Pending legislation requiring chain restaurants to publish the caloric content of their meals -- which often make a mockery of the FDA's recommended daily allowance -- hasn't stopped them from offering patrons sumo-sized portions, based on the artery-clogging finalists in this year's Xtreme Eating Awards.
The awards are conferred annually by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit health advocacy group that focuses on nutrition, food safety, and pro-health alcohol policies. This year it singled out nine items from seven American chain restaurants.
"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," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a statement. "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."
Take, for example, The Cheesecake Factory Pasta Carbonara with Chicken, which, according to the company -- with four cups of white-flour pasta, smoked bacon, chicken, and Parmesan cream and butter sauce -- contains a belt-busting 2,500 calories and more saturated fat (85 grams) than an adult should consume in four days. To put these numbers in context, the FDA recommends the average American should consume about 2,000 calories per day, and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat.
Other Xtreme Eating top "dishonorees" for 2010 include:
Bob Evans' Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes: Bob stuffs his pancakes with cinnamon chips made of sugar and fat; adds a layer of cream- cheese-flavored filling; and tops them with sugary "cream" sauce, whipped topping, and powdered sugar, clocking in at in 1,380 calories and 34 grams of bad fat -- roughly the same as ingesting two country-fried steaks and four eggs.
California Pizza Kitchen Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak: With 1,680 calories, 1½ day's worth (32 grams) of saturated fat, and more than two day's worth (3,300 mg) of sodium, ordering the single-serve pizza is like eating a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza topped with six Taco Bell Crunchy Beef Tacos.
Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger: One Bacon Cheeseburger without toppings contains 920 calories and a day-and-a-half's worth (30 grams) of saturated fat, compared to 410 calories for a McDonald's Quarter Pounder. A large order of French fries at Five Guys is laden with 1,460 calories, about three times a large order of fries at McDonald's.
P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo: You could wolf down 10 egg rolls and still not surpass the 1,820 calories in this dish. And that's not counting the 7,690 milligrams of sodium per portion, about three teaspoons of salt -- a five-day supply.
The Cheesecake Factory Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake: This six-inch-long, three-quarter-pound slab of cake contains 1,670 calories and two-and-a-half days' worth (48 grams) of saturated fat. That's the equivalent of 14 Hostess Ho Hos.
"For all the industry's rhetoric about providing consumers with 'choice,' the choices at restaurants mostly range from bad to terrible," Jacobson said. "The healthy choices are largely afterthoughts and Xtreme Eating reigns supreme. If chain restaurants want to practice corporate responsibility, they should substitute fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for white flour, sugar, salt, and fat."
You can read about (and view) all 9 Xtreme Eating Finalists in the CSPI's Nutrition Action Newsletter.
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