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Calculating the 20 x 20 (Nutritional Information tricks for the Obsessed)

Sometime in the last two years, I decided I was tired of being pudgy. Too many Bowflex and P90X commercials at 3am combined with not enough dates will lead you down that road. Of course, they sell you on the big prize: the elusive 6-pack.

Googling “how to get abs” will provide many different routes to that holy grail of fitness, but almost all of them share a single feature: You have to deal with calories, and you have to deal with macronutrients.

Pretty soon, you’ll discover that some restaurants share all of their nutritional information, right down to the last pickle. My favorite in this regard is What-a-Burger… check out their Build-a-Meal site. After you choose the main item, you can customize it by each individual topping!

Many are good about sharing most of their info in PDF form, but might not include toppings or account for options without bread.

Others just don’t share their nutritional information at all. I’m looking at you, Cheesecake Factory! From their FAQ:

Eat first, ask questions never.

Of course, most restaurants fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. One of my favorites, In-n-Out, happens to occupy this caloric grey area. All the items on their menu have basic information available, but if you are up to some crazy customization (I AM!!), then you’re out of luck…

…out of luck until now, that is. I’m going to show you how to use nutrition charts to beat the system and get annoyingly accurate, fellow calorie-counters! To demonstrate, I’ll calculate the calories and macronutrients for the glorious 20×20 burger of old! I tried to down this bad boy in a challenge last August. That did not go well.

So young... so optimistic. Next time, this burger will taste like victory.

If you browse on over to the In-n-Out nutrition site, you can see we have the information for a few different options:

Nom Nom Nom Numbers!

In my experience, it’s best to use a spreadsheet for this kind of thing. (I don’t always use spreadsheets, but when I do, I prefer the free one from OpenOffice.org.)

How can we start? We want to isolate whatever ingredients we can, so let’s begin with the easiest. We know everything for a Hamburger w/ Onion, and a Cheeseburger w/ Onion. The only difference between the two is a slice of cheese, so it stands to reason that if we subtract all the nutritionals for the hamburger from the cheeseburger, we’ll be left with the values for the cheese itself.

The method is simple: You type the information for the Burger into Row 1. You type in information for the Cheeseburger into Row 2. Then use your formulas to calculate the values into a new row. In the example below, type =B3-B2 into B5. Then, type =C3-C2 into C5. Finally, highlight both B5 and C5, and drag the rectangle all the way across to Q5. Bam! You now have all the nutritionals for a slice of cheese at in-n-out.

Yay, spreadsheets.

We can apply this process over and over to single out other ingredients:

  • Lettuce is effectively nothing, so Hamburger w/ Onion – Protein Style = Bun
  • Double-Double w/ Onion – Cheeseburger w/ Onion – Cheese Slice = Single Meat Patty
  • Hamburger w/ Onion – Bun – Single Meat Patty = Onion/Sauce Combo
  • and just for fun: Hamburger w/ Onion w/ Mustard and Ketchup instead of Spread – Bun – Single Meat Patty = Onion/Mustard/Ketchup Combo

At this point, we should take note of two things. First, the weight count (total grams) will be off. I suspect this is due to the fact that we’ve relied on the lettuce being effectively nothing, but it is holding enough moisture to outweigh a bun. Second, we cannot logically derive the individual values for Mustard, Ketchup, Onions, nor the Spread from the information given. These are fairly common, however, and everyone knows the Sauce is basically Thousand Island. You can get pretty accurate if you need.

No matter, though, because we now have enough information to calculate the behemoth 20×20!

1 Bun + 1 Sauce/Onion Combo + 20 Meat Patties + 20 Cheese Slices = 1 Massive 20x20

By my calculations, a 20×20 contains an impressive

  • 4090 Calories
  • 293 Grams of Fat
  • 39 Grams of Carbs
  • 307 Grams of Protein

Armed with this information, you can now be just about as accurate as you like with nutritionals if the restaurant provides even minimal information. Good luck!

well-done, food counter.

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