‘Xtreme’ Restaurant Foods Promote Obesity with Calories and Fat

Washington, D.C. - infoZine - Scripps Howard Foundation Wire - Nutrition and safety watchdogs warn that before you bite into that bacon cheeseburger at your favorite restaurant, you might want to take a look at what you’re actually consuming.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest said it’s often too many calories and too much saturated fat.

The nonprofit health advocacy group announced its winners in the 2010 Xtreme Eating Awards on Tuesday. Some of the items had as many calories (about 2,000) and saturated fat (20 grams) as someone should eat in an entire day.

CSPI listed nine unhealthy menu items from seven restaurant chains:

  * California Pizza Kitchen: tostada pizza with grilled steak (1,680 calories, 32 grams saturated fat) and the pesto cream penne (1,350 calories, 49 grams saturated fat).
  * Five Guys: bacon cheeseburger (920 calories, 30 grams saturated fat).
  * P.F. Chang’s: double pan-fried noodles combo (1,820 calories).
  * Cheesecake Factory: pasta carbonara with chicken (2,500 calories, 85 grams saturated fat) and its chocolate tower truffle cake (1,670 calories, 48 grams saturated fat).
  * Outback Steakhouse: New Zealand rack of lamb (1,300 calories, 60 grams saturated fat).
  * Chevy’s: crab and shrimp quesadilla (1,790 calories, 63 grams saturated fat).
  * Bob Evans: cinnamon cream stacked and stuffed hotcakes (1,380 calories, 27 grams saturated fat).

Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI executive director, said some restaurants should think about changing their menus.

A Five Guys bacon cheeseburger has 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat. And that’s without mayonnaise, fries or a soft drink.A Five Guys bacon cheeseburger has 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat. And that’s without mayonnaise, fries or a soft drink. SHFWire photo by Niko Clemmons

“One might think that chains like Outback Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory might want to lighten up their meals now that calories will be required on their menus, courtesy of the health care reform law signed in March,” Jacobsen said.

He said that some of the meals CSPI chose were outrageous and are partly responsible for the nation’s obesity epidemic.

“But these chains don’t promote moderation. They practice caloric extremism, and they’re helping make modern-day Americans become the most obese people ever to walk the Earth,” he said.

The health-reform law enacted in March gives the Food and Drug Administration a year to propose a regulation specifying how restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets should disclose calories on menus. The law will also require chains to make information about saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium and other nutrients available to diners upon request.

Packaged-food manufacturers recently made a commitment to first lady Michelle Obama to slash a trillion calories from the foods they produce. CSPI noted that, while a trillion calories sounds like a lot, it represents only a drop in the bucket of the more than 350 trillion calories that Americans consume every year.

Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for CSPI, said most people don’t realize how high in calories these dishes are.

“If you order Bob Evans’ cinnamon cream stacked and stuffed pancakes, you’ll be getting 1,380 calories and 34 grams of bad fat - about what you’d get in two country-fried steaks and four eggs,” Liebman said, including 7 grams of trans fat. “But the hotcakes are worse, because 7 grams of their bad fat comes from trans fat - more than one should get in three and a half days.”

Restaurants said they offer choices on their menus and will comply with new rules on calorie listings.

“P.F. Chang’s menu is designed for family style dining with a focus on sharing a variety of appetizers, entrees and side dishes. We provide our guests with a wide range of menu options and our website provides per serving nutritional information for all of our items,” the company said in a statement.

“With more than 200 items on our menu, we literally provide a way to satisfy every guest,” Mark Mears, Cheesecake Factory’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

He said the restaurant chain allows substitutions and offers several “flavorful and satisfying” meals with fewer than 500 calories each. More “generously proportioned” menu items are “perfect for sharing or taking home for a second meal.”

Delisha Caldwell, 22, a D.C. resident who is a student at Jacksonville University in Florida, ate a junior cheeseburger at a downtown Washington Five Guys on Tuesday, a smaller version of the burger in the CSPI report.

She said she has been to Five Guys just once before.

“I’ve had a burger and fries there before,” Caldwell said. “I can see why the bacon cheeseburger made the list for worst meals in America.”

Greg Werly, 25, a D.C. banker, didn’t eat lunch at Five Guys on Tuesday but said the report won’t stop him from going there.

“Sometimes I eat there because it’s close to my office. But it doesn’t make a difference to me because I don’t eat there often,” he said.

The full list of the 2010 Xtreme Eating Awards will be published in the June issue of “Nutrition Action Healthletter.”

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