How to Eat Healthy at Chipotle

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Last week, the New York Times revealed that every Chipotle order is laced with an obscene amount of calories and many of us are burrito-ing ourselves into an early, salty grave or, more likely: packing on salty, pork-filled pounds. According to their data, the "typical Chipotle order" contains about 1,070 calories, almost a full day's worth of sodium, and 75 percent the recommended daily allowance of saturated fat. And that is just for a humble steak burrito (technically 1,045 calories, with standard fixings). If you add chips and guacamole, you’re looking at 770 extra calories, bringing the grand total to 1,815.

But is it really necessary to foreswear the siren call of the burrito lunch? Must we all resign ourselves to bleak future of Times-approved veggie bowls (535 calories)? And is there any way–any way at all–to justify ordering something that comes piled in a 300 calorie tortilla? Barbara Linhardt, M.S., R.D., a Los Angeles-based dietician, is optimistic about our chances for survival.

Customize Your Order
"A lot of the food options at Chipotle are actually pretty healthy," she says. That is the good news. But Chipotle "likes to go big," and monumental portions are not necessarily conducive to reaping the full health benefits of your fajita vegetables. That is the bad news. The first rule of maximally healthful Chipotle eating: you’re going to have to deal with portion size.

Luckily, this is relatively easy, because you are the captain of your Chipotle ship, and you can make (pretty much) any specifications you want. "Ask for smaller portions of the foods that are more calorically dense (think cheese, rice, sour cream, guacamole)," Linhardt suggests. "Servers will listen to you." You can even ask for no rice/cheese/sour cream, if you’re feeling bold. At Chipotle, as in life, communication is key.

Reconsider Your Tortilla
Conventional wisdom suggests that the healthiest Chipotle orders are the various "bowls," in large part because they are not served with the signature Chipotle tortilla, and the signature Chipotle tortilla is 300 calories of simple carbohydrates. In this case, conventional wisdom is correct. Linhardt, too, recommends the salad bowl — a romaine base, complete with “fajita veggies, corn, tomato salsa, a lean protein of your choice, and a request for a small serving of guacamole and/or salad dressing on the side.”

But do you really have to sacrifice the tortilla, given that, arguably, the tortilla is the whole point? Depending on your circumstances, maybe not. "If this is your bigger meal of the day, get the tortilla," she says, but then “load up on the veggies and steer clear of the rich toppings and rice.”

That’s a common refrain from Linhardt: if you’re going to get one indulgence, maybe skip another. A tortilla but not rice. Cheese but not sour cream. Guacamole but not salad dressing. You can have everything you want, but you cannot have everything you want all at once.

Prioritize Vegetables
This is not revelatory, but it cannot be overstressed: when in doubt, "prioritize the veggies." Prioritize the vegetables because vegetables are high in nutrients and low in fat and calories. Prioritize the vegetables because vegetables fill you up (that is the magic of vegetables). If nothing else, prioritize vegetables because at Chipotle, vegetables do not cost extra. Nutritionally and financially, vegetables are the responsible thing to do.

A corollary note about guacamole, which, while technically not a vegetable, is also green and plant-based: you should order it. Or at least, you shouldn’t not order it. Avocados, Linhardt says, are a "powerhouse of nutrients" — healthy fats, fiber, vitamin K, B6, folate, and potassium — and accordingly should be enjoyed early and often. Yes, they are high in calories, but in the dietary ranking of Chipotle toppings, guac trumps cheese or sour cream.

Eat Half of Anything
Alternatively, ignore all of this, order whatever damn burrito you want — and then eat half of it. In one fell swoop, your decadent 1,045 steak burrito becomes an eminently reasonable 522.5 calorie power lunch. You can have the guacamole and the cheese. The world is (half) your oyster. A realist, however, Linhardt proposes packing up the other half before you dig in, since "once you start eating, it will be hard to say no to finishing that whole thing."

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