Andrew Harrison
February 2017.

Am I fooling myself that a burrito with rice, beans, chicken and peppers is some sort of health food?

1 answer

When we talk about anything being healthy/unhealthy, the most important thing is not really a composition of the single food item you consume during the day, but the balance in the diet overall. 

I am a defender of burritos. In fact, I believe, that it is one of the most balanced fast-food choices you can make, as long as you follow some rules. 

Tortilla: Some people think that a tortilla is healthier than bread, but judging from the numbers is not true. Average large size tortilla (67 g) provides around 190 calories, 7% of daily recommended maximum intake of saturated fats and 2.4 g of fibre.  An average piece of bread (36 g) provides 85 calories, no saturated fats and 1 gramme of fibre. You can also see, that bread portion is twice as small as tortilla option, so apart from the saturated fat content, they are similar. Burrito chains often offer a 'skinny' version i.e without bread and you can see, that it is, indeed, may be a good decision. 

  • “Come on, look at that! There’s lots of vegetables between the, er, grilled steak.” (Pixabay)

Rice: There is nothing wrong with rice. A portion of rice in a burrito (about 4oz) provides a fair amount of fibre (3% if you get white rice and 8% in brown rice). If you make a burrito at home, you most likely won't add oil/butter/salt to the rice, but some burrito chains do. If you stick to the traditional recipe (basically, just plain cooked rice with spices) this part considered healthy.

Vegetables: Nowadays, people put all kind of stuff in their burritos. I won't go into detail with every vegetable you can put, but I can safely say, that each burrito will have at least one of your 5-a-day. According to WHO: "Insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables is estimated to cause around 14% of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11% of ischaemic heart disease deaths and about 9% of stroke deaths globally." 

Meat: WHO advises minimising the intake of red meat as it is 'probably carcinogenic' and switch to white meat where possible. In this setting, going for chicken rather than for beef is a good idea. You can always get a vegetarian option too. 

Guacamole: Is guacamole healthy? Depends on how you make it. The main ingredients, as you know, are avocado, salt and other bits like pepper, tomato, garlic etc. Avocado is a great source of monounsaturated fats, replacement of which results in a considerable decrease in cardiovascular disease. Read more on avocados at Fight the Fads page. Too much salt, however, is not a great choice. In fact, your daily intake of salt should not exceed 6 g which is about 1 teaspoon. Some chains may add more salt to their guacamole to make it tastier, so look out! 

  • “Hey, it’s health food! As long as you don’t count the cheese, the salt…” (Pixabay)

Nasty Stuff: The basic ingredients for burrito (tortilla, rice, guacamole, vegetables, peppers etc) are all can be considered a part of a healthy diet. However, the basic recipe can be modified with addition of salt (remember, you are allowed only 6 g per day), fats and saturated fats in oils and on top of that - cheese, that also can be high in salt and saturated fat. Just stick to the most basic options when you get a burrito.

Overall, I would say that burrito is a healthy option, as long as you don't add extra 'unhealthy' stuff to it. Probably, the healthiest burrito you can get is the one you make yourself at home. 

Comment answer