Food police bust chain restaurants for super-sized portions

Chain restaurants spanked for super-sized portions.Although McDonald's retired the "super-sized" option from its menus in 2004, chain restaurants continue to redefine the size of a typical serving of food, often doubling or tripling official government serving sizes, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

While a typical burrito weighs about 5 ounces, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, (USDA), a Chicken Burrito at Chipotle (which was once owned by McDonald's) weighs in at 21 ounces -- more than four times as much -- and is packed with 970 calories.

"Chain restaurants have helped dissolve any sense of perspective when it comes to what a reasonable serving of food is," Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director at CSPI, said in a statement. "When 300-calorie bagels and 1,000-calorie burritos became the norm, it's easy to understand why two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese."

The Chipotle burrito example came from the CSPI's September issue of its Nutrition Action Healthletter, which spotlights dishes from popular chain restaurants to see how they measure up against serving sizes published by the USDA and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here are a few more examples:

Muffins
A muffin weighs 2 ounces (190 calories), according to the FDA. But a Dunkin' Donuts Blueberry Muffin weighs in at approximately 5 ounces (480 calories), roughly the same size as those sold at Panera, Starbucks (360 calories) and Au Bon Pain (490 calories). The Dunkin' muffin's calories come from 11 teaspoons of sugar (about 180 calories), white flour and oil (about 150 each) and about 10 calories from the blueberries. Dunkin's Reduced Fat Blueberry Muffins shave only 50 calories off the regular ones

Sandwiches
The USDA says a typical sandwich weighs 5 ounces (250 calories). But at many chain restaurants, that would barely constitute a half a sandwich. At Panera, a Smoked Ham & Swiss (ham, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, mayo, and mustard) served on Stone- Milled Rye weighs about 14 oz, which adds up to 700 calories, a half-day's dose of saturated fat (10 grams) and a one-and-a-half day's supply of sodium (2,350 milligrams). An Au Bon Pain Ham and Swiss on Country White Bread weighs 11 oz. (530 calories or 600+ if you add mayo).

Pasta
A serving of pasta with sauce should amount to 1 cup (240 calories), according to the FDA. At Olive Garden, the dinner-size Capellini Pomodoro (thin spaghetti with Roma tomatoes) measures an estimated 3 1/2 cups (840 calories), and that's not including the free breadsticks (150 calories a pop) or dressed salad (350 calories per fill-up) add. At California Pizza Kitchen, the Tomato Basil Spaghettini measures about 3 cups, and packs a 1,040-calorie punch.

Steak
A typical serving of steak is 3 ounces (330 calories) cooked and 4 ounces raw, according to the FDA. On most chain steakhouse menus (which list raw weights), ribeyes usually weigh in at 14 ounces, which even when cooked down to 11 ounces are nearly quadruple the USDA serving. Which is why a 14-ounce ribeye from Outback, LongHorn, or Lone Star contains about 1,000 calories. However, the CSPI notes, many chains now offer 6-ounce, sirloin steaks, which cook down to 4.5 ounces (350 calories.)

Cookies
The FDA says a serving of cookies is 1 ounce (120 calories), or three ordinary Chips Ahoy! Chocolate Chip Cookies. But a Starbucks 3-ounce. Chocolate Chunk Cookie is loaded with 360 calories, which is more than Corner Bakery's Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip (300), equal to Dunkin' Donuts Triple Chocolate Chunk (360), and less than Panera's Chocolate Chipper (440). Starbucks does, however, sell a 1-ounce (130-calorie) Double Chocolate Cookie, which it calls "Treat-Sized."

For other examples of super-sized portions and photos of official service sizes versus real ones, visit the Nutrition Action Healthletter.

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