The Chipotle Conundrum: How To Cut Calories And Make Your Chipotle Belly-Friendly
Chipotle is a dietary conundrum. If you’re uninformed, undisciplined, and let the inner American take over it can quickly turn into a dietetic nightmare, with colossal burritos effortlessly breaking the 1,200 calorie barrier. And if you add chips, you’ve officially entered 1,700 calorie territory.
That’s literally an ENTIRE day’s worth of calories for some people in one sitting. Chew on that for a second — it’s fatness, incarnate.
The truth though is that at heart, Chipotle is well-intentioned and serves what I view as the healthiest “fast food” in America (oxymoronic, I know). Unlike Subway, whose meat is loaded with fillers, bulking agents, preservatives, etc, Chipotle’s food is pure and natural, sometimes organic, and made without artificial ingredients, additives, or preservatives.
Chipotle aims to shift the fast food paradigm, adopting a philosophy coined “Food With Integrity.” According to their official website:
Whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones…we source organic and local produce when practical…and we use dairy from cows raised without the use of synthetic hormones.1
While I’m naturally skeptical of any quick serve food made by a huge national corporation, and the “whenever possible” line is a fuzzy grey area, by and large Chipotle serves quality food. Compare that to Taco Bell, McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, etc. and you’ve hit another stratosphere of nutrition.
With a little tweaking and artful construction, Chipotle can actually be an extremely well-balanced, belly-friendly, protein-packed powerhouse. It’s even got heart heart, hunger-melting dietary fiber and mono/polyunsaturated fats. Use the following guidelines to upgrade your Chipotle experience, significantly cut calories, fat, and sodium, and build an on-the-go supermeal.2
Quick Tips To Reduce Calories and Eat Healthier at Chipotle
A typical, stacked-out Chipotle burrito can easily hit 1,200 calories. Want chips? You’ll pay 1,700.
1. Always Start with a Burrito Bowl.
1180 calories, 53 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 2400 mg of sodium. The burrito above – fairly normal by Chipotle standards – is a nutritional, caloric catastrophe that WILL inflate your belly.
The easiest upgrade on the menu – always start with a burrito bowl or a salad plate. You’ll immediately knock out 290 low-quality calories, 670 mg of sodium, and 44 g of carbs without noticing much of a difference.3
2. Hard > Soft.
If you absolutely need to eat your Mexican in handheld form, always go with the hard corn tacos.
You’ll save 110 calories, 3 g fat, 1.5 g sat. fat, and 640 mg sodium over a soft flour burrito shell.
You’ll save 90 calories, 1.5 g fat, 1.5 g sat. fat, and 570 mg sodium over soft flour tacos.
You’ll save 30 calories over soft corn tacos. These aren’t a horrible option.
3. Use Brown Rice, Fajita Veggies, and Lettuce as a Foundation.
Brown rice has more fiber and a much lower Glycemic Index than white rice; lettuce serves as a no-calorie foundation; and fajita veggies add flavor, vitamins, and minerals.
All of this helps control blood sugar, which reduces the risk of fat storage, and increases the bulk of the meal, producing a sustained feeling of fullness without extra damage.
4. Cut Out Sour Cream.
2 oz. of sour cream (about one scoop) packs a whopping 120 calories and 10 g of fat, 70% of which is saturated fat. Cut it out.
5. …and Cheese.
Cheese is ridiculously high in unhealthy calories and saturated fat. A standard 1 oz. serving deals 100 calories, 8.5 g of fat, 5 g of saturated fat, and 180 mg sodium.
It’s high in calories – 150 per 3.5 oz. serving – but well worth it health-wise if you can afford a few extra calories. At the very least, kick out cheese & sour cream and replace it with guac.
7. NO CHIPS. NO CHIPS. NO CHIPS.
1 4 oz. serving has 570 calories, 27 g of fat, 73 g of carbs, and 420 mg of sodium. There’s nothing even close to acceptable about the chips – don’t entertain the option.
8. Salsa the Right Way.
Chipotle’s entire salsa lineup packs BIG flavor for very few calories, with the corn salsa topping out at 80 calories. Salsa’s downfall, however, is its high sodium content. Minimize damage with the green tomatilla salsa.
You’ll save 65 calories, 12 g of carbs, 2 g of sugar, and 180 mg of sodium over corn salsa.
You’ll save 240 mg of sodium over tomato salsa.
You’ll save 5 g of carbs, 2 g of sugar, and 280 mg of sodium over red tomatilla salsa.
9. Pick Your Favorite Meat.
Nutritionally, the chicken, steak, barbacoa, and carnitas pack between 170-190 calories and 24-32 grams of protein. Chicken and steak have less sodium, but all-in-all the meat options pack similar nutritional profiles. Feel free to stick to your favorite choice of protein without hesitation.
Carnitas offer the added benefit of selenium, a hard-to-find antioxidant mineral that helps regulate the thyroid. All meat is naturally raised without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics.
Using these tips you can cut your calories, fat, and sodium in half, saturated fat by 75%, and transform the goliath burrito above into the normal-sized supermeal below. With 650 calories, 46 g of protein, 21 g of fiber, and 13 g of healthy mono/poly unsaturated fats, it’s a phenomenal quick meal option – especially to refuel after a kickass workout – that won’t annihilate your heart or belly.
For a complete chart of the calories, fat, and nutrition info in every Chipotle ingredient, as well as Lean It UP’s recommended picks, please see below. You can also take advantage of Chipotle’s nutrition calculator to easily compute the nutritional profile of your favorite go-to meal.
That said, I still don’t recommend that you eat Chipotle every day – the sodium content is extremely high and the meat/veggies are cooked with less-desirable soybean oil – but rather as a guilt-free occasional treat or an alternative whenever you’re stuck in some remote faraway land. [↩]