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'Xtreme Eating' Awards: Unhealthiest Chain Meals in US

Christin Fernandez, director of media relations for the National Restaurant Association said “CSPI’s cherry-picked examples paint an inaccurate picture of the great strides the industry has made in the area of nutrition"

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    A file photo of a burger. The "Xtreme Eating Awards" list is published annually by Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit.

    A Whole Hog Burger at Uno Pizzeria & Grill is no diet food. Loaded with hamburger, sausage, bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni, four types of cheese, garlic mayo, and pickles and a side of fries, it will set you back a day's worth of calories (2,850), three days’ worth of saturated fat (62 grams) and six days’ worth of sodium (9,790 milligrams). 

    The burger tops this year's "Xtreme Eating Awards" list, published annually by Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit. The list includes nine of the most calorie-packed entrees, appetizers, drinks and desserts from restaurant chains across the U.S.

    "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," the health-advocacy group said in a press release. 

    UNO PIzzeria & Grill said in a statement, that the Whole Hog Burger was created "to be an over-the-top eating experience that would capture the attention of our customers, taste great and be a fun challenge to conquer. We are not surprised that the Whole Hog Burger has been recognized on the Xtreme Eating list in 2016 - it was designed for this very kind of thing."

    The restaurant chain added that there are over 100 menu options, "from indulgent treats to more healthful choices, so our guests can have whatever they're in the mood for."  

    More than one-third of U.S. adults and about 17 percent of children are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many restaurant chains include the calorie count on their menus, but the counts will become mandatory, beginning in May of 2017, with other nutrition information available, too. 

    CSPI's 2016 list also includes the Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict (2,580 calories) from The Cheesecake Factory, Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack (1,910 calories) from Dave & Buster’s, Dessert Nachos (2,100 calories) from Buffalo Wild Wings and RT 44 Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy (970 calories) from Sonic.

    “Unfortunately, these extreme meals are more like the rule, not the exception,” said CSPI dietitian Lindsay Moyer. “America’s restaurant chains are serving up meals that seem engineered to promote diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and strokes. The 3,000-calorie burger platters of today make McDonald’s Quarter Pounders look like sliders.”

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    Alethea Rowe, senior director of public relations at The Cheesecake Factory Incorporated, said the restaurant lists 250 items on its menu, giving patrons choices.

    "Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories," she said. "Others want to share their dish …and a large percentage of our guests take home leftovers for lunch the next day."

    Christin Fernandez, director of media relations for the National Restaurant Association, which supports over 500,000 restaurant businesses, slammed CSPI's list, too, saying the "cherry-picked examples paint an inaccurate picture of the great strides the industry has made in the area of nutrition. America’s one million restaurants provide numerous options to accommodate all types of tastes and diets—diners looking for an occasional indulgence or those that are keeping things light."

    Fernandez added that the restaurant industry has worked with the FDA to "advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, access to nutritional information."

    CSPI offered tips on how to avoid meals that are calorie-bombs, suggesting options on the “light” menu: Cheesecake Factory’s “SkinnyLicious,” Applebee’s “Lighter Fare,” or Dave & Buster’s “600 or under” dishes. CSPI said you should skip appetizers, which can add up to 1,000 calories and choose grilled chicken or veggie burger instead of beef. Try splitting the meal and eating the second half for lunch the next day, CSPI said.