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Group Warns of 'Extreme' Restaurant Meals

Calories, Fat, and Sodium in Some Restaurant Meals Exceed Healthy Daily Limits

By Todd Zwillich
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

May 25, 2010 -- The latest list of terrible-for-you restaurant food is out, with consumer groups accusing big national chains of packing huge amounts of calories onto unsuspecting diners.

"Compared to some of the foods we're seeing in restaurants now, the Big Mac seems downright dainty," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The group took aim at half a dozen meals served at popular restaurant chains, noting that many contain far more calories, fat, trans fat, sodium, or sugar in one serving that most adults are supposed to get in a single day. While the recently signed health reform law requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts in their menus and on menu boards starting in 2011, Jacobson says restaurants should improve labeling now.

The CSPI highlighted the several items and urged consumers to beware of their big calorie counts. Dietary guidelines suggest most U.S. adults limit their daily intake to about 2,000 calories.

  • Bob Evans' Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Packed Stuffed Hotcakes: The CSPI measured the dish at 1,380 calories and 34 grams of fat. The pancakes have 7 grams of trans fat despite claims on Bob Evans' menu that the restaurant uses no-trans-fat cooking oil, according to the CSPI.
  • California Pizza Kitchen Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak: 1,680 calories, 32 grams of saturated fat (50% more than is recommended for U.S. adults), and 3,300 milligrams of sodium.
  • Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger: One burger contains 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat. But the CSPI says the real calories are in Five Guys fries: one large order of fries contains nearly 1,500 calories.
  • P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo: 1,820 calories and 7,690 milligrams of sodium, more than a five-day supply. "The noodles end up hard and crunchy, you end up soft and flabby," quips Bonnie Liebman, the CSPI's director of nutrition.
  • Cheesecake Factory Pasta Carbonara with Chicken: 2,500 calories (25% more than an adult should get in a whole day) and 85 grams of saturated fat are hidden in this big plate of pasta with cream sauce, according to the CSPI.
  • Cheesecake Factory Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake: The "three-quarter-pound slab of cake" has 1,670 calories and 48 grams of saturated fat, the CSPI says. Even dividing it in half would approach half the calories one adult should get in a day, says Jacobson.

The National Restaurant Association says the CSPI's report "paints a distorted picture of restaurants based on a single menu item."

"Certainly there are indulgent items on menus, but there are more diet-conscious items on menus than ever before, and our customers know it," Michael Donohue, the organization's chief spokesman, says in a statement.

Donohue says restaurants support the new food labeling standards for chains set to take effect in 2011.

SOURCES: Center for Science in the Public Interest: "2010 Xreme Eating Awards."

Michael Jacobson, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Michael Donohue, vice president for communications, National Restaurant Association.

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