The restaurant chain that packs them in at almost 170 outlets across the country won three of CSPI’s dubious awards this year. One of them went to its Bruléed French Toast, which CSPI describes as “a plate of custard-soaked bread, topped with powdered sugar and served with maple-butter syrup and bacon.” The meal’s 2,870 calories are about the same as what a moderately active adult male should consume in a full day and would take about seven hours of lap-swimming to burn off, CSPI notes.
So what else is X-rated about the meal? CSPI says the dish has nearly five days’ worth of saturated fat, more than a day’s worth of sodium (2,230 milligrams) and 24 teaspoons of (mostly) added sugar, or about four times the daily limit for women recommended by the American Heart Association.
To be fair, the Cheesecake Factory has reformulated some dishes after being named a “winner” of Xtreme Eating Awards in years past. And it now offers a “SkinnyLicious” menu. However, the chain still has a number of what CSPI calls “highly qualified Xtreme contenders,” including a 2,800-calorie brunch item, a 2,400-calorie pasta, and a 1,500-calorie slice of cheesecake.
Other winners of the 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards include:
--The Cheesecake Factory’s Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic, featuring mushrooms, tomato, peas, and caramelized onions with a cream sauce that helps bring the caloric payload to 2,410 calories, or the calorie equivalent of a five-hour jog.
--Red Robin’s Monster-sized Peppercorn burger with bottomless fries and a Monster salted caramel milkshake. CSPI says this was the “single unhealthiest meal” it found, with a total of 3,540 calories, three and a-half days’ worth of saturated fat and four days’ worth of sodium. The average person would have to walk for 12 hours to get rid of those calories, CSPI said.
--Famous Dave’s “Big Slab” of spare ribs. That’s a pound and a half of pork, with Famous Fries, Wilbur Beans and a cornbread muffin for a total of 2,770 calories, 54 grams of fat and 4,320 milligrams of sodium.
--Joe’s Crab Shack Big “Hook” Up platter which includes Joe’s Great Balls of Fire (“seafood and crab balls full of jalapeños and cream cheese coated in panko breadcrumbs … served with ranch”), fish and chips, cocoanut shrimp, crab-stuffed shrimp, hushpuppies, and coleslaw. The entire meal has 3,280 calories.
“When French toast is ‘Bruléed,’ fries are ‘bottomless,’ and steaks are now garnished with not just one, but two Italian sausages, it’s clear that caloric extremism still rules the roost at many of America’s chain restaurants,” CSPI dietitian Paige Einstein said in a news release. “Two out of three American adults are overweight or obese and one in 10 adults has diabetes, thanks in part to The Cheesecake Factory, Chevys Fresh Mex, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and much of the rest of America’s chain restaurant industry.”
For consumers looking to avoid multi-thousand calorie meals, help is on the way. The Food and Drug Administration is in the process of finalizing new menu regulations that will require chains with 20 or more outlets to disclose calorie counts on menus. CSPI says that diners would be able to see, for example, that a single slice of the Cheesecake Factory’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake has 1,500 calories.
In a response to an e-mail seeking comment, The Cheescake Factory said its restaurants “have always been about choices.”
“Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories,” the company said. “Others want to share their dish – and we love it when guests share – that’s a great sign that our portions are generous – and a large percentage of our guests take home leftovers for lunch the next day.”
The company also pointed out that its SkinnyLicious menu offers more than 50 choices, all under 590 calories, “which is actually larger than many restaurants’ entire menus.”
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