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The nation’s top health offenders as served up by favorite restaurants

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

A public health advocacy group has released a list of the all-time top food offenders in terms of their fat, sodium and total calorie content. Along with the list, the organization has charged as guilty the restaurant chains which serve up the chart-busting meals.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest unveiled its ironically titled “Xtreme Eating Awards” today. It indicts some of the nation’s top restaurant chains, such as the Cheesecake Factory, Denny’s, IHOP, Applebee’s and Coldstone Creamery. Before we get down to the gruesome details, let’s review some health basics.

According to nutritionists and public health professionals, a typical person should limit calorie intake to 2,000 a day, as well as keep saturated fat below 20 grams (0.7 ounce) and sodium below 1,500 milligrams. There are many studies which suggest that cutting these numbers down a little goes a long way towards extending longevity.

Now, each serving of the award-winning menu items on CSPI’s list nearly reaches, or even surpasses, these restrictions. That’s a serving, folks. That means anything you consume outside that meal that day goes on top of your already fulfilled daily calorie limit.

Let’s take a look at what we are up against – or what damage we have already sustained by indulging one of these calorie cluster bombs. The dishes are generally the usual suspects of fries, burgers and dessert – on steroids.

Denny's "Fried Cheese Melt," for instance, is a grilled cheese sandwich with four fried mozzarella sticks inside. The entree amounts to 1,260 calories and 21 grams of saturated fat. And that comes packaged with a whopping 3,010 milligrams of sodium.

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Applebee's "Provolone Stuffed Meatballs with Fettuccine" adds up to 1,520 calories and 43 grams of saturated fat and 3,700 milligrams of sodium. The fat and sodium alone provide two days’ worth of the recommended daily allowance of these nutrients.

The deserts truly outperform in the overabundance of fat. The Cheesecake Factory's "Ultimate Red Velvet Cheesecake" racks up to 1,540 calories and 59 grams of saturated fat, and Cold Stone Creamery's "PB&C Shake" (peanut butter & chocolate) has 2,010 calories and 68 grams of saturated fat.

These numbers are mind-boggling but not surprising in light of the fact that two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Restaurant outings are considered a “treat” during which most people suspend consciousness about diet, but restaurant outings are unfortunately more and more prevalent as an every-day occurrence and not just an occasional indulgence. There are whole segments of the population who make eating out their mainstay of food consumption, whether for lack of time, convenience and/or desire for variety.

Both Denny's and Applebee's defended themselves by saying that they offered a wide variety of choices in the food they serve, some of which is lean and healthy. Denny's pointed to its "Fit Fare" menu, and Applebee's to its "Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories" options. They have a point: no one is putting a gun to our heads and telling us to order the fattiest, most calorie-laden choices.

Other restaurants did not respond to requests for a comment.

The problem is that most restaurants still do not disclose the nutritional content of their standard menu items. The U.S. government is trying to push restaurants to disclose nutritional information on their menus. The Food and Drug Administration plans to issue rules requiring restaurants to list nutritional and caloric information by the end of 2011.

The full article of the CSPI’s Xtreme Eating Awards can be seen here.

This is CSPI’s press release.



Many folks want to ban junk food with food stamps, yet I use the denny's example of how perfectly natural food can be amok when taken in excess,yolks,cheese,milk, are fine when not overdone, a cookie is probably healthier as a snack.