Each year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest selects a handful of the unhealthiest restaurant meals in America to receive its Xtreme Eating Awards—and this year's highest-calorie item was the Cheesecake Factory's Breakfast Burrito at more than 2,700 calories, the New York Times reports.
Why restaurant meals may contribute to obesity
Two out of three U.S. adults and one out of three U.S. children or teenagers are overweight or obese, the Times reports. One factor contributing to the epidemic is that more than 30% of the calories Americans consume come from restaurant meals, which typically contain about 1,000 calories—half of the daily recommendation for the average person.
But according to the Times, many Americans are "clueless" as to the amount of calories, sodium, and saturated fat they consume from restaurant foods. So every year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) releases the Xtreme Eating Awards to warn consumers about especially alarming restaurant meals.
The awards name the top restaurant entrees across eight categories:
- Worst Way to Start the Day;
- Worst Special Effects;
- Worst Cinematic Snack;
- Worst Adapted Pizza;
- Least Creative Mashup;
- Worst Makeup;
- Worst Visceral Effects; and
- Worst revival.
According to CPSI, all of the restaurant items on this year's list are "accompanied by at least a day's saturated fat, sodium, or added sugar."
The 'winners' of the 2018 Xtreme Eating Awards
This year's Xtreme Eating Awards list is packed with processed foods and high-calorie dishes, the Times reports.
The highest-calorie item among this year's award winners was Cheesecake Factory's Breakfast Burrito, which the restaurant describes as a "warm tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, chicken chorizo, cheese, crispy potatoes, avocado, peppers, and onions, over spicy ranchero sauce."
While it might sound appetizing to some, the burrito contains 2,730 calories—730 calories over the daily recommended calorie intake for many. It also has two days' worth of sodium at 4,630 milligrams and three days' worth of saturated fat at 73 grams.
Other entrees on this year's list included:
- Yard House's Vampire Taco Combo (worst special effects), which contains two 440-calorie tacos filled with pork, "bacon chorizo," cream sauce, and guacamole, alongside spicy rice and pinto beans that contain an additional 610 calories;
- AMC's Bavarian Legend Soft Pretzel (worst cinematic snack), which has the highest sodium content on the list at 7,600 mg;
- The Cheesecake Factory's Chicken Parmesan Pizza Style (worst adapted pizza), which the menu states contains "[c]hopped chicken breast coated with breadcrumbs, covered with marinara sauce and lots of melted cheese. Topped with angel hair pasta in an Alfredo cream sauce;"
- Chili's Honey-Chipotle Crispers & Waffles (least creative mashup), which at 2,510 calories is the equivalent of "five Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts smothered in 30 McDonald's Chicken McNuggets and five packets of barbecue sauce," according to CPIS;
- BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse's Peanut Butter S'mores Pizookie (worst makeup), which has 135 grams of added sugar. The menu states that it contains a "Ghirardelli triple chocolate cookie," peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, marshmallows, and "rich vanilla bean ice cream;"
- Uno Pizzeria & Grill's Deep Dish Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese (worst visceral effects), which at 2,320 calories contains "penne with aged cheddar, parmesan and romano topped with buffalo chicken and baked in a deep dish pan," according to the menu; and
- Shake Shack's Double SmokeShack, fries, and peanut butter shake (worst revival), which consists of a 930-calorie burger, 420-calorie fries, and an 890-calorie shake.
Can posted calorie counts address obesity?
The Times reports several restaurant menu items featured on Xtreme Eating Awards lists in previous years have made calorie reductions to their "notorious" dishes. For example, Ruby Tuesday reduced the calories in its Chicken & Broccoli Pasta from 2,060 in 2012 to 1,405 currently, the Times reports.
Further, public health advocates have argued that displaying calorie counts on restaurant menus may help customers make smarter choices.
In 2017, an ACA regulation took effect that requires chain restaurants to post calories on menus and menu boards. A study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that, on average, Starbucks customers ordered food with 6% fewer calories after the chain posted calories on their menus in accordance with New York City regulations (Brody, The New York Times, 8/27; CSPI, 2018 Xtreme Eating Awards).
Provider-led strategies to address food insecurity
One in six households experience food insecurity, which means they have limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe food. Individuals who are food insecure are two times as likely to suffer from diabetes and are three times as likely to have poor overall health status.
Download the report to learn from seven provider organizations that represent a broad range of food insecurity interventions and get 16 action steps for improving patient access to nutrition-reinforced diets.