Fast food chains may, deservedly, get flack from public health advocates for their menus filled with salty, breaded, greasy grub, but most fast food meals have nothing on their sit-down restaurant cousins across the parking lot. A bacon cheeseburger may look like a healthy snack compared to the winners of this year’s Xtreme Eating awards.
These awards are given out annually by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in the hope of reminding diners (and lawmakers and regulators) that your favorite local lunch, dinner, or dessert spot might be serving you up some real calorie-bombs without you realizing.
Once again, the Cheesecake Factory dominates the list, responsible for two of the eight menu items (neither of them cheesecake). Other popular eateries on the CSPI’s roundup include IHOP (but not for pancakes), and Uno Pizzeria (but not for pizza).
Enough talk. Let’s get to the awards!
Least Original Breakfast
IHOP: Cheeseburger Omelette with side of Buttermilk Pancakes
• Calories: 1,990
• Saturated Fat: 45g
• Sodium: 4,580mg
• Added Sugar: 44g (estimated)
• Cholesterol: 1,0005mg
Are you an early starter who likes to get as much done before noon as possible? IHOP has a way for you to get a full day’s worth of calories, two full days’ of saturated fat and sodium, and enough cholesterol for four days.
This IHOP omelette has hamburger patty pieces, hash browns, tomatoes, onions, American cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles. Throw in that side of buttermilk pancakes (and their attendant butter and syrup) and CSPI says you’ve eaten the equivalent of four McDonald’s Sausage Egg McMuffins… drizzled with 2 additional tablespoons of syrup.
(UPDATE: In response to the CSPI report, a rep from IHOP emailed a statement to Consumerist.
“While we applaud the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s efforts to educate Americans on making healthier food choices, it’s misleading to single out the highest meal combinations without informing people of the wide range of choices offered at IHOP restaurants, including the ability to customize any item to meet a variety of dietary needs,” reads the statement, which also points out that IHOP’s nutritional information is available on the chain’s website, though it is one huge, confusing sheet of data for all menu items and not on the web page for each menu item.)
Worst Cheese in a Leading Role
Buffalo Wild Wings:
Cheese Curd Bacon Burger
• Calories: 1,950
• Saturated Fat: 53g
• Sodium: 4,700mg
How do you take a bacon cheeseburger, which will range from around 400 calories to 800 or so calories at your typical fast food chain, and convert it into nearly 2,000 calories?
Top it with battered, deep-fried cheese curds and whatever “cool heat sauce” is.
If you eat that burger and the side of fries, CSPI says that’s the same as roughly five Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburgers.
You could also eat an entire large order of hot wings at BWW and still have a couple hundred calories left over before reaching the calories of this sandwich and fries.
Worst Original Appetizer
Dave & Buster’s:
• Calories: 1,970
• Saturated Fat: 67g
• Sodium: 4,440mg
What do you get when you combine a pizza and a quesadilla? An appetizer that might have more calories than the meal it precedes.
The Dave & Buster’s Carnivore Pizzadilla is stuffed with Manchego cheese, cheddar cheese, pepperoni, and Italian sausage, then topped with additional pepperoni and sausage… and don’t forget the bacon, marinara, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
Granted, this 12″ appetizer is probably meant to be shared, but even one-fourth of the Pizzadilla is enough calories and fat for a full meal.
“To your arteries and waistline, a Carnivore Pizzadilla looks like 100 slices of pepperoni layered atop two Taco Bell Cheese Quesadillas,” writes CSPI, “or half a stick of butter melted over three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese.”
Special Honor: The Putting Profits Before Public Health Award
By now, restaurant chains nationwide were supposed to be posting their nutrition information next to menu items. But, after years of industry lobbying — primarily by pizza chains, and in particular Domino’s, according to CSPI — the Food and Drug administration decided in May to further delay that new regulation, with the intention of rewriting it.
CSPI and the National Consumer League sued the FDA in June, arguing that the agency’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, and illegal.
“Americans deserve to know what we’re eating, but Domino’s would prefer that we’re kept in the dark,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Lindsay Moyer. “Every day of delay means the industry has more opportunity to weaken the law that Congress passed seven long years ago.”
Worst Visceral Effects
Chili’s: Ultimate Smokehouse Combo
• Calories: 2,440
• Saturated Fat: 41g
• Sodium: 7,610mg
Choosing this flexible feast gives the diner the option to choose three meats from a variety of four options: BBQ chicken breast; jalapeño-cheddar smoked sausage; battered Chicken Crispers; or a half rack of baby back ribs.
To hit the 2,000-calorie mark for their meal, the CSPI went with the sausage, the Crispers (with honey-mustard sauce for dipping), and the ribs. Of course, one can’t forget the sides: roasted street corn; homestyle fries; chili-garlic toast; and garlic dill pickles.
To get an idea of how much food this was, the Xtreme Eating judges compared this Smokehouse Combo with Chili’s sirloin steak dinner (a 10-oz. steak topped with garlic butter; mashed potatoes; and steamed broccoli). The Smokehouse Combo was like eating three of these steak dinners, says CSPI.
“Why stop at a triple meal? Why not serve four meats and four sides? Or five?” asks CSPI. “And forget the tray. How about a trough?”
Worst Adapted Pasta
The Cheesecake Factory:
• Calories: 2,310
• Saturated Fat: 79g
• Sodium: 4,370mg
The first of two non-cheesecake items from the Cheesecake Factory to make this list is, quite literally, the restaurant chain’s answer to the question, “How can we turn a meat lover’s pizza into a pasta?”
The result is a pile of pasta (greased with butter and cream), covered in Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon.
So how does it compare to a Meat Lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut? It’s about the same calories as eating an entire medium pie (or nearly three personal Meat Lover’s) from that pizza chain.
“Check with your waiter for a list of nearby cardiac care unit,” advises CSPI.
Most Damage from a
16-oz. Prime Rib with Loaded Sweet Potato
• Calories: 2,820
• Saturated Fat: 72g
• Sodium: 5,330
• Added Sugar: 51g (estimated)
The Loaded Sweet Potato gets a special callout in this meal — the highest calorie count on the 2017 awards — because it really helps to push what was already a hefty meal into new territory. It also costs you an extra $.99.
The prime rib alone is a real beast for your belly: a full pound that accounts for 1,570 calories on its own.
Then you get your side of two choices, and forking over that extra buck for the sweet potato (covered in mini marshmallows and caramel sauce) adds 770 calories to your plate.
So you keep it green with your second side: a Caesar salad. But what you may not know is that all of this before you is the same as eating two Texas Roadhouse 12-oz. New York strip steak dinners (with mashed potatoes and vegetables), and a slice of strawberry cheesecake.
Worst Cocktail Design
The Cheesecake Factory:
The Flying Gorilla
• Calories: 950
• Saturated Fat: 26g
• Added Sugar: 60g (estimated)
The Cheesecake Factory returns for this frozen nightcap, a chocolate banana milkshake made with dark chocolate and banana liqueurs.
Yes, it’s the least-calorific item on this year’s list, but at 950 calories for just one drink, you’re downing the equivalent of a Big Mac and medium fries at McDonald’s. CSPI came up with an equivalent of their own: take five scoops of chocolate ice cream and pour a 20-ounce Budweiser over them. (Then wonder why you just went and ruined perfectly good ice cream.)
Have two of these cocktails and you’ve basically consumed all your calories for the day (though you should probably eat something at that point, and also call a cab).
Most Ridiculous Ending
Uno Pizzeria & Grill:
Ridiculously Awesome, Insanely Large Chocolate Cake
• Calories: 1,740
• Saturated Fat: 32g
• Sodium: 770mg
• Added Sugar: 168g (estimated)
We finish with this neither pizza nor grill item from Uno Pizzeria & Grill both because it’s a dessert and because it has such an incredibly stupid, longwinded name that we wonder if anyone actually says it, or do they just say “Give me the chocolate cake”?
Regardless of the name, this chock-full-of-calories slice of cake (yes, unlike the Pizzadilla above, this nutritional information is for a single slice) is nearly a full day’s worth of calories, almost two days’ worth of saturated fat and about half a week’s intake of added sugar.
While these menu items might represent the high end of calories, sugars, and sodium, they aren’t that far off from the usual fare available at these same restaurants. For instance, Uno offers six desserts that each have at least 1,000 calories.
“Leave it to America’s chain restaurant industry to market a stack of pancakes as a side dish, or to lard up quesadillas and pasta with pizza toppings, or to ruin a perfectly good sweet potato,” said CSPI’s Moyer. “These meals are extreme, but even the typical dishes served at restaurants are a threat to Americans’ health because they increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more.”