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Chili’s, IHOP, and (Surprise!) The Cheesecake Factory Top 2017 Xtreme Eating Awards

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The Cheesecake Factory has never gone home empty-handed from the Xtreme Eating Awards, and 2017 is no exception: The California-based chain is a double dishonoree this year, with a 2,310-calorie entrée that fuses the toppings of a meat lover’s pizza with a bowl of pasta, and an alcoholic milkshake with nearly 1,000 calories.

The annual awards, not quite as coveted as the Oscars, were announced today by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and published in the July/August issue of the group’s Nutrition Action Healthletter.  

What follows are just a few of the 2017 Xtreme Eating Award winners.  To put these nutritional nightmares into context, a day’s worth of calories is 2,000, a day’s worth of sodium is 2,300 milligrams, a day’s worth of saturated fat is 20 grams, and a day’s worth of added sugar is 50 grams.

  • Worst Adapted Pasta—The Cheesecake Factory’s Pasta Napoletana piles Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon on pasta that’s been greased with butter and cream.  The dish answers a question asked by the chain’s chief culinary officer, Donald Moore: “How can we turn a meat lover’s pizza into a pasta?”  With 2,310 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat, and 4,370 mg of sodium, the dish is like eating a Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s Personal Pan Pizza topped with three cups of pasta and a cup of heavy cream.
  • Worst Cocktail Design—The nutritional equivalent of a 20 oz. Budweiser over five scoops of Breyers Chocolate ice cream, The Cheesecake Factory’s Flying Gorilla is a boozy shake with 950 calories, 26 grams of saturated fat, and an estimated 60 grams of added sugar.
  • Least Original Breakfast—IHOP’s Cheeseburger Omelette adorns eggs with hamburger patty pieces, hash browns, tomatoes, onions, American cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles.  When you go with 3 Buttermilk Pancakes (with butter and syrup) as your side, the breakfast has 1,990 calories, 45 grams of saturated fat, 4,580 mg of sodium, and an estimated 44 grams of added sugar.
  • Most Damage from a Supporting Vegetable—By itself, the massive 16 oz. Prime Rib at Texas Roadhouse has 1,570 calories.  That’s before you choose your two sides.  One of them—for an extra 99 cents—is a doozy.  CSPI is ordinarily a fan of sweet potatoes, but the Roadhouse’s Loaded Sweet Potato (770 calories) comes entombed under a pile of mini marshmallows and caramel sauce.  Add a Caesar salad as your second side, and the meal has 2,820 calories, 72 grams of saturated fat, 5,330 mg of sodium, and an estimated 51 grams of added sugar.  It’s like eating two of the chain’s 12 oz. New York strip steak dinners (with mashed potatoes and vegetables), plus a slice of strawberry cheesecake.

The full list of “winners” for Worst Visceral Effects, Worst Cheese in a Leading Role, and other categories is available at cspinet.org/xtreme-eating-2017.

“Leave it to America’s chain restaurant industry to market a stack of pancakes as a side dish, or to lard up quesadillas and pasta with pizza toppings, or to ruin a perfectly good sweet potato,” said CSPI senior nutritionist Lindsay Moyer.  “These meals are extreme, but even the typical dishes served at restaurants are a threat to Americans’ health because they increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more.”

The 2010 Affordable Care Act included provisions requiring calorie counts on the menus and menu boards of chains with 20 or more outlets.  The Food and Drug Administration had scheduled the rules to go into effect on May 5 of this year.  But less than a week before that deadline, lobbyists for pizza chains, supermarkets, and convenience stores convinced the Trump administration to delay the implementation date.  That’s why CSPI also conferred its first-ever Xtreme Putting Profits Before Public Health Award to Domino’s—the loudest industry voice opposing calorie labeling.

“These meals are extreme, but even the typical dishes served at restaurants are a threat to Americans’ health because they increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more," says CSPI's senior nutritionist Lindsay Moyer.

“Americans deserve to know what we’re eating, but Domino’s would prefer that we’re kept in the dark,” said Moyer.  “Every day of delay means the industry has more opportunity to weaken the law that Congress passed seven long years ago.”

The FDA is accepting public comments until Wednesday, August 2, on its proposal to delay menu labeling, and CSPI is encouraging Americans to register their opposition with the agency before then.  Food retailers opposed to menu labeling are pushing legislation that would weaken menu labeling by letting companies use arbitrary serving sizes and by letting pizza chains avoid disclosing calories on in-store menu boards.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).