Peter G. Lurie

Once again, it’s the time of year when we dish out our Xtreme Eating Awards to those restaurant chains that managed to cram unimaginable amounts of calories, sodium, saturated fat, and/or added sugar into their offerings. (And let’s give it up for The Cheesecake Factory, a perennial winner, making it a kind of Meryl Streep for portion distortion.)

But as over the top as these creations are, excess also lurks among the typical entrées at many chains. Thousand-calorie dishes are everywhere...and that’s without a drink, an appetizer, or dessert.

Eating out is no longer a special occasion. We now consume a third of our calories away from home.

To corral the restaurant industry’s growing influence on Americans’ expanding waistlines, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher, embarked on a 15-year campaign of concerted advocacy. As a result, calories must now be listed on menus and menu boards at chains with 20 or more locations.

But menu labeling is just a first step. (For pointers on how numbers on menus can trip you up, see Jul./Aug. 2018). Some tips:

Non-chain restaurants may be no better. At independent restaurants in Boston, for example, the average entrée (with sides) had 1,300 calories, according to a 2013 study that looked at a wide variety of cuisines.

Watch what you drink. It’s not just regular soda that counts. Each glass of wine has about 150 calories. Expect roughly 100 calories for a light beer, 150 for a regular, and 200 for IPAs. And most cocktails range from 200 calories (Manhattan or martini) to 500 (piña colada).

Consider skipping the appetizer. Many—like spinach artichoke dip, fried calamari, sliders, chips & guac, potato skins, or nachos—pack around 1,000 calories.

Shrink your serving. At The Cheesecake Factory, even dishes like the Fresh Grilled Salmon or Lemon-Herb Roasted Chicken (with sides) deliver 1,000 to 2,000 calories because they’re so large. Split an entrée or take some home.

The bottom line: There’s no way to take on the epidemic of overweight and obesity that already affects some 70 percent of adults without overhauling restaurant foods.

CSPI is pushing restaurants to offer more healthy items and smaller portions, and we’re passing state and local policies to give kids’ meals a long-overdue makeover.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Peter G. Lurie, MD, MPH, President

Center for Science in the Public Interest

Photos: The Cheesecake Factory.