Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is El Pollo Loco Bad For You?



Short answer

El Pollo Loco offers both healthy and indulgent food options. Menu items like the flame-grilled chicken boast high protein and low fat, making them good for a balanced diet, while items like burritos may contain higher calories and sodium. While some dishes are high in sodium, options to customize and select healthier items like salads exist. The presence of additives is minimal, as they emphasize grilling over frying. In moderation, dining at El Pollo Loco can fit a health-conscious lifestyle, but it's critical to be informed and selective.



Long answer

Nutritional Profile of El Pollo Loco Menu Items

The menu at El Pollo Loco features a variety of items that include flame-grilled chicken, burritos, salads, and more. Understanding the nutritional profile of these items is essential for making informed dietary choices. We'll dissect some of the key components of El Pollo Loco's offerings, focusing on their caloric content, macronutrient distribution, and presence of additional nutritional factors like sodium and fiber.

Caloric Content: El Pollo Loco's menu items range significantly in caloric value. Their Classic Chicken Burrito, for instance, contains approximately 530 calories, whereas the Double Chicken Avocado Salad has about 610 calories, albeit with different nutritional benefits. Calories are a fundamental metric for those watching their weight or managing their energy balance.

Macronutrients: The balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats is crucial in any diet. El Pollo Loco's flame-grilled chicken is rich in protein, providing a lean source of this macronutrient. A standard Chicken Leg has about 9 grams of protein. Carbohydrates are primarily found in their rice and tortillas, while fats can be higher in creamy dressings or cheese-containing menu items.

  • Protein: Flame-Grilled Chicken Breast (no skin) - approximately 24 grams
  • Carbohydrates: BRC Burrito - approximately 47 grams
  • Fats: Chicken Taco al Carbon - approximately 7 grams

Sodium Content: Sodium levels are a concern for those with blood pressure issues or who are trying to limit salt intake. A single Chicken Taco al Carbon contains about 220 milligrams of sodium, while something more substantial like the Chicken Tostada Salad can contain upwards of 1,000 milligrams. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams a day for an average adult, making it imperative to be mindful of such figures when ordering.

Fiber and Additional Nutrients: Dietary fiber is critical for digestive health, and it's found in many of El Pollo Loco's bean-containing items and salads. The Double Chicken Avocado Salad, for example, provides dietary fiber along with vitamins and minerals from the greens and vegetables included. It's important to consider these nutrients when evaluating a menu item's overall healthfulness.

Special dietary considerations are also noted. For those seeking low-carb options, El Pollo Loco offers the "Pollo Fit" selections that are designed to be lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein. Vegetarian offerings, however, are limited, as the majority of the menu is poultry-centric.

Remember, individual dietary needs and health goals vary, and this information is best used in conjunction with guidance from a healthcare professional or registered dietitian. It's also important to consider how individual menu items fit into the context of your total daily diet, rather than evaluating them in isolation.

Table 1: Sample Nutritional Information for Select El Pollo Loco Items (percentages based on a 2,000 calorie diet)

Menu Item Calories Protein (g) Carbohydrates (g) Fats (g) Sodium (mg) Fiber (g)
Flame-Grilled Chicken Breast (no skin) 220 42 0 5 730 0
BRC Burrito 450 14 57 15 990 4
Double Chicken Avocado Salad 610 43 32 36 940 7

Regardless of choice, it's essential to consider portion sizes and how each item contributes to your overall nutritional goals. Staying informed helps ensure that a trip to El Pollo Loco can fit within a balanced and health-conscious diet.

Sodium Content and Its Health Implications

When considering the health aspects of any fast-food chain, such as El Pollo Loco, it's crucial to evaluate the sodium content of their menu items. Sodium, an essential electrolyte, plays a significant role in maintaining fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle function. However, high sodium intake has been associated with various health risks, notably hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and stroke.

Many fast-food options tend to be high in sodium to enhance flavor and preserve food. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, yet, a single meal at a fast-food restaurant like El Pollo Loco can bring you close to or even exceed this limit. To illustrate, let's examine a few popular items from their menu:

  • Original Pollo Bowl: Approximately 1,020 mg of sodium
  • Classic Chicken Burrito: Around 1,610 mg of sodium
  • Double Chicken Avocado Salad: Contains about 1,420 mg of sodium

It's important to navigate the menu with awareness. Frequent consumption of such high-sodium meals can pose long-term health risks for individuals, particularly those with existing health concerns such as hypertension or heart conditions. The American Heart Association has raised concerns about the links between excessive sodium intake and increased risk of heart diseases. Other studies go further to suggest that high sodium diets may also affect kidney function and bone density.

For those who dine at El Pollo Loco, considering lower sodium options or customizing orders to reduce the sodium content would be advisable. For example, choosing the Chicken Black Bean Bowl reduces sodium intake to around 650 mg. Additionally, one can request modifications such as holding the cheese or sauce to further limit sodium.

The restaurant staff can often provide nutritional information upon request, empowering customers to make informed decisions. It's crucial for those with dietary restrictions, especially concerning sodium, to consult these resources before ordering.

In conclusion, while sodium is an essential nutrient, it is abundantly present in fast-food menus like those of El Pollo Loco and should be consumed judiciously. To maintain a balanced diet, it is encouraged to complement these meals with lower-sodium food options and to stay informed about the sodium content of the foods consumed.

Additives and Preservatives in Fast Food Chains

When pondering the nutritional landscape of fast food options, it's crucial to cast a discerning eye on additives and preservatives used ubiquitously throughout the industry. These substances are included for various reasons, such as enhancing flavor, preserving freshness, and improving appearance. However, their impact on health is a subject of ongoing research and debate within the scientific community.

Common Additives in Fast Food

Fast food establishments, including those like El Pollo Loco, often incorporate a range of chemical additives into their dishes. Some of the most prevalent include monosodium glutamate (MSG) for flavor enhancement, sodium nitrate for meat preservation, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a sweetener, and artificial colorings to make the food more visually appealing.

Impact on Health

The long-term health effects of such additives can be concerning. Studies have shown that artificial trans fats, for example, can increase the risk of heart disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing their intake as much as possible. Similarly, the overconsumption of sodium, which is prevalent in fast food through salt and other sodium-based preservatives, is linked to an increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.

Controversial Preservatives

Certain preservatives routinely used in fast food are controversial among health experts. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), chemicals found in oils and used to prevent food from going rancid, have been identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as possible human carcinogens. Despite this, they are still legally used in certain food products.

Regulatory Perspective

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the approval and regulation of food additives and preservatives. Substances that are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) don't require FDA approval before they're used in foods. The debate continues over whether the current regulatory framework adequately protects public health, as some contend that certain approved additives may carry health risks not yet fully understood.

Navigating Fast Food Menus

Concerned consumers can take steps to minimize their intake of unwanted additives and preservatives while still enjoying fast food on occasion. Opting for "fresher" menu items or those with shorter ingredient lists can be a good practice, as these are less likely to contain high levels of additives. Additionally, many fast food chains, including El Pollo Loco, have made efforts to reformulate products and remove some of the most contentious substances in response to consumer demands for cleaner ingredients.

It's clear that while additives and preservatives serve practical purposes in the fast food industry, their health implications warrant cautious consideration. Awareness and informed choices are key for those seeking to indulge in fast food without overexposing themselves to potential risks associated with these substances.

Grilled vs. Fried: Cooking Methods at El Pollo Loco

When scrutinizing the healthfulness of menu options at El Pollo Loco, a fundamental aspect to consider is the cooking method employed. The dichotomy between grilling and frying plays a pivotal role in determining the nutritional impact of each dish. Here, we'll delve into the nuances that differentiate grilling from frying and what this means for your health.

The Grilling Method:

Grilling, the signature cooking technique at El Pollo Loco, is renowned for its capacity to impart a rich, smoky flavor to meats without necessitating excessive oil. This method involves cooking food on a grill over a sustained source of heat, generally an open flame. Let's examine the benefits:

  • Reduced Fat Content: Grilling allows excess fats to drip off meats, diminishing the overall fat content and calories, which is conducive to weight management and cardiovascular health.
  • Retention of Nutrients: It is well-documented that grilling can preserve more of the original nutrients in meats, such as thiamine and riboflavin, which are essential for energy production and overall health. A study by the Journal of Food Science indicates that grilling conserves more riboflavin and thiamine compared to frying.
  • Minimal Need for Additional Ingredients: With grilling's natural flavor enhancement, there's usually less reliance on high-calorie or high-sodium sauces and marinades, promoting a cleaner eating approach.

The Frying Method:

While not as emphasized at El Pollo Loco, some items may be fried. Frying involves cooking food by submerging it in hot oil, which can result in several nutritional changes:

  • Increased Fat Content: Fried foods absorb significant amounts of oil, boosting the caloric density and potentially contributing to increased cholesterol levels and heart disease risk when consumed in excess.
  • Formation of Acrylamide: According to the FDA, frying starchy foods at high temperatures can generate acrylamide, a substance with potential carcinogenic effects.
  • Loss of Nutrients: The high temperatures during frying have been associated with the degradation of certain nutrients, such as antioxidants and vitamins, reducing the food's nutritional value.

The verdict on cooking methods is clear: grilling is generally a healthier option than frying, and El Pollo Loco capitalizes on this by offering a majority of its menu items grilled. For health-conscious diners, opting for grilled dishes can be a strategic move to enjoy flavorful meals that align with a nutritious diet.

However, it's also vital to remember that even grilled foods can be part of an unhealthy diet if consumed without consideration for portion sizes and accompaniments. Thus, making informed choices by considering the cooking method alongside other dietary factors is essential for maintaining a balanced diet.

Balancing Fast Food with a Healthy Diet: El Pollo Loco Options

When it comes to fast food, finding the balance between convenience and healthy eating can be a real challenge. El Pollo Loco, known for its motto "Feel the Mexcellence," offers a variety of options that can fit into a balanced diet, provided that consumers make informed choices. Here is a detailed look at how you can maintain this balance with the offerings from El Pollo Loco.

Key Nutritional Elements

Selecting menu items that prioritize lean protein, fiber, whole grains, and fresh produce can help mitigate the high-fat, high-calorie pitfalls common in fast food. El Pollo Loco's signature flame-grilled chicken is a great source of lean protein, which is essential for muscle repair and maintenance. Here's a quick overview:

  • Grilled Chicken Breast, without skin (220 calories, 41g protein, 2g fat)
  • Oversized Chicken Salad with Low-fat Citrus Vinaigrette (370 calories, 33g protein, 12g fat, 7g fiber)
  • Chicken Black Bean Bowl (400 calories, 30g protein, 11g fat, 12g fiber)

Customizing Your Meal

Customization is key when dining at El Pollo Loco. Requesting items such as tortillas or sauces on the side allows you to control your intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugars or fats. For instance:

  • Skip the creamy dressings and opt for salsa or Pico de Gallo.
  • Replace regular tortillas with the whole-wheat version to add more fiber to your meal.
  • Choose black beans over refried beans to decrease fat and increase fiber content.

Watch Out for Hidden Calories

Some menu items may appear healthy but harbor hidden calories in the form of dressings, breading, or cooking methods. It's important to be vigilant about these additions. For example:

  • Consider the Classic Chicken Burrito (570 calories), and how selecting a different salsa can influence the nutritional value.
  • Avoid items labeled as "crispy" since this often means fried.
  • Choose “Loco Salad” with no dressing or a light vinaigrette instead of the fully-dressed Taco Salad to save on calories.

Veggie-Powered Choices

Non-meat eaters or those simply opting for more vegetables in their meal have a range of choices that feature fresh produce. Salads and bowls can be tailored to include an abundance of veggies without the calorie-dense toppings:

  • Avocado Salad (No cheese or sour cream) offers healthy fats and fiber.
  • Double Chicken Superfood Bowl includes a mix of nutrient-rich ingredients like spinach, kale, quinoa, and black beans.
  • The BRC Burrito (Beans, Rice, Cheese) with added vegetables can boost the meal's fiber and nutrient profile.

Portion Sizes Matter

Understanding portion sizes can go a long way in balancing fast food with health goals. Notably, El Pollo Loco serves generous portions, which can be shared or saved for later. Considering the portion size while ordering is critical:

  • Split a Pollo Bowl into two meals or share with a friend.
  • Choose the smaller "Grande Chicken Avocado Burrito" over the larger "Double Chicken Avocado Burrito" to control calories.
  • Opt for the "Small" size in sides instead of the "Regular" to keep portions in check.

While El Pollo Loco can be incorporated into a balanced diet, it requires careful menu navigation and moderation. Making savvy decisions can help you enjoy the convenience of fast food without compromising your health goals.

Assessing Food Allergen Information at El Pollo Loco

Navigating food allergens at fast-food restaurants can be challenging, but being informed is the first step towards a safer dining experience. El Pollo Loco, known for its Mexican-style grilled chicken, includes a range of menu items that could raise concerns for individuals with food allergies. Let's delve into what should be on your radar.

Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans are the major recognized allergens, and they can be present in various forms in menu items. While El Pollo Loco takes steps to avoid cross-contamination, the risk can never be completely eliminated in a fast-food environment. Here’s what you should know when considering your choices:

  • Dairy Allergies: Individuals with dairy allergies should be cautious as some of the marinades and dressings may contain dairy. An example would be the Creamy Cilantro Dressings.
  • Egg Allergies: Once again, certain sauces and dressings may incorporate eggs, so be sure to check ingredient lists or ask staff for verification.
  • Shellfish and Fish Allergies: El Pollo Loco primarily focuses on chicken; however, it’s wise to stay attentive to seasonal or regional menu items that may include fish or shellfish.
  • Tree Nut and Peanut Allergies: Although not a staple in most of their dishes, always clarify with employees about potential cross-contamination risks or the presence of these allergens in menu items.
  • Wheat and Gluten: Wheat is prevalent in tortillas and breaded items, posing risks for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. El Pollo Loco might offer some gluten-free alternatives, but cross-contamination is a possibility.
  • Soy Allergies: Soy can be a common ingredient in sauces and marinades. Given its prevalence, it warrants specific attention for any soy allergy sufferers.

El Pollo Loco does provide allergen information on their website for guests, which is a resourceful starting point. However, for the most up-to-date information, contacting your local restaurant directly, or asking for allergen information during your visit is recommended as menus can change.

Educating staff about the gravity of food allergies ensures they are knowledgeable about menu items and potential cross-contact with allergens. When dining out, communication is key. Don’t hesitate to assert the severity of your allergies to restaurant staff.

In summary, those with food allergies should approach El Pollo Loco with caution, equipping themselves with knowledge about menu ingredients and restaurant practices. By doing so, they can make an informed choice about whether or not, and what, they can safely eat at the establishment.

Frequently asked questions

El Pollo Loco's menu is predominantly chicken-focused, but they do offer a few vegetarian options. These can include items such as salads without chicken, the BRC Burrito, and occasionally other special or seasonal offerings. Customizing menu items to exclude meat may also provide additional vegetarian choices.

El Pollo Loco does cater to gluten-sensitive customers by providing options that are free of wheat ingredients. However, cross-contamination can occur in a fast-food environment, so it's essential for those with celiac disease or a severe gluten intolerance to speak with the restaurant staff regarding their preparation practices and specific menu options.

For those following a ketogenic diet, El Pollo Loco offers 'Pollo Fit' selections that focus on lower carbohydrates and higher protein content. Additionally, diners can choose flame-grilled chicken without skin and avoid high-carb sides like tortillas and rice, opting for salads and veggies without dressings high in sugars or carbs.

Customers looking to enjoy a lower calorie meal at El Pollo Loco can choose items like the flame-grilled chicken breast without skin, opt for salads with low-fat dressings, and choose sides like black beans or vegetables over higher calorie options. Watching portion sizes and customizing dishes to exclude high-calorie toppings like cheese and sour cream can also help manage caloric intake.

Ask a question about El Pollo Loco and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • bloating
  • indigestion
  • increased blood pressure

Possible long-term side effects

  • obesity
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • type 2 diabetes
  • kidney disease
  • osteoporosis

Ingredients to be aware of


  • lean protein source
  • nutrient retention
  • fiber intake
  • vitamin and mineral intake

Healthier alternatives

  • grilled over fried
  • fresh salsas
  • whole-wheat tortillas
  • black beans
  • smaller portion sizes
  • veggie-powered choices

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-12-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-12-2024

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