Nine items offered at major chain restaurants across the United States may look tasty, but they are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, a food advocacy group warns.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit based in Washington focusing on nutrition and food safety, released its annual “Xtreme Eating” awards Monday. The list of unhealthy meals includes the Whole Hog Burger sold at Uno Pizzeria & Grill and the Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict offered by the Cheesecake Factory.
The burger has 2,850 calories, about the same intake suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a moderately active male, age 16 to 25, in a single day. It also contains 62 grams of saturated fat and 9,790 milligrams of sodium, according to the center — more than three times the recommended daily amount for each.
The American Heart Association recommends that no more than 6 percent of one’s daily calories come from saturated fat — that’s 13 grams for 2,000 calories a day. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is aiming to limit American’s daily sodium intake to a recommended 2,300 mg per day, down from the current 3,400 mg average.
The waffle, topped with fried chicken strips, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce, served with maple-butter syrup and a side of breakfast potatoes, has 2,580 calories, 86 grams saturated fat and 3,390 milligrams sodium.
Other restaurants on the list include Dave & Busters, Magginano’s Little Italy, Applebee’s, Sonic, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Buffalo Wild Wings and Jersey Mike’s Subs.
Mandatory labeling is on the horizon. A new FDA regulation, part of the Affordable Care Act, will require beginning next May that restaurants and food service businesses with 20 or more locations must provide calorie information labels on menus.
“But these chains in the Xtreme Eating report don’t need to wait until May to list calories on their menus,” said Lindsay Moyer, senior nutritionist at the center. Many restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Panera Bread, already list calories on their menu boards, Moyer said. “Keep in mind that these nine items may be extreme, but any time you walk into a restaurant, expect at least 1,000 calories in a typical appetizer, entree, or dessert.”
Excessive calories, of course, are often linked with being overweight and obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than two-thirds of American adults are considered to be overweight or obese, and one in 20 has extreme obesity. Excess sodium can increase one’s blood pressure and put one at a higher risk for heart diseases and stroke.
Christian Fernandez, director of communications at the National Restaurant Association, while recognizing the importance of providing transparent nutrition information to consumers, said restaurants believe they should offer diners diversified menu choices.
“America’s one million restaurants provide numerous options to accommodate all types of tastes and diets — diners looking for an occasional indulgence or those that are keeping things light,” Fernandez said in an email responding to the Xtreme Eating list.
Alethea Rowe, senior director of public relations at the Cheesecake Factory agrees. “With more than 250 menu items, the Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices. Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calorie.”
According to Rowe, the Cheesecake Factory offers a “SkinnyLicious” menu featuring about 50 items with 590 calories or fewer.
In compiling its Xtreme Eating list, the Center for Science in the Public Interest collected menus and nutrition facts provided by 200 U.S. restaurant chains. The center has produced the Xtreme Eating report annually since 2007.
Most restaurant chains listed in the report offer nutrition facts voluntarily on their websites, Moyer said, except for the Cheesecake Factory and Dave & Buster’s, which provide them on request.
Currently, some cities like New York have their own menu-labeling regulations. The new FDA regulation provides a uniform federal standard for the industry.