And the Envelope, Please: The 2010 Xtreme Eating Awards Go To...
Nutrition Action Healthletter Exposes 9 Caloric Heavyweights
WASHINGTON—Would you top a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza with six Taco Bell Crunchy beef Tacos? And then eat the whole thing? Well, pass the Pepto-Bismol, please: The nutrition and food safety watchdogs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest today conferred its Xtreme Eating awards on nine items from seven American restaurant chains.
“One might think that chains like Outback Steakhouse and The Cheesecake Factory might want to lighten up their meals now that calories will be required on their menus, courtesy of the health care reform law signed in March,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But these chains don’t promote moderation. They practice caloric extremism, and they’re helping make modern-day Americans become the most obese people ever to walk the Earth.”
Most people wouldn’t think to order two orders of deep-fried steak and eggs for breakfast at a casual chain like Bob Evans. But if you order Bob Evans’ Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes, you’ll be getting 1,380 calories and 34 grams of bad fat—about what you’d get in two country-fried steaks and four eggs. But the hotcakes are worse because seven grams of their bad fat comes from trans fat—more than one should get in three and a half days. Syrup adds another 200 calories for every four-tablespoon serving.
Pancakes, which are usually lightly fried white flour topped with sugary syrup, have never been a healthy breakfast. But Bob stuffs his hotcakes with cinnamon chips made of sugar and fat; adds a layer of cream-cheese-flavored filling; and tops them with sugary "cream" sauce, whipped topping, and powdered sugar. And that makes the item one of CSPI’s top Xtreme Eating dishonorees for 2010.
To put these numbers into context, keep in mind that the average American should consume about 2,000 calories per day, and consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat. Others examples of Xtreme Eating include:
- California Pizza Kitchen Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak. With 1,680 calories,1½ day’s worth (32 grams) of saturated fat, and more than 2 day's worth (3,300 mg) of sodium ordering the single-serve pizza is like eating a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza topped with six Taco Bell Crunchy beef Tacos.
- Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger. At McDonald’s, most people probably wouldn’t opt for a second Quarter Pounder (410 calories each). But at one of the trendy Five Guys’ 550 outlets, one Bacon Cheeseburger sans toppings has 920 calories and a day-and-a half’s worth (30 grams) of saturated fat. A large order of French fries at Five Guys has 1,460 calories—about triple the calories of a large order of fries at McDonald’s. (Famous Five Guyspatrons please take note.)
- P.F. Chang’s Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo. You could eat 10 egg rolls and not top the 1,820 calories in this dish. “They fry these noodles to make them hard and crunchy, while you end up soft and flabby,” says CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman. If this noodle dish does indeed have the 7,690 milligrams of sodium to which the chain confesses, that would be about three teaspoons of salt—a five-day supply.
- The Cheesecake Factory Pasta Carbonara with Chicken. When CSPI first dubbed fettuccine Alfredo a “heart attack on a plate,” it was because CSPI’s lab tests found it had 1,500 calories and 48 grams of saturated fat. But, according to the company, this dish—with four cups of white-flour pasta, smoked bacon, chicken, and Parmesan cream and butter sauce—has 2,500 calories and more saturated fat (85 grams) than one should consume in four days. It’s like eating the chain’s onion-ring-topped Grilled Rib-Eye Steak with French Fries, and a slice of Tiramisu Cheesecake.
- The Cheesecake Factory Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake. A tower of any food is rarely a good idea. This six-inch-long, three-quarter-pound slab of cake has 1,670 calories and two-and-a-half days’ worth (48 grams) of artery-clogging saturated fat. Feel like eating 14 Hostess Ho Hos for dessert?
The full list of the 2010 Xtreme Eating Awards is published in the June issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.
“I wouldn’t accuse California Pizza Kitchen or P.F. Chang’s of being a threat to national security, but with a quarter of young Americans too heavy to join the military, these and other chains ought to get the extremes off their menus,” said Liebman. “At a minimum, they should disclose calories on menus now, even before federal regulations make it mandatory.”
Packaged-food manufacturers recently made a commitment to slash a trillion calories from the foods they produce by 2012. But the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation includes only one restaurant company, Darden, the parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster. And none of the companies involved in the initiative are revealing any details on how calorie reductions will be achieved. CSPI noted that, while a trillion calories sounds like a lot, it represents only a drop in the bucket of the more than 350 trillion calories that Americans consume every year.
“For all the industry’s rhetoric about providing consumers with ‘choice,’ the choices at restaurants mostly range from bad to terrible,” Jacobson said. “The healthy choices are largely afterthoughts and Xtreme Eating reigns supreme. If chain restaurants want to practice corporate responsibility, they should substitute fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for white flour, sugar, salt, and fat.”
The health-reform law enacted in March gives the Food and Drug Administration a year to propose a regulation specifying how restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets should disclose calories on menus and menu boards. The law will also require chains to make information about saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium, and other nutrients available to diners upon request.