CSPI announces Xtreme Eating awards

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2016 - Once again, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is out with its Xtreme Eating Awards honoring restaurant meals with shockingly high calorie counts. And for the 10th straight year - every year since the awards began back in 2007 - The Cheesecake Factory has one of the winners.

This year it's a brunch delight: a Belgian waffle topped with fried chicken strips, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce, served with maple-butter syrup and usually a side of potatoes. What's the damage? How about more than a day's worth of calories (2,850), four days' worth of saturated fat, two days' worth of sodium and 15 tablespoons of sugar. 

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But, according to CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter, the popular chain has plenty of competition. Eight other eateries received the dubious award this year including Uno Pizzeria & Grill, Maggiano's Little Italy, Romano's Macaroni Grill and Sonic Drive-In.

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

Take Uno's “Whole Hog Burger,” one of the many burger platters available nowadays that Moyer says make “McDonald's Quarter Pounder look like a slider.” The sandwich includes over a pound of meat - hamburger, sausage, bacon, prosciutto and pepperoni - plus four types of cheese, garlic mayo and pickles and comes with fries and onion rings. Extra napkins are free, the menu says. All told, that's 2,850 calories, more than a 24-hour supply. Plus, big eaters who share their experience on social media can win, what else, a free Hog Burger every month for a year.

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Other winners include:

·         Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack from Dave & Buster's. This sandwich is stuffed with beef short rib and macaroni and cheese and is served with “crispy seasoned tots.”  With a day's calories (1,910) and two days' worth of saturated fat (42 g) and sodium (3,390 mg), “it's like eating three McDonald's Big Macs and a medium fries.”

·         Dessert Nachos from Buffalo Wild Wings.  A fried flour tortilla with four scoops of ice cream, sugar, and “gooey breaded cheesecake bites” topped with chocolate and caramel sauce. This item has 2,100 calories, 64 grams of saturated fat, and 5 grams of trans fat.

·         RT 44 Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy from Sonic. Icy slush made with “sippable candy” is how the chain describes this 44-ounce, 970-calorie drink, which has 1 and a quarter cups of sugar. “America's Drive-In does its part to expand America's waistline,” CSPI says.

·         The Cremini Pork Shank offered by Romano's Macaroni Grill. Two pounds of pork, potatoes, etc., that supply 1,800 calories, 43 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700 mg of sodium. The complimentary (white flour) Rosemary Peasant Bread can add another 480 calories. The chain's website notes that Romano's is proud of serving “unforgettable meals that leave a lasting impression.” CSPI says look for it on your bathroom scale.

But there is help available for those willing to enter the battle against the bulge. CSPI's Nutrition Action notes that The Cheesecake Factory's “SkinnyLicious” menu, Applebee's “Lighter Fare,” and Dave & Buster's “600 or under” dishes are limited in calories.  And it points out that calorie counts will become mandatory on menus and menu boards at chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets beginning in May of 2017, something CSPI began pushing for in 2003. The Food and Drug Administration will implement the regulation, which was implemented as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, better known as Obama Care. CSPI started the push for menu labeling at restaurants in 2003.

The full list of the 2016 Xtreme Eating Awards is available on CSPI's website.

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