Can we blame our surging obesity rates on restaurants? The "winning" meal items of this year's Xtreme Eating Awards certainly suggest they bear at least some responsibility for our bulging bellies.
The Xtreme Eating Awards, dished out by the nutrition advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa, identify the most caloric, sodium and fat-laden chain restaurant foods of 2011.
Among the "dishonorees" are The Cheesecake Factory's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake, a cheesecake sandwiched between layers of red velvet cake and served with frosting, white chocolate shavings and whipped cream for a total of 1,540 calories and 59 grams (or, as the CSPI notes, three days' worth) of saturated fat; Denny's Fried Cheese Melt, breaded cheese sticks surrounded by more melted cheese in two slices of bread and served with fries and marinara sauce, totalling 1,260 calories and 21 grams of saturated fat. And then there's Cold Stone Creamery's PB&C Shake, a peanut butter, chocolate and milk ice cream shake that weighs in at a whopping 2,010 calories and 68 grams per 24 fl. oz. cup. (See complete list of "dishonorees" below.)
"It's as if the restaurants were targeting the remaining one out of three Americans who are still normal weight in order to boost their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and cancer," the centre's nutrition director Bonnie Liebman said on the organization's web site.
Of course, super-sized foods aren't just an American phenomenon. Many of the restaurants named in the Xtreme Eating Awards also operate in Canada. And as Montreal's Epic Meal Time guys prove, Canadians, too, have a morbid taste for gluttony.
As CSPI points out, with tongue firmly in cheek, "no one's forcing us to order" such highly caloric dishes. "Look at it this way: Some diners may want to put on extra weight, boost their blood pressure, and bump up their LDL ('bad') cholesterol. Restaurants are just there to help."
The 2011 Xtreme Eating Awards go to...
- The Cheesecake Factory Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake. Total calories: 1,540, Total saturated fat: 59 grams
- IHOP Monster Bacon 'N Beef Cheeseburger (two bacon-burger patties topped with American and provolone cheeses on a "Romano-Parmesan" bun). Total calories: 1,250, Total saturated fat: 42 grams, Sodium: 1,590 milligrams
- Denny's Fried Cheese Melt with fries. Total calories: 1,260, Total saturated fat: 21 grams, Sodium: 3,010 milligrams
- The Cheesecake Factory Farmhouse Cheeseburger (includes pork belly, cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato, mayo and fried egg). Total calories: 1,530 calories, Total saturated fat: 36 grams, Sodium: 3,210 milligrams
- Cold Stone Creamery PB&C Shake, per 24 fl. oz. Total calories: 2,010, Total saturated fat: 68 grams
- Applebee's Provolone-Stuffed Meatballs with Fettuccini (cheese-stuffed meatballs in marinara sauce and parmesan cream sauce atop about four cups of pasta, served with garlic bread). Total calories: 1,520, Total saturated fat: 43 grams, Sodium: 3,700 milligrams
- Great Steak extra-large King Fries (French fries topped with cheese, bacon, sour cream).Total calories: 1,500, Total saturated fat: 33 grams, Sodium: 4,980 milligrams
- Morton's Porterhouse Steak (24 ounces of aged prime beef before cooking). Total calories: 1,390, Total saturated fat: 36 grams, Sodium: 1,200 milligrams. That's not including sides, like 850-calorie mashed potatoes or 330-calorie creamed spinach.
To put this all into perspective, CSPI suggests a typical diner should limit their intake to 2,000 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
Promoting obesity or simply serving what diners demand? Should restaurants bear some blame for the obesity epidemic?