If you’re looking to clean up your diet, streamlining your meals is essential. You want to maximize the amount of food you eat while keeping the calorie count low and the nutrient count high. One popular way to do this? Ditching carb-heavy additions.
Bun-less burgers, burrito bowls, lettuce wraps—these foods have exploded in popularity in recent years due to the low-carb craze. But are such foods really worth the trouble? Does ditching the bread, bun or wrap significantly change the nutritional profile of your meal? Or are you just making your meal a bit less delicious for a negligible improvement in nutrition? Here’s the skinny on this popular dieting trend.
Scrap the Wrap
A wrap is typically defined as any sort of flatbread rolled around a filling. What’s the most popular type of wrap? Burritos. What’s the most popular place to grab a burrito? Chipotle. Chipotle is now a titan of the American food industry, and the company serves roughly 750,000 customers per day.
Nearly every customer who comes through Chipotle orders one of two options—a standard burrito or the burrito bowl. The burrito bowl is essentially a burrito without the wrap, which has made it an appealing choice to people looking to cut calories and carbs. But is it really a healthier way to enjoy your meal?
One Chipotle flour tortilla contains 300 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 690 mg of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein. That sounds like a significant amount of calories, fat, sodium and carbs, but how big of an impact does it make on the meal as a whole?
One Chipotle burrito with chicken, brown rice, black beans, green salsa, cheese, guacamole and lettuce contains 1,160 calories, 53 grams of fat, 13.5 grams of saturated fat, 2,275 mg of sodium, 118 grams of carbohydrates, 25 grams of fiber and 58 grams of protein. A burrito bowl with those same ingredients contains 860 calories, 43 grams of fat, 12.5 grams of saturated fat, 1,585 mg of sodium, 72 grams of carbohydrates, 22 grams of fiber and 51 grams of protein.
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Any way you slice it, that’s a significant difference. The tortilla wrap at Chipotle contains about as many calories and carbs as six Chips Ahoy! cookies. Although the wrap contains some extra fiber and protein, you get plenty of those from the other ingredients. You can find wraps significantly lower in sodium than Chipotle’s tortilla, but the calories and carbs won’t be much different, so shedding the wrap is a surefire way to markedly improve the nutrition of your meal.
Shun the Bun
Similar to burrito bowls, the “bun-less” burger has become a favorite food choice for the carb and calorie-conscious in recent years. Ordering a burger sans bun 15 years ago would’ve gotten you some seriously strange looks, but now it’s an accepted part of our culture. But is it worth it?
A sesame bun at Red Robin contains 240 calories, 4 grams of fat, 490 mg of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of sugar. The “Keep it Simple” burger, which has a beef patty, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles served on a sesame bun, contains 624 calories, 33 grams of fat, 1,041 mg of sodium, 47 grams of carbohydrates, 34 grams of protein and 8 grams of sugar.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out dropping the bun makes a major difference, saving you the calorie equivalent of 43 Cheez-Its and the carb equivalent of six pretzel rods. Most buns are similar in size and nutrition to the Red Robin bun, so going bun-less is a way to shave serious calories and carbs off your meal. Many restaurants offer the choice to “lettuce-wrap” your burger, allowing you to eat it with your hands like you would a traditional burger but avoid the nutritional deadweight of a bun.
Hold the Hoagie
It looks like forgoing a wrap or bun really is a smart way to streamline a meal. But what about a sandwich roll?
An 8-inch French bread roll at Jimmy John’s contains 280 calories, 2 grams of fat, 560 mg of sodium, 53 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of protein. The “Pepe” sub, which has smoked ham, provolone, mayo, lettuce and tomato served on an 8-inch French bread roll, contains 630 calories, 30.5 grams of fat, 1,590 mg of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrates and 29 grams of protein. Eliminating the bun dramatically reduces some of those numbers, namely the calories, sodium and carbs.
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Like the wrap and the bun, the sandwich roll contains enough calories and carbs that its exclusion has a notable effect on the nutrition of your meal. Meanwhile, choosing to go with the “Unwich” option at Jimmy John’s (their term for a lettuce wrap) adds essentially zero cals, carbs, fat and sodium to your sandwich.
Obviously, the nutrition of your sandwich roll changes depending on the sandwich size. A 6-inch roll has half as many calories as a 12-inch roll, for example. Also, many chains offer to scoop out some of the bread from inside the roll to save you calories, which can be a good compromise if you really don’t want to totally abandon the bread.
After breaking down the numbers, we found ditching the bun, wrap or bread from your meal is a viable way to cut calories and carbs. It might result in a slightly less desirable wrap, burger or sandwich, but there’s no doubt the change is enough to make a difference—especially if you do it on a regular basis. While some might feel like ordering a burger without a bun is nitpicking, the numbers speak for themselves. It can be easy to worry about insignificant details while dieting, but this is a good one to keep in mind.