Each year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) analyzes menu items from the country’s most popular restaurants, looking for indefensibly fatty, salty and calorie-laden fare to include in their Xtreme Eating Awards [PDF] — a sort of rogue’s gallery of the worst nutritional offenders. They never have to look far for candidates. The 2011 Xtreme honorees are all on the bill at top chains across the country — places like Denny’s, the Cheesecake Factory and Cold Stone Creamery. While most restaurant meals offer us portions far larger than we need (a restaurant entree averages 1,000 calories), it takes a special kind of caloric excess to be an Xtreme Eating champ.
Red velvet cheesecake slices, bacon cheeseburgers, brownie milkshakes — what appears to be an indulgent treat in promotional photos and menu descriptions may in fact be another contribution to the arms race of sugar, fat and salt, aimed at making low-quality ingredients used by restaurants more palatable. Gargantuan portions are equally misguided: exactly how many stacked beef patties or tottering cake layers do you need? And a fried egg plopped on top of your smoked pork and cheddar burger? Really? There’s more than an indulgence of gluttony at work here. It’s also a perverse attempt to offer “value” for entrees by providing more calories.
Obesity rates are tipping the scales at 30% of adults in 12 states, according to the latest report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — up from just one state with a 30% obesity rate four years ago. And while we can’t say restaurant meals alone are causing the problem, this award rundown should read like a no-fly list. Avoid, avoid, avoid.