A Cheesecake Factory pasta dish with more than 3,000 calories - or more than a day and a half of the recommended caloric intake for an average adult - is among the headliners on this year's Xtreme Eating list of the most unhealthy dishes at U.S. chain restaurants.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-focused nonprofit group that promotes healthier eating, compiles an annual list of "food porn" to alert consumers to menu items with eye-popping levels of calories, saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium.
"You'd think that the size of their profits depended on their increasing the size of your pants," CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson said of the industry's Xtreme Eating winners. The list was released on Wednesday.
CSPI for years has used the "awards" to raise awareness and drum up support for calorie disclosure on restaurant menus - something that larger chains soon will be required to do under the U.S. health reform law.
The Cheesecake Factory's Bistro Shrimp Pasta, made with a butter and cream sauce and topped with battered, fried shrimp, has 3,120 calories and 89 grams of saturated fat and 1,090 milligrams of sodium, said CSPI, which said it confirmed nutritional data with companies on the list.
Cheesecake Factory said that dish has 3,020 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat and 1,076 milligrams of sodium.
Typical adults are advised to consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
"It's like eating three orders of Olive Garden's Lasagna Classico plus an order of tiramisu for dinner," CSPI said. Some in the food and beverage industries have dubbed the Washington-based group the "food police."
More than one-third of Americans are obese, and about 10 percent of the nation's healthcare bill is tied to obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The nation's food and beverage industries are under increasing pressure from consumer, health and parents' groups to offer more healthy alternatives.
Restaurant companies say it is their job to give consumers choices. Many, including Cheesecake Factory, have lower-calorie sections on their menus alongside the indulgent offerings.
Cheesecake Factory is known for its ample portions and wide array of cheesecakes - many of which weigh in at around 1,000 calories per slice.
It makes regular showings on the Xtreme Eating list, but since August 2011 has promoted its "SkinnyLicious" menu of entrees with 590 or fewer calories, including salmon rolls and a pear and endive salad.
Jayne Hurley, CSPI's senior nutritionist and an author of this year's Xtreme Eating report, said such lower-calorie items should be recategorized as "normal" rather than "diet."
"It's the steady stream of high-calorie foods that sabotage your diet not just for the day, but for the entire week," Hurley said.
"The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices. Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories," Donald Evans, the company's chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
Evans also said Cheesecake Factory diners often share their dishes or take home leftovers.
Other Xtreme Eating winners for 2013 include:
- Johnny Rockets' Bacon Cheddar Double Hamburger with 1,770 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat and 2,380 milligrams of sodium. For comparison, three Quarter Pounders with Cheese from McDonald's have 1,570 calories.
- Cheesecake Factory's Crispy Chicken Costoletta with 2,610 calories, 89 grams of saturated fat and 2,720 milligrams of sodium. CSPI said an entire 12-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe fried chicken has about the same number of calories but less than half the saturated fat. Cheesecake Factory told Reuters that dish has 2,560 calories, 86 grams of saturated fat and 2,767 milligrams of sodium.
- Smoothie King's Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie, which includes peanut butter, banana, sugar and grape juice. A 40-ounce, large size of that drink has 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar plus 29 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar.
The U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day and that men consume no more than nine.
- Chocolate Zuccotto Cake from Maggiano's Little Italy. One slice weighs nearly one pound and has 1,820 calories, 62 grams of saturated fat and 26 teaspoons of added sugar - or 15 Hostess Ho Hos, CSPI said.
(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; editing by Ros Krasny, Bob Burgdorfer and Maureen Bavdek)