How to Order or Make a Healthy Burrito
It’s Saturday night…
And you find yourself buzzed and in need of a burrito.
After stumbling into an Uber…
And drunkenly Yelping the nearest 24-hour taco shop…
You beg the driver to make a quick and essential stop.
This is the point of no return!
There is a lot of internal bargaining (as if you’re really gonna make it to the gym the night after raging face, let alone who goes to the gym on Sundays?) but there will be a hot, meaty burrito in your face in T-minus 15 minutes.
And depending on how your night went, this may not be the only hot meat in your imminent future, let’s be honest…
We know late night drunk munchies is not part of a healthy diet, but I will admit that those late night burritos do stave off the gnarly hangover the next morning…
As the aroma of carne asada and chorizo overpower your ability to skip that 3am burrito, let’s talk about some ways we can improve that fat-laden bomb of a meal so many of us can’t live without.
Let’s improve your burrito ordering game right now.
Most burritos are denoted by the meaty goodness that is hot and steamy inside. It’s what calls to your name from the taco shop when you’re 3 shots of tequila deep and you regret not including food in your pregame ritual.
Not all meats are created equal, as I am sure you already know. All the deserved hooplah about red meat and your heart have surely caught your attention…
Red meat is delicious, but packed with unhealthy saturated fats. These fats raise your cholesterol and cause plaque buildup in your arteries. Overtime this leads to heart disease, which kills 1 in 4 women in the U.S. and coronary heart disease is the #1 cause of death in America.
So what meats should you eat?
Chicken and fish are much lower in fat and are still great protein sources.
Let’s compare carne asada to pollo asada (beef vs. chicken):
In 4oz of carne asada, there is 9g of fat and about 190 calories (and mind you this is if it’s “private selection,” whatever that means…this is fucking taco shop meat, so assume the worst) and 4oz of pollo asado has 2g of fat and about 120 calories.
By making the change to chicken you save yourself about 70 calories, and eat a much more reasonable amount of fat. Considering we haven’t even made it past the discussion of the meat in your burrito, we have a lot more calories to consider in the coming ingredients.
Another meat option to consider is fish. Where my pescatarians at?
If it wasn’t for my love of In N Out, I would be a pescatarian…
Fish is an AMAZING nutrient dense food! I can write a whole article (or 5) on the benefits of eating fish, and I most likely will at some point…
Fish is packed with protein, Vitamin D (rarely in high quantities in food), and omega-3 fatty acids. There is endless research going on right now on the anti-inflammatory properties and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, mostly due to its role in heart health.
The typical fish used in burrito shops is usually a white fish like tilapia. A 4oz serving of tilapia has about 3g of fat and 145 calories. Just beware that many fish burritos have fried fish instead of grilled, which pretty much nullifies any health benefits.
OKAY VEGETARIANS, NOW TO THINGS THAT APPLY TO YOU….
Although not common at traditional burrito shops, ask if they have a whole wheat tortilla option.
Why avoid the typical tortilla?
If you are a Chipotle fan (which if you maintain your fandom currently you must love to live dangerously and with a bathroom nearby at all time…sorry Chipotle, you only get so many chances with me) their flour tortilla will cost you 10g of fat and 300 calories! The typical taco shop tortillas will fare the same or maybe even worse if they grill them up with lard or butter.
If you choose to opt for the whole wheat tortilla, on average it will contain about 5g of fat and 210 calories. The fiber content of these tortillas is also commendable.
The swap here saves you about 90 calories, and that is almost the calorie cost of a shot of vodka!
If you are considering the at home burrito option (or don’t care about the weird stares you will get at the taco shop counter), go for a burrito bowl style of meal. Skipping the tortilla completely would be the more angelic nutritional choice.
Props to you if voraciously hungry, drunk you can skip the tortilla. That is some serious self-control.
(credit: google search, inlandempirefoods.com)
My love for beans is a love/hate relationship. With a love for beans comes a less than lady-like gas problem. But then again, with the great power of fiber comes great responsibility…to excuse yourself when you scarfed all those
With a love for beans comes a less than lady-like gas problem. But then again, with the great power of fiber comes great responsibility…to excuse yourself when you scarfed all those lovely legumes (yea yea, not trying to gross you out, i’m just being honest here).
Latin America has given us so many awesome uses for beans, and they have found themselves in our beloved burritos in many forms. Most commonly found in your typical burrito, refried beans from a taco shop are usually made with pork fat unless denoted as vegetarian. Better to just stick to the beans that still look like beans…
The real issue with beans unless made from the raw form is often their sodium content. This is hard to control at the taco shop, but at home you can still purchase the canned stuff and rinse the beans before cooking. This will reduce the sodium content up to 40%. You may just have to take the sodium hit when eating out.
A quick rundown of bean options:
- Black beans: 57 calories per ¼ cup
- Pinto beans: 61 calories per ¼ cup
These options are low glycemic, high in protein, fiber, and folate and are low in fat.
Beans really are the magical fruit…the more you eat…the more…
You get the idea.
Cheese…mmm…who doesn’t love cheese? Its that magical goo that melds together the ingredients of a great burrito. Unfortunately our good friend cheese is high in calories and saturated fat. Even more shocking is the fact that melted cheese will cost you more calories than the unmelted stuff.
So just how much will that cheese cost you?
A ½ cup of melted cheddar cheese will cost you 492 calories and 40g of fat! Putting that into the party perspective, that is almost 5 shots of liquor or 3 glasses of wine. And since alcohol is metabolized like a fat, you might as well think of it as packing the same punch.
BUT, BUT WHAT IS A BURRITO WITHOUT CHEESE??? *tear
Don’t start crying over melted cheese, I’m just letting you know that eliminating the cheese would really improve your burrito health, but you can keep the cheese if you want to eliminate some other health bombs from your favorite drunk munchie.
Sour cream and other creamy sauce (alternatives?)
Creamy is the code word for FAT. There is a reason you find everything creamy so damn delicious…
Like our friend cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise-based sauces are relatively empty of nutrients and contain mostly saturated fat (when you think of saturated fat, just imagine this little angry dude declaring war on your arteries and heart. What a dick right?).
Anyways, the full fat sour cream you get in your taco shop burrito has about 61 calories and 6g of fat per oz (and you are definitely eating more than an 1oz on that california burrito).
So what are better alternatives?
Salsas and hot sauces add a ton of flavor without all the extra calories. I’m a big fan of pico de gallo, which only costs you about 5 calories per tablespoon. It worth mentioning that salsa is now America’s favorite condiment, with salsa sales overtaking ketchup sales in 2013.
Salsa is no joke and some people are really serious about their favorite condiment, like the Ohio woman who stabbed her boyfriend over the stuff…
In 2012, Hispanic food and beverage sales in the U.S. was $8 billion dollars! I bet even Donald Trump eats his fair share of salsa…and likes it.
Point here, avoid cream and add some color to your burrito with salsas and hot stuff.
Love the good burn of peppers? Peppers are delicious and quite healthy for you!
Vitamin C is depleted by alcohol consumption and its absence can contribute to the next day’s hangover. Vitamin C’s antioxidant properties help to curtail the liver damage from drinking.
When getting your jalapeno on, ask if fresh jalapenos are available rather than the pickled kind. Anything pickled will contain a lot more sodium than the fresh stuff. Also if you really are a fiend for things fiery, the fresh stuff will pack way more heat.
You could be rewarded for this burning with the thermodynamic properties of spicy foods. In less fancy terms, spicy foods, like jalapenos, can aid in fat metabolism and therefore help lower the calorie cost of your meal. While the savings is likely small, this is just one more awesome benefit of jalapenos and other hot peppers.
You need 5 servings (aka 5 cups) of fruits and vegetables every day. And your healthy burrito can help contribute to this goal. Hopefully drunk you can remember this as you stare upon the menu full of meaty, cheesy, fried foods.
If drunk you can handle it, take a look over the menu or ask about what veggie toppings they offer. Often you can substitute veggies for the cheese, sour cream, and other less than healthy choices for no additional cost. FREE NUTRIENTS!
Load up on bell peppers, onions, lettuce, cabbage, and tomato. It adds an unexpected and refreshing crunch and you will be able to sleep well than night knowing you reupped on your vitamins and minerals you worked diligently to deplete with all that drinking.
While you await your burrito, there is usually a salsa bar that includes hot carrots. While salty and practically pickled, hot carrots are not the most terrible thing to snack on while you wait. Sure better than those fried tortilla chips…which I will get to discussing soon.
Guacamole is like the chunky gold of the food world. It somehow always costs like $1 extra for a scoop of the stuff. And it is so damn delicious and taco shops are there to be your dealer of the stuff…
Avocado is a superfood packed full of nutrients with a ton of benefits. I could literally write a whole book on the fruit (yes it’s a fruit). They contain more potassium than a banana, are high in fiber, vitamin B6 (which is depleted when drinking), vitamin K, and carotenoids.
Looking a bit bruised after a weekend of heavy drinking? Vitamin K is important in blood clotting and unfortunately is not well absorbed in individuals that drink habitually. Lucky for you avocado is an awesome source of vitamin K. So if you find yourself a little black and blue, consider upping your vitamin K game, and avocado is an awesome fruit to make friends with.
At the taco shop, as a rule of thumb, you should go for the fresh avocado over guacamole. The sodium content of guacamole can be atrocious. With all the other stuff in your burrito, this is an easy fix, so why not swap it out?
Fries vs. Potatoes
If you’re eating at a taco shop in Southern California, you may find some kind of potato in your burrito. Most commonly you will find the holy grail of burritos in the SoCal region called the California Burrito (bascially a carne asada burrito with french fries; absolutely nothing Mexican about the thing, but so delicious).
When ordering a burrito that comes with French fries on the inside (if you just can’t go without), ask to substitute their regular potatoes instead. While their regular potatoes are most likely still pan-fried, it is still better than deep-fried French fries. I’m not going to go into the exact number here, but we all know that french fries are terrible for you.
On a more practical note, starch can be your friend when you have been drinking. Those potatoes will act like little sponges in your stomach and soak up the alcohol that likely would otherwise stay there till the morning and irritate your stomach lining. This upset tummy will have you praying to the porcelain gods…
Often part of a combo meal, tortilla chips at burrito shops are usually deep fried, and consequently high in fat. A serving of restaurant style tortilla chips is only about 7 chips. Those 7 precious chips will cost you 140 calories and 7g of fat! One gram of fat per chip is kind of ridiculous. You could be eating (or drinking) so many other, better things…
Not only are tortilla chips fat-ladden, but they have most likely been liberally salted. Those 7 chips contribute to about 5% of your daily sodium intake. And mind you, you are already eating a burrito at this point…
Skip the chips (and stick to the crunch of the spicy carrots)!
Healthy Burrito Recipe
While traveling in Costa Rica this month, I had a LIFE-CHANGING burrito in the beach town of Tamarindo at an awesome restaurant called Green Papaya.
My favorite healthy burrito recipe is inspired by the veggie burrito I had there.
Here is an awesome grocery list for a healthy burrito you can easily make at home.
Bookmark this page so you are ready to rock and roll when you get back from the store.
Ingredients you will need:
- 2 Large whole wheat tortillas
- 1 can black beans (low sodium)
- 1 cup of brown rice (cooked)
- 1 jalapeno
- ½ zucchini
- ½ red bell pepper
- ½ red onion
- ½ cup of portabello mushrooms
- garlic powder
- cayenne pepper
- olive oil
- Hot sauce (optional)
Let’s get to cooking!
This recipe makes 2 burritos:
- Hopefully you own a rice cooker (if you don’t I would consider investing in one), so wash and cook a cup of brown rice first thing since it will take the longest to prepare.
- In a colander, rinse your canned beans with water before heating in a sauce pan. This will remove even more of the unnecessary sodium content.
- Chop up your jalapeno, zucchini, red bell pepper, onion, and portobello mushrooms.
- Toss veggies in a pinch if salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder.
- In a stir fry pan, saute the veggies in 2 Tbsp of olive oil and add a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Heat the tortillas in preparation for burrito filling!
- Layer rice, beans, and veggie mixture. Add some hot sauce if you like it spicy!
- Roll those burritos up for a delicious and healthy meal!
If this doesn’t get you salivating, here are some awesome Nutrition Gone Wild approved recipes:
Burritos can be way more than just a junk food (or a drunk food). You can make it a nutritious and delicious munchie pocket!
It’s also a sweet idea to prep all these ingredients at the beginning of the week (or weekend) to make for an easy meal for those days when cooking seems too difficult or invite your friends over for a burrito making party!
You ready to drunkenly order a healthy burrito the next time you are out? Take a picture of your burrito feast and tweet me or tag me on instagram. Or share your favorite burrito recipe or substitute in the comment section below. I can’t wait to see your health(ier) burrito!
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