Every year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest puts out a list of some of the most calorie-packed and utterly non-nutritious foods offered at the nation’s largest chains. This year’s list is full of some of the "heartiest" meals you can think of, but also some items that might trick you into thinking you’re eating something vaguely healthy when you are, in fact, getting a few days worth of calories and sodium and fat in one plate.
Let’s review. The amount of calories you need varies, but it’s about 2,000 a day for a normal, semi-active person (but be honest: are you even semi-active?). You can play around with the Mayo Clinic’s calorie counter here to get a better sense. But whatever your specific number is, it’s not going to support eating one 2,000-plus calorie item a day.
So when you order the Bacon Cheddar Double at Johnny Rockets and get 1,770 calories just from the burger (add another 590 for the sweet potato fries), you’re really not doing yourself any favors, unless you plan on eating pretty much nothing the rest of the day. Same with the Deep Dish Macaroni and Three-Cheese at Uno Chicago Grill which, according to the CSPI "has four cups of pasta; Cheddar, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses; an Alfredo sauce made from heavy cream, cheese, rendered chicken fat, and butter; and a crushed Ritz Cracker topping." Would you eat an entire family size box of Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese with half a stick of butter melted on top? No? Because that’s the same amount of calories.
Now let’s talk sodium, which you want to try to limit to less than 2,300 milligrams per day (and you’d be fine with about 500 milligrams). Or saturated fat, which you want to keep at about 20 grams per day. Keeping those numbers in mind, consider the Chocolate Zuccotto Cake at Maggiano’s Little Italy, which has 60 grams of saturated fat and is the equivalent of eating an entire eight-serving Entenmann’s Chocolate Fudge Cake. Or the Country Fried Steak and Eggs combo at IHOP, which jams in 3,720 milligrams of sodium into one serving.
The CSPI notes that the new health care bill will soon require all these chains to put calorie information on their menus. But will that discourage people from clogging their arteries with these meals? Evidence in places where calorie counts exist seems to indicate it won’t. Perhaps. But as companies with calorie-heavy items like Coke start timidly addressing the obesity crisis, it’s just a matter of time before restaurants that are serving these meals are going to have to start thinking about taking a little more responsibility for what they’re helping us put in our bodies.