By Camille Chatterjee
So you're headed out to a chain restaurant and want to pick the healthiest one. Red Lobster should be good, right? Seafood's low in calories, high in protein and full of good-for-you omega-three fatty-acids, right?
While seafood can indeed boast all those nutritional perks, Red Lobster itself just had the dubious honor of being the "winner" of the 2015 Xtreme Eating Awards, held yearly by the Center for the Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to highlight the chain restaurant menu items with the highest calorie, saturated and trans fat, sodium and added sugar counts. Head to the Lobster for a Create Your Own Combination meal -- with a Traditional Lobsterita to drink, natch -- and you could down 3,600 cals in one sitting. That's over a third more than the 2,000 calories the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the average woman eat per day.
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"They've taken seafood, which is a generally healthy meal and turned it into this abomination. But what was so shocking to me is that the Lobsterita has 890 calories alone," says Paige Einstein, RD, a registered dietician with the CSPI, a non-profit health advocacy group focusing on nutrition and food safety that's been conducting the Xtreme Awards since 2007. "So you're adding on to your meal almost half a day's worth of calories just in a drink."
In vetting the menus for more than 200 chain restaurants, Einstein and her team were looking for not only high-calorie offenders but also those that were dangerously high in fat, sodium and added sugars. The USDA recommends limiting your total fat intake to 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories (that is, 44 to 78 grams) and your saturated fat intake to less than seven percent (or 16 grams); the American Heart Association (AHA) suggests you consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars (25 grams) a day, and the AHA and CSPI alike recommend you limit sodium intake to no more than 1500 milligrams a day.
"Restaurant meals are really a problem," Einstein says. "People eat most of their meals outside of the home. It's important for them to know that the average entrée, dessert and appetizer averages 1,000 calories." In fact, some of the items in the CSPI report packed more than a week's worth of sodium and saturated fat.
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Check out their full list of honorees (or, rather, "dishonorees," as the CSPI calls them):
IHOP Chorizo Fiesta Omelette
Photo credit: IHOP
Eggs are good for you, right? Yep-but not when you stuff them with chorizo and cheese, top 'em with chili, and accompany them with three pancakes with syrup to boot.
Fat: 121 grams
Saturated fat: 42 grams
Sodium: 4,840 milligrams
Added sugar: 60 grams
How to burn it off: Clean house for eight hours
Dickey's Barbecue Pit 3-Meat Plate
Photo Credit: Facebook/Dickey's Barbecue Pit
As if three fatty meats -- Polish sausage, pork ribs and beef brisket -- weren't enough to spell heart attack on a plate, heap on sides of fried onion and mac and cheese, a massive container of sweet tea and a cone of the free soft-serve ice cream. It all adds up to more than a day's worth of calories and nearly eight days' worth of artery-clogging saturated fat.
Fat: 190 grams
Saturated fat: 133 grams
Sodium: 6,834 milligrams
Added sugar: 149 grams
How to burn it off: Run for five hours
Outback Steakhouse Herb Prime Rib
Photo credit: Outback Steakhouse
Prime rib, indeed: This one-pound slab of meat plus sides (a dressed baked potato and classic blue cheese wedge salad) is the nutritional equivalent of having ordered three 10 oz. ribeye steaks and three sides of garlic mashed potatoes at the same restaurant (and that's assuming you only ate half the warm loaf of bread they gave you with a light schmear of butter).
Fat: 169 grams
Saturated fat: 71 grams
Sodium: 3,565 milligrams
Added sugar: 35 grams
How to burn it off: Do 10 hours of office work
The Cheesecake Factory Louisiana Chicken Pasta
Photo credit: The Cheesecake Factory
Compared to some of the other winners on this list, bowtie pasta served with chicken, mushrooms, peppers and onions doesn't seem so bad. Bread the chicken with a heavy Parmesan crust and drown the pasta in a sauce rich with butter and heavy cream, though, and you wind up with 80 grams of saturated fat -- that's a four-day supply in one bowl.
Saturated fat: 80 grams
Sodium: 2,370 milligrams
Added sugar: N/A
How to burn it off: Go biking for six hours
SONIC Pineapple Upside Down Master Blast
Photo Credit: Sonic
Talk about a meal in a glass: At 2020 calories, this large milkshake is actually three full meals in a plastic cup.
Fat: 95 grams
Saturated fat: 61 grams
Sodium: 2,090 milligrams
Added sugar: 225 grams
How to burn it off: Dance for five hours
Red Lobster Create Your Own Combination
Photo credit: Facebook/RedLobster
Grilled shrimp, sautéed shrimp, steamed shrimp -- all light and healthy forms of the little crustacean. When slathered in toasted coconut, fried and tossed in cream sauce, as it is in the Parrot Isle, Walt's Favorite and Linguine Alfredo preparations, though, that good-for-you shrimp becomes a fatty gut bomb. Toss in Red Lobster's take on a margarita, a Caesar salad, french fries and one Cheddar Bay Biscuit, and you'll need to be rolled out of the restaurant, practically on a stretcher. (And who sticks to just one Cheddar Bay Biscuit?!)
Fat: 101 grams
Saturated fat: 4,174 grams
Sodium: 6,860 milligrams
Added sugar: N/A
How to burn it off: Garden for nine hours
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Uno Pizzeria & Grill 2 For $12 Pick & Choose
Photo Credit: Facebook/Uno Pizzeria & Grill
Take the baked ziti, leave the deep-dish pizza for one of the salads on the Pick & Choose menu instead. Otherwise, you're basically eating three dinners in one -- and getting over three days' worth of sodium, too.
Fat: 143 grams
Saturated fat: 49 grams
Sodium: 5,420 milligrams
Added sugar: 16 grams
How to burn it off: Walk briskly for six hours
The Cheesecake Factory Warm Apple Crisp
Photo Credit: The Cheesecake Factory
You could be forgiven for thinking this fruit-based dessert would be the rare healthy dessert option at The Cheesecake Factory. But you would be completely wrong. In fact, this apple crisp -- which comes loaded with two scoops of ice cream, a mountain of whipped cream and caramel sauce -- contains more calories than any slice of cheesecake on The Cheesecake Factory's menu. In fact, you could eat two slices of their Original Cheesecake for the same number of cals. Yes, you read that correctly.
Saturated fat: 48 grams
Added sugar: N/A
How to burn it off: Golf for seven hours
Steak 'n Shake 7X7 Steakburger 'n Fries
Photo Credit: Steak 'n Shake
What's better than a burger? Try seven burger patties stacked with seven slices of American cheese on a fluffy bun. Then wash it down with a Chocolate Fudge Brownie milkshake that's nearly 1,000 calories on its own. Better yet -- don't.
Fat: 129 grams
Saturated fat: 67 grams
Sodium: 4,980 milligrams
Added sugar: 138 grams
How to burn it off: Play racquetball for three hours