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“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.

Restaurant Disputes Numbers

A representative from the Cheesecake Factory says the nutrition information for its two entrees is not correct as reported by the CSPI and should be:

  • Bistro Shrimp Pasta: 3,020 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat, and 1,076 milligrams of sodium.
  • Crispy Chicken Costoletta: 2,560 calories, 86 grams of saturated fat, and 2,767 milligrams of sodium

The CSPI stands by its numbers, saying it received them from the chain's corporate office. Nutrition information about the meals is not on the restaurant’s web site.

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.

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