Weight Loss

7 ways to cut major calories from those delicious chain burritos

A carnitas burrito bowl gets the works at Chipotle.

A carnitas burrito bowl gets the works at Chipotle.  (Reuters)

Chipotle has officially reached cult status. People are getting famous for eating it every day. A very hungry geek figured out how to increase the amount of food in a burrito by 86 percent without paying extra. And every time you try to go there, the line snakes out the damn door.

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Here's the problem: At Chipotle and other fast-casual Tex-Mex chains, it's scarily easy to order a burrito with 1,000 calories or more. Take your boilerplate burrito setup: tortilla, rice, beans, cheese, chicken, salsa, cheese, sour cream, and guac. At Moe's Southwest Grill, it'll run you 945 calories. Get the same thing at Qdoba and it's 1,035. And at Chipotle: a staggering 1,275.

Maybe that's why a lobbying group called the Center for Consumer Freedom recently launched a campaign called "Chubby Chipotle." Its argument: Maybe the chain's ingredients are "natural," but there's nothing healthy about stuffing a 1,000-calorie burrito down your gullet every day. And even though the group is financially supported by the more traditional fast-food chains that Chipotle is currently stomping, it kinda has a point.

So, we've got seven tips to help you chip away at the calorie count on your beloved burrito. How low can you go? Depends on which ingredients you're willing to give up.

1. Drop the tortilla.
You've heard this before, but it bears repeating. Those giant carb blankets contribute at least 300 calories to your burrito. Don't get lured in by the whole-wheat health halo, either: While they might have more fiber, whole-wheat tortillas have just as many calories as their white-bread counterparts. We know: Is it even a burrito if you have to eat it with a fork? Probably not, but you can't argue with saving 300 calories—a 150-pound person has to walk 4 miles to burn that off.

MORE: 9 Insanely Tasty Ways to Replace High-Calorie Carbs with Veggies

2. Or go rice-less.
What can we say? Life's not fair, and sometimes you've just gotta choose one carb or the other. If you're determined to keep your burrito a utensil-free, face-stuffing experience, you can save around 250 calories by losing the rice. This can make your burrito feel a little wimpy, so add in lettuce (10 to 15 calories) for a halfway-decent substitute.

3. Be picky about proteins.
At all three major make-your-own burrito chains, a serving of pinto beans has about 10 fewer calories than a serving of black beans. As for meats: While most varieties hover around 200 calories a serving, chicken tends to be the lightest option, with about 160. Every little bit counts, right?

MORE: 5 Scary Things That Happen to Your Body When You Eat Too Much Protein

4. Stay sour.
We love us some cheese, but sour cream is the real winner in the dairy department. At Qdoba, choosing sour cream over cheese will save you 100 calories—the energy equivalent of 10 minutes of continuous pushups.

5. Beware the guacamole glob.
In the heat of the lunchtime rush, burrito assemblers can get a little liberal with the guacamole scooper. These big portions come at a price: At Chipotle, a single serving of guac can add up 230 calories to your meal. But a more sensible 2-tablespoon serving of guacamole (about the size of a ping pong ball) only has about 60 calories. Ask your server to go light on the green stuff.

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6. Sauce carefully.
Most salsas (the ones made with tomatoes, chile peppers, and some herbs and spices) are minimal contributors to calorie overload. The exception to the rule? Corn salsa. Corn often hangs with veggies, but don't forget that it's really a calorie-dense grain. At Chipotle, choosing mild tomato salsa over corn salsa will save you 60 calories.

7. Honestly, just get tacos.
Same stuff, different tortilla. Three fully-loaded tacos (meat, lettuce, guac, sour cream) in crispy corn shells have anywhere from 585 to 765 calories depending on your chain of choice—that's much lower than the baseline for burritos. Plus, the experience of nomming three distinctly packaged food items somehow feels more satiating than the singular food blob. The burrito has its place, of course—but tacos aren't a bad second.

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