthy

BLACK BEANS

GREEN TIER!  All of the ingredients in the black bean recipe at Chipotle are on the green tier.

is chipotle healthy

PINTO BEANS

GREEN TIER!  All of the ingredients listed on the site for the pinto beans are green tier as well.

STEP 3: MEAT

Step 3 at Chipotle is to pick your meat option.

Now, here’s the issue with meat:  We have meat separated on the tiers with the leaner cuts on the green tier, the fattier cuts on the yellow tier, and the cured and junk stuff on the red tier.  We have it divided by cuts that are usually less than 10% fat (green), more than 10% fat and uncured (yellow), and cured on the red.

The problem is that it’s hard to know the fat content of meat used at a restaurant.  They don’t always tell you the cut of meat they use.  The same goes for Chipotle, so we may cut ourselves some slack on the tier declarations for meat here.  To be perfectly honest, if I was going to change something about our tiers right now, the fat percentage of meat between the green and yellow tiers would be the first thing.  It’s definitely arguable.

Here is how the meat options stack up to the TIERS:

is chipotle healthy

CHICKEN

GREEN TIER!  All of the ingredients in the chicken recipe at Chipotle are on the green tier with the exception that we don’t know for sure that it is all white meat chicken.  In this case, I would personally give it a pass as green tier even though it’s possible that it’s not quite lean enough for the green tier as written.  See below for some of chicken at other fast food places.  Yuck.

is chipotle healthy

STEAK

GREEN TIER!  We’ll treat this the same as the chicken.  It might not technically be lean enough but the recipe is all green tier ingredients and it’s probably very close to lean enough for green tier anyway.  So, I would consider this a green tier option.

is chipotle healthy

CARNITAS

YELLOW TIER.  This one comes in at twice the fat grams per serving as the chicken or steak so it’s pretty safe to say that it is made with a yellow tier cut of meat.  At 210 calories per serving, I would spend my yellow somewhere else and stick with one of the green tier options for meat.

is chipotle healthy

BARBACOA

GREEN TIER!  This has the same fat grams as the chicken.  So, we’ll treat it the same and consider this a green tier option.

is chipotle healthy

SOFRITAS

GREEN TIER!  This is the vegan option made from soybeans.  This would also be a green tier option.

STEP 4: TOPPINGS

Step 4 at Chipotle is to pick your toppings.

Here is how the toppings stack up to the TIERS:

is chipotle healthy

QUESO

GREEN TIER!  Queso…you’re not gonna believe this, but the queso is green tier.  How is that even possible?  I don’t know, but it’s true.  It’s all real green tier ingredients.

is chipotle healthy

SALSAS

ALL GREEN TIER!  Chipotle has 4 different salsas.  They’re usually known as “corn”, “mild”, “medium”, and “hot”.  They actually have more formal names, but we don’t need to go into that here.  They are ALL green tier!

is chipotle healthy

SOUR CREAM

GREEN TIER!  Now, a word of caution here.  We say green tier for sour cream but Chipotle tends to be a bit heavy handed on the sour cream.  So, maybe just ask for “a little”.

is chipotle healthy

CHEESE

GREEN TIER!  Yep, you can have the cheese.

is chipotle healthy

GUACAMOLE

GREEN TIER!  Yes, we know it’s extra…just put it ON!

is chipotle healthy

SALAD DRESSING

YELLOW TIER.  This one really impressed me.  Their salad dressing has no added refined sugar.  It has honey (yellow tier).  It’s hard to find a salad dressing the grocery store that doesn’t have cane sugar in some form out of dozens of options.  This is literally like a vinaigrette you might make at home from a recipe.

EXTRAS

Of course you always have the option to add chips and guac, chips and queso, or chips and salsa on the side.

We already covered the salsas, guac, and queso, so all we really have to cover here is the chips.

I know you are hoping you can have them, right?

is chipotle healthy

CHIPS

YELLOW TIER.  Honestly?  Just skip the chips.  I know that sucks but even the small chips is ridiculous at Chipotle.  540 calories of fried chips.

What Should You Get?

A burrito bowl at Chipotle can be pretty much 100% green tier.  I go with brown rice, black beans, steak or chicken, mild and medium salsa, cheese, skip the sour cream, add guac.  You could also do that same as a salad instead of the rice.

is chipotle healthy

FAQ

Q: So, does this mean I can eat at Qdoba too?  They’re basically the same, right?

A:  NO!  This is what sets Chipotle apart.  You can find Chipotle’s Ingredients HERE.  You can find Qdoba’s HERE.  Just as an example, here’s the difference in ingredients for brown rice between the two:

Chipotle Brown Rice: Brown Rice, Bay Leaf, Cilantro, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, Rice Bran Oil, Salt, Water

Qdoba Brown Rice: Brown Rice, Rice Seasoning (Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Fire Roasted Garlic, Chipotle Pepper Puree [Water, Chipotle Pepper], Salt, Vinegar, Sugar, Yellow Onions, Spices, Soybean Oil), Pan Release Spray (Canola Oil, Capric/Caprylic Triglycerides, Phosophated Mono and Diglycerides, Calcium Stearate, Silicon Dioxide, Propellant [Non-Chlorofluorocarbon])

Mmmmm…propellant!

Q: Can’t you find clean options just about anywhere? I mean, just get the grilled chicken, right?

A:  I really wish this was true.  Someone was asking for clean options at Chik-Fil-A in our group one day, so I went to their online menu to try to find something.  Here’s what I found for the ingredients of their grilled chicken nuggets:

Grilled Nugget Ingredients:  Grilled chicken (whole breast filet, seasoning [water, apple cider vinegar, soybean oil, yeast extract, salt, modified corn starch, palm oil, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, corn maltodextrin, sea salt, natural flavor, sugar, chicken stock, cane molasses, chicken fat, spice, natural flavor {including smoke}, dextrose, lemon peel, citric acid, red bell pepper, orange juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, natural flavor, paprika, vinegar, xanthan gum, ascorbic acid, and spices]).  SOURCE: Chik-Fil-A website

Maltodextrin, sugar, modified corn starch…

Q: What about sodium?  Isn’t Chipotle super high in sodium?

A: Yes.  If you get the burrito bowl with brown rice, chicken, black beans, mild and medium salsa, cheese, and guac, it’s about 2000mg of sodium.  The recommended daily limit for adults is 2300mg.  So, it would take up most of your sodium limit for the day.  You can drop it down a bit by opting for lettuce instead of rice, leaving the cheese off, and doing just one salsa.

However, see the IMPORTANT note at the top of this post.  We’re not recommending you eat at Chipotle every day.  I think it is pretty widely accepted that high levels of sodium increase the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.  So, we’re not advocating for Chipotle as a daily thing.  If you go easier on the salt in your home cooked meals and don’t eat at Chipotle 5 times a week, you can easily stay in the recommendations.

Your Turn To Talk

What do you think of the Chipotle? Tell us in the comments down at the bottom

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12 Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    I’m so happy to know that when I go to Chipotle (very rare) that I’m making green tier choices However I’m sad to know that QDoba isn’t the same I love their chicken.

  2. Excellent work Ryan! Thanks for doing the hard work to investigate here. I assumed Qdoba was about the same quality real food as Chipotle. So while I’m bummed they are not equal, I’m glad to know for next time I’m eating out.

  3. Airza B. says:

    Yay Chipotle!!!! Wish other restaurants would follow this philosophy. Would be nice to grab and go at times when you are out.

  4. Misti M says:

    I’ve never had Chipolte. My personal favorite is Costa Vida followed by Cafe Rio. Do you have any information on either of those? It sounds like Chipolte would be a good substitute!

    • Ryan Chapman says:

      I’ve now looked at Moe’s, Cafe Rio, Costa Vida, and one other. They all have similar wording and health claims as Chipotle but none of them provide actual ingredients. They provide allergen information and a nutrition calculator. That tells me that they either just don’t quite get it yet OR they don’t want you to know the ingredients because they are more like Qdoba. It’s disappointing. However, if you are eating out only once in a while, they are still pretty good choices for fast food. It’s just if I had the choice between one of these and Chipotle, I’d go with Chipotle.

  5. Molly Tenuto says:

    I am surprised to see queso is green tier! I know that won’t be the case everywhere, but still surprised!

    • Ryan Chapman says:

      Right? Now, the queso purists aren’t too fond of Chipotle’s queso because queso was originally created from processed velveeta essentially. Many are saying that queso isn’t supposed to have real ingredients and the consistency is just not right (grainy mouth feel). So, take that for what it’s worth. I’m still excited that Chipotle is doing this.

  6. Jen K. says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for digging into this for us. It’s nice to know that there is a fast food restaurant that has a lot of green tier options!

  7. Dorothy says:

    yes I like chipolte thanks for the info !!

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