Saturday, January 9, 2010

Restaurant guides: Chipotle

Note: I might fine-tune this post a little bit later, but I figure it couldn't hurt to put it up as is for the purposes of feedback and corrections. Hope this helps!

At one point in my life, Chipotle was the site of horrible, high-calorie disasters. You throw a huge burrito around a collection of meat, sour cream, rice and cheese and you've destroyed any reasonable diet. When I think of the sad disintegration of one of my longest relationships, I think of how doughy we became due to Chipotle-sque calorie orgies.

So it stunned me when Eat This, Not That named Chipotle a do-gooder in many ways. You see, Chipotle is the quintessential example of the wide pendulum of many restaurants, as the venue can swing from awful to quite decent nutritionally.

With that, I'll break down eating at Chipotle. If you want to calculate your own meals, this site is fabulous. Chipotle Fan's calculator is a great way of weighing the pros and cons of items in your food.

Burrito bol you over (hey-oh!)

At first, losing these items is going to sting. But the thing is, if you take them out, you can eat DELICIOUS food without much more than sodium regret.

Get a burrito bol, not a huge burrito or the tacos

Yes, Chipotle markets their huge tin foil-draped burritos and they're very tasty, but they're pretty awful for you. If you want to lose weight, you do have to make some compromises but I've found that the burrito bol isn't that tough, at all. It's like eating a salad of awesome.

According to Chipotle fan, here's the key facts with the food joint's other food holders:

The trademark 13" Burrito
Calories: 290 (!), Fat: 9 grams (!), Sodium: 670 mg, 44 carbs, Protein: 7g
Comment: You can have a 400+ calorie meal if you take this option out and you won't hurt for protein. Stunning, right?

The soft tacos
Calories: 270, Fat: 8 grams, Sodium: 600 mg, 39 carbs, Protein: 6g

Hard tacos
Calories: 180, Fat: 6 grams, Sodium: 30 mg, 27 carbs, Protein: 2g

So if you HAVE to eat what holds your food, I guess hard tacos are a reasonable choice although I'd rather replace that with guacamole and take a little more fat (but good fat) and get much better health benefits.

No cheese or sour cream, sorry folks. You won't miss them as much as you think.

Don't eat the chips

You're better off getting chips elsewhere, because that bag hits the 570 calorie, 27g of fat mark. In other words, it's worse for you than a burrito bol I had with steak, rice, black beans, two salsas and lettuce. Take a wild guess which of those choices is more filling and more nutritious ...

One note if you choose a salad

You're better off dressing the lettuce with guacamole or salsa (or both) than getting the dressing.

The dressing provides a walloping 25g of fat and 260 calories while providing none of the vegetables of salsa or the many benefits of guacamole.

Building a good bol or salad

1. Black beans might be the best thing on the menu.

For only 120 calories and 1g of fat, black beans provide a nice flavor along with a stunning 11g of fiber (a nice chunk of your daily need) and an impressive 7g of protein. I think this has benefits for anyone, but these are especially good for vegetarians (unless they've been clandestinely rubbed with meat or something).

2. I like meat, therefore I will usually choose one.

It seems like the meats are all pretty similar in calories and fat, with the main variance being sodium. They all add quite a bit of fat and calories, but they're the anchor of a meal ... and if you're used to tacos or burritos wrapping your food, it might be best to take baby steps. Plus, the protein will fill you up well into the rest of your work day.

3. Salsas are a cheap source of flavor, but beware of sodium. They also have minor benefits I wasn't expecting.

Salsa is bad ass. It gives you a nice helping of vegetables and adds a ton of taste. Just be careful about sodium, especially if you like to add more than one like me.

My favorite salsa is the Green salsa (probably called Green chile, but lay off me I'm a gringo). It only costs you 15 calories and a semi-reasonable 230mg of sodium and even has a gram of fiber to boot. It also is my favorite tasting one.

The tomato (or basically pico de gallo) salsa is another favorite, although it's pretty salty at 470 mg.

I'm impressed by the corn salsa's 3g of fiber and it's not too bad at 80 calories and 2g of fat. The sodium is kinda high too, though, at 410 mg.

The hottest salsa is a bit too much for me, but it does have its benefits. Not surprisingly, it has the highest sodium count at 510 mg. Still, it does provide a surprising 4g of fiber and 2g of protein. When you consider that Subway's honey oat bread stands out for providing 5g of fiber, a mere salsa that brings almost as much is pretty damn stunning.

Still, I think I'll stick with one or more of the other three. That hot salsa is a bit ... painful.

4. The guacamole wild card

The avocado-based condiment comes with an extra charge (usually about $1.75 extra) and some at-first intimidating fat content (13g) but it's also a great substance to add to your food, especially if you need some filler without meat.

For one thing, 150 calories isn't too bad when you consider the flavor, impressive 6g of fiber, small influx of protein and of course the good fat that comes with it.

It really depends on how picky you're being with calories, but my advice would be to have guacamole at least once every three visits. It's delicious and will keep you from eating other things if the rest of the meal isn't filling enough for you big eaters.

5. The rice question

It's not brown rice, so it's not the best rice for you. And from what I've read, rice is more or less filler anyway. At 130 calories and 3g of fat with 23 carbs and 2g of protein, it seems negligible nutritionally.

So far, I've laced my burrito bols with their tasty rice (mmm cilantro), but I'm still on the fence about the company's signature filler.


OK, that's my take on Chipotle so far. I might come up with a list of concoctions to give people a few different ideas, but you can use that Chipotle calculator to know exactly what you're getting yourself into.

Hopefully this helps you, because if you have a Chipotle nearby, you stand to benefit from a meal full of organic foods, reasonably decent meat and lots of good stuff. For fast food, there are few better.

Yet it's amazing to note that my old favorite (steak, rice, big burrito, fajita vegetables, sour cream, cheese, two salsas) was a mind numbing 885 calories, 38 g of fat and only 4g of fiber. When you count the Coke I'm slowly turning into unsweetened iced tea, I'd imagine my meals would clock in at a troubling 1000 calories.

500 calories sure looks pretty damn good, now.

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