July 20, 2011

Over The Top Menu Items Still Available At America’s Chains

Several food dishes served up by some of America's favorite eateries are among the top offenders in a health advocacy group's report of menu items featuring over-the-top contents of sodium, fat and calories.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) unveiled the group of "honorees" in the Nutrition Action Healthletter on Tuesday. Some of the worst offenders include burgers topped with pork belly and fried eggs and meatballs stuffed with provolone, and also include such popular restaurants as Denny's, Cheesecake Factory, and IHOP.

According to the group, a typical person should limit their calorie intake to 2,000 per day, keep saturated fat below 20 grams, and sodium below 1,500 milligrams. All of the choices in the group's report either reach, or exceed, these daily limits.

"If Americans are feeling a little more full when lumbering out of The Cheesecake Factory, Applebee's, Denny's, and other chains, it's not in their heads," said CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman in a statement. "It's as if the restaurants were targeting the remaining one out of three Americans who are still normal weight in order to boost their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and cancer."

The dishes served up in CSPI's report are more or less new fangled twists on popular classics, such as burgers. Denny's "Fried Cheese Melt," as an example, is a grilled cheese sandwich with four fried mozzarella sticks inside. The entr©e consists of 1,260 calories, 21 grams of fat and 3,010 milligrams of sodium.

Another example: Applebee's "Provolone Stuffed Meatballs with Fettuccine" stacks up 1,520 calories and 43 grams of saturated fat. And the Cheesecake Factory's "Farmhouse Cheeseburger" claims 1,530 calories, 36 grams of saturated fat and topped with 3,210 milligrams of sodium.

Furthermore, some chains go out of their way to advertise unhealthy eating options. Applebee's, for example, is openly bragging about its new "stacked, stuffed, and topped" menu.

With two in every three Americans now suffering expanding waistlines, such dishes only increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer, according to Liebman.

But restaurants also try to offer healthier choices. Denny's said it has a "Fit Fare" menu, while Applebee's pointed out its "Unbelievably Great Tasting and Under 550 Calories" menu.

People often do not pay much attention to their diets when eating out and often see it as a time for a little indulgence. But a little indulgence now can turn into a lot of headaches later.

2011 may be the last year restaurants will be able to get away with not disclosing nutrition information on their menus, according to the CSPI. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is finalizing a set of rules implementing a calorie-labeling provision included in President Obama's healthcare reform legislation signed into law in March.

"Perhaps calorie labeling will usher in a new era of common sense at America's chain restaurants, and chains will compete with each other to come up with new, healthy menu items with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains," said Michael F. Jacobson. "I hope at some point chains will stop stuffing, stacking, and topping with cheese and meat and white flour. Instead of setting aside a few menu items called something like "ËœLean & Fit,' why can't menus have a small section called "ËœFatten Up!' and keep the rest of the menu healthy?"

Nutrition Action Healthletter is the publication that previously uncovered calorie and fat contents in foods served by movie theaters, Chinese restaurants and steakhouse restaurants.

Subscriptions to the 850,000-circulation Healthletter, the largest of its kind in North America, are $10 for first-time subscribers.


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