In case you’re an efficient eater and want to get all of your daily calories in just one meal – not to mention a week’s worth of saturated fat – the Center for Science in the Public Interest has helpfully released a list of the highest-calorie restaurant meals.
In generous use of the word “restaurant,” the Cheesecake Factory tops the list, selling dishes with the most calories and the highest concentrations of sodium, saturated fat and sugar, according to the CSPI, a nonprofit health-advocacy group.
Cheesecake Factory, which has 150 locations nationwide, won three out of the nine Xtreme Eating Awards this year (the CSPI has been presenting them annually since 2007).
“The Cheesecake Factory may have reformulated a few dishes in response to being named a ‘winner’ of Xtreme Eating Awards in years past,” CSPI said in a press release Wednesday, saying the chain leads the “(fanny) pack.” “Nevertheless, the chain still sports numerous highly qualified Xtreme contenders, including a 2,800-calorie brunch item, a 2,400-calorie pasta, and a 1,500-calorie slice of cheesecake.”
(Standard estimates of the daily caloric needs of a moderately active man between the ages of 26 and 45 is 2,600, while a moderately active woman between the ages of 26 and 50 needs roughly 2,000 calories a day to maintain a current weight.)
Cheesecake Factory’s Bruléed French Toast — custard-soaked bread topped with powdered sugar and served with maple-butter syrup and bacon (damn that sounds good) — would require a person to swim laps for seven hours to burn off its 2,780 calories, CSPI noted. The meal also has almost five days’ worth of saturated fat (93 grams), 2,230 milligrams of sodium (more than a day’s worth), and 24 teaspoons of (mostly) added sugar.
A second winner, the Cheesecake Factory's Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic, packs a three-day load of saturated fat and 2,410 calories, according to the CSPI.
Although Cheesecake Factory “could have easily swept the entire list,” according to the CSPI, it wasn’t the only winner. Others include Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Famous Dave’s and Joe’s Crab Shack.
The single unhealthiest meal CSPI found came from the 470-outlet Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. Its “Monster”-sized A.1. Peppercorn burger, Bottomless Steak Fries and Monster Salted Caramel Milkshake has a grand total of 3,540 calories, three-and-a-half days’ worth of saturated fat (69 grams) and four days’ worth of sodium (6,280 mg). CSPI estimates the dish has 38 teaspoons—almost three-quarters of a cup—of added sugar. To dispose of those calories, the average person would need to walk briskly for a full 12 hours. That would get you about halfway to San Diego.
“The Big Slab” of St. Louis-Style Spareribs at Famous Dave’s yields one-and-a-half pounds of pork. Add Famous Fries, Wilbur Beans, and a cornbread muffin and the meal has 2,770 calories, 54 grams of saturated fat, 4,320 mg of sodium and 14 teaspoons of sugar. “Not planning on mowing the lawn for seven and a half hours hours after dinner? Expect the spareribs dinner to end up in your spare tire,” the CSPI says.
Joe’s Crab Shack attracted CSPI’s attention in April when it discovered that the chain still used artificial trans fat in its kitchens. This wasn’t one of the meals with trans fat, but The Big “Hook” Up platter at Joe’s is one of the highest-calorie entrées CSPI has ever found.
It’s a “friedfoodaganza” of something called Great Balls of Fire (“seafood and crab balls full of jalapeños and cream cheese coated in panko breadcrumbs … served with ranch”), fish and chips, coconut shrimp, crab-stuffed shrimp, hushpuppies and coleslaw (can’t you just envision Homer Simpson tossing that back?). The entire meal has 3,280 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat and 7,610 mg of sodium. To burn off that many calories, you’d would need to play golf (without a cart or caddie) for 11 straight hours.
“It’s clear that caloric extremism still rules the roost at many of America’s chain restaurants,” said CSPI dietician Paige Einstein in the release. “Two out of three American adults are overweight or obese and one in 10 adults has diabetes, thanks in part to the Cheesecake Factory, Chevys Fresh Mex, Maggiano’s Little Italy and much of the rest of America’s chain restaurant industry.” (Click here for a slideshow of the winners.)
Right now, Americans are able to eat such fat- and sugar-laden goodness blissfully unaware of its contents and calories. However, due to new menu labeling regulations being finalized by the Food and Drug Administration and the White House, they will soon be forced to face reality. The healthcare reform legislation signed in 2010 contained a requirement that chains with 20 or more outlets disclose calorie counts on menus.
When the rules go into effect, diners will easily see, for instance, that a slice of the Cheesecake Factory’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake (the chain’s third winner) has 1,500 calories. However, the rules won’t require the chain to disclose the fact that it would take four-and-a-half hours of aerobics to burn off that one little slice of chocolatey goodness.