Article: Is chipotle bad for you?

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Is Chipotle bad for your health? Interview with expert

IMG Via Flickr
By: ITHP Health |

With a large market cap and high earnings Chipotle has the look of another business that has successfully adapted into an increasingly health conscious environment.

The company touts itself as the gourmet fast food benchmark through support of local produce and respect for animals. I’ll even quote their website.

“whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones.”

“And it means that we source organic and local produce when practical.”

Now I don’t really like the words whenever and practical being used to describe the food I’m about to ingest but they seem like caring people so I won’t dig any deeper into this one.

What I really want to explore is the nutrition merits of the popular Chipotle steak burritto and see if it is a healthy alternative to other fast food or simply another hazard to steer clear from (South Park did try to warn us).

When I go to Chipotle I can’t resist ordering that tantalizing steak burrito. My typical mammoth of a burrito contains the following:

13 inch tortilla
White Rice
Black beans
Steak
tomatoes
corn
red salsa
lettuce
cheese.

According to Chiptolefan.com the nutrition information is as follows:

Calories: 975 Cal from Fat 295
Total Fat: 32g 49%
Sat Fat: 11g 55%
Cholesterol: 100mg 33%
Sodium: 3230mg 135%
Protein: 57g

Now if you eat 1 meal a day this might not be the end of the world but if you’re a normal person I’m guessing you eat at least 2-3 and have a snack or two. From the looks of my burrito I’ll be ingesting 135% of my daily recommended sodium intake in just one sitting. I’m no scientist but last time I checked WedMD excessive sodium caused high blood pressure which leads to damage to your heart, kidneys, and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. But who am I to judge Chiptole so I decided to ask someone who actually knows what there talking about.

ITHP got the chance to interview Timaree Hagenburger who is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Public Health and who has been teaching nutrition at the college level for over 12 years.

1.) When I go to Chipotle and have a burrito the nutrition facts are as follows. Would you say it’s a healthy choice to consume this?

Calories: 975 Cal from Fat 295
Total Fat: 32g 49%
Sat Fat: 11g 55%
Cholesterol: 100mg 33%
Sodium: 3230mg 135%
Protein: 57g

While most of us need somewhere between 1800 and 2400 Calories over an entire day, ordering a burrito with 975 Calories and half of a day’s worth of fat seems a bit crazy. You are not alone though, as most of my students who eat at Chipotle, at least at the beginning of the semester, order burritos that come in between 1100 and 1300 Calories each and that is without the chips, which add another 570 Calories, or a drink!

2.) Chiptole seems to have very large portions. Is it a risk to ones health to eat a massive portion in one sitting?

Yes, overeating at a single sitting is detrimental to our health! Not only can it increase the likelihood of reflux (heartburn), but it can stretch the stomach and cause insulin levels to surge. We are just not designed to eat huge quantities of food and go into hibernation! When we eat more than we need, we store all of those extra kcalories as fat, even if the kcalories started out as protein kcalories in our lunch! Remember the 32 grams of fat, well, it gets to circulate in your blood vessels for about 4 hours before the liver clears it out…

3.) If I hypothetically went to Chipotle 3-5 days a week for years could that have a negative impact on my health?

It obviously depends on what else you were eating, but if you are asking if overeating 3-5 times a week for year will have a negative impact on your life… I’d say so! :) Overweight/obesity has basically become the norm, with rates in the US now hovering around 70%! If we don’t make some serious changes, we are looking at the first generation of kids that will die before their parents.

4.) Does the high level of sodium concern you?

The high sodium level does concern me, as many individuals are “sodium sensitive”. When they eat foods with too much sodium, their blood pressure goes up and chances are, they won’t feel a thing. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a silent disease that contributes to many of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, strokes and kidney failure. High sodium intake can also contribute to calcium loss, as our bodies try to get rid of extra sodium through the urine, and can unfortunately send calcium out with it. While sodium is essential, we only need to consume 200 mg/day, and at levels above 2000-2300mg can be problematic. The 3230 mg in your burrito (420 mg in the chips), blows that away.

So… if sometime in the near future, you find yourself standing in front of the register, about to order lunch at Chipotle, try this: switch out your burrito for a burrito bowl, as skipping the tortilla will knock off 290 Calories and 670 mg of sodium, load up on black or pinto beans and fajita veggies in place of meat (no saturated fat or cholesterol, great source of fiber), choose brown rice instead of white rice (less calories, lower in sodium, more protein, more vitamins, minerals and fiber) and swap out the sour cream and cheese for lots of salsa (no saturated fat or cholesterol, and packed with flavor and antioxidants from the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro…) and have them pile all of that on a big plate of crispy romaine lettuce, take your time to enjoy every bite and eat until you are satisfied!

So there you have it folks. From reading what Timaree has to say it’s apparent that Chipotle can be devastating to your health but if done correctly the health risk can be substantially mitigated. Next time you’re there think before you eat.

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Timaree Hagenburger, MPH, RD, HFS

Timaree Hagenburger is a Registered Dietitian, with a Master’s Degree in Public Health. She has been teaching nutrition at the college level for over 12 years and is a full time nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento. Timaree is a professional speaker working in corporate wellness and is a certified Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine, along with being a marathon runner. She writes a monthly column for the Lodi News Sentinel, manages her resource-rich website(www.thenutritionprofessor.com) and teaches hands-on nutrition/cooking classes featuring fresh produce and local products. Timaree cherishes opportunities to connect with those around her to share her knowledge and passion for food, cooking, physical activity and good health. Her style is a marked by a blend of fun and practicality, as she offers strategies and inspiration for finding pleasure in preparing and partaking in nourishing meals and regular exercise.

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