Did Your Meal Win an Xtreme Eating Award?
By Brenda Goodman, MA
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
July 30, 2014 -- Talk about a belt buster. The Monster burger meal from Red Robin -- featuring a double-patty burger, steak fries, and a milkshake -- clocks in at 3,540 calories, 69 grams of saturated fat, and more than 4 days' worth of sodium, making it the most Xtreme restaurant meal in America, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
"That's definitely the highest-calorie meal this year," says Paige Einstein, a registered dietitian at the CSPI.
This is the sixth time the group has handed out its Xtreme Eating Awards, and Einstein says this year's list features some of the heaviest meals it has ever seen.
The restaurant industry says the list isn't fair since its members offer a variety of healthy choices, too.
"Consumers' interest in nutritious options continues to grow and the industry continues to meet that demand by providing an array of healthful menu choices. National Restaurant Association research shows that healthful options are not a passing fad, but a top trend across the industry," says Joy Dubost in a written statement. Dubost is a registered dietitian and director of nutrition and healthy living for the National Restaurant Association.
Calorie Bombs Dominate Menus
But Einstein says that's not what the CSPI sees when it surveys the menus of 200 top chain restaurants in the U.S.
"Some restaurants have added a handful of these lower-calorie options," she says, "But by far, the majority of the menu items are higher-calorie menu items, and it should be the other way around. They should have more of these healthier menu options with maybe a handful of ones that are more indulgent."
Take the second-highest-calorie meal, The Big Hook Up platter from Joe's Crab Shack. Eat this meal, which includes fish & chips, crab balls with cream cheese, coconut shrimp, crab-stuffed shrimp, hushpuppies, and coleslaw, and you'll reel in 3,280 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat, and 7,610 milligrams of sodium.
"Seafood is generally healthy, and people might assume any seafood is healthy, but that's not the case with this meal," Einstein says.
To burn all that off, a 155-pound person would have to walk briskly for nearly 10 hours, or push a lawnmower for about 8 hours.
Breakfast isn't safe territory, either. At the Cheesecake Factory, the Bruleed French Toast is loaded with 2,780 calories and 93 grams of saturated fat -- nearly 8 days' worth of saturated fats if you normally eat 2,000 calories per day.
How did they pack a simple order of French toast with so many calories and so much fat?
"It's actually very heavy because it's packed with this custardy-type stuff that's just embedded in the bread, and the syrup that comes on the side isn't regular syrup, it's infused with butter. So you're actually pouring butter on your French toast," Einstein says.
The CSPI says ordering this dish is like eating 14 slices of frozen French toast stuffed with two-and-a-half tubs of cream cheese.
Other dishes rounding out this year's list include:
And the CSPI reminds restaurant diners that even if the meal they order doesn't make this list of heavyweights, chances are it's still too much food.
With the majority of dishes on restaurant menus, "You're still going to be getting at least 1,000 calories in any appetizer, in any entrée, or in any dessert," Einstein says.
To help your heart and your waistline, she suggests ordering from the section of lighter menu options or cutting a regular portion in half to share or save for later.
SOURCES: Paige Einstein, RD, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, DC. Joy Dubost, RD, senior director of nutrition and healthy living, National Restaurant Association, Washington, DC. News release, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Harvard Health Publications: "Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights."