Chipotle vegan Sofritas bowl with toxic symbol

Is Chipotle Healthy? Even vs. McDonald’s It’s Bad For You

[toc]For many years, Lance Armstrong was perceived as being one of the most respected athletes of our time.

Then, the house of cards collapsed.

Right now, Chipotle is kind of like where Lance was a decade ago. On the top of the world. Sure, they’ve had some stumbles with food safety, but their “food with integrity” slogan remains intact. Because of that, the millennials and younger flock there to stand in-line for this healthier fast food. Or so they think.

It’s only a matter of time before the jig is up.

Chipotle vs. McDonald’s nutrition

The basics like calories, fats, etc. are easy metrics to compare. We will shy away from telling you about those obvious things. The 10 things we are about to tell you are unexpected and some may even shock you.

For the obvious nutritional drawbacks, those beans have been spilled already.

You had the New York Times infer why Chipotle is healthy in the same manner that Shack Shack and Potbelly are… as a “savory, spicy treat” and not as something you eat everyday. “You shouldn’t fool yourself into thinking Chipotle is a normal part of a healthy diet” said a NYT article from two years ago.

Then in 2016, you had the University of South Carolina study which found that eating at this Mexican grill and similar fast casual like Panera will result in up to 35% more calories per meal; 760 versus 561 calories on average.

Whether it’s a bona fide study like that, or well-researched commentary on Reddit and Yahoo Answers, most people have finally caught on that yes, it is bad to eat Chipotle everyday. Very few still believe it’s great for a diet or weight loss goals.

McDonald's and McCafe signThe same holds true for McDonald’s, but for decades now they have been that punchline.

Why is McDonald’s unhealthy for you?

Despite being readily available, most fail to compare the nutrition facts of Chipotle vs. McDonald’s. If they did, they would actually discover that the golden arches are better for you in many of the basic nutrition categories.

Then there are the things which are not obvious.

Things you won’t find reported on any restaurant website.

You will find talk of them in peer-reviewed medical journals and with some, the World Health Organization’s official listing of suspected carcinogens.

After considering the obvious and obscure, here are 10 reasons why eating healthier and Chipotle may not mesh well. This Mexican grill is a disappointment, even when you compare it to McDonald’s.

1. Their salsa is saltier than 2 medium fries.

Next time they ask if you want mild tomato or hot tomatillo red-chili salsa, you should pass on both.

Mild or hot salsa adds 550 or 500 mg of salt, respectively, to your burrito or bowl.

How bad is that? Consider the fact that the American Heart Association recommends your total sodium intake over a 24 hour period to be 1,500 mg (1). That means you’ve used up 33% of that with just one friggin’ condiment! That’s before you’ve even tallied up the math for all the other ingredients.

If you think high sodium is inevitable, think again.

One little scoop of mild or hot Chipotle salsa contains more salt than 2 medium orders of McDonald’s French fries.

nutrition facts for McDonald's fries

As you see, it’s almost as bad as 2 large orders of fries!

Is Chipotle bad for high blood pressure? Yes and you could easily make the argument it is one of the worst fast food choices for cardiovascular diseases.

Their usage of sodium is so prevalent, even ordering something toned down is awful for your heart. A basic chicken burrito with brown rice, black beans, and fajita vegetables has an artery-busting 1,625 mg of sodium.

That’s without any hot or mild salsa, sour cream, cheese, or guac.

If you also add those in, you will be at 2,720 mg according the nutrition calculator on their website. That’s more salt than you get eating 9 orders of large fries from McDonald’s. To think that some weight lifters and athletes boast about eating Chipotle daily for muscle gains and carb loading is crazy.

2. Their chicken may contain more carcinogens than a beef patty.

cover of Report on CarcinogensYou can’t avoid advanced glycation end products (AGEs), but you can minimize them depending on what you eat. As listed in the U.S. government’s Report on Carcinogens (2):

“Exposure to MeIQ, MeIQx, IQ, or PhIP occurs primarily through the consumption of cooked meats”

Those 4 listed are some of the most troubling types of HCAs, which are a category of AGEs.

Since the 2004 edition, those 4 have been listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in the Report on Carcinogens.

Picking the worst of those may be subjective, but at least some would argue for PhIP to get top honors.

Why? Because some research has suggested that 10 to 20 ng (that’s nanograms) per day of PhIP might be linked to doubling breast cancer risk (3) (4).

Guess what much of the HCA content in chicken is? PhIP.

To add insult to injury, grilled chicken is one foods highest in HCA content overall.

The 5 Worst Grilled Foods For HCAs (5)
Food HCAs (ng per 100g)
Chicken breast, skinless, boneless, grilled, well done 14,000
Steak, grilled, well done 810
Pork, barbecued 470
Salmon, grilled with skin 166
Hamburger, grilled, well done 130

Hmm… a Big Mac from McD’s or a Whopper from Burger King doesn’t look so bad now in comparison.

A lot of bodybuilders believe Chipotle is good for gains. They think it’s OK to eat the chicken bowls daily after a workout, because of how much protein it has. Time to reconsider.

But maybe you don’t care about the possibility of increased cancer risk from AGEs, because you don’t care if you die young.

Fair enough.

Even with that mindset, you still probably want to look good. That’s why you spend money on clothes, wear makeup, and don’t overeat too much. When it comes to your skin though, know that the glycation caused by AGEs may be a “key player in skin aging” (6).

So whether it’s longevity or beauty, there’s cause for concern.

3. Their non-GMO corn shells and chips might be worse for you.

pesticides danger signA couple years ago Chipotle announced they were bidding farewell to the use of GMOs throughout their menu.

Here’s something else which goes against perception. Eating non-GMO is healthier, right?

Maybe not.

You see one of the advantages of genetically modified crops is that often, they’re tweaked to have more resistance against insects, mold, and other parasites. As a result, it might mean the farmer can use less pesticides with GMO crops.

So unless something is organic, it might contain even more glyphosate than what a GMO crop would.

Glyphosate is the most prevalent pesticide used in the U.S. In 2015, the World Health Organization slapped a 2A carcinogenicity rating on glyphosate, which means they believe it’s “probably carcinogenic in humans” (7).

Are GMOs bad? After reading, you will understand why they might be the lesser of the evils, particularly for grains. Why? Because glyphosate is often sprayed on them right before harvesting to accelerate their drying.

By the way if a food is USDA certified organic, then it’s automatically non-GMO, too.

Is Chipotle organic? Only a few items on the menu are; whole wheat flour, black beans, pinto beans, Hass avocado, cilantro, and the soybeans used to make Sofritas. Note that “flour tortilla recipes vary by region” and the alternative recipe listed uses conventional bleached wheat flour instead of organic.

Their corn used to make chips and taco shells is not organic.

4. Their veggies are often blanched

pot of boiling waterAfter the E. Coli disasters, Chipotle decided to make their food safer by adapting new cooking methods.

Pasteurized orange juice is also safer than raw, but that doesn’t mean pasteurized is necessarily healthier, right?

It turns out they’re now doing something similar with their produce now. Apparently they can’t trust their kitchens to prepare fresh food safely, so now they drop many of them in boiling water just to be safe.

A direct quote from their website (8):

“We blanch our bell peppers, lemons, limes, oranges, jalapeños, onions, and avocados making them dramatically safer but leaving them just as delicious as ever.”

Taste aside, are they as healthy as ever?

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is easily destroyed by heat, as are most antioxidants and a number of other phytonutrients.

As you probably know, pasteurized juice has artificial ascorbic acid added back in after. What makes that particularly troubling is that China manufactures 80% of the ascorbic acid added to our juices and other beverages (9). But we digress.

The point is that Chipotle might be boiling away some of the little nutritional value their food naturally has. Not that brown rice and black beans were ever considered for a raw diet, but most of us were under the assumption that their avocado, lemons, and other things listed were being served to us uncooked and in their raw, natural state.

5. Their avocados may have another issue, too.

Blanching aside, there is something else which might be problematic about this fruit they make heavy use of.

Now to be fair to Chipotle, this issue has to do with avocados in general, regardless of where or how you eat them. But since they seem to be the biggest fast food purveyor of the avocado, we have to mention it.

Several years ago, a study was published titled (10):

In vitro evaluation of genotoxicity of avocado (Persea americana) fruit and leaf extracts in human peripheral lymphocytes.

In plain English, researchers diluted avocado in a solution and then drizzled that on human white blood cells which were in a Petri dish.

What they saw was quite the shocker…

DNA damage after avocado treatment

Those are human DNA and what you see in the after photo are DNA mutations.

If you have a background in biology, you will recognize that these are particularly bad ones, too; terminal deletions and asrocentric associations.

The number of mutations seen directly correlated with how much avocado was applied to the blood cells, as seen in the below graph.

in vitro poison effect of avocado

Is this happening in humans after we eat avocado?

Even though that was several years ago, no study that’s in vivo (in the human body) has been published to refute this.

Before you say goodbye to guacamole, to be clear there are many things we eat which seem dangerous or mutagenic in the lab, but that changes after our digestive juices break them down and their constituents are absorbed into the blood stream.

In short, it’s too early to ring the alarm bell, but it definitely deserves further research. Unfortunately, many of the pro-avocado studies you hear about in the news are funded in part by the trade organizations whose job it is to promote this fruit. Do you think they want to fund a study which might produce disturbing results?

Are avocados good for you? Read that for a better understanding of this complex topic.

6. Their acrylamide content is also concerning.

Trump eating McDonald's fries

Another type of advanced glycation end product (AGEs) is called acrylamide.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen in cigarettes, this type of AGE can be formed when carbohydrates undergo certain cooking methods – intense, drying heat.

Boiling potatoes is pretty safe, but frying them can create tons of acrylamide.

How bad? One study found that the highest dietary source was coffee, representing 20% of intake. After that were potato products, making up 19%; potato chips and fries (11).

That’s minus one point – or maybe 19 points – for McDonald’s.

But here’s the thing – you don’t have to order fries at McDonald’s to address that major source. If you don’t toast their bun, their burgers and sandwiches should actually contain very little acrylamide.

Can you say no to Chipotle chips though?

Admittedly, that’s even harder to do, especially when they’re fresh and extra salty (and you can always count on the latter).

Corn chips are obviously carb-rich and fried, so who is worse for acrylamide… McDonald’s or Chipotle?

According to the Swedish National Food Administration, here’s the median acrylamide content for the following food groups (12):

  • 292 µg/kg for fried potatoes
  • 744µg/kg for chips & popcorn

Now to be fair, “chips and popcorn” is quite a broad category and no one has tested Chipotle tortilla chips. But even if they tested at half that average, or even 75% lower, that would still be an amount which isn’t desirable.

Oh and coffee? That’s only 25 µg/kg. However that comparison vs. chips and fries is deceptive, since the grind of the bean is diluted with lots of water. Here are the lowest acrylamide coffees.

7. Their tofu is is loaded with AGEs

softrita close-up photoFirst, let’s start with the positive. Being that more than one of us at Superfoodly is a vegan, we appreciate that Chipotle has a plant-based entree which is more than just iceberg lettuce. Their meat replacement/protein is a fried tofu which admittedly, is quite satisfying and tastes delicious.

Are Chipotle Sofritas vegan and gluten free? Yes. Are they non-GMO and organic? Yes. Are they good for you? Nope!

You may think we are going to critique the phytoestrogen content in soybeans.

Actually, tofu is only the 4th highest food for that. More concerning is a popular superfood which contains 1,400% more phytoestrogen than tofu and it’s #1 on our list of foods that lower testosterone.

No, our beef with their tofu is how it’s cooked.

It’s fried. Like hardcore.

You know where this conversation is going now, right?

When considering the total amount of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) in food, broiled tofu is still better than a lot of meats, but the amount is unacceptable for someone who really cares about their health. To put it in perspective…

Food AGE Content (kU per 100g of food)
Tofu, soft, raw 488
McDonald’s French fries 1,522
McDonald’s Bacon Egg Cheese Biscuit 2,289
McDonald’s Cheeseburger 3,402
Tofu, sautéed, inside 3,569
Tofu, broiled 4,107
McDonald’s Chicken McGrill 5,171
Tofu, sautéed, outside 5,877
Source: Uribarri J, et al. Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet. J Am Diet Assoc 2010 (13)

Sofritas were not listed in that report, but as you see, just about any form of fried tofu is bad news. Keep this in mind if you are a vegan who uses a double portion of Sofritas as your post-workout bodybuilding Chipotle meal. Using it everyday to bulk and for cutting may get you buff, but what else is it doing?

The above measurements were for total AGEs based on carboxymethyllysine content. You don’t need to know what that means, but you do need to know that not all AGEs are considered equal. Even if a food has less overall, it may contain higher amounts of the worst types.

In case you’re wondering why “raw” tofu still has AGEs, it’s because cooking the soybeans is part of how tofu is made. The scientists here called it “raw” but it was still heated during manufacturing.

Chipotle, can you please offer steamed Sofritas instead of fried?

8. Their fajitas are veggies gone wrong.

veggie disaster parody
photo by Gage Skidmore, quote by us

Trump isn’t the only one who seems to hate raw vegetables. You can argue the same for Chipotle.

But the only thing worse than needlessly boiling out nutrients is to create anti-nutrients.

Just 25 hours of nutrition training. That’s all that’s recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for medical doctors during their schooling.

Worse yet, since it’s only a “recommended” amount and not required, most U.S. medical schools teach their doctors even less on average; only 23.9 hours of nutrition (14) (15).

Dieticians are better, but still fall short.

To be one, you only need a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics or a related subject, and then take an exam.

Sure, they know the ins and outs of what’s on a nutrition facts label and how diabetics can better manage blood sugar through diet, but is Chipotle good for you a question they can answer?

Not unless they’ve sought additional scientific knowledge.

In a Cosmopolitan article, 8 registered dieticians were asked what the healthiest things are to order at this Tex Mex eatery (16).

Shockingly, 7 out of the 8 recommended those black charred fajita veggies “If you want to eat healthy at Chipotle.” 2 of them even recommended doubling up on them in your meal order.

cancer starts here parody

For the same reason grilled chicken is hyped as being healthy for you, many people we look up to for advice – like dieticians – are oblivious of potential risks like this in our food.

They’re too focused on the superficial statistics like calorie counts and saturated fat. Those are very important things too, but so-called experts should know more than the basics.

The good news is that the burnt low carb vegetables – like onions and peppers – produce very little acrylamide. However they’re still producing other AGEs.

9. Their list of healthier items is shorter than you think.

To claim you can easily eat healthy at McDonald’s would be misleading, but it can be done.

Even if you’re a vegan, there is food at McDonald’s which is good for you (mostly) such as:

McDonald's fruit and maple oatmeal
Photo credit: theimpulsivebuy via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Oatmeal with fresh diced apples

This is on their all-day breakfast menu. Leave off the cranberry raisin blend (has added sugar), skip the light cream (if you’re vegan and/or want to avoid carrageenan), and say no to the added sugar. Celiac, too? McD’s oatmeal is not gluten free because it contains barley malt extract.

Fresh fruit

Apple slices and Cuties are your two options.

Side salad

It’s made with romaine, baby spinach, baby kale, red leaf lettuce, ribbon cut carrots, and grape tomatoes. All of the Newman’s Own salad dressing flavors offered are high sodium, but at least the low fat balsamic is dairy free and not calorie-rich like the ranch. Use sparingly.

Even for a diet these menu items are probably too low in calories to work for lunch/dinner, but they can work for a snack.

They’re also terrible choices for bodybuilding and those who need extra protein for bulking up, but the oatmeal can be amp’d up with amino acids quite easily. Just add a scoop of Sunwarrior or your preferred powder.

fast food hamburgerIf you’re an omnivore, a McDonald’s hamburger (without cheese) along with their side salad is better for you than Chipotle.

Their burger has 480 mg of total sodium, which is less than just the salsa.

At 240 calories, 8 grams of fat (3 grams saturated), and 30 mg of cholesterol, it’s a great fast food option for those who are not on a plant-based diet and need something cheap.

Remember the amount of the HCAs, a suspected carcinogen, is exponentially lower in a beef hamburger patty than grilled chicken (130 vs. 14,000 ng/100g).

What to eat at Chipotle that is healthy? The list is shorter than you may think.

The flour tortilla alone is 300 calories, that’s more than the McD’s hamburger. So you may want to stick with ordering a bowl, unless you get that much enjoyment out of the flour shell.

But what can go in the bowl that’s good for you?

We already put the grilled chicken and Sofritas tofu on the naughty list. Unfortunately the way they cook the steak, carnitas, chorizo, and barbacoa is far from optimal, too.

Rice and beans, then?

Chipotle employee making chicken burrito
Photo credit: inazakira via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Alright, do a scoop of brown rice and black beans. Just those two things alone take the sodium tally up to 455.

You’ve already hit 1/3 of your daily limit, according to AHA recommendations. Their 1,500 mg ceiling is for “optimal health” and not just for people with high blood pressure, so don’t think you’re exempt because you’re 120 over 80.

As delicious as they are, that doesn’t leave room for the mild or hot salsa since both are another 500 mg of salt.

As far as the roasted chili corn salsa, by now we don’t need to say why you should skip that.

If you eat dairy, you have the options of sour cream and cheese. If you add just one of those, you’ve already matched or exceeded the amount of cholesterol in the McDonald’s hamburger.

If you’re good with the guac, keep in mind it’s high calorie, high sodium, and high fat. Granted, it’s mostly the better for you monounsaturated fat, but still…

Romaine lettuce? Only because you have no other choice.

Given how empty your bowl looks now, maybe you do want that tortilla after all!

Go ahead and add that back into your order, but doing so tacks on another 46% of your daily intake of salt, according to the AHA recommended ceiling.

10. Their food is less healthy for your wallet.

chipotle menu
Photo credit: Ben Popken via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

The side effects of protein farts from beans and busted arteries aside, how about busting your budget?

If you’re going to eat bad, you might as well spend less money doing it. Not to mention, spend less of your lunch hour standing in line, right?

You are paying around $7 or $8 for a bowl or burrito at Chipotle. Add guac and the order approaches $9 to $10. Eating Chipotle everyday is unhealthy and expensive.

While pricing varies by location, that basic hamburger and side salad from McDonald’s should come in at about half the cost… and it’s better for you.

Even if you don’t care about it being healthier and order something extravagant, the total price at the golden arches will still probably be less than what you’re paying at that passé Mexican grill.

The #1 survival tip for eating out

Whether it’s fast food or a sit-down restaurants, there’s a simple explanation why it tastes so much better than what you make at home.

They use more salt, more oil, and more bad stuff overall.

Things you would feel guilty going overboard with if you were in your kitchen, making the same meal yourself.

Those things, compounded with grilling/burning/charring means more anti-nutrients and more destruction of the natural phytonutrients.

Often times, even the best things on a restaurant menu are still pretty bad for you.

If you’re going to eat that crap, at least bring along your own antioxidants to take in conjunction. Check out our ORAC values table to see the most potent, as ranked by in vitro testing. Nearly 500 are listed.

Try adding a teaspoon of triphala to your water cup at the restaurant. It’s the most potent fruit.

Specific to Chipotle and fried foods, we would recommend bringing along carnosine supplements, because of their anti-glycation benefits seen in research.