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'Fresh Mex' Packs A Punch To The Paunch

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Do you know what's rolled up in your burrito?

In many cases, more than 1,000 calories and enough sodium and saturated fat for an entire day, say nutritionists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Washington-based consumer group has taken aim at Italian dishes and ice cream sundaes. And now, in its latest bout with popular foods, the group is targeting the speedy Mexican grills that tout fresh, inexpensive meals.

The group says ''Fresh Mex'' fare is far from light:

* A typical Chipotle chicken burrito has roughly 1,000 calories, a day's worth of sodium (2,500 mg) and half a day's saturated fat (12 grams).

* Cheese quesadillas from most chains have anywhere from 850 to 1,150 calories, 25 to 35 grams of saturated fat and 1,400 to 2,200 mg of sodium.

* Baja Fresh nachos weigh in at 2,000 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat and 2,900 mg of sodium.

Not everyone is happy with the center's watchdog role. Some in the restaurant industry accuse the group of painting with a wide brush when it comes to nutritional needs.

''There shouldn't be a cookie-cutter measurement on diet,'' says Steve Anderson, president of the National Restaurant Association. ''A person who works construction is different from a person who sits behind a desk all day.'' Ultimately, the choice of what to eat is personal, he says. ''There is something called personal responsibility.''

Greg Dollarhyde, CEO of Baja Fresh, says his chain offers customers a number of options, from enchiladas with only 9 grams of fat to burritos with steak and sour cream. He says nutritional information is readily available in the restaurants.

The center does offer tips on how diners can cut the calories and fat. Get the burrito without cheese or sour cream and take half home for later, it says.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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