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Sky-High Calories in Some Restaurant Meals

Restaurants Are Piling on Fat, Calories With Larger Portions, Group Says
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 2, 2009 -- Restaurants are serving ever-larger portions of super-bad food to entice customers to start eating out again, according to a consumer watchdog group.

In a list of the most over-the-top, unhealthy restaurant foods, the Center for Science in the Public Interest singled out some dishes that provide more saturated fat or sodium than most people should eat in three days. The foods were also high in calories.

U.S. dietary guidelines call for healthy Americans to get less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, about the amount in a teaspoon of table salt, to lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. But for the 70% of Americans who are middle-aged or older, African-American, or have high blood pressure, no more than 1,500 milligrams a day is recommended.

Federal nutrition guidelines also advise that less than 10% of daily calories come from saturated fat, about 20 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet. Eating lots of saturated fat can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The group’s Xtreme Eating 2009 dishes, listed in the June issue of its Nutrition Action Healthletter, include:

  • Chili’s Big Mouth Bites with French fries (four mini bacon cheeseburgers with fried onion strings): 2,350 calories, 38 grams saturated fat, 3,940 milligrams sodium.
  • Olive Garden Tour of Italy, with lasagna, chicken parmigiana, and fettuccine alfredo: 1,450 calories, 33 grams saturated fat, 3,830 milligrams sodium.
  • The Cheesecake Factory Fried Macaroni and Cheese: 1,570 calories, 69 grams saturated fat, 1,860 milligrams sodium.
  • Chili’s Original Half Rack of Baby Back Ribs: An add-on for entrees, with 490 calories, 12 grams saturated fat, and 2,050 milligrams sodium.
  • Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue shrimp and crabmeat in a lobster cheese sauce served in a sourdough bread bowl: 1,490 calories, 40 grams saturated fat, 3,580 milligrams sodium.
  • Uno Chicago Grill’s Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundae: 2,800 calories, 72 grams saturated fat.
  • The Cheesecake Factory’s Chicken and Biscuits: 2,500 calories.
  • Applebee’s Quesadilla Burgerwith fries: 1,820 calories, 46 grams saturated fat, 4,410 milligrams sodium.
  • The Cheesecake Factory Philly Style Flat Iron Steak with fries: 2,320 calories, 47 grams saturated fat, 5,340 milligrams sodium.

The examples are extreme, says Jayne Hurley, RD, chief nutritionist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. But that’s the point.

“The problem is these oversized foods come with oversized calories, saturated fat, and sodium,” Hurley says. “It used to be you got a single entree, and now in some cases you’re getting three entrees on your plate.”

The typical restaurant entree, appetizer, and dessert contain about 1,000 calories apiece, Hurley says. The Center for Science in the Public Interest obtained the nutritional information in the report from restaurant web sites and menus.

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