Food courts: fattening Americans as they shop
WASHINGTON - Where can you find an order of french fries with almost 1,000 calories, a slice of pizza with a day’s worth of artery-clogging fat, or a cup of coffee with 600 calories?
At just about any shopping mall, airport, sports arena, or other “food court” in the country, according to the April issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter published by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI gained notoriety as the “Food Police” for revealing the high calorie and fat content of theater popcorn and many other restaurant meals.
The report surveyed a sampling of menu items served at a baker’s dozen leading food-court chains, including Sbarro, The Great Steak & Potato Company, Panda Express, Starbucks Coffee, Mrs. Fields, and TCBY. Their foods are similar to what’s served at many malls around the country. (CSPI obtained most of the nutrition information from the chains themselves, though it analyzed several items.) Some of the offerings are excellent, but others would make a cardiologist’s cash register light up:
- Schlotzsky’s Deli’s Large Original sandwich (made with three types each of meat and cheese) has about 1,300 calories, 50 grams of fat (25 of them saturated), and 4,400 milligrams of sodium. For most people, that’s two-thirds of a day’s calories, one day’s artery-clogging saturated fat, and two days’ sodium. Think of it as three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.
- Starbucks’ venti (20-ounce) White Chocolate Mocha made with whole milk has 600 calories and three-quarters of a day’s saturated fat. It’s a milk shake, not a cup of coffee.
- Sbarro’s Baked Ziti or one slice of Sausage & Pepperoni Stuffed Pizza has more than 800 calories and an entire day’s worth of saturated fat.
- The Great Steak & Potato Company’s large Fresh Cut Fries has more than 900 calories. Add a large Great Steaksandwich and your meal would contain over 2,000 calories, 100 grams (23 teaspoons) of fat, and a day-and-a-half’s worth of saturated fat.
- Mrs. Fields’ Peanut Butter Dreambar will give you 670 calories, 21 grams of saturated fat, and 12 teaspoons of sugar. A single Milk Chocolate Chip Cookie with Walnutshas about 300 calories and nine grams of saturated fat — about as much as a 12-ounce sirloin steak.
- At TCBY, a large Waffle Cone with yogurt, hot fudge, and M&M’s has 700 calories—about the same as a McDonald’s Big Mac and a small Coke. Gulping down a king-sizeStrawberry Hulk at Smoothie King will add a whole day’s worth of calories (1,910) and fat (58 grams).
“It’s no wonder that more than half of all Americans are overweight,” says Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist at CSPI. “You can walk into a food court looking for a snack and walk out with a meal’s worth of saturated fat and calories. Most people don’t need an extra 1,000 calories hugging their hips. And all that saturated fat and sodium promote heart disease.
“But if you carefully step through the nutritional mine field, you can actually find some delicious and pretty healthful foods,” Hurley said. Among the best:
- Au Bon Pain’s Thai Chicken Sandwich, Honey Smoked Turkey Wrap Sandwich, Pesto Chicken Salad, and Yogurt with Fresh Berries or (or with Granola)
- Smoothie King’s small Slim & Trim Smoothies or aStarbucks’ Cappuccino or Caffe Latte with skim milk
- Panda Express’ single entree of Chicken with Mushrooms, Chicken with String Beans, or Black Pepper Chicken served with steamed rice
- Schlotzsky’s line of Light and Flavorful sandwiches, such as the Pesto Chicken or Dijon Chicken
- TCBY’s small cups or cones of frozen yogurt
Hurley said, “Many chains know what’s in the foods they serve. If the menu boards would only list calories next to the price for each item, Americans would have a fighting chance of getting home without gaining pounds.”