We really do have to use our heads when we decide to eat out. Some chains’ offerings make a joke out of our attempts at portion control.
One Chain’s Burger Platter Has Nearly 3,000 Calories and 10,000 Milligrams of Sodium
Perhaps you’ve eaten a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Picture having a second one. And a third. And then a fourth. Along with two medium orders of fries doused with a combined 18 packets of salt. For most people, that’s unthinkable. At Uno Pizzeria & Grill, it’s lunch: The chain’s Whole Hog Burger has hamburger, sausage, bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni, four types of cheese, garlic mayo, and pickles and comes with fries and onion rings. All told it’s more than a day’s worth of calories (2,850), three days’ worth of saturated fat (62 grams), and six days’ worth of sodium (9,790 milligrams).
That burger is just one of nine recipients of the 2016 Xtreme Eating Awards—conferred annually by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and published in its Nutrition Action Healthletter. Far from doing their part to reverse the obesity epidemic, America’s chain restaurants are pouring gasoline on the fire, crossing fried chicken and waffles with Eggs Benedict, merging cheeseburgers and egg rolls, and repurposing macaroni and cheese as a sandwich filling.
“Unfortunately, these extreme meals are more like the rule, not the exception,” said CSPI dietitian Lindsay Moyer. “America’s restaurant chains are serving up meals that seem engineered to promote diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and strokes. The 3,000-calorie burger platters of today make McDonald’s Quarter Pounders look like sliders.”
Besides the Whole Hog Burger, some of the “winners” include:
• Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict from The Cheesecake Factory. Since 2007, The Cheesecake Factory has never failed to place an Xtreme winner. This particular brunch is a Belgian waffle topped with fried chicken strips, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce, served with maple-butter syrup and usually a side of breakfast potatoes. With more than a day’s worth of calories (2,580), four days’ worth of saturated fat (86 g), two days’ worth of sodium (3,390 mg) and a day’s worth (15 teaspoons) of sugar, it’s like eating two Marie Callender’s one-pound Chicken Pot Pies topped with half a stick of butter and a quarter cup of maple syrup.
• Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack from Dave & Buster’s. This sandwich is stuffed with beef short rib and macaroni and cheese and is served with “crispy seasoned tots.” With a day’s calories (1,910) and two days’ worth of saturated fat (42 g) and sodium (3,390 mg), it’s like eating three McDonald’s Big Macs and a medium fries. Dave & Gut Buster’s is more like it.
• RT 44 Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy from Sonic. Icy slush made with “sippable candy” is how the chain describes this 44-ounce, 970-calorie drink, which has 1¼ cups of sugar. That’s like downing three XL (40-ounce) Fanta Wild Cherry Slurpees from 7-Eleven. “America’s Drive-In does its part to expand America’s waistline,” says Nutrition Action.
• Dessert Nachos from Buffalo Wild Wings. A fried flour tortilla with four scoops of ice cream, sugar, and “gooey breaded cheesecake bites” topped with chocolate and caramel sauce. This item has 2,100 calories, 64 grams of saturated fat, and 5 grams of trans fat (probably from the ice cream and the tortilla and cheesecake bites fried in beef tallow). Nutritionally, that’s like eating four Taco Bell Crunchy Tacos (filled with beef and cheese) topped with a 14-ounce container of Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream and two melted Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars.
The full list of the 2016 Xtreme Eating Awards is available on CSPI’s website.
If one were inclined to visit any of the “winning” chains, Nutrition Action offers some practical advice. The Cheesecake Factory’s “SkinnyLicious” menu, Applebee’s “Lighter Fare,” and Dave & Buster’s “600 or under” dishes are limited in calories. (However, many of Maggiano’s Little Italy’s “Lighter Take” dishes are in the 800- to 1,000-calorie range.)
Calorie counts will become mandatory on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets beginning in May of 2017, with other nutrition information available upon request. The Food and Drug Administration will implement the regulation, which was included as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. CSPI started the push for menu labeling at restaurants in 2003.