Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Burritos Bad For You?



Short answer

Burritos are not inherently bad for you, but their nutritional value varies based on ingredients and portion sizes. A burrito can be a balanced meal if it includes whole grains, lean proteins, beans, and vegetables, and avoids excessive cheese, sour cream, and high-sodium sauces. However, typical restaurant burritos can be high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, potentially impacting heart health and weight when consumed frequently. Healthful modifications and mindful eating are key to enjoying burritos as part of a healthy diet.



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Long answer

Components of a Typical Burrito and Nutritional Content

Understanding what goes into a typical burrito is essential for unraveling its nutritional profile. A burrito commonly constitutes a variety of components including a base of grains, protein sources, legumes, vegetables, cheeses, and condiments wrapped in a soft tortilla. Here, we'll break down the nutritional content of each of these elements:

  • Grains (Tortilla): The tortilla is the outer shell of any burrito and is usually made from flour or corn. A standard 10-inch flour tortilla can contain approximately 200-300 calories, 35-50 grams of carbohydrates, and 3-5 grams of fat. Whole-grain tortillas offer additional fiber and nutrients.
  • Protein Sources: Common protein sources include beef, chicken, pork, or tofu. For instance, 100 grams of grilled chicken breast adds roughly 165 calories, 31 grams of protein, and 3.6 grams of fat, while beef may add more calories and saturated fat.
  • Legumes (Beans): Beans are a staple in burritos, providing plant-based protein and fiber. A half-cup serving of black beans contributes around 114 calories, 7.6 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, and 7.5 grams of dietary fiber.
  • Vegetables: Vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers introduce vitamins, minerals, and fiber with minimal calories. For example, one cup of shredded lettuce contains only 5 calories but contributes essential nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin K.
  • Cheeses: Cheese is a significant source of calcium and protein but also saturated fat and sodium. One ounce of cheddar cheese typically has 113 calories, 7 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat. Opting for reduced-fat cheese can lower calorie and fat intake.
  • Condiments: Salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and sauces may be included. While salsa is low in calories and packed with antioxidants, guacamole is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Sour cream and cheese-based sauces can significantly increase the calorie and fat content.

Nutritionally, burritos can be customized to be either healthy or indulgent. An awareness of these components allows for informed decisions on what fillings are conducive to your dietary goals. Additionally, portion size plays a pivotal role in the overall nutritional value of a burrito as a food choice.

Component Average Serving Size Calories Protein (g) Carbs (g) Fat (g) Fiber (g)
Flour Tortilla 1 medium (10") 200-300 4-7 35-50 3-5 1-3
Grilled Chicken 100 grams 165 31 0 3.6 0
Black Beans 1/2 cup 114 7.6 20 0.5 7.5
Shredded Lettuce 1 cup 5 0.5 1 0.1 0.5
Cheddar Cheese 1 ounce 113 7 0 9 0
Guacamole 1/4 cup 90 1 5 8 3

Note: The above values are averages and can vary based on the recipe and preparation methods used. Customizing your burrito with various combinations of these ingredients impacts the total nutritional value of the final product.

Saturated Fat and Sodium: The Hidden Culprits in Burritos

When assessing the nutritional landscape of the ubiquitous burrito, saturated fat and sodium content emerge as two critical considerations for health-conscious individuals. These components can quietly elevate a burrito from a seemingly wholesome meal to one that has the potential to negatively impact one's health if consumed regularly and in large quantities.

Saturated Fat in Burritos:

Saturated fat has long been scrutinized for its role in heart health. The American Heart Association recommends that saturated fats comprise no more than 5-6% of an individual's total daily calories due to its association with raising levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Common ingredients found in burritos such as cheese, sour cream, and certain cuts of beef or pork are rich in saturated fats. Let's look at typical saturated fat contents:

  • Cheese (1 oz): Approximately 6g of saturated fat
  • Sour cream (2 tbsp): Roughly 3.5-5g of saturated fat
  • Ground beef (3 oz): Up to 5g of saturated fat

It is essential to consider portion sizes and the cumulative effect of combining these saturated fat sources in a single burrito, which could far exceed the recommended daily intake.

Sodium in Burritos:

The story is similar with sodium, an element that when overconsumed, can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest keeping sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams per day. However, a single store-bought or restaurant burrito can contain over half of this daily limit. Here are common sodium contributions:

  • Flour tortilla (1 medium): About 400-700mg of sodium
  • Canned beans (1/2 cup): Up to 500mg of sodium, if not rinsed
  • Processed meats (e.g., 3 oz chorizo): Can have more than 800mg of sodium

Moreover, additional sodium can sneak in through packet seasonings, added table salt, and condiments like salsa or hot sauce. It's not just the obvious salt shaker that adds sodium, but also the hidden sodium in preservatives and flavorings.

Experts, such as those from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, emphasize the importance of monitoring these components in our diet. Recent studies, including one published in the journal Circulation, have shown the potential negative impacts on heart health from excessive saturated fat and sodium. Always opt for whole, unprocessed ingredients and be vigilant about choosing lower-sodium and reduced-fat options when building your burrito to mitigate these health risks.

Knowledge, as always, is the key to making informed decisions about the foods we choose to indulge in. A burrito can be a delicious and nutritious option when prepared with a careful eye towards its components, specifically the saturated fat and sodium content, which can have significant long-term impacts on our well-being.

Portion Sizes and Caloric Overload in Restaurant Burritos

The world of fast food and even sit-down dining establishments often presents us with portion sizes that far exceed what nutritionists would consider a 'serving'. Restaurant burritos are no exception to this trend, tending to be generously filled and sometimes oversized, leading to a caloric overload that can impact one's dietary goals and overall health. Let's unpack the implications of portion sizes and their related caloric content when it comes to restaurant burritos.

For starters, a standard home-cooked burrito might contain a tortilla, a serving of protein such as beans or chicken, a little cheese, possibly some rice, and vegetables. Comparatively, restaurant burritos are frequently loaded with additional ingredients like sour cream, guacamole, cheese, rice, refried beans, and various sauces and meats, making them denser in both calories and nutrients.

  • Size Matters: A typical restaurant burrito can weigh anywhere from one to two pounds, which is a substantial meal by any standard. According to nutritionists, a sensible meal for most adults should ideally be around 500-600 calories, but a loaded restaurant burrito can easily contain more than 1,000 calories, depending on the fillings and size.
  • Caloric Comparison: To give a clearer picture, let's compare the caloric content. A basic homemade bean burrito might contain approximately 300-400 calories, while a restaurant version might pack in 1,000-1,500 calories, or more.

Studies have shown that consistently consuming meals that are larger and more calorie-dense than necessary can lead to weight gain and associated health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. In light of this, it's critical to be conscious of the portion sizes we consume, particularly when dining out.

Research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has highlighted the link between eating out and the consumption of excess calories. With that in mind, individuals who are vigilant about their dietary intake may want to consider such factors before indulging in a restaurant burrito, or they may opt for splitting the portion with someone else or taking half to go.

When assessing the healthiness of a restaurant burrito, one must also consider the quality of calories, not just the quantity. While a burrito could be high in calories, if those calories come from nutrient-rich ingredients like lean meats, beans, and vegetables, the meal can still contribute beneficial nutrients to one's diet. However, if those calories are primarily from items high in saturated fats, added sugars, and refined grains, the nutritional value diminishes.

A practical tip for those looking to enjoy restaurant burritos without overindulging is to customize your order. Opt for whole grain tortillas if available, choose lean proteins, ask for more vegetables, and skip high-calorie additions like extra cheese and sour cream. This way, you can better control the portion size and nutritional content, aligning your meal more closely with your personal dietary needs.

Healthy Burrito Modifications and Ingredients to Choose

Making smart ingredient choices can transform the typical burrito from a potential calorie bomb into a nutritious meal. Let's explore some healthy modifications that retain the deliciousness of a burrito, while boosting its overall nutritional profile.

Opt for Whole Grains: Starting with the base of any burrito – the tortilla. Choose a whole grain or a whole wheat tortilla over refined flour tortillas. Whole grains are richer in fiber and nutrients, and they have a milder influence on blood sugar levels.

Increase the Veggies: Amp up the vegetable content for added vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Include options such as bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, spinach, and lettuce. These not only contribute to your daily vegetable intake but also add volume, increasing the satiety of the burrito.

Lean Proteins: Select lean protein sources, such as grilled chicken, tofu, or fish, as these are lower in saturated fat compared to their fatty counterparts like chorizo or ground beef. Lean proteins play a vital role in muscle repair and metabolic health.

Legumes for Fiber: Beans are a classic burrito ingredient and for good reason. They're an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber which can help maintain a healthy digestive system. Opt for black beans or pinto beans, and try to select low-sodium or rinse canned beans to reduce sodium content.

Smart on Cheese and Sour Cream: While delicious, cheese and sour cream add extra calories and fat to burritos. Limit the amount, choose lower-fat versions, or replace sour cream with plain Greek yogurt for a protein-rich alternative.

Sensible Sauces: Salsas and hot sauces can add flavor without many calories, but be cautious with creamy sauces and guacamole, which can quickly increase the calorie count. When choosing guacamole, enjoy it for the healthy fats but be mindful of portions.

Portion Control: Burritos can become quite large with all the tasty fillings. Consider making smaller burritos or cutting one in half to control portion size. A well-balanced burrito should leave you satisfied, not stuffed.

Brown Rice Over White: If you're adding rice to your burrito, brown rice is a more nutritious alternative to white rice, offering more fiber and a lower glycemic index which can aid in blood sugar regulation.

By selecting wholesome ingredients and being mindful of portions, you can enjoy a burrito that supports your health without sacrificing flavor. These modifications not only improve the nutritional quality of your meal but also align with a balanced diet, contributing to overall well-being.

The Impact of Frequent Burrito Consumption on Overall Diet Quality

The term "burrito" conjures up images of a delectable roll packed with a variety of fillings, from beans and cheese to savory meats and rice. However, when discussing the impact of frequent burrito consumption on diet quality, it is essential to break down the components of a typical burrito and consider how they might fit into a balanced diet.

Firstly, let's consider the base of most burritos – the tortilla. Usually made from flour, tortillas can be a source of refined carbohydrates, which, when consumed in excess, are associated with negative health outcomes like weight gain and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition emphasizes that whole grains, as opposed to refined grains found in many tortillas, are linked to better health outcomes.

Frequent burrito consumption can also lead to an overconsumption of calories. Burritos, especially those from fast-food chains or restaurants, tend to be large and calorie-dense. For example, a burrito from a popular chain can contain anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 calories per serving, which can account for the majority of an individual's daily caloric needs in a single meal.

Aside from calories, the protein content in burritos, often from meats such as beef, chicken, or pork, can contribute positively to diet quality by providing essential amino acids. However, it is crucial to consider the cooking methods and additional ingredients that may increase the fat and sodium content, compromising diet quality. Experts, including those from the American Heart Association, recommend limiting saturated fats and sodium to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Beans, a common burrito filling, are nutrition powerhouses, boasting high levels of fiber and plant-based protein. Including beans in your diet can increase overall dietary fiber, which is beneficial for gut health and can aid in maintaining a healthy weight, as per research published in the Nutrients journal.

Cheese and sour cream, while delicious, add extra fats to the mix, often increasing the saturated fat content, which should be consumed in moderation according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The vegetables included in burritos, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, contribute a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, they are often present in smaller quantities compared to the other more calorie-dense fillings.

It's also important to note that many burritos include rice, which, while a good source of carbohydrates for energy, can also contribute to the overall calorie count and, unless brown rice is chosen, can mean additional refined grains in one's diet.

In summary, the frequency and composition of burrito consumption can have significant implications for overall diet quality. Moderation, portion control, and choosing whole grain tortillas, lean proteins, and plenty of vegetables, while limiting high-fat and high-sodium toppings, can help mitigate the potential negative effects of burrito consumption on diet. Customizing your burrito with these healthful choices can turn an otherwise indulgent meal into a more balanced dietary option.

Frequently asked questions

Burritos can be an excellent source of dietary fiber, especially when they include ingredients like black beans, whole grain tortillas, and a variety of vegetables. Fiber is essential for digestive health and can help maintain a healthy weight.

Yes, by customizing your order with whole grain tortillas, lean proteins, extra vegetables, and fewer high-calorie toppings like cheese and sour cream, you can transform a restaurant burrito into a more nutritious meal that aligns with your dietary needs.

Definitely. Opting for lean proteins such as grilled chicken, tofu, or fish rather than fatty meats like chorizo can reduce saturated fat intake while providing essential amino acids, supporting better muscle repair and metabolic health.

To reduce sodium in a homemade burrito, use fresh or dried beans instead of canned, choose low-sodium cheese and meats, and make your own salsa or sauces without added salt. Rinse canned beans to remove excess sodium before use.

Ask a question about Burritos and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • overeating
  • bloating
  • indigestion
  • sodium-induced hypertension
  • spike in blood glucose

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • metabolic syndrome
  • high blood pressure

Ingredients to be aware of

  • refined grains
  • saturated fats
  • high sodium content
  • excess calories
  • added sugars
  • high-fat toppings


  • convenient
  • nutrient-rich options available
  • customizable
  • satiety
  • dietary fiber
  • protein

Healthier alternatives

  • whole grain tortillas
  • lean proteins
  • fresh vegetables
  • low-sodium beans
  • portion control
  • plain greek yogurt

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Amy's Cheddar Burrito

  • Contains organic ingredients
  • Convenient microwave meal
  • Cheese and bean filling
  • Non-GMO
  • Portable 6.0 Oz size
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-19-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-19-2023

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