Sure, McDonald’s has the Big Mac — and with jumbo fries and a large gulp of carbonated sugar it certainly isn’t “healthy.” But McDonald’s doesn’t even come close to earning the title of one of the unhealthiest restaurant chains in the US, compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest as a part of their 2013 Xtreme Eating Awards. Nor does Friendly’s, KFC, Burger King, Taco Bell, or any of the usual suspects. The winners?
The Cheesecake Factory.
Yes, a favorite food stop of hip and hungry teens, the Cheesecake Factory offers the dish with the one of the highest calories and fat contents in the country. At a whopping 3,120 calories and 89 grams of saturated fat, their Bistro Shrimp Pasta is the absolute worst of the worst. Yet, Bistro Shrimp Pasta actually sounds, well, no so bad. It is described as shrimp, fresh mushrooms, tomato, and arugula, tossed with pasta in a basil-garlic-lemon cream sauce. With that description, given the choice between a steak and fries and the Bistro Shrimp Pasta, which do you think sounds like the more responsible choice to most people? Ironically, you could have a steak, fries, AND a big hunk of dense cheesecake and still be well below the calorie and fat intake of a plate of Bistro Shrimp Pasta.
In case this isn’t hitting home, the recommended amount of saturated fat intake per day is 20 grams. The Bistro Shrimp Pasta has over 4 days‘ worth of saturated fat, so you may need to break out the ol’ pipe cleaner for your poor arteries. Actually, in the past 4 years, the Cheesecake Factory has shockingly made it to the winner’s circle 8 times, so they certainly do take the cake. Their dishes across the board are consistently irresponsibly high in calories and fats. You’re better off going somewhere else.
Maggiano‘s Little Italy.
If you are one of the people who falsely believes that veal is a healthy beef alternative, check this out. Maggiano’s 18 oz. Veal Porterhouse has 1,900 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 2,860 mg of sodium. Golly! Eat the included potatoes to bring the total upwards of 2,700 calories, 45 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700 mg sodium (enough for over 2 days). I guess they’ve never heard of portion control. If you are looking for a leaner protein, go for some local meat like venison, or even better, poultry or fish. Unless you are trying to fill your body with more harmful fat, stay away from this plate.
A smoothie seems innocuous enough, right? Think again. Filled with peanut butter, banana, white sugar, milk, and strawberries or grape juice, their Peanut Power Plus Smoothie is not as healthy as it sounds. This 40 oz. beverage offering has an incredible 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar! That’s in addition to the 29 teaspoons of sugars naturally present in the grape juice, banana, and milk. Take up the option to “make it skinny” by leaving out the added sugar, and it still will cost you over 1,000 calories. Why waste all of those calories on something you can’t chew? Skip the smoothie and opt for a handful of nuts or some chocolate milk (dairy or non dairy) to refuel after a workout.
Other shameful “winners” include Chili’s, Uno Chicago Grill, IHOP, and Johnny Rockets. Be aware, these awards are not meant as an honor. They are a means to draw attention to the fact that most chain restaurant offerings range from no-so-good to horrid nutritionally. There is absolutely no need to fit a day’s worth of calories and 3 days’ worth of clogging sat fat in one mediocre meal. With obesity and diabetes on a sharp rise in the US, restaurants need to step up and make changes to their menus and cut out this dishonest and extremist style of food preparation/promotion.
Make a change. Really craving a good pasta dish? Pick up an old pasta maker at a garage sale. I promise it is really easy. Try Mario Batali’s recipe for basic pasta dough. Rather than supporting big chains that drown their sub-par meals in fat and salt, reignite the dying art of from-scratch cooking. Rather than going out to your nearby chain, celebrate a special occasion with planned and prepared multi-course meals that you or a family member/friend have handcrafted with local, fresh, and healthy ingredients. It’s OK to indulge — use a local cream and butter in those mashed potatoes — but you’ll know that it is an indulgence, much unlike those deceptively titled diet-doomers above. If you are truly adverse to cooking, try to find a local, independent restaurant that uses high-quality, local ingredients. Either way, your local economy, your waistline, your friends/family, and your taste buds will thank you.