The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has picked the winners of its first annual Xtreme Eating Awards. These are the foods (and we use that word lightly, because how long is it until this happens?) that are the most unhealthy. They are, in short, the reasons why Americans are the fattest in the world. The reasons why, in addition to obesity, we lead the world in diet-related disease. Well, not the sole reasons, but they are certainly not helping.
New York started forcing restaurants to label the calorie counts on food, and while this is an imperfect solution, at least it gives people something to go on. In a recent CSPI survey of New Yorkers, 82 percent said that "seeing the numbers affected their choices."
The key to winning an Extreme Eating Award seems to be combining two meals in one, like the Quesadilla Burger from Applebees. This is basically the Bacon Explosion approach to dining. The awards are based on recommended daily allowances (2,000 calories, 20 grams of fat, 1,500 mg of sodium per day) and given to those dishes that can wipe them out in fell swoop.
As CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley asks: "Would you like an entrée with your entrée?"
How about some of Cheesecake Factory's Fried Macaroni and Cheese? The four little deep-fried balls will load you up with 1,570 calories and 1,860 milligrams of sodium, with a whopping 69 grams of saturated fat -- as the CSPI says "You'd be better off eating an entire stick of butter," which contains 57 grams of saturated fat and just 800 calories.
Congratulations to all the winners (seriously when you've gone so far as to name something the Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundae -- a pizza size chocolate chip cookie covered in ice cream and whip cream and drizzled with fudge -- as Uno did -- you just have to embrace this distinction). Here are some of the highlights of the award-winning foods (bet you can't eat just one):
Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue: This retro item is also making comebacks at Olive Garden, Uno Chicago Grill, and at a chain that sells nothing but fondues, The Melting Pot. Red Lobster’s Ultimate version, "shrimp and crabmeat in a creamy lobster cheese sauce served in a warm crispy sourdough bowl," is crammed with 1,490 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 3,580 mg of sodium. That's two days' worth of both artery-clogging fat and blood-pressure-spiking sodium.
Applebee's Quesadilla Burger: Here Applebee's inserts a bacon cheeseburger into a quesadilla. Two flour tortillas, two kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and a previously unknown condiment called Mexi-ranch sauce, plus fries, gives this monstrous marriage 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. Bonus heart-stopper: Applebee's actually invites customers to top the fries with chili and still more cheese.
Chili's Big Mouth Bites: This is four mini-bacon-cheeseburgers served on a plate with fries, onion strings, and jalapeno ranch dipping sauce. ("Mini" is relative: each one is like a Quarter Pounder.) Like the "sliders" available at other chains, Chili's Big Mouth Bites can be an appetizer or an entrée (these numbers are for the latter). 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat, and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.
The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits: Nutrition Action calls it "discomfort food." If you wouldn't eat an entire 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe plus 5 biscuits, you shouldn’t order this. But unless you live in a city with menu labeling, you wouldn’t know that this dish has 2,500 calories. The rest of the winning—or rather, losing—appetizers, entrées, and desserts are in the June issue of Nutrition Action.