Healthy Options at Baja Fresh
Jul 26, 2010, Updated Aug 24, 2018
One of my first posts was a story of eating at Baja Fresh with a close friend. It’s time for me to come back to that and delve a little deeper into some of their healthier options.
Baja Fresh touts themselves as providing, well, fresh Mexican food. They do not use freezers or microwaves, and both their Vision and Mission statements emphasize the “F” word as well.
Unfortunately neither of their guiding statements mention anything about nutrition or health, and “fresh” doesn’t necessarily mean “healthy.” However, I nearly fell out of my chair when I read two magic words on their company info page: “Eat less.”
It’s a shame they don’t actually encourage that behavior.
Moreover, most of the foods are so outrageously high in sodium (meaning: more than you should eat in an entire day), it rules out a lot of options. (And I thought Rubio’s had a lot of sodium!)
Nevertheless, it is possible to have a delicious, healthy, and filling meal from Baja Fresh.
If you take away only one thing from this post, I hope it’s this: Get tacos instead of a burrito.
Tacos – Better Choices
Tacos are one of the best “entrée” choices on the menu, so let’s start there. The numbers here are for ONE taco.
Original Baja Taco, all types
200-230 cal, 1-2g sat fat, 5-8g total fat, 230-280mg sodium, 28-29g carbs, 2g fiber, 10-12g protein
Grilled Mahi Mahi Taco
230 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 9g total fat, 300mg sodium, 26g carbs, 4g fiber, 12g protein
Most of the fat comes from actual avocado slices, so it’s all good.
Tacos – Worst Choices
Americano Soft Taco, all types
230-260 cal, 4.5-6g sat fat, 10-13g total fat, 490-640mg sodium, 20-23g carbs, 2g fiber, 10-17g protein
I’m ruling these out because of the high sodium content. Still much better than the burritos, but the other taco options are the clear winners.
Baja Fish Taco (Breaded & Fried)
250 cal, 2g sat fat, 13g total fat, 420mg sodium, 27g carbs, 2g fiber, 8g protein
Salads & Soups – Better Choices
The numbers for salads do NOT include dressing, which is listed separately below.
130 cal, 1.5g sat fat, 6g fat, 430mg sodium, 16g carbs, 4g fiber, 5g protein
Baja Ensalada – Charbroiled Shrimp
230 cal, 2g sat fat, 6g total fat, 1,110mg sodium, 18g carbs, 6g fiber, 28g protein
Baja Ensalada – Charbroiled Chicken
310 cal, 2g sat fat, 7g total fat, 1,210mg sodium, 18g carbs, 7g fiber, 46g protein
Baja Ensalada – Charbroiled Steak
450 cal, 7g sat fat, 18g total fat, 1,240mg sodium, 18g carbs, 6g fiber, 54g protein
Baja Ensalada – Pork Carnitas
370 cal, 6g sat fat, 18g total fat, 1,410mg sodium, 20g carbs, 7g fiber, 35g protein
Salads & Soups – Worst Choices
Tostada Salads, all types
1,010 to 1,230 cal and 1,930 to 2,520 mg sodium.
…and that’s before adding dressing.
Mango Chipotle Chicken Salad
930 cal, 9g sat fat, 52g total fat, 1,960mg sodium, 67g carbs, 13g fiber, 43g protein
This includes the tortilla shell.
Chicken Tortilla Soup (with or without Charbroiled Chicken added)
2,600 to 2,760mg sodium
That’s like a heaping teaspoon of salt, and more than a day’s supply.
Salad Dressings – Better Choice
Consider topping your salad with some fresh salsa instead!
Fat Free Salsa Verde
15 cal, no fat, 370mg sodium, 3g carbs, 1g fiber, no protein
Salad Dressings – Worst Choices
Olive Oil Vinaigrette
290 cal, 4.5g sat fat, 31g total fat, 290mg sodium, 2g carbs, no fiber, no protein
260 cal, 6g sat fat, 26g total fat, 470mg sodium, 4g carbs, no fiber, 2g protein
Burritos – Better Choices
To qualify for a Burrito “best choice,” I’m begrudgingly narrowing it to 800-calories-or-less and under 2,000 mg of sodium. Herein lies the four options that meet those criteria:
Mahi Mahi Baja Burrito
780 cal, 15g sat fat, 38g total fat, 1,890mg sodium, 66g carbs, 7g fiber, 51g protein
Mahi Mahi Burrito Mexicano
790 cal, 3.5g sat fat, 13g total fat, 1,970mg sodium, 117g carbs, 18g fiber, 49g protein
Grilled Veggie Burrito
800 cal, 17g sat fat, 33g total fat, 1,880mg sodium, 94 gcarbs, 16g fiber, 32g protein
Veggie & Cheese Bare Burrito (served in a bowl, no tortilla)
580 cal, 4g sat fat, 10g total fat, 1,950mg sodium, 101g carbs, 20g fiber, 19g protein
Burritos – Worst Choices
Burrito Ultimo, all types
860-950 cal, 18-21g sat fat, 36-44g total fat, 1,950-2,330mg sodium, 84-96g carbs, 8-9g fiber, 41-54g protein
Baja Burrito, all types except Mahi Mahi
790-850 cal, 16-18g sat fat, 37-46g total fat, 1,900-2,280mg sodium, 65-78g carbs, 7-8g fiber, 40-52g protein
The Baja Burritos swap the sour cream for guacamole, so although the fat content is still high, they’re a better choice than the Ultimo burritos.
Burrito Mexicano, all types except Mahi Mahi
770-850 cal, 3.5-7g sat fat, 15-18g total fat, 2,040-2,420mg sodium, 117-129g carbs, 18-20g fiber, 37-50g protein
These skip the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole, but add in rice and black beans (hence the lower fat, but higher carbs and fiber).
Diablo Shrimp Burrito
1,000 cal, 12g sat fat, 34g total fat, 2,930mg sodium, 130g carbs, 19g fiber, 56g protein
See also: this story.
1,250 cal, 17g sat fat, 42g total fat, 3,200mg sodium, 145g carbs, 23g fiber, 75g protein
In a class all on its own, this monster is half your days’ calories, almost your entire day’s fat, and nearly a day and a half’s worth of sodium.
940-980 cal, 19-20g sat fat, 50-52g total fat, 1,770-1,930mg sodium, 75-81g carbs, 8-11g fiber, 48-50g protein
Don’t be fooled by the word “salad!”
Bean and Cheese Burritos, all types, with or without meat
840-1,030 cal, 17-21g sat fat, 33-42g total fat, 1,790-2,370mg sodium, 96-108mg fiber, 39-67g protein
Bare Burrito, all types except Veggie & Cheese
640-700 cal, 1-4.5g sat fat, 7-15g total fat, 2,330-2,480mg soidum, 97-99g carbs, 19-20g fiber, 37-45g protein
“Enchilado Style” (can be added to any burrito), adds:
630 cal, 19g sat fat, 40g total fat, 1,450mg sodium, 45g carbs, 7g fiber, 23g protein
Seriously? The topping on your burrito shouldn’t be an entire meal’s worth of calories and day’s supply of saturated fat.
“Baja Favorites” – Better Choices
The Chicken Taquitos aren’t great — they’re fried, after all — but they’re probably the best thing on the “Favorites” menu, meeting the same criteria as the best burritos (under 800 cal and 2,000mg sodium). I’d recommend the beans on the side (instead of rice), since they’re higher in fiber and protein (without any more fat, and not much more sodium).
Chicken Taquitos with Beans
780 cal, 12g sat fat, 40g total fat, 1,810mg sodium, 68g carbs, 17g fiber, 39g protein
Chicken Taquitos with Rice
740 cal, 11g sat fat, 40g total fat, 1,770mg sodium, 66g carbs, 8g fiber, 30g protein
“Baja Favorites” – Worst Choices
1,200 to 1,400 calories, and 2,140 to 2,730 mg sodium.
1,890 to 2,120 calories, about 110 grams of fat, and 2,530 to 3,120 mg sodium.
So much for “eat less.”
On the low end is the Mahi Mahi with Corn Tortillas (840 cal, 1,960mg sodium) and at the top is the Breaded Fish with Flour Tortillas (1,340 cal, 3,020mg sodium) or the Steak with Flour Tortillas (1,240 cal, 3,440mg sodium).
BF provides nutritional stats for an 8-ounce portion (who eats one cup of salsa?), but at least that makes it easier to compare. They vary slightly in calories and fat content, but the biggest differences are in sodium. Here are the numbers for 2 ounces of Salsa, from least to most:
Pico de Gallo – 223mg sodium
Salsa Baja – 243 mg sodium
Salsa Roja – 270mg sodium
Salsa Verde – 293mg sodium
Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.
indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.
Photo by hhllbbhh.