Monday, November 08, 2010

Eight Deadly Meals: Does Anyone Need a Day's Worth of Calories in One Sitting?

Talk about food for thought! There's enough food here to fuel thinking for several days. Put another way, there's enough food here to make you sick--or at least to make everyone of us fatter and fatter. And maybe that should provoke a particular thought: boycott these fat factories until they remove these items from their menus.

In yesterday's online postings and today's print edition the Houston Chronicle calls attention to eight restaurant meals that -- in one sitting -- provide close to "the 2,000 calories recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an entire day's sustenance."

The Chronicle article, Chain-restaurant fare weighing down Americans, actually re-publishes a September 21st article by Washington Post Staff Writer Rachel Saslow entitled With high-calorie dishes, restaurant chains put obesity on the menu.

The article was a follow-up to the 2010 Xtreme Eating Awards, given in May by the Center for Science in the Public Interest to nine "caloric heavyweight meals"--many of them offered by the same restaurant chains Saslow spotlights, but some actually less weighty than the eight below. What follows is the last two-thirds of Saslow's article.

"Restaurants are not in the business of making people healthy," Washington dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield says . "They're trying to make money, and salt and fat are cheap ways to make food taste better."

We asked Scritchfield to give us her take on these caloric heavyweights.

All of the nutritional information below comes from the restaurants' websites, except for the Cheesecake Factory's, which is courtesy of CSPI's Xtreme Eating awards. (The chain does not publish its nutritional information online.)

Quiznos large tuna melt sub sandwich

The numbers:
1,520 calories, 101 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, 2,020 milligrams sodium. Equivalent of eating: More than a stick of butter's worth of fat. Expert evaluation: Grabbing a tuna sandwich for lunch sure sounds like a healthful decision, but not with this jumbo-size sub. "If someone hears 'tuna' and they think they should be eating more fish, they might think that's a good choice, but the portion is way too big," Scritchfield says. On top of that, "it's made with foods that have high calories, such as mayonnaise and cheese."

Chipotle's chicken burrito

Filled with rice, pinto beans, corn salsa, cheese, sour cream and guacamole, accompanied by a side of chips. The numbers: 1,750 calories, 79.5 grams of fat, 23 grams of saturated fat, 2,750 milligrams of sodium. Equivalent of eating: The calories in more than nine chicken soft tacos at Taco Bell. Expert evaluation: "There are lots of ways you can make that healthier," Scritchfield says. "My top recommendation is not to get cheese and sour cream but instead get guacamole because that has the heart-healthy fat and gives you the creaminess you're going for." You could also forgo the chips and save 570 calories.

Applebee's New England fish and chips

The numbers:
1,910 calories, 137 grams fat, 24 grams saturated fat, 3,150 milligrams of sodium. Equivalent of eating: The fat in almost a pound of cheddar cheese. Expert evaluation: "If you really wanted this, I'd say split it and add some veggies," Scritchfield says. "And do not touch the salt shaker; it already has more than a day's worth of sodium in it."

Chili's Big Mouth Bites

Four mini burgers topped with jalapeƱo ranch dressing. The numbers: 1,930 calories, 31 grams of saturated fat, 4,400 milligrams sodium. Equivalent of eating: The calories of about 25 eggs. Expert evaluation: "These are interesting because they're sold as 'mini' burgers, but it's still a high-calorie, high-fat and high-salt meal because of what's on them," Scritchfield says.

Outback Steakhouse's full rack baby back ribs

Served with Aussie fries. The numbers: 1,936 calories, 133 grams of fat, 56 grams of saturated fat, 2,741 milligrams of sodium. Equivalent of eating: The fat grams in 20 tablespoons of salad dressing. Expert evaluation: "There is no color on that plate: no broccoli, no garden salad. Vegetables should be half of your dinner plate, and they're absent," Scritchfield says. Outback diners can substitute steamed green beans or seasonal veggies for the fries and slash about 200 calories and 15 grams of fat.

The following mega-meals could be shared, but Scritchfield says it wouldn't be surprising if they sometimes are consumed by just one person: "People envision what they're served as their portion."

Domino's bread bowl pasta

The numbers: One bread bowl, which Domino's nutritional information counts as two servings, contains 1,340 to 1,470 calories, 48 to 56 grams of fat, 21 to 27 grams of saturated fat, 65 to 115 grams of fiber, 1,830 to 2,860 milligrams of sodium. Equivalent of eating: The fiber in about 16 to 29 servings of oatmeal. Expert evaluation: "If you get enough fiber, and 25 to 35 grams a day is the right amount, it helps keep digestion at a normal pace. But if you eat too much fiber, it actually gives you constipation," Scritchfield says.

P.F. Chang's double pan-fried noodles

With a combination of meats. Although this is one entree, the company counts it as four servings since it totals 36 ounces. The numbers: 1,820 calories, 84 grams of fat, 8 grams saturated fat, 7,692 milligrams of sodium. Equivalent of eating: The sodium in 70 tablespoons of blue cheese dressing. Expert evaluation: "If four people shared this (as their entire meal), not only would the waiter be like, 'What are you doing?' but we'd leave dissatisfied," Scritchfield says. "They're breaking it down so their numbers look good."

Cheesecake Factory's pasta carbonara

The numbers: 2,500 calories, 85 grams of saturated fat. Equivalent of eating: The saturated fat in about 5 cups of half-and-half cream. Expert evaluation: "Four adult men would have to share this entree in order to each stay within a day's worth of saturated fat," Scritchfield says.

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