The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently crowned their "worst restaurant meal in America": a fried fish meal that is a temporary addition to the menu at Long John Silver's that includes a 7.5-ounce piece of fried fish, hush puppies and a jumble of onion rings. At 33 grams of trans fat (just to be clear, not fats -- trans fats), the "Big Catch with Onion Rings" is off the charts in terms of nutritional violations.
In fact, a previous offending fast food item that drew CSPI scrutiny, a fried chicken dish on a former KFC menu, contained less than half the amount of trans fat, at 15 grams (the company has since ceased cooking in partially hydrogenated oil, which contributed to the high trans fat count, according to LiveScience). The Big Catch's trans fat load is actually 16 times the daily limit, reported LiveScience. Trans fat is considered uniquely damaging to health and has been shown to simultaneously increase "bad" LDL cholesterol and lower "good" HDL cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic, which raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.
What's more, the CSPI analysis found that the meal contains 1,320 calories, 19 grams of saturated fat and nearly 3,700 milligrams of sodium.
"Long John Silver's Big Catch meal deserves to be buried 20,000 leagues under the sea," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson in a statement. "This company is taking perfectly healthy fish -- and entombing it in a thick crust of batter and partially hydrogenated oil. The result? A heart attack on a hook. Instead of the Big Catch, I'd call it America's Deadliest Catch."
The restaurant chain has yet to respond to their report.
It's hard to conceive of just how outsized this meal truly is, so we decided to put it in context -- of other unhealthy meals. Here's how the dish stacks up against other troubling examples of America's convenience foods.*
One Big Catch with Onion Rings is equivalent to...
1. 2 Bacon Ranch Chicken Sandwiches From Dunkin' Donuts
At 660 calories a piece, these breaded chicken sandwiches have exactly half the caloric value of a Big Catch meal.
2. More Than 3 Filet-O-Fish Value Meals From McDonald's
With 19 grams of saturated fat, the Big Catch is well above recommended levels -- and the equivalent of 3.2 fried fish sandwich meals (including a fries and a medium Coca-Cola) from McDonald's, which come out to 6 grams of saturated fat each.
3. Almost 10 Large Orders Of Cajun Fries From Popeyes
Most restaurants have nearly eliminated trans fats from their menus to appeal to areas with trans fat regulation (the state of California and New York City, among them), by changing their fry oil from partially hydrogenated to canola or another trans fat free oil. Other restaurants have not. Popeyes' cajun fries are one of the few fast food dishes that still contain the stuff, at 3.5 grams of trans fat per large order. That amounts to 9.4 orders of fries per Big Catch meal.
4. 2.5 Dave's Hot 'N Juicy 1/2 Lb Double Cheeseburger From Wendy's
With 3,700 milligrams of sodium, the Big Catch is equivalent to 2.45 double cheeseburgers from Wendy's, which contain a whopping 1,500 milligrams each. The USDA recommends that Americans consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium in a whole day -- and those who are sensitive to salt should consume 1,500 (a burger's worth), according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
While we don't recommend eating any of these dishes, it is worth noting a particularly egregious meal -- especially in light of marketing that can send the opposite message: Long John Silver's markets the haddock fish included in the Big Catch as "light."
*NB: While our information on the Long John Silver meal is based on CSPI analysis and not the restaurant's self-reporting, we had to rely on restaurant-supplied information for all other dishes, making this an approximation and not an exact calculation.