Food Is Not Your Enemy

The Chain Restaurant Trap: 1,300-Calorie “Healthy” Choices

We’re all super busy. We have to juggle work, chores at home, maybe taking care of kids as well. Unfortunately, cooking often falls to the wayside. And with so many places to eat out, well, why not just eat out instead?

For many people, eating out means hitting a chain restaurant, like TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, or P.F. Chang’s. These places are relatively inexpensive, often conveniently located, and have huge menus full of very tempting foods.

The problem? The dishes at these restaurants are making us fat.

It’s not surprising to anyone that bacon cheeseburgers with ranch dressing, fettuccine Alf redo, or brownie sundaes are high in calories. But what does tend to catch people by surprise is how many calories are in some of the dishes that sound “healthy,” like salmon, chicken, salads, and vegetarian fare.

So you walk into Cheesecake Factory, and maybe you feel determined to make a better choice than you did the last time you were here and walked out feeling like your stomach was going to explode. You winnow down your list to the following items, which all sound pretty healthy: the grilled portobello on a bun, grilled turkey burger, miso salmon, orange chicken, grilled eggplant sandwich, and the Caesar salad with chicken.

Now here are the calorie counts for these foods:

  • Grilled Portobello on a Bun = 1,377 calories
  • Grilled Turkey Burger = 1,331 calories
  • Miso Salmon = 1,670 calories
  • Orange Chicken = 1,790
  • Incredible Grilled Eggplant Sandwich = 1,020
  • Caesar Salad With Chicken = 1,510

These dishes hardly seem healthy now, right? And if you also get an appetizer and/or dessert, you’re looking at way more calories than you should consume for the whole day, or maybe even for two days. Eat a meal like this once a week and don’t be surprised if you put on 10 pounds a year. I invite you to look at Cheesecake Factory’s full list of nutrition facts for more eye-opening info.

Cheesecake Factory is certainly not the only offender when it comes to high-calorie “healthy” foods. Boston Market’s Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich has 1,050 calories. Cosi’s Tuna Melt has 774 calories. P.F. Chang’s Chicken Chopped Salad With Ginger Dressing has 940 calories. Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s Seared Sea Scallops Salad has 1,170 calories.

Why do these dishes have so many calories? Portion size is certainly a contributing factor–these restaurants are notorious for serving enormous amounts of food. And fat and sugar are the other big issues. The goal at these eateries is to get you to keep coming back, and piling on lots of butter, cream, mayo, and sugar certainly ups the pleasure factor when you’re dining.

So the next time you’re thinking of heading out to a chain restaurant, think twice. An entire week’s worth of healthy eating at home can be undone by this one meal.


Why You Should Feel Okay About Cooking With Salt

“I don’t cook with salt.” I’ve heard this refrain many times from people who have high blood pressure. I picture them slurping down tasteless soups and suffering through bland steaks, and am happy for my own salt shaker at home.

But then they’ll tell me in passing that they go out to restaurants and/or get takeout several times a week. At which point I may ask, “Do you know how much salt is in the restaurant food you’re eating?”

The answer will shock anyone. Often restaurant entrees have more salt in them than you’re supposed to have in an entire day (which is 1,500 mg, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest). That Olive Garden Garden-Fresh Salad with Italian dressing? 1,930 mg. Chipotle chicken burrito? 2,120 mg. Panera Full Smoked Ham & Swiss Sandwich on rye? 2,350 mg. And forget about Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries with jalapeno ranch dressing–you’re looking at almost four days’ worth of salt in that mess (5,530 mg).

And it’s not just the chain restaurants. New York magazine sent a few entrees from popular NYC restaurants to the lab last year to see how much sodium they contained, and it wasn’t pretty (Momofuku Noodle Bar’s ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg has 3,440 mg, for example).

The fact is that only 10 percent of salt in Americans’ diets comes from salt used in the home. The other 90 percent comes from the restaurant and prepared foods that we eat.

So if you have high blood pressure, or want to prevent yourself from getting it, stop worrying about using salt in your own cooking. If you instead cut back on restaurant, take-out, and frozen meals, you’ll be making a much, much bigger impact when it comes to salt reduction. And your waistline will love that home-cooking as well.

The Best and Worst Foods to Eat at Subway (the Sandwich Shop)
March 31, 2011, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Meat, Restaurants, weight loss | Tags: , ,

It seems that tons of people on a regular basis search for “the best” or “the worst” foods to eat at Subway, and end up being directed by Google to my story about the best and worst foods to eat ON the subway, as in the NYC trains.  So I imagine that plenty of people wondering whether they should order the meatball sub or the veggie sub now have a full but perhaps unlooked-for understanding of my feelings about people who clip their nails during the morning commute.

In the interest of providing the information that many people so clearly crave, here is a link to the full nutrition information for Subway, the sandwich chain.

As chains go, Subway isn’t terrible. The calorie counts are very modest compared to what you’ll see on the nutrition info sheets for, say, the Cheesecake Factory or KFC. But just remember that cold cuts are not particularly healthy, and there’s nothing about Subway’s fare that will promote weight loss–Jared lost all that weight simply by cutting calories.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches for Buns??

There’s something very odd and disturbing about the fact that the more we hear about how the U.S. is in the midst of a terrible obesity crisis, the further the fast food and chain restaurants go in their attempts to offer insanely high-calorie food. Behold, Friendly’s Grilled Cheese BurgerMelt, a hamburger which is encased between two grilled-cheese sandwiches instead of buns:

1500 Calories
870 Fat Calories
79g Total Fat
38g Saturated Fat
180g Cholesterol
2090mg Sodium
101g Carbs
9g Dietary Fiber
4g Sugar
54g Protein

Why, Friendly’s, why?

Calorie Postings Don’t Change Habits, Study Finds

You know those calorie postings in fast food and chain restaurants in New York? A new study, reported in today’s New York Times, has shown that they don’t work so well. In fact, the people studied– residents in poor NYC neighborhoods with high rates of obesity–have consumed more calories since the calorie info went up.

What to make of this? The takeaway is that cheap food trumps nutrition.

“‘Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,’ said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.”

This is no reason, of course, to dump this program. More information, rather than less, is a good thing. The problem is that the cheapest foods are also some of the unhealthiest. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone in the Bronx could walk into a restaurant and order a shrimp, vegetable, and soba noodle stir fry off the dollar menu?

Seven Restaurant Dishes Too Embarrassing to Order by Name

Loved this list, courtesy of the Consumerist. And in case you were wondering, here are the calorie counts for these cleverly named items:

Chili’s Quesadilla Explosion Salad: 1,270 calories

Applebee’s Chicken Parmesan Tanglers: 319 calories

Cheesecake Factory’s Weight Management Asian Chicken Salad: 571 calories

P.F. Chang’s Hot Fish: 960 calories

Cracker Barrel’s Uncle Herschel’s Favorite: n/a

Friendly’s Super Sizzlin’ Sausage Sunrise: 690 calories

Outback Steakhouse’s Chocolate Thunder From Down Under: 1,220 calories

Xtreme Eating Awards 2009

Would you like an entrée with your entrée?

“Xtreme appetizers, entrées, and desserts at America’s chain restaurants are making Americans fatter and sicker, and the trendy thing for chains to do is to make already bad foods even worse. Bacon cheeseburgers come nestled inside quesadillas. Half racks of ribs are promoted as side orders to steak. Golf-ball-size blobs of macaroni and cheese are tossed in the deep-fryer and served with creamy marinara sauce and even more cheese.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has just come out with its Xtreme Eating Awards 2009, in which the advocacy group “honors” the chain-restaurant dishes with the most calories, fat, and salt. And let me tell you, it is completely shocking just how many calories some of this stuff has. The Cheesecake Factory Chicken and Biscuits? 2,500 calories. That’s more calories than you should be consuming all day.

These awards make it very clear why posting calorie counts on menus is a good thing–would you really order the chicken and biscuits if you knew it was that much of a calorie bomb?