Chipotle: So Good, So Salty

By Pete Williams

Salt bomb?

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.

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9 Comments

Filed under Nutrition, Training

9 responses to “Chipotle: So Good, So Salty

  1. Jason Foster

    Hey – I have been a pretty big fan of Chipotle too, over the last 6 months, eating there about once a week.

    I do like the food, and I don’t care about calorie content. Saturated fat content bothers me a little bit, but still not too much. To me, the salt content was a surprise in the last few days as I’ve been researching it, and I see I’m not the only one to experience it. I’m not sure if this will affect my Chipotle outings, since I only do it about once a week; we’ll see…

  2. Pingback: The Unlikely Vegetarian | Endurance Sports Florida

  3. Tom Dewey

    So f’n salty! Why? Everything tastes really salty, and indeed, sodium levels are off the chart, wtf? This is not health food.

    • Tom — The salt level is a concern — I’ve had a kidney stone, so I keep track of my salt. But Chipotle’s commitment to providing grass-fed, free-range meat, along with dairy from cows that have not been shot up with hormones and organic produce whenever possible make it a healthy option.

      • Tom Dewey

        High salt is not good for anyone. Chipotle would be healthy if it weren’t so saturated with salt. Maybe they think it has to be that salty to be marketable? The average American consumer IS known for atrocious eating habits, but they should aim higher than that, just as they do with the other ingredients. If only they would just back down the salt a bit, it would still taste great and I doubt many people would notice anything missing.

  4. Cheryl Denise

    Thanks Pete. I too fell in love with Chipotle and have been frequenting the one in Center City (Philadelphia) for the last month or so. I have been feeling sluggish and out of sorts. Took my BP reading this morning and my bottom number was a little high (93). I make it a point to check for sodium levels – have been getting the Burritto Bowl w/chicken, corn, fresh tomato salsa and most of the works. After reading your artilcle, I just did the caloric intake for Chipotle and found out that I was consuming over 2,000 mg in sodium. Holy Smokes! I am floored. No wonder I have been not feeling like myself. Way too high. Thanks for the insight. I am African-American, on BP meds, very fit, age 48.

  5. birchard

    I’m glad to read others feel the same way re sodium content !!! The
    amount is atrocious. I’m very fit without any concern or health issue but I do a check on fat & salt .. PLEASE CHIPOLTE, RATCHET DOWN!! WE’D APPRECIATE IT !

  6. Frank

    Do something about salt Chipotle. I like your joint but you may loose me over this mega salt use issue..
    Salt, Salt, Salt, its a silent mega killer. Hurry chipotle and fix this asap or else EXITVILLE…sorry..!

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