Scientists Identify the Least Healthy Foods at Chain Restaurants

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Would you wash down a McDonald’s Big Mac with two more Big Macs? Or follow up your dinner with a full cup of granulated sugar for dessert? According to researchers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, when you chow down at some of America’s chain restaurants, that’s essentially what you’re doing.

AV Club reports that CSPI just released its annual Xtreme Eating List, detailing the least healthy meals currently on the menu at chain restaurants across the United States. While there were presumably plenty of unhealthy dishes to choose from, CSPI narrowed its list down to nine menu items available at nine different chains.

While calorie counts were central to CSPI’s research, they also took into account other criteria including sodium, sugar, and saturated fat content. That allowed them to not only identify when a meal was shockingly caloric (several of the “winning” dishes were well over 2000 calories) but when they were packed with other unhealthy ingredients we might be less likely to think about when perusing a menu.

For instance, one of the most gluttonous meals, The Cheescake Factory’s Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict, served up 2580 calories—about a day and a quarter’s worth of calories. While that might seem shocking, it’s nothing compared to the dish’s saturated fat content: 86 grams—or four days' worth of saturated fat.

Other dishes that made the cut included Dave and Busters’s Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack (a 1910-calorie mac and cheese-stuffed sandwich), Uno Pizzeria & Grill’s Whole Hog Burger (2850 calories of hamburger, pepperoni, prosciutto, bacon, and sausage—plus fries, onion rings, and condiments), and Buffalo Wild Wings’s Dessert Nachos (a 2100-calorie dessert concoction made with fried tortillas, ice cream, cheesecake, and chocolate sauce). Only one beverage, meanwhile, made the cut: Sonic’s 970-calorie Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy—a sugary iced beverage with “drinkable” candy mixed right in.

While the list serves up the most extreme examples of the unhealthy offerings on chain restaurant menus, it also acts as a general reminder for consumers to keep track of what they’re eating. And even if most restaurant foods aren’t quite as horrifying as the Xtreme Eating List winners, that doesn’t make them healthy. “Unfortunately, these extreme meals are more like the rule, not the exception,” CSPI dietitian Lindsay Moyer explained in a statement.  “America’s restaurant chains are serving up meals that seem engineered to promote diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and strokes. The 3000-calorie burger platters of today make McDonald’s Quarter Pounders look like sliders.”

[h/t AV Club]