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Wake-Up Call for Breakfast Eaters?

Health: A consumers group says many restaurant-goers take in a day's worth of fat and cholesterol before 10 a.m.


WASHINGTON — The most popular breakfast at family-style restaurants has more fat and calories than two McDonald's Quarter Pounders, a consumer group said Wednesday.

A restaurant association dismissed the report as misleading, "the dumbest" of a series of headline-grabbing studies by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The center's latest survey found two days' supply of cholesterol, 49 fat grams and more than 1,100 calories in specials such as Denny's Original Grand Slam Breakfast of two eggs, two sausages, two strips of bacon and two pancakes.

The government's recommendation for an adult's daily fat intake is 65 grams.

"The Grand Slam-type breakfast is a strikeout," said Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist for the consumer-advocacy group.

The center's previous studies have taken a critical look at food in Chinese, Mexican and Italian restaurants, at deli sandwiches and at movie-theater popcorn.

For its newest study, the group dissected 12 popular breakfast entrees and side dishes bought at 17 locations in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Washington. Restaurant chains included Denny's, International House of Pancakes, Bob's Big Boy, Shoney's, Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel.

Hurley said family-style restaurants encourage people to eat higher-fat breakfasts by making them cheaper: The Grand Slam goes for $1.99 compared with more than $4 for healthier breakfasts.

"We found many breakfasts that give you an entire day's worth of fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol--all before 10 o'clock in the morning," Hurley told a news conference.

To make restaurant meals healthier, Hurley suggested asking for egg substitutes, skipping the butter or margarine and substituting fresh fruit for sausage or bacon.

"At Denny's our customers get what they want," the restaurant chain said in a statement issued Wednesday.

It said customers who buy the Grand Slam can request alternatives including low-cholesterol egg substitute, fresh fruit and reduced-calorie syrup and reduce huge amounts of cholesterol, fats and saturated fats, sodium and calories.

Jeffrey Prince, senior director of the National Restaurant Assn., whose members include Denny's and other chains surveyed in the study, said the sample used was too small to be meaningful.

"Of all the dumb studies the food nudniks [at the center] have done, this is the dumbest," Prince said. "They've used a sample so small as to guarantee distortion, and as usual, their results are too high to be believed."

Anyway, he said, even when restaurants offer low-fat alternative breakfasts along with the traditional spreads, "the overwhelming majority choose the traditional breakfasts."

The National Assn. of Margarine Manufacturers called the consumer group "alarmist . . . food police." It said in a statement the study "implies that margarine and butter are the same, giving consumers a license to go back to butter."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest report describes a breakfast of the Grand Slam variety as thus: "With two entire days' worth of cholesterol, 49 grams of fat and more than 1,100 calories, this is worse than eating two McDonald's Quarter Pounders for breakfast."

The best breakfast choice was the hot or cold cereal platter, with fresh fruit, juice and toast and jam, minus the butter or margarine. It weighed in with about 600 calories, seven grams of fat.

The center sent composites of nine samples of each breakfast component to independent labs, where they were tested for calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It calculated numbers for the platters by adding lab results for each component.

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