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Two options, one healthful choice

June 09, 2008|Jeannine Stein and Shari Roan | Times Staff Writers

Americans love eating out -- and that affection for restaurant food is growing.

Restaurant industry sales were $379 billion in 2000, reaching an estimated $558 billion in 2008, according to the National Restaurant Assn. But there's a price to pay beyond the tab -- thicker waistlines. Many restaurant items are laden with fat and calories, far more than most people would estimate.

But eating out doesn't have to be unhealthful. More restaurants are offering choices lower in fat and calories, and many are posting nutritional information for some or all of their dishes online so that diners can get the low-down before facing temptation.

The following are comparisons of similar dishes at popular chain restaurants. One item is on the high end of calories and fat, the other low, showing the difference a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise or handful of cheese can make:


Meals in which consumers choose the ingredients offer the opportunity to eat smart -- or pig out. Both of these options started with a flour tortilla, cheese, lettuce and tomato salsa.

Burrito (with pork, rice, pinto beans and sour cream)

Calories: 1,053

Total fat: 44 grams

Burrito (with chicken)

Calories: 625

Total fat: 25 grams

Pizza Hut

There's no reason to avoid favorite foods such as pizza, but toppings can turn a reasonable choice into a nutritional disaster. Notice the fat difference here.

Meat Lover's Thin 'N Crispy Pizza

Calories (one slice of a 14-inch pizza): 430

Total fat: 25 grams

Veggie Lover's Thin 'N Crispy Pizza

Calories (one slice of a 14-inch pizza): 260

Total fat: 10 grams

Panda Express

Chicken is chicken -- not. How a dish is prepared can completely alter calories and fat. The mushroom chicken is a nutritional star compared with the popular orange chicken.

Orange chicken

Calories (5.5-ounce serving): 500

Total fat: 27 grams

Mushroom chicken

Calories (5.5-ounce serving): 130

Total fat: 6 grams

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

Two shrimp dishes, two very different calorie counts. The Crispy Honey Shrimp is lightly battered and quick-fried, while the Cantonese Shrimp is stir-fried.

Crispy Honey Shrimp

Calories (per order): 1,061

Total fat: 44 grams

Cantonese Shrimp

Calories (per order): 330

Total fat: 12 grams

Most restaurants are used to accommodating diners' requests for sauces and dressings on the side. P.F. Chang's goes one further: Ask for dishes "stock velveted" and they'll be cooked in vegetable stock instead of oil, a common Chinese cooking technique that cuts way down on fat and calories. At other restaurants, ask if the kitchen can lighten foods by cooking them in little or no oil or butter.

Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill

Most restaurants tout extra, grande, super-size or especial meals, but more food and more flavor usually mean more calories and fat.

Especial Fish Taco

Calories: 350

Total fat: 22 grams

HealthMex Chicken Taco

Calories: 150

Total fat: 15 grams


Not all breakfast breads are created equal. It's a good bet that muffins, sweet rolls and coffee cakes are going to be loaded with calories and fat.

Blueberry muffin

Calories: 500

Total fat: 19 grams

Low-fat eight grain roll

Calories: 270

Total fat: 2 grams

But don't be fooled by reduced-fat items -- they can be fattening too. Starbucks' reduced-fat Strawberries and Creme Coffee Cake, for example, has 330 calories and 9 grams of fat

McDonald's, Wendy's and KFC

Grilled foods are usually lower in fat and calories than fried foods. In these wraps, grilled versus fried counts for about a 60- to 80-calorie difference and saves several fat grams. Not a huge difference, but most people don't eat just one, so that calorie saving adds up.

Ranch Snack Wrap (crispy), McDonald's

Calories: 340

Total fat: 17 grams

Chipotle BBQ or Honey Mustard Snack Wrap (grilled), McDonald's

Calories: 260

Total fat: 9 grams

Homestyle Chicken Go Wrap, Wendy's

Calories: 320

Total fat: 16 grams

Grilled Chicken Go Wrap,


Calories: 260

Total fat: 11 grams

Oven Roasted Twister,


Calories: 420

Total fat: 17 grams

Oven Roasted Twister

without sauce, KFC

Calories: 330

Total fat: 7 grams


Breakfast is important, but some meals will ruin the day before it's begun. Here, the French Toast Slam provides more than half of the calories most people need in one day.

French Toast Slam

Calories (14 ounces): 1,180

Total fat: 75 grams

Veggie-cheese omelet

with Egg Beaters

Calories (12 ounces): 346

Total fat: 22 grams

Watching when you eat is important too. Denny's is starting a late-night promotion with rock music, waiters in blue jeans and foods like the Sweet Ride Nachos -- tortilla chips, cinnamon sugar, fruit, hot fudge and whipped cream.

In-N-Out Burger

The Protein Style burger at In-N-Out has less than half the fat and calories of the Double-Double, which sports two beef patties and two slices of cheese. That "secret sauce" on most fast-food hamburgers has a mayonnaise base, so it's better to stick with ketchup and mustard.

Double-Double with onion

Calories: 670

Total fat: 41 grams

Protein Style hamburger (bun replaced with lettuce)

Calories: 240

Total fat: 17 grams


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