Advocacy Group Highlights Not-So-Winning Restaurant Combinations

Experts say that at too many chain restaurants, individual meals exceed recommended calories for the entire day, to say nothing of excessive amounts of salt and fat.The Affordable Care Act will require most chains to put calorie counts on the menu by next year.

America’s battle with obesity is hard enough without the calorie-laden meal and dessert combinations in today’s chain restaurants, say advocates from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

To highlight how restaurant eating contributes to expanding waistlines, CSPI today issued its “Xtreme Eating” awards for 2016, many of which have more than a day’s worth of calories and many days’ worth of salt or saturated fat in a single meal.

The winners include the “Whole Hog Burger” at Uno Pizzeria & Grill; this meal combines hamburgers, sausage, bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni, with 4 types of cheese and comes with both fries and onion rings. CSPI wrote that it while for most people, having the equivalent of 4 McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with cheese along with 2 medium orders of fries would be “unthinkable.” But, “At Uno Pizzeria & Grill, it’s lunch.” The meal checks in at 2850 calories, 62 grams of saturated fat, and along with 6 days’ worth of sodium at 9790 mg.

Other culprits include the “Fried Chicken and Waffles Benedict” from The Cheesecake Factory, the “Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack” from Dave & Busters, the “RT Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy” from Sonic, which CSPI said the chain calls “sippable candy”; and Buffalo Wild Wings’ “Dessert Nachos,” which pair a fried flour tortilla with 4 scoops of ice cream, sugar, breaded cheesecake bites, and chocolate and caramel toppings.

“Unfortunately, these extreme meals are more like the rule, not the exception,” said the group’s dietitian, Lindsay Moyer. “America’s restaurant chains are serving up meals that seem engineered to promote diabetes, obesity, heart disease and strokes.”

How do restaurants encourage such bad eating behavior? An interview in the Nutrition Action newsletter with Deborah Cohen, MD, MPH, who has served on advisory panels with the National Institutes of Health and CDC, offers some insight in CSPI’s Nutrition Action newsletter:

· Restaurants serve oversize portions, and once they are in front of customers, they eat more.

· Combination meals encourage patrons to order items they might have skipped, like french fries. Cohen said customers think they are getting a better value.

· Menu layouts steer customers toward more expensive items.

Are any restaurants doing a good job at serving healthy meals? CSPI says some of the offenders so have healthy choices, including the “SkinnyLicious” menu at Cheesecake Factory or the “600 and Under” choices at Dave & Busters. Applebee’s “Lighter Fare” was cited, too.

The group notes that FDA will require restaurants to provide calorie counts on menus and menu boards at all chains with 20 or more outlets starting in May 2017. This mandate is part of the Affordable Care Act.