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'Xtreme Eating Awards': And the Winner Is?

By Brenda Goodman, MA
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 16, 2013 -- The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has announced its seventh annual Xtreme Eating Awards, and as usual, there are some eye-popping, belt-busting, and artery-clogging stats behind these oversized restaurant meals.

Some of this year's biggest offenders are dishes even savvy diners might not suspect:

  • Despite healthy ingredients like mushrooms, arugula, and tomatoes, the Bistro Shrimp Pasta from the Cheesecake Factory has more calories (3,120) than any other entree on the menu. It even has more calories than the cheesecake. Loads of butter and cream in the sauce deliver 89 grams of saturated fat.
  • There are more than 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar swirled into a large Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie from Smoothie King.
  • The Cheesecake Factory makes a second appearance in this year's awards with the Crispy Chicken Costoletta: a single dish that has more calories and fat than an entire bucket of KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken. A bucket of 12 pieces has 2,550 calories. Chicken Costoletta tips the scales at 2,610 calories.

Other orders that could quickly send you up a dress size:

  • The Bacon Cheddar Double from Johnny Rockets has 1,770 calories, more than three McDonald's Quarter Pounders with cheese. It also packs 50 grams of saturated fat and 2,380 milligrams of sodium.
  • Also from Johnny Rockets, the Big Apple Shake, which mixes a piece of apple pie into a vanilla milkshake, has 1,140 calories, 37 grams of saturated fat, and 13 teaspoons of added sugar.
  • With 2,710 calories, 45 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700 milligrams of sodium, the Veal Porterhouse with red potatoes from Maggiano's Little Italy is like eating four Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizzas.
  • Country-Fried Steak & Eggs from IHOP packs almost a full day's worth of calories and fat right into breakfast -- 1,760 calories.

"Years ago, if you went out and splurged, you ruined your diet for the day. With items like this, you're ruining your diet for the week in some cases," says Jayne Hurley, RD, a nutritionist at the CSPI who worked on the list.

"A lot of these chain restaurants, to be fair, do have a healthy or light section on their menu," Hurley says, "but it's like less than a handful of items. And then they've got pages of these 2,000- and 3,000-calorie monster meals."

"Clearly, restaurants need to work on doing a menu makeover and slenderizing some of these," she says.

The National Restaurant Association says that's already happening. According to its 2013 industry forecast, over 85% of adults say there are more healthy options at restaurants than there were two years ago.

Sensible Tips

Looking to keep it light? David Katz, MD, MPH, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, offers these tips for keeping your calorie counts down when dining out.

  • Stick to water at the table.
  • Fill up with a green salad to start. "The bigger the better," Katz says. Ask for oil and vinegar or vinaigrette dressing on the side.
  • Look for dishes that are grilled, broiled, or baked.
  • Keep sauces, which can contain surprising amounts of fat and calories, on the side and use them sparingly.
  • Split the entree. "If the meal is just plain huge, eat half and save half for another day," Katz says.
  • Do some detective work. Look up the nutrition information online and decide what you're going to order before you get to the restaurant.

SOURCES: The Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Xtreme Eating Awards 2013." Jayne Hurley, RD, nutritionist, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C. David Katz, MD, MPH, director, Yale Prevention Research Center, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

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