When you step into a typical chain restaurant, you have a wide array of meal options, ranging from fairly healthful to downright gluttonous. This is particularly true at the rapidly growing type of restaurants known as fast casual, like Chipotle, where you can order a burrito many thousands of ways.

With the help of a large sample of online orders, we set out to answer a question that piques our interest every time we walk into a Chipotle (which is a lot): What do people actually order here? How healthy is a normal Chipotle meal?

Today, we have a ballpark estimate. The typical order at Chipotle has about 1,070 calories. That’s more than half of the calories that most adults are supposed to eat in an entire day. The recommended range for most adults is between 1,600 and 2,400.

The histogram above shows the distribution of calories for all orders. The spike around 1,000 calories represents “standard” burrito orders – a meat burrito with typical additions: cheese, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, rice and beans. If you order a meat burrito at Chipotle with these toppings, it’s very likely to reach 1,000 calories.

But there’s so much more to this data than the averages. Chipotle customers can and do order meals with fewer than 650 calories, such as a cheese-free burrito bowl. On the other end of the spectrum, about one in 10 meals had more than 1,600 calories.

The distributions of two other metrics of a meal’s health — salt and saturated fat, shown in the charts below — are just as revealing. Most orders at Chipotle give you close to a full day’s worth of salt (2,400 milligrams) and 75 percent of a full day’s worth of saturated fat.

Contents

Milligrams of sodium per order

Grams of saturated fat per order

Salt and fat histograms

Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s communications director, said the company is aware of the nutrition of all its ingredients, but doesn’t track information about each order. “We don’t manage our menu around individual nutrients,” he said.

Below, a variety of actual meals across the calorie distribution, based on over 3,000 meals ordered on GrubHub. It’s some of the most detailed information yet published on what people actually order – not just what’s on the menu.

5th percentile

Chipotle declined to give us data, but Mr. Arnold did give us a few facts about what people order, which broadly matched our data. The most common protein is chicken, Mr. Arnold said; the most common “vessel” is a burrito bowl rather than a burrito tortilla or taco; and the most common salsa is fresh tomato, he said. Using those examples, he cited a potential meal: a burrito bowl with white rice, black beans, chicken, fresh tomato salsa, sour cream and lettuce, which comes to about 625 calories. About 90 percent of meals in our data set had more calories than that.

But if staying under 700 calories — about one third of the recommended daily amount for many adults — is your goal, a burrito bowl like the one Mr. Arnold described is your best bet. Only about 2 percent of the burritos in our data — just 25 out of 1,200 burritos in all — were in that calorie range. Why? The tortilla alone gets you to 300 calories.

25th percentile

Slightly higher up the calorie distribution — at about 900 calories, more than in one out of four orders — the options vary considerably, with burritos, bowls, tacos and salads all represented. Burrito bowls with 900 calories tend to have more toppings like cheese, sour cream or guacamole; if you want a burrito in this calorie range, you’ll probably have to go without two of those, perhaps getting extra salsa instead. But even at the 25th percentile, you’re still likely to have a meal with a lot of sodium. The fresh tomato salsa, for example, has just 20 calories, but it has 210 milligrams of sodium – more salt than a 1 oz. bag of Lay’s potato chips.

50th percentile

It’s quite easy to get to 1,070 calories — the median amount of calories per Chipotle order in our data — particularly if you order a meat burrito and don’t remove some of the standard toppings, like rice or beans. But all kinds of orders can get across the 1,000-calorie line. Even smaller orders, like bowls or tacos, easily reach the threshold with a side of chips, which deliver 570 calories.

75th percentile

When the dishes start approaching 1,400 calories – as about one in four did – it’s usually because an order contains a side item: chips and salsa, a sugary drink, extra guacamole. Around the 1,600-calorie mark in the histogram above, you can see a small bump: It’s a common order of a burrito with chips and guacamole.

Speaking of side items, calories from drinks add up. Twenty ounces of Coke has 240 calories. And, if anything, our estimates may be conservative.

Our data is made up of orders people ate in their homes, their offices or elsewhere outside the restaurant. That means it includes few fountain sodas, which are awkward to deliver. The drinks in our orders are mostly 12-oz. cans. And about 80 percent of meals had no drink at all. Some of them may have added one from their home or workplace, but we miss those calories.

95th percentile

When we published our photo essay about how to get to 2,000 calories at some of the biggest restaurant chains, Chipotle was represented by a carnitas burrito, chips and guacamole and a Coke. Orders of that size are not common at Chipotle — 98 percent of orders had fewer than 2,000 calories — but they are not unheard of.

The easiest way to get there is to order chips and guacamole: 770 calories. You’ll also need to say yes to the toppings – like both cheese and sour cream on a burrito. After a meal like that, you typically will have already reached your daily recommended amount of saturated fat and salt. In most cases, you’ll be well on your way to tomorrow’s recommended intake, too.

About the data

The data

The data is based on about 3,000 meals in about 1,800 Grubhub orders from July to December 2012, almost all from two Chipotle restaurants: one in Washington, D.C., and another in East Lansing, Mich. A few caveats are worth keeping in mind: Some menu items, like sofritas and brown rice, have been introduced nationwide more recently and are not in our data. (Mr. Arnold said that brown rice currently accounts for a third of the rice Chipotle sells and that sofritas accounts for about 3 percent of fillings.)

It’s also likely that the ordering behavior varies somewhat around the country and that some items have become more or less popular in the last two years or so. But many of the ordering patterns that the company has publicly described — such as chicken being the most popular protein and burrito bowls being more popular than burritos or tacos — matched the patterns in the GrubHub data, and Mr. Arnold said there has not been much significant variation in ordering habits regionally or year-to-year.

We were also forced to make some assumptions with some orders.

We assume people eat only one salad, burrito bowl, burrito or set of tacos at a time. When there’s more than one of those items in an order, we assume it’s for more than one person. And we assume that groups of people who order together split side items, like chips. That’s probably untrue — there’s always one guy who eats more — but assumptions about chip division don’t have a huge impact on the overall shape of our histogram.

The Healthiest Order at Chipotle

I’m pretty good about bringing my lunch to work but from time to time I like to order out with my coworkers. Luckily, most fast food chains like Chipotle now have nutrition calculators available on their websites that help you figure out how many calories and fat are in a meal. So before ordering with the group, I always check Chipotle’s online nutrition calculator to carefully craft my meal.

After learning the nutritional content of each item, I’ve found my go-to lunch:

Burrito bowl with chicken, fajita veggies, lettuce, tomato salsa, corn salsa, and guacamole. The total calorie count for this meal is 465-and I often can’t finish the entire dish because it’s so filling! I skip the beans, rice, sour cream, and cheese, which would add a whopping 510 calories for a grand total of 975! Plus, those extras would bring the saturated fat content to 17 grams compared to the four grams in my order. If you want to shake things up, check out another healthy Chipotle burrito bowl order here.My lunch is always delicious and I never feel the least bit deprived! Do you have a go-to lunch spot that lets you customize your meal? Please share in the comments below. I love Chipotle but would love more options!

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Who’s helping Yasmin? Tiara Coaching Life coach Alison Miller, Ph.D, nutritionist Keri Gans, R.D, and Equinox personal trainer Stephanie Pipia.

  • By Yasmin Rammohan

Dietitians reveal how to order at Chipotle if you want to be healthy

The INSIDER Summary:

• It is possible to have a healthy meal at Chipotle.
• Don’t waste your calories on a tortilla or carbs on white rice.
• Order bowls filled with veggies, beans, and protein.

Chipotle is the place where our self control simply disappears and we go overboard with our calories. While getting every topping might not be the best option, you also don’t need to be stingy if you want to have a healthier Chipotle experience. Nutritionists and dietitians have even proven that you can have a healthy meal at Chipotle. Check out this list to see some of the bowls and salads they order when they eat Chipotle.

#Spoon Tip: Tortillas and chips will sadly have to go.

1. Vegetarian Burrito Bowl Version 1

Chipotle Mexican Grill/Facebook Double fajita veggies, double black beans, guacamole, romaine lettuce, tomatillo green-chili salsa, but no rice (sad face).

Don’t waste your calories on a tortilla and certainly don’t waste the carbs on white rice. Instead, get the double black beans to get in more protein and add the guacamole so there is creaminess to your bowl. Guacamole is a healthy fat, and it will remain good for you as long as you don’t have it too much.

2. Vegetarian Burrito Bowl Version 2

Half-portion of brown rice, black beans, pinto beans, fajita veggies, pico de gallo, corn salsa, a double portion of lettuce and a side of guacamole.

Ask for black and pinto beans instead of a full serving of rice because it gives you more protein and fiber. Also, make sure to get the guac in a cup on the side because sometimes they just give you way too much and it overpowers the meal.

3. Vegetarian Salad Bowl

A photo posted by Chipotle (@chipotlemexicangrill)Jan 21, 2016 at 10:01am PST

Black beans, fajita vegetables, tomatillo green-chili salsa, and guacamole.

The black beans serve as a source of protein, iron, and fiber. The tomatillo green-chili salsa gives your salad a spicy kick — especially because it speeds up your metabolism.

4. Chicken Salad Bowl

Double fajita vegetables, cheese, guacamole, white rice, fresh tomato salsa, no dressing.

Again, cheese and guacamole contain healthy fats and will not harm you unless you have too much. Also, go for white rice instead of beans or brown rice on this one because those foods have phytates and lectins, which interfere with nutrient absorption. Too bad you have to skip the salad dressing on this one.

5. Sofritas Burrito Bowl

A photo posted by Chipotle (@chipotlemexicangrill)Jan 2, 2016 at 11:04am PST

Brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, romaine lettuce, and guacamole.

This is another great option for vegetarians because the sofritas (tofu) is the perfect substitution for meat. This bowl is packed with fibrous beans, veggies, and rice.

6. Chicken/Steak/Carnitas Salad Bowl

Small scoop of brown rice (half portion), fajita veggies, black beans, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole.

Build a leafy salad with veggies and the protein-packed options you’re in the mood for. The brown rice has extra fiber, but do the half portion so that you don’t overdue it with the carbs. With even more fiber and some extra protein built-in, the beans will keep you full for a good few hours. Lucky for us, you can add a small scoop of guac to this one.

Lauren Ahn

If you want to eat healthy at Chipotle, where most people go overboard with their calories, you don’t have to deprive yourself. Just order like a registered dietitian. Most of them go for bowls over burritos but use creative tactics to fill up in healthy ways. Here are the combos that healthy eating experts swear by:

1. Vegetarian Burrito Bowl
Double fajita veggies, double black beans, guacamole, romaine lettuce, tomatillo green-chili salsa, no rice
“I get a burrito bowl because I don’t want to waste my calories on tortilla. I don’t eat meat, so I usually get double beans (instead of rice) for protein. And I always get double veggies for extra fiber. The guac is a healthy fat that keeps my taste buds happy because it’s creamy. I top it off with romaine lettuce because it’s fresh and gives you a little crunch without wasting calories on chips. As for tomatillo? It’s my favorite salsa. It’s all about the flavor.” —Danielle Omar, a registered dietitian based in Washington, D.C.

2. Barbacoa Burrito Bowl
White rice, double fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole
“I go with rice and skip beans to limit my starches, and choose white rice because I don’t love the taste of brown rice. I prefer barbacoa over other meats because it’s the most flavorful without being the fattiest. That said, it does have more sodium than other options, so I eat lower sodium foods throughout the rest of the day.” —Rachel Berman, a registered dietitian based in New York and the director of health content at About.com

3. Vegetarian Salad Bowl
Black beans, fajita vegetables, tomatillo green-chili salsa, and guacamole
” I choose the salad bowl with black beans for protein, iron, and fiber. I opt for the tomatillo green-chili salsa because I love a little spicy kick — especially because it speeds up the metabolism. And who can go to Chipotle without getting guac? It’s a fantastic healthy fat that sustains me until my next meal.” —Miranda Hammer, a registered dietitian based in New York, and the founder of the healthy lifestyle blog Crunchy Radish

4. Chicken Salad Bowl
Double fajita vegetables, cheese, and guacamole, white rice, fresh tomato salsa, sometimes with a side of chips to scoop the salad (no dressing)
“I load on the cheese and guacamole because they both contain healthy fats that promote nutrient absorption. I also go for white rice instead of brown rice or beans because I believe that certain compounds found in those foods (phytates and lectins) could interfere with nutrient absorption.

With all my toppings and salsa, I can skip salad dressing. And I get the chips because they’re delicious — even though they aren’t the healthiest thing on the menu.” —Cassie Bjork, a registered dietitian and founder of the nutrition coaching company Healthy Simple Life based in Shoreview, Minnesota

5. Sofritas Burrito Bowl
Brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, romaine lettuce, and guacamole with chips and salsa
“I always order the sofritas (tofu) bowl because I don’t eat meat. Even though the meal is so filling with fibrous beans, veggies, rice, protein-packed tofu, and guacamole, I can’t resist a side of chips and salsa.” —Janel Funk, a registered dietitian based in Boston

6. Vegetarian Burrito Bowl
Half-portion of brown rice, black beans, pinto beans, fajita veggies, pico de gallo, corn salsa, and a double portion of lettuce, topped with crushed tortilla chips and a side of guacamole
“I ask for black and pinto beans instead of a full serving of rice because it gives me more protein and fiber. I get the guac in a cup on the side because sometimes they just give you way too much, and it overpowers the meal. But I don’t stress too much about the calories or fat because overall, the whole bowl is super healthy.” —Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian based in Long Island, New York

7. Chicken/Steak/Carnitas Salad Bowl
Small scoop of brown rice, fajita veggies, black beans, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole
“I choose the salad bowl so that I have a base of leafy greens, and bulk it up with the fajita veggies and whatever protein I’m in the mood for. I get brown rice for the extra fiber, but ask for a small scoop to keep the carb portion in check. I also ask for a small-ish scoop of guacamole for the healthy fats. With the extra protein and fiber in the black beans, this keeps me full for hours.” —Alissa Rumsey, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

8. Build-Your-Own Kids’ Meal With Two Soft Shell Chicken Tacos
Salsa, romaine lettuce, tomatilla red-chili salsa, guacamole, and chips
“The kids’ meal only comes with two tacos plus an apple or chips. I honestly choose the chips (especially after a workout when I want the extra calories). Then I wash it down with water (instead of the juice or milk included in the kids’ meal) to wash down the salty meal.” —Brooke Schantz, a registered dietitian and founder of the Illinois-based nutrition counseling company, Bitchin’ Nutrition

RELATED:
Guess How Many Calories Are in Your Favorite Chipotle Order?
The Behavior That Drives Chipotle Employees Crazy

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Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.

When you’re in rush and starving, whipping up a healthy meal at home just isn’t realistic. But gone are the days when the drive-through window was your only option for food on the go. Thanks to fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle, there are plenty of options that go far beyond a greasy burger and fries.

But is Chipotle healthy?

The answer depends on exactly how you’re building your meal. “It can go one of two ways at Chipotle: it can become a healthy balanced meal, or it can become a high calorie disaster,” explains Keri Gans, RD, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet.

Here, the healthy—and not so healthy—things to know about everyone’s favorite burrito joint.

Chipotle nutrition: Pros

For the most part, Chipotle can easily be a part of a healthy diet, mostly because its build-your-own model helps set it apart from other chains. Being in control of your ingredients allows you to create a personalized meal based on your health goals, whether that be gaining muscle, losing weight, or just trying to eat more nutritious foods.

“Chipotle can be pretty healthy because they have veggies and lean protein,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, founder of The NY Nutrition Group, like chicken and steak, black and pinto beans, fajita vegetables, and fresh tomato salsa.

That’s important, because you want to bulk up your meal with vegetables whenever you can, Gans says, since they’re lower in calories and high in filling fiber. And as far as protein goes, pretty much every option on the menu (with the exception of the carnitas and the sofritas) is lean—even the steak only has 6 grams of fat.

“The ingredients themselves are all fairly healthy choices—nothing is really bad in and of itself,” she adds. It’s when you start piling up your order that you’re just piling on extra calories.

Chipotle nutrition: Cons

While Chipotle offers lots of fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients, it also has its fair share of calorie bombs—you know, those irresistibly tasty options that happen to be full of fat and excess salt (lookin’ at you, queso and sour cream).

Many options also tend to go overboard with carbs—tortillas and white rice easily rack up calories for very little fiber in return. Just one burrito-sized flour tortilla is 320 calories for only 3 grams of fiber.

Ideally, you want your meal to be under 400 to 500 calories, Gans says, so when you add a giant tortilla into the mix, you’re not left with much wiggle room for more nutritious add-ons. The result? A meal high in empty carbs and low in satisfying fiber and protein.

What’s more, it’s just really easy to overeat, even if you picked out the healthiest items on the menu. That’s because the “serving” you get at Chipotle is often more than one portion. Take white rice, for example. That initial layer at the bottom of your burrito bowl is probably going to be two if not three times the amount of rice that you would need at a meal, Moskoviz says.

So, is Chipotle healthy or not?

Renee CometGetty Images

Chipotle can be healthy, but you have to build your meal from nutrient-rich foods and control your portions so you don’t overdo it.

How to order a healthy meal at Chipotle

We asked the experts exactly what to eat and how to order it.

Skip the burrito

“If you’re going to do a tortilla or the tacos, those are going to provide the most calories right off the bat,” Gans says, thanks to the carb-heavy tortillas. Opt for a salad or burrito bowl so you can boost your veggie content instead, says Moskovitz.

Cut back on rice

A serving of white rice at Chipotle packs 210 calories and 40 grams of carbs. “If you want to do the rice that’s okay, but I would ask for half a normal portion and then skip the chips on the side,” Moskovitz says.

Better yet, use beans for your base, since they have about half the calories and carbs as white rice. While the calories in beans can still add up quickly, legumes are a good source of fiber and low in saturated fat. “Beans will also give you an extra 8 grams of protein,” says Gans. “You want to choose ingredients that will fill you up.”

Watch your toppings

Pass on the sour cream and the queso and go for a half order of guacamole if you need a creamy topping. Even though it’s high in calories, it’s also more nutritious thanks to all of the heart-healthy fats in avocados, says Gans.

Flavor-packed salsa is also a great option, since it is low in calories and high in beneficial vitamins and minerals. “I’m a huge fan of adding the salsa, especially the fresh tomato or the green tomatillo,” Gans says.

Size down your serving

To keep your portions in check, bag half your meal for tomorrow’s lunch or order off the kids’ menu. “I love the idea of doing a kids’ meal,” Gans says. “You’re getting a smaller portion size but you’re still getting exactly what you what—you don’t have to cut certain ingredients that you love.”

The healthiest foods to get at Chipotle

Go for one of these options next time you’re rushed through ordering.

Chicken Salad Bowl

Romaine Lettuce Chicken Black Beans Tomatillo green chili salsa + fresh tomato salsa

Nutrition: 360 calories, 8.5 g of fat, 32 g of carbs (9 g fiber), 41 g of protein

Veggie Burrito Bowl

Black Beans Peppers Gaucamole Fresh Tomato Salsa

Nutrition: 405 calories, 23.5 g of fat, 39 g of carbs (15 g fiber), 11 g of protein

Kids Tacos

2 Flour Tortillas + Steak Pinto Beans Romaine Lettuce Tomatillo Red Chili Salsa

Nutrition: 375 calories, 9 g of fat, 47.5 g of carbs (10.5 g fiber), 21 g of protein

*All nutrition information based on Chipotle’s Nutrition Calculator

Macaela Mackenzie Macaela Mackenzie is a freelance journalist specializing in health, culture, and tech, and she regularly contributes to outlets like Prevention, Women’s Health, Shape, Allure, Men’s Health, the John Hopkins Health Review, and more.

If you’re like most Americans, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve spent at least one lunch break at Chipotle, scarfing down a burrito the size of your head.

And that means you’ve probably returned to Chipotle, where you probably scarfed down another burrito the size of your head.

But could you eat there for 100 days straight?

That’s the feat (or major life low, depending on your perspective) accomplished by 30-year-old Mark Rantal, who has knocked back the same exact meal at the Colorado Springs Chipotle for over 105 days—and counting. His daily go-to: a burrito bowl with white rice, pinto beans, fajita and sofritas (which consist of shredded tofu braised with pepper sauce), mild salsa, corn salsa, medium salsa, cheese and lettuce, plus a bag of chips, according to ABC News.

Rantal also admitted in a Reddit AMA that he’d gained 14 pounds by day 100, although he said he’d hoped to put the weight on after a vegetarian diet “kinda freaked” him out.

“Every time I hit a milestone it was very easy and convenient to imagine hitting the next,” Rantal said. “Plus, it’s a little ridiculous.”

Ridiculous, for sure. And look, we here at Men’s Fitness aren’t suggesting you attempt the same feat. But if it sounds even a little tempting—or if you eat there more often than you’d like to admit—there are plenty of good options to keep the calories down while still filling up. We combed the Chipotle Nutrition Calculator for the best options around.

The Bare Minimum: 365 Calories

Let’s assume you wanted the lowest possible calories in your Chipotle dish, but still wanted to enjoy each of the options on the assembly line—a main protein, rice, beans/veggies, and a salsa.

We did some testing in Chipotle’s meal builder and settled on this option: a burrito bowl with sofritas, white rice, fajita vegetables, and medium tomatillo green-chili salsa, all for a pared-down total of 365 calories, 14.5 grams of fat, 1355 mg of sodium, and 12.5 grams of protein.

4 Reasons Dining Out Is Just as Bad as Fast Food >>>

Of course, you could obviously scale this back even further. Skip the rice, or maybe drop the salsa, for an even more bare-bones approach.

A Vegan Option: 480 Calories

Whether you’re vegan or a sirloin fanatic, Chipotle’s vegan options make for a fairly healthy option. Sofritas are the lowest-calorie protein option and a solid choice for vegans.

Ask Men’s Fitness: Will Drinking Alcohol Destroy My Fitness?

Slap some sofritas on a salad with brown rice, black beans, and some medium green-chili salsa, and you’re looking at 18.5 grams of protein and only 480 calories—but still nearly a pound (14 oz.) of food to tide you over.

The Paleo Pick: 360-420 Calories

Let’s say you’re a paleo dieter, but you can’t escape the Chipotle craving. We’re here to tell you that it’s okay: Paleos have plenty of options.

Here’s one: Load up steak, black beans, fajita vegetables, romaine lettuce, and mild tomato salsa into a burrito bowl. That combo packs a wallop of protein—around 40 grams—with only 360 calories and 8 grams of fat.

10 Reasons Your Body Craves Junk Food >>>

And if you eschew legumes and beans, that’s fine too. Swap the black beans for an extra order of chicken, and you’ve upped that dish to 65 grams of protein with 420 calories and 14 grams of fat.

The Mark Rantal Special: 690 Calories

Rantal’s daily dish—a burrito bowl with white rice, pinto beans, steak and sofritas, mild salsa, corn salsa, medium salsa, cheese and lettuce—isn’t too unhealthy of an option, with around 750 calories and 35-plus grams of protein, depending on the balance of steak and sofritas. But add chips, and suddenly the calorie count balloons to 1275, plus 47.5 grams of fat.

And Rantal’s daily go-to also packs a ton of sodium: 2370 mg, to be exact, which exceeds the FDA’s recommended daily amount of 2300 mg. And that’s in one meal.

Toppings to Avoid

By now you’ve probably noticed a few Chipotle favorites have been notably absent from the list. It’s no accident. Some run-of-the-mill tortilla chips, for example, pack a staggering 27 grams of fat and 570 calories—that’s more than double an extra order of carnitas on your burrito bowl, with barely any of the protein in all that steak.

Another sneaky calorie bomb? The Chipotle vinaigrette, with 270 calories and 25 grams of fat in a paltry 2-ounce serving.

Saturated Fat: Fact vs. Fiction >>>

And yeah, we decided against burritos and tacos. A single burrito-sized flour tortilla enveloping all that goodness contains 300 calories and 10 grams of fat. The taco-sized tortillas—which come in sets of three—aren’t much better, with 85 calories each.

There is one consolation: Chipotle’s famous guac is actually fairly good for you, if its famous recipe (some avocados, lime juice and spices) is any guide. Fit guys have nothing to fear from healthy saturated fats, which avocados have in spades. But if you’re really trying to cut down on the calories (there are 170 in one serving), probably best to leave it out.

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Build your own burrito/taco at Chipotle – Chipotle Mexican Grill

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Is Chipotle Actually Healthy?

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For many people, Chipotle is like a second home.

The fast casual restaurant chain now has more than 2,000 locations, a testament to its popularity. Chipotle’s food is fresh, tasty and (relatively) fast. What’s not to like? There’s also the fact that despite their quick turnaround times, Chipotle feels markedly healthier than traditional fast food. But there can be a big difference between perception and reality. When you dig into the nutrition facts, is Chipotle really healthier than a typical drive-thru order from McDonald’s or Burger King? STACK investigates.

The Spice of Life

If you’re looking for a black-and-white, yes-or-no answer on whether Chipotle is healthy, you’re out of luck. Why? Because Chipotle’s menu offers too much variety to paint it with broad strokes. Both of the following meals are typical examples of what a customer might order at Chipotle (nutrition facts via Chipotle.com Nutrition Calculator):

Meal B: 650 calories, 21.5 total grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat, 1,380mg sodium, 17 grams fiber, 4.5 grams sugar, 50 grams protein

Obviously, meal A is much more problematic than meal B. Its saturated fat and sodium content is roughly equivalent to what you’d find in three Big Macs. Meal B is much more well-rounded, offering a tremendous amount of protein and fiber but with a more manageable amount of calories and fat.

Here’s what’s inside both those orders. Meal A is a burrito. The ingredients are one flour tortilla, chorizo, white rice, pinto beans, fajita veggies, corn salsa, hot salsa, sour cream and cheese. Meal B is a burrito bowl. The ingredients are chicken, brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, green-chili salsa and cheese.

You want to know the biggest difference between meal A and meal B? The tortilla, cheese and sour cream. Meal A has all three of them. Meal B has just cheese. At the end of the day, those three ingredients can make or break the health of your Chipotle meal.

A handful of cheese might not seem like much, but a serving of shredded cheese from Chipotle contains 100 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. That’s roughly the same amount of saturated fat in a Snickers bar. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6 percent of your daily calories come from saturated fats. Saturated fats can raise your bad cholesterol and put you at a higher risk for heart disease. A serving of sour cream at Chipotle packs 115 calories, 9 grams of fat and 7 grams of saturated fat. Most of Chipotle’s employees have a pretty heavy hand with the sour cream, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual serving is even larger. Nonetheless, that’s almost as much saturated fat as you’d get from a McDonald’s Hot Fudge Sundae. A flour tortilla from Chipotle contains 300 calories, 10 grams of fat, one gram of saturated fat and 690 grams of sodium. That’s about as many calories and carbs as you’d find in six Chips Ahoy! cookies, and as much sodium as you’d get from six pretzel rods. The smaller tortillas used for tacos have similar nutrition facts—save for the soft corn tortillas, which are low in fat and sodium.

All told, the cheese, sour cream and flour tortilla in meal A combine for 515 calories, 26.5 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat and 910mg of sodium. Yikes. Besides cheese, sour cream and tortillas, the foods available at Chipotle are mostly healthy. It’s basically just meat, rice, beans and various veggies, all of which are nutritionally dense. This is why the vast majority of Chipotle meals are high in fiber, protein and antioxidants.

RELATED: 3 Simple Tricks That Make Eating Fast Food Way More Healthy

One other ingredient that people may get concerned about is guacamole. Chipotle’s guacamole might look fairly unhealthy due to its high fat content, but this is one of those rare cases where a food is actually healthier than its raw nutrition facts. Avocados are the main ingredient in guacamole, and they’re packed with antioxidants, fiber and healthy monounsaturated fat. In moderation, monounsaturated fats help to reduce blood pressure and protect against heart disease. They can also help the body better absorb vitamins and more efficiently use protein. Chipotle’s guacamole is best used as a healthier substitute for their sour cream and/or cheese.

However, even a “healthy meal” at Chipotle can still have one red flag—sodium.

Sodium Shock

Chipotle heavily seasons much of their food, which has a big impact on sodium content. When you bring several of these foods together into the same dish, the sodium total can skyrocket.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults and children over the age of 14 should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day—about what you find in one teaspoon of table salt. (Note: While many equate salt with sodium, sodium is in fact a component of salt. Table salt is about 40 percent sodium; the rest is chloride.) Although athletes who work out at a high intensity for hours a day can and should consume more, people who work out only moderately (for an hour or less per day) typically don’t sweat enough to warrant a high-sodium diet. According to estimates, the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium a day—more than twice the recommended amount. Studies show that 9 in 10 Americans consume too much sodium. Over-consuming sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and a wide range of other issues. Health officials estimate that if Americans lowered their daily sodium intake to the recommended range, it would prevent up to 92,000 deaths annually.

Keeping the sodium in your Chipotle meal to a manageable level is easier if you’re aware of the biggest offenders. Here are some of the most high-sodium ingredients on Chipotle’s menu:

In terms of meat, barbacoa, sofritas and chorizo all have more than 530 mg of sodium per serving. Chorizo actually contains a whopping 810 mg of sodium per serving. Both brown rice and white rice aren’t bad, but brown rice does have 150 mg less sodium per serving. The salsas can get you in trouble. Avoid the “hot” salsa (actually named Tomatillo Red-Chili Salsa) and the fresh tomato salsa if you’re looking to reduce sodium, as both come in at 500 mg+ per serving. The salad vinaigrette is actually the most sodium-packed ingredient on the entire menu, coming in at 850 mg of sodium per serving. It also packs 25 grams of fat, so it’s certainly best used sparingly.

The Verdict

Chipotle can be as healthy—or as unhealthy—as you want to make it. The Nutrition Calculator available on their website is an excellent resource. Toy around with it for a while and you’ll get a sense of what ingredients should—and should not—be regular additions to your meals.

If you’re a person who gets a tortilla, cheese and sour cream every time you go to Chipotle, it’s worth thinking about making some changes. Perhaps try to get just one of those three ingredients, or substitute guacamole. Such decisions may seem trivial, but they can make a world of difference from a nutritional standpoint. Same goes for the sodium content. If you know what ingredients pack the most sodium, you can avoid them and keep the levels somewhat manageable.

At Chipotle, a little bit of restraint can go a long way.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

15 Employees Reveal What Goes On Behind The Scenes At Chipotle

Chipotle, unfortunately, often makes news for more negative reasons than positive ones. Over the last few years, it has not been uncommon to read about outbreaks of food poisoning or norovirus linked to Chipotle stores, which isn’t exactly what you want to hear about the place you buy food from often. Just recently, a customer complained that his tooth broke on a Chipotle burrito after finding a nail head inside of it.

Yikes!

Still, through all of the bad reports, the fast food restaurant is known for their irresistible food (that guacamole! The burritos! The chips!) and huge portions.

But haven’t you ever wondered about the Chipotle secrets that happen behind the scenes?

Because Chipotle is so popular, many people do think about exactly that: for example, what do Chipotle employees really think about the place? As it turns out, they have a lot to say, and that only benefits us. Over on Reddit, users who claim to be employees or former employees have dished on Chipotle secrets, from ways to make your food even better and how to save money to some tips that could help you stay safe when eating there.

Check out the confessions below, and sorry in advance for making you hungry!

Who hasn’t been in search of free Chipotle from time to time?

If you want some, user Mr_Harvey_Specter says, “The most valuable piece of information I can give you, complain on the internet. Don’t complain about the employees’ attitude or something, unless they actually were rude. But maybe the quality of your meat, or the ready-ness of the tortilla. Basically, as soon as you indicate something went wrong during your Chipotle experience, they send you hella free burrito coupons.”

If you’re worried about food safety, then you may want to avoid adding lettuce to anything you order.

User Mr_Harvey_Specter said that the lettuce is the grossest thing people order, explaining, “Washing the lettuce takes forever, and those in the back are on super strict time tables. Sometimes, read: 95% of the time, they don’t wash it thoroughly. Not only is it dirty and grimey as all hell, but we used to find bugs in it all the time. Both alive and dead. Just. Don’t get the lettuce.”

The number one secret menu item at Chipotle is a Quesoritto, which is basically a burrito wrapped in a cheese quesadilla instead of a plain tortilla.

A deleted user called the process “hell” and explained, “They bog down the line in an already faulty system. Quesorritos require a relatively large amount of time to prepare. Ordering one during a rush takes a worker away from the line that could be utilized elsewhere. As ‘tortilla’ AKA line person, it infuriated me when people ordered during a rush where the line went out the door. The optimal time to order them would be during non-peak hours.”

4. There’s also a sneaky way to get more meat without paying for it.

Chipotle already gives so much food that it’s hard to think someone would want more, but if you want extra meat, user omglolz says to, “Ask for some extra black beans after they scoop the first scoop in. They’ll gladly give you more beans and then when they go to put the steak on it, since there are so many beans, they end up piling on the steak so that it doesn’t look like they skimped on that.”

All employees seem to agree on one thing: a burrito bowl has more food than a burrito.

So if you need even more food than what comes in a burrito, user cremefraiche9 suggests ordering a burrito bowl with a few soft tortillas or hard taco shells on the side. They said, “Getting the bowl gets you more food. You can also ask for extra rice or beans at no charge, which makes the meal even larger. If you go halfsies on the meats and combine steak and chicken or whatever you want, it usually ends up being more meat than if you just got one. I personally don’t get guacamole, but I have heard that if you order it on the side you get more than if they just plop it on top of your bowl.”

If you want to improve your experience even more, take advice from the employees.

User samson82 recommends mixing the sour cream with red or green salsa, squeezing some lemons on your burrito bowl (they said, “Just trust me on this one”), and getting Barq’s without ice. They also suggest mixing a quarter iced with a quarter lemonade and a half a glass of Sprite.

7. There is a secret ingredient in the rice.

Chipotle is known for so many delicious menu items (basically everything, to be honest), and one is the cilantro lime rice, which always hits the spot. If you’ve ever wondered what makes it so good, user BridgetteBane says, “It’s 50/50 lemon and lime juice in the rice.”

If you were going into Chipotle with the intention of being healthy, you should walk right out the door.

A now-deleted user says, “I work at Chipotle, and nothing is really gross safety-wise, but there are 300 calories in a tortilla ALONE. That, plus all the calories in everything else, you could easily have a burrito with 1500 calories or more.” They added that there’s a ton of sodium in everything, saying, “Pretty much the only purely healthy thing there is the brown rice.”

A lot of people complain about the price of the guac at Chipotle, but as it turns out, there’s a reason it’s that price.

User CosmicBoogie says it’s because they use Hass avocados. They added, “It is made from scratch, which takes 45 minutes to an hour per batch.” At least you know you’re getting a quality item!

It’s a well-known fact that Chipotle has some of the best-tasting guac ever.

If you’ve ever wondered how they do that, user mrminty, who claims to be a Chipotle prep guy, says, “I usually toss the salt, lemon/lime, and onions together and let it sit while I pit the avocados. Something about the acidity mellows out the onion flavor a bit more. It’s also important to add in the cilantro and jalapeños after the guac has already been mashed, the flavors will be overpowering if you crush the cilantro and let the oils seep out.”

11. You can even learn how to make the famous marinade at home.

You’ll need the marinade recipe. User BridgetteBane, who says they are a former service manager, says to make an at-home Chipotle marinade, you mix “one can chipotle peppers in adobo. Add one tablespoon white vinegar, teaspoon salt and a couple hearty cracks of black pepper, a tablespoon of cilantro, and a little oregano if you’re frisky. Blend like a crazy person. Marinade whatever you want in it, remembering of course that the longer it sits the spicier it gets. No more than maybe 30 hours at home, because it’ll start chemically cooking the meat. Ew.”

Don’t be worried about the employees knowing what they’re doing when it comes to making your burritos — they go through extensive training.

User churgersauce explained that whenever the chain opens a new store, “they train burrito assemblers for a whole day.” User CosmicBoogie added that “the entire crew practices rolling burritos.” Unfortunately, they also throw all of that food out. Churgersauce said, “Burritos are prepared and handed down the line to a giant trash can. When my store opened, we dumped about 25 trash cans full of fresh new chipotle burritos. I felt ill with guilt.”

If you needed reassurance on the quality of the food, listen to the people who work there.

When asked if there was anything they wouldn’t order, user mollykae88 said, “I’d honestly say absolutely nothing. Always extremely clean. Everything fresh and kept up. Not afraid of throwing out bad food. Everything the way people expect a good restaurant to be run. Microwaves aren’t allowed at all. Constant cleaning.”

14. They will probably make you things that aren’t even on the menu.

If there’s something you want that isn’t on the menu, even if the ingredients are in the store, most employees will likely make it for you. User Carbon_Dirt said, “They don’t have to, but if it’s reasonably slow they almost always will.” So if you want something special, go in at an off-time and you’ll probably get it.

If you were worried about Chipotle being clean, you shouldn’t be.

An overwhelming number of employees on Reddit swear that the place is super careful. User now_stop_that said, “I worked at Chipotle for a few months, and our prep process made me want to eat the food even more.” User myeyesarerocks added, “I concur! I also worked at Chipotle. SO clean. No freezers. So fresh. And even mostly humane. I love Chipotle so hard, to this day. They’re really as good and fresh as they advertise.”

Healthy option at chipotle

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