By Pete Williams
The new guidelines for sodium intake issued by the U.S. Health and Human Services this week suggest that Americans consume way too much salt — 3,400 mg a day.
That’s well above the recommended daily allowance of 2,300 mg of salt – 1,500 if you fall into high-risk categories: everyone 51 and older, all African Americans and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease.
That’s a lot of people, including me now that I’ve dealt with my first kidney stone. Salt produces kidney stones since it causes the kidneys to dump more stone-forming calcium into the urine.
Like a lot of people, I figured I had a low sodium intake. After all, I never use table salt and rarely eat chips or snack foods. The recent guidelines, however, suggest that 90 percent of sodium comes from packaged food and restaurant eating.
My beloved Chipotle Mexican Grill, where I eat as often as three times a week, is generally considered a healthier place to eat. I know many endurance athletes and other high-performance people who eat there regularly. The Colorado-based chain is known for using all-natural, organic, farm-raised products wherever possible.
A few years ago, Chipotle sponsored one of the premier U.S. cycling teams. As part of the deal, each rider got a silver-plated card good for a free Chipotle burrito…every day. For those of us who love Chipotle, that sounded like the best perk of all time.
But take a look at the salt content of Chipotle products via Chipotle Calorie Calculator.
Let’s start with the burrito bowl. That’s 0 calories and 0 mg of salt. After all, it’s cardboard. But if you go with the tortilla, that’s 290 calories and a whopping 670 mg of sodium. Next we’ll add rice and black beans, a combined 250 calories and 400 mg of salt. That’s not bad, though given the way Chipotle workers tend to load up on those two items, it might be higher.
Next comes the meat. Carnitas is the worst choice at 190 calories and 590 mg of salt. Next comes barbacoa (170/510), chicken (190/370) and steak (190/320).
The salsa is low in calories, but high in sodium. The medium/green salsa is best (230 mg), followed by corn (410), tomato (470), and hot/red (510). Of course, some of us order more than one. Yikes.
Add another 80 calories and 180 mg of sodium for the cheese. Sour cream is low in sodium (just 30 mg) but is high in fat and calories. Guacamole adds 150 calories and 190 mg of sodium.
The tally for my usual order (burrito bowl, rice, black beans, chicken, tomato and corn salsas, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole) is 915 calories. That’s high, but not bad for an endurance athlete.
But my salt content is a whopping 2,050 mg, just 250 mg shy of the daily maximum and much higher than the 1,500 mg limit for those with a history of kidney issues.
Imagine if I ate my burrito in a tortilla and substituted carnitas for chicken. That would raise my meal to 1,205 calories and an off-the-charts 2,940 mg of sodium.
My chicken burrito, by the way, packs 64 grams of protein, more than half my daily allotment, which is a concern. Too much protein also can produce kidney stones.
I discovered Chipotle late in 2002 while visiting Phoenix. Since the restaurant arrived in the Tampa Bay area in 2005, I’ve probably averaged 2-3 meals there a week. That’s 780 meals and 1,600 grams of sodium.
Just another example, I suppose, of how what you might think of as healthy eating might not be that good for you.