WASHINGTON - Which sandwich is worse for your waistline: roast beef with mustard or a turkey club? Most restaurant-goers don’t have a clue. Why? Because restaurants aren’t in the habit of telling diners the calorie or fat content of their food.

     Solution: the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) new Eating Smart Restaurant Guide. It reveals that the turkey club sandwich has about 60 percent more calories than that roast beef with mustard, plus three times as much fat.

     CSPI is the non-profit health advocacy group that has tested and publicized the calories and fat in everything from movie-theater popcorn to fettuccine Alfredo. Its new slide-style guide lists basic nutrition information for almost 300 popular restaurant foods.

     “This is the most convenient and accurate way to find out how many calories and how much fat and saturated fat are in restaurant meals,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. “You can pull this guide out of your purse or jacket pocket and check it as you read the menu at your favorite restaurant.

     “Some dishes are horrendous,” continued Jacobson. “A fried seafood platter has about 2,200 calories and two days’ worth of artery-clogging fat. Our new guide will help restaurant-goers make the healthiest choices that still suit their taste buds.”

     Jayne Hurley, CSPI’s senior nutritionist who conducted the restaurant studies, said, “Many diners don’t realize that the average restaurant meal — such as an order of lasagna, a taco salad, or chicken chow mein with rice — provides about 1,000 calories. Add an appetizer like Buffalo wings or stuffed potato skins and you could easily hit 2,000 calories.”

     The new guide has nutrition facts not available anywhere else. Most of that information comes from CSPI’s own analyses of Chinese, Italian, Mexican, seafood, and Greek restaurants, as well as sandwich shops and breakfast, dinner, and steak houses. The guide also includes company information on popular dishes from McDonald’s and seven other large fast-food chains. Some of the surprising facts include:

  • A sirloin steak has one-fourth as much fat as a porterhouse steak or 16-ounce prime rib.
  • A typical serving of pancakes, French toast, or waffles has about 900 calories.
  • An order of cheese fries with ranch dressing hits 3,000 calories — and four days’ worth of artery-clogging fat. 
  • Some of the best dishes include Szechuan shrimp; chicken fajitas; linguine with red clam sauce; shrimp with garlic sauce; and chicken, lamb, or pork souvlaki (kebob).

     “If consumers knew the calorie and fat content of the menu items, many would make much more healthful choices,” said Jacobson. “Armed with nutrition facts, diners at least have a fighting chance of staying healthy.”

     CSPI’s Eating Smart Restaurant Guide can be ordered by sending $4 per copy (plus $1 per order for shipping and handling) to CSPI Restaurant Guide, Suite 300, 1875 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Washington DC 20005. (Bulk prices are available upon request.)