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Sky-High Calories in Some Restaurant Meals

Restaurants Are Piling on Fat, Calories With Larger Portions, Group Says


“As a consumer-driven industry, we give our guests what they want,” says Shelia Weiss, RD, a nutrition consultant for the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group. “Certainly there are indulgent items on menus, but there are more diet-conscious items on menus than ever before.”

Hurley believes diners don’t realize just how indulgent some items are. It’s a given that you’re splurging when you order Uno Chicago Grill’s Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundae, a chocolate-chip cookie baked in a pizza pan and topped with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, she says.

“But how many people would guess there are 2,800 calories and 72 grams of saturated fat when that sundae hits the table?”

Weiss disputes CSPI’s contention that restaurants may be offering much larger portions to entice recession-weary customers into eating out again.

“If anything, restaurants are adjusting their portion sizes down as a measure of the economy,” Weiss says.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is backing a federal menu labeling bill that would require calorie counts to be listed on the menus and menu boards of chain restaurants. The National Restaurant Association is supporting a measure that would allow nutritional information to be listed in other locations -- such as a brochure or poster  -- when a customer orders.

Providing more information on fat, calories, and sodium in restaurant meals would help diners trying to protect their health, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Blatner, who provides nutrition counseling, says helping her clients learn what’s in restaurant meals is critical.

“People do not understand just how high in fat and calories these things can range,” Blatner says. “We’re talking about a day’s worth of calories in some cases. And, this is not the only meal that most people are going to be eating in a day. It’s no surprise that two out of three people are overweight in America.”

Want to avoid restaurant meals high in fat, calories, and sodium? Try these tips:

  • Check online for nutritional information before dining out. If your restaurant doesn’t disclose information, look for similar dishes at other restaurants that do provide that data.
  • Downsize the portion. Order a lunch portion or half-portion. Split a dish with a friend. Or take half home to eat later.
  • Try customizing. Ask if a food can be baked or grilled instead of fried. Substitute a vegetable for a side dish that may be high in calories and fat, such as a biscuit or mashed potatoes. If a food is laden with fatty additions, such as bacon, mayonnaise, and cheese, ask for it to be prepared without at least one of those high-fat foods.


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