January 22, 2019
Xtreme Eating Awards 2016

Xtreme Eating Awards 2016

by Berkeley Wellness  

A mozzarella appetizer with all the calories you need for the entire day. A fried chicken meal with four days’ worth of saturated fat. A spinach-artichoke dip with a two-day supply of sodium. A slushy drink with more than a cup of sugar. These are just a few of the startling standouts in the latest “Xtreme Eating Awards,” presented every year by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to highlight the unhealthiest chain restaurant meals in America.

Nine menu items made the 2016 list, coming from such nationwide chains as Applebee’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Buster’s, Sonic, Uno Pizzeria & Grill, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and Buffalo Wild Wings. Here are some of the “winners” (or rather big “losers”), listed in order of the number of calories from hugest to merely huge.

But first, to put the numbers into perspective: Food labels are based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet (though people's calorie needs vary depending on their body weight, activity level, and other individual factors). For that calorie level, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 20 grams of saturated fat and 48 grams of added sugar (12 teaspoons) a day—and no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium for the general population.

  • Whole Hog Burger at Uno Pizzeria & Grill—made, literally, with the “whole hog” including sausage, bacon, prosciutto: 2,850 calories, 62 grams of saturated fat, and 9,790 milligrams of sodium.
  • Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict at The Cheesecake Factory—as if a meal was not complete without each alone, plus fried eggs and usually a side of potatoes: 2,580 calories, 86 grams of saturated fat, 3,390 milligrams of sodium, and 60 teaspoons of sugar (thanks largely to the maple-butter syrup included).
  • Dessert Nachos at Buffalo Wild Wings—a combination of flour tortilla (fried in beef tallow) and ice cream, topped with caramel and chocolate sauce and cheesecake bits: 2,100 calories, 64 grams of saturated fat, 5 grams of trans fat, and 120 grams of sugar.
  • Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack at Dave & Busters—served as a sandwich and with potato tots: 1,910 calories, 42 grams of saturated fat, and 3,390 milligrams of sodium. Busted!
  • Giant Chipotle Cheese Steak at Jersey Mike’s Subs—which is topped with American cheese, mayo, and more: 1,850 calories, 30 grams of saturated fat, and 4,330 milligrams of sodium.
  • Cremini Pork Shank at Romano’s Macaroni Grill—which, with its sauce and potatoes, weighs in at two pounds: 1,800 calories, 43 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700 milligrams of sodium.
  • RT 44 Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy at Sonic—a 44-ounce concoction of what CSPI calls “sippable candy”: 970 calories, virtually all from sugar.

Also on the list is the Build Your Own Sampler at Applebee’s, which could set you back 850 calories if you divvy it up among four people (or 3,400 if you eat it all yourself)—and that’s not counting any main meal you may order. And then there is Marco’s Meal for Two at Maggiano’s Little Italy—which includes a starter dish, two pastas, and dessert. Depending on what you pick, it can provide more than 2,500 calories for each diner. And that doesn’t take into account the two extra pasta dishes included in the meal for take-home.

“Far from doing their part to reverse the obesity epidemic, America’s chain restaurants are pouring gasoline on the fire, crossing fried chicken and waffles with Eggs Benedict, merging cheeseburgers and egg rolls, and repurposing macaroni and cheese as a sandwich filling,” CSPI cautioned. Worse yet, such extreme meals are becoming more the rule than the exception, providing way more calories, fat, and sodium than most people should consume in one sitting.

Bottom line: You don’t have to bypass chain restaurants altogether, but if you do pull up to one on occasion, here’s how to keep things under control:

Pay attention to nutrition information (many chains already provide this—or will be required to do so under the Affordable Care Act by the end of 2016); order the smallest size (who needs a 44-ounce drink?); skip anything that’s “stacked,” “stuffed,” or “topped” (or just combines too many disparate and unhealthy food items); ask your server to hold the fries, onion rings, garlic bread, rolls, or other extras that may be included in the meal (which can add hundreds more calories); pass on (or at least share) indulgent desserts; and take half (or more) of your meal home to eat later.

Some restaurants offer “light” menus—though that doesn’t mean they are low in calories (one chain’s “Lighter Take” dishes have 800 to 1,000 calories).

And if you happen to still overindulge, make up for the calories by eating lighter the rest of the day—or perhaps the rest of the week.

Also see Finding Healthier Kids’ Meals and Can One Big Meal Kill You?