With its combination of rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomato and sour cream wrapped in a flour tortilla, the burrito supreme is a popular menu item at many Mexican fast food restaurants. But is this seemingly indulgent dish actually a nutritious option? Let’s take a closer look at the burrito supreme’s ingredients and nutrition information to find out.
Calories and Macronutrients
A typical burrito supreme contains around 300-500 calories, depending on size. This provides a significant amount of energy from carbohydrates, protein and fat. A medium burrito supreme from Taco Bell contains:
- Calories: 420
- Total fat: 18g
- Saturated fat: 8g
- Trans fat: 0g
- Cholesterol: 45mg
- Sodium: 1240mg
- Total carbs: 54g
- Dietary fiber: 5g
- Sugars: 2g
- Protein: 19g
As you can see, the burrito supreme provides a good amount of protein from the beans, rice and cheese. It also contains dietary fiber from the whole wheat tortilla, beans, rice and lettuce. However, it is quite high in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat, so should be consumed in moderation.
Vitamins and Minerals
In addition to macronutrients, the burrito supreme provides a variety of micronutrients:
- Vitamin C: 15% DV
- Vitamin A: 15% DV
- Calcium: 15% DV
- Iron: 10% DV
The tomatoes, lettuce and cheese contribute vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium. The beans provide a good amount of iron. So despite its reputation as a junk food, the burrito supreme delivers a significant amount of important vitamins and minerals.
Whole Foods vs. Processed Foods
Most of the burrito supreme’s ingredients would be classified as whole foods, including beans, rice, vegetables, cheese and tortilla. Processed foods generally refer to items that have been significantly altered from their natural state. The burrito supreme contains minimal processed ingredients, limited to the flour tortilla and sour cream.
Diets based on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, legumes, nuts and seeds are associated with lower risks of chronic diseases. So the burrito supreme’s emphasis on whole food ingredients adds to its nutritional value.
The burrito supreme provides protein from both animal and plant sources. The beef, cheese and sour cream supply high-quality animal protein. This contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need but cannot make on their own.
The rice and beans together provide plant-based protein that is lower in quality but still important. Individually, beans and rice are incomplete proteins missing certain amino acids. But when combined, they complement each other to provide all the essential amino acids our bodies require.
Nutrient density refers to the amount of nutrients a food provides compared to its calorie content. Nutrient-dense foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds while being relatively low in calories. They provide substantial nutrition without a lot of extra energy from sugar and fat.
While the burrito supreme is relatively high in calories, it does supply a wide range of vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber and phytonutrients. Given its calorie count, it provides decent nutrient density. However, lower calorie options like a burrito bowl with vegetables would be even more nutrient-dense.
The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food causes increases in blood sugar. Foods high on the GI scale (GI of 70 or above) cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which can promote insulin resistance over time. Low GI foods (GI of 55 or below) do not spike blood sugar as drastically.
Beans, cheese, vegetables and whole grains fall into the low GI category. However, flour tortillas are made with refined grains and have a high GI around 70-80. The white rice also has a high GI around 73.
So while some of the burrito supreme’s ingredients are low GI, the tortilla and rice give it a moderately high overall GI. This means it provides a quick source of energy, but could contribute to insulin resistance issues like diabetes if over-consumed.
Satiety refers to how satisfied and full you feel after eating a certain food. Foods that score high on the satiety index keep you feeling full for longer after eating them. High protein, fiber and water content are key factors that increase satiety.
With its 19g of protein, 5g of fiber and high water content from vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes, the burrito supreme is fairly satiating. The whole wheat tortilla also provides more satiety than a white flour tortilla.
This means the burrito supreme may help control appetite and prevent overeating at subsequent meals. A burrito bowl without the tortilla would be even higher in satiety value.
One potential downside of the burrito supreme is its high sodium content. A typical burrito supreme contains over 1000mg of sodium, which is almost half the daily recommended limit of 2300mg per day.
The tortilla, beef, cheese and sour cream all contribute substantial amounts of sodium. Consuming excess sodium can increase risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Those limiting sodium intake may want to skip sour cream and cheese, choose lower sodium tortillas, and flavor rice and beans with herbs and spices instead of salt.
Around 36% of the burrito supreme’s calories come from fat. While the total fat content is quite high, it does provide mostly healthier unsaturated fats:
- Monounsaturated fat: 6g
- Polyunsaturated fat: 3g
- Saturated fat: 8g
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from plant sources like vegetable oil, avocados and nuts are considered heart-healthy fats. They help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce inflammation when consumed in moderation.
Saturated fat from the beef, cheese and sour cream should be limited, as it tends to raise cholesterol levels. But overall, the burrito supreme provides a decent fatty acid profile.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of the micronutrient content in a burrito supreme:
|% Daily Value
As you can see, the burrito supreme provides significant amounts of key micronutrients. Pairing it with vitamin C-rich sides like pineapple or red bell peppers would further boost its nutritional profile.
Phytochemicals are plant compounds that provide health benefits independent of basic nutrition. Beans contain beneficial phytochemicals like saponins, protease inhibitors and phytosterols. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene.
Onions and cilantro also supply flavonoids and polyphenols that reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. So while not included on the nutrition label, the vegetables in the burrito supreme provide important phytochemicals.
While the burrito supreme has some nutritional merits, it does have a few potential downsides:
- High in sodium, especially for those restricting salt intake
- Contains processed white flour
- Relatively high in saturated fat and cholesterol
- Does not provide any omega-3 fatty acids
- Contains no fruit or cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cabbage
Overall though, these drawbacks are minimized by the inclusion of beans, tomatoes, lettuce, whole grains and lean protein.
For an even more nutritious Mexican-style meal, consider these healthy burrito options:
- Burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, grilled chicken and guacamole
- Burrito with wheat tortilla, refried beans, brown rice, grilled shrimp and mango salsa
- Breakfast burrito with egg whites, black beans, avocado and whole wheat tortilla
- Burrito salad with spinach, peppers, corn, chicken and salsa
Choosing corn over flour tortillas, loading up on vegetables, and opting for lean proteins and healthy fats makes burritos an even more nutritious choice.
With around 400-500 calories each, burrito supremes and burritos, in general, are quite calorie-dense. Eating multiple large burritos in one sitting is easy to do but can cause excess calorie intake.
Practicing portion control is important, especially for those needing to manage their weight or blood sugar levels. Stick to a single regular burrito or split one large burrito between multiple people.
While high in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat, the burrito supreme provides significant nutrition including protein, fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and beneficial plant compounds. Its ingredients are mostly whole foods and it is rich in vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce.
Overall, when consumed in moderation as part of an otherwise balanced diet, the burrito supreme can be a relatively nutritious fast food choice. But healthier bean burritos and burrito bowls are available for an even more nutritious option.