Calorie counting for Chipotle

A Chipotle burrito is loaded with Vitamin A, has more calcium than a cup of milk and contains more sodium than the government recommends a person consume in a day.

Thanks to junior Matt Silverman’s Web site, chipotlefan.com, readers can figure out these facts and countless others about the burrito chain that has captured the stomachs of many Americans.

By using Silverman’s online nutrition calculator on his site, it’s easy to figure out that a typical burrito – say one with rice, lettuce, beans, chicken, tomatillo sauce, cheese and sour cream – weighs in at 1,190 calories.

Silverman said he was surprised when he first calculated the number of calories in a burrito, but anything as big as a Chipotle burrito is bound to be heavy in caloric content.

“(T)he thing you have to keep in mind is it’s a huge amount of food,” Silverman said. “It’s going to have a lot of calories if you have a pound and a half of food.”

Though the most popular feature on Silverman’s site is his calculator, which shows users nutritional information about their favorite Chipotle menu items based on their customizable preferences, the site has other offerings. It also includes recipes, a petition for smaller burritos, links to videos from a Chipotle-sponsored commercial contest, and forums for other Chipotle fans to discuss and debate issues such as how many burritos an individual can down in a sitting, the feasibility of getting multiple types of meat in a single menu item and what type of foil Chipotle uses to wrap its burritos.

After graduating from high school in 2004, Silverman decided he wanted to learn more about Chipotle’s nutritional content because he visited the restaurant frequently. When he inquired, the chain responded with a sheet listing information for each individual ingredient.

“Being lazy, in an odd reverse-lazy kind of way,” Silverman said he created the calculator to make it easier to figure out the information and he shared it with a few friends and online forums; to his surprise, the calculator alone was getting 300 visitors today.

Seizing the opportunity, he put some more effort into it and it now gets 1,500 to 2,000 hits a day.

“As the popularity of Chipotle rises, so does the popularity of people looking for information about Chipotle,” Silverman said. Search for almost any permutation of “Chipotle nutrition” on Google, and Silverman’s site is at the top of the list.

He added that although Chipotle’s food may be high in calories, it isn’t heavily processed, and “in the scheme of things, if you have it in moderation, it’s not that bad for you.”

Chris Anderson, a spokesman for Chipotle, said he is vaguely familiar with Silverman’s site and said there are a few other Chipotle fan sites as well. He said Chipotle can still cater to the health-conscious customers by allowing them to customize their burritos and leave out ingredients that aren’t part of their diets.

Anderson also said health-conscious customers often choose to eat half a burrito and save the rest or have their food served in bowls instead of a tortilla (which has 330 calories). From Silverman’s site, it’s easy to figure out Anderson’s point. Add guacamole, and a burrito’s calories increase by 170; skip the cheese and sour cream, and the figure goes down by 230.

“I would say that a calorie isn’t a calorie isn’t a calorie,” Anderson said. “You need calories for subsistence and getting them from food that’s actually food is a better alternative than getting them from products that are heavily processed and manufactured.”

Silverman said when he created the site the summer after graduating high school, it was originally a way for him to fine-tune his Web design skills. But now his updates are sporadic.

In the future, Silverman said, he wants to hone his “burrito soulmate” feature that allows registered users to select which ingredients they like on their burritos and meet others who have the exact same preference (there are more than 40,960 ways to get your meal at Chipotle, he points out).

Silverman also wants to create the option of letting site visitors see which Chipotle locations they visit. But, he admits, his time is too limited to make any huge additions.

Silverman said he’s had some indirect contact with the general manager of chipotle.com to make sure his site wasn’t breaking any laws, and the company shared images with him that he included in the site’s design.

On the site, he emphasizes that he is in no way associated with Chipotle, a fact he has sometimes struggled to convey to his site’s visitors. He said he’s gotten many e-mails from people convinced he works for the company – one former employee sent financial information and asked to have his last paycheck routed.

“I couldn’t believe how someone could be that thickheaded,” Silverman said. Now, users have to check off a message box that certifies they understand Silverman is just a student before they can contact him.

So, just how often does this Chipotle fan visit the chain?

“I generally go once a week,” Silverman said. “If possible.”

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