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Advocacy group slams 'Xtreme' high-calorie restaurant dishes

January 16, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • Chocolate cake from Maggiano's Little Italy weighs in at 1,820 calories, the Center for Science in the Public Interest warns. Federal dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume 2,000 calories a day.
Chocolate cake from Maggiano's Little Italy weighs in at 1,820 calories,… (Brinker International )

Let’s be real here. Anyone who orders a meal with three pieces of breaded chicken, a buttery sauce, and mashed potatoes can’t be much surprised that it’s high in calories. Or that a piece of cake that weighs close to a pound might, as they say, be applied “directly to the hips.”

So why would the Center for Science in the Public Interest — advocacy group or nutrition nag, depending on your perspective — give a dubious shout-out to those restaurant choices and several others on Wednesday by handing out “Xtreme Eating Awards”?

“It’s as if IHOP, the Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and other major restaurant chains are scientifically engineering these extreme meals with the express purpose of promoting obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” said Michael Jacobson, CSPI’s executive director.

Even if they know they’re splurging, diners don’t know just how many calories  they're eating (2,610 for the meal from Cheesecake Factory, 1,820 for the cake from Maggiano’s Little Italy), CSPI senior scientist Jayne Hurley said. But by the end of the year, she added, diners can kiss that ignorance excuse goodbye.

The CSPI has previously given out similar “awards,” and these foods are not the only ones with high calorie or fat and sugar content. It considered foods from the 225 biggest restaurant chains.

The restaurant companies said some of the CSPI numbers are higher than their own tallies. They also said their menus offer choice — and Hurley agreed that people can find lower-calorie foods than IHOP’s Country Fried Steak and Eggs, which CSPI noted has 1,760 calories.

“We’re all about choice and giving our guests options,” said IHOP spokesman Craig Hoffman, adding that while the country fried steak is a “longtime favorite,” IHOP also has a range of items under 600 calories.

Maggiano’s Little Italy was included for its Veal Porterhouse dish and its chocolate cake.

“At Maggiano’s Little Italy, our made-from-scratch, classic Italian American dishes are served in generous portions, perfect for sharing or enjoying later at home, such as our Chocolate Zuccotto Cake,” Brinker International, which owns Maggiano’s and Chili’s, said in a statement.

The kitchen staff also is willing to change dishes to suit customers’ needs, the company said.

Chili’s sells “a variety of menu options — including our ‘Lighter Choices’ menu — to meet our guests’ preferences, be they health-conscious or indulgent,” the statement said.

The Cheesecake Factory also issued a statement from chief marketing officer Donald Evans noting its menu has more than 200 items, and the restaurant “has always been about choices.  Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories.  Others want to share their dish — and we love it when guests share — that’s a great sign that our portions are generous.”

Federal dietary guidelines suggest an adult should eat about 2,000 calories a day.

Calorie counts on menus could change behavior, Hurley said. “People are not going to ask for healthier food if they don’t know how unhealthy the foods were.”

Labels in chains such as Starbucks hasn’t brought an end to high-calorie items, but the company has introduced smaller versions of some pastries, Hurley noted. “That’s an improvement.”

Restaurant companies with more than 20 outlets will be required to include calorie counts on their menus, likely by the end of the year, Hurley said. A draft proposal has been issued by the Food and Drug Administration.

Jacobson called on the Obama administration to move quickly, saying that “lives are at stake.”

Smoothie King has already included nutrition counts on menus in some of its shops, and a spokeswoman said the company is in favor of the idea. The smoothie dinged by CSPI is one of the company’s indulgent options, but it has many smoothies under 300 calories.

Among the Xtreme award winners were (nutritional tallies according to CSPI):

—IHOP’s Country Fried Steak and Eggs has deep-fried steak with gravy, two fried eggs, fried potatoes and two pancakes. The combo has 1,760 calories, 23 grams of saturated fat and 3,720 milligrams of sodium. CSPI says that’s like having five McDonald’s Egg McMuffins sprinkled with 10 packets of sugar.

—Johnny Rockets Bacon Cheddar Double burger has 1,770 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat and 2,380 mg of sodium. And its Big Apple Shake has 1,140 calories.

—Deep Dish Macaroni & 3-Cheese at Uno Chicago Grill, with four cups of pasta and 1,980 calories and 71 grams of saturated fat.

—The Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta with 3,120 calories, including 89 grams of saturated fat. And its Crispy Chicken Costoletta, with 2,610 calories.

—Smoothie King combines peanut butter, banana, sugar and grape juice in its Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie. A 40-ounce size has 1,460 calories.

—Chocolate Zuccotto Cake at Maggiano’s Little Italy, 1,820 calories, including 26 teaspoons of sugar. And its Veal Porterhouse with potatoes, for 2,710 calories, including 45 grams of saturated fat.

—Chili’s Baby Back Ribs with Shiner Bock BBQ Sauce has 1,660 calories, including 39 grams of saturated fat.

Twitter: @mmacvean

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