The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently released its "Xtreme Eating Awards," which highlight the unhealthiest chain restaurant meals in America.
Here are some of the "winners." To put the numbers into perspective, most people should eat about 2,000 calories a day and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium.
The Cheesecake Factory Crispy Chicken Costoletta: 2,610 calories, 89 grams saturated fat and 2,720 milligrams sodium.
Uno Chicago Grill Deep Dish Macaroni & 3-Cheese: 1,980 calories, 71 grams saturated fat and 3,110 milligrams sodium.
Chili's Baby Back Ribs with Shiner Bock BBQ, full rack: 1,660 calories, 39 grams saturated fat and 5,025 milligrams sodium.
IHOP Country Fried Steak & Eggs: 1,760 calories, 23 grams saturated fat and 3,720 milligrams sodium.
Sweets are hardly off the hook. A 40-ounce Smoothie King Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie (with peanut butter and grape juice among its ingredients) contains 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar. One slice of Chocolate Zuccotto Cake from Maggiano's Little Italy weighs in at 1,820 calories and 62 grams saturated fat.
Though these are the extremes, most restaurant meals still have more calories, fat and sodium than you should eat in one sitting. You don’t have to bypass chain restaurants altogether, but if you do pull up to one on occasion, here are ways to keep things under control:
Pay attention to nutrition information. If it’s not posted or on menus, it will be once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalizes mandatory labeling rules for major chain restaurants, mandated by the new health care legislation.
Skip anything described as stacked, stuffed or topped, such as a burger topped with a fried egg or pork belly, or pizza crust stuffed with cheese.
Order the smallest sizes. No one needs a large serving of fries, for instance—or a 24-ounce smoothie or shake, even if it contains some healthy ingredients. Of course, small sizes can be big in calories too.
Ask your server to hold the fries, onion rings, garlic bread or other extras that may be included in your meal. Such side dishes can add hundreds of calories.
Skip indulgent desserts, or order just one for the whole table. The most pleasure usually comes from the first two or three bites, anyway.
If you do overindulge, make up for the calories by eating lighter the rest of the day—or perhaps the rest of the week.