Picture it: You’re at a Cheesecake Factory. You’ve said no to a slice of salted caramel cheesecake because you know it can’t possibly be healthy, but you succumb to the chain’s Pasta Napoletana, a pile of cream-sauced pasta topped with Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni, and meatballs. (You’re only human, after all.) If a scheduled law had actually taken effect in May—one that would have required restaurants with 20 or more locations to clearly post their meals’ calorie counts—you might have seen this particular plate of pasta has a whopping 2,310 calories, and made a healthier choice. But if you didn’t spot the calorie content, congratulations: You ate your recommended daily calories in one meal.
But one consumer health advocacy group is pulling back the calorie veil on meals served at restaurants across the country. Each year, the Center for Science in the Public Interest rolls out its Xtreme Eating Awards, and this year’s just dropped, with chains such as Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings, and IHOP winning (if you can call it winning) top awards.
Working off the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that adults eat about 2,000 calories each day, the center doles out the awards to the worst offenders.
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Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo—your choice of BBQ chicken breast, smoked sausage, hand-battered chicken, or a half rack of baby back ribs paired with mashed potatoes and a vegetable—took home the award for Worst Visceral Effects. It comes in at a whopping 2,440 calories and contains 41 grams of saturated fat, more than double what many hearth-health associations recommend you ingest in a day. Of course if that seems like a lot of damage to your waistline just to satisfy your meat-tooth, Cheesecake Factory has a Pasta Napolitana topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon on a bed of buttery, creamy noodles that’ll only set you back 2,310 calories.
IHOP’s Cheeseburger Omelette won the center’s Least Original Breakfast award. The eggs are topped with hamburger chunks, hash browns, tomatoes, onions, American cheese, ketchup, mustard, and pickles, and total 1,990 calories, “all before lunch,” the center adds. The Chicago Tribune reached out to IHOP for a comment on the award and, unsurprisingly, the company was less than pleased with the press opportunity.
“While we applaud the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s efforts to educate Americans on making healthier food choices, it’s misleading to single out the highest meal combinations without informing people of the wide range of choices offered at IHOP restaurants, including the ability to customize any item to meet a variety of dietary needs,” IHOP spokeswoman Stephanie Peterson wrote to the newspaper.
Buffalo Wild Wings’ Cheese Curd Bacon Burger, a burger topped with (surprise!) cheese curds, won the center’s Worst Cheese in a Leading Role award. “With a side of fries, you’re looking at the equivalent of roughly five Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburgers,” the center wrote. It’s 1,950 calories, if you’re curious.
In the appetizers category, Dave & Buster’s Carnivore Pizzadilla (pictured above—it’s basically a ton of pepperoni and cheese in some tortillas) weighs in at 1,970 calories, (that’s of course if you don’t share it). And for dessert, Pizzeria Uno has you covered with its Ridiculously Awesome, Insanely Large Chocolate Cake, a whopping 1,740 calories topped off with 168 grams of added sugar.
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If you’re starting to think the law that would have put calorie counts on menus was a very good idea, you have more than the stalled legislation to blame. Domino’s Pizza, with the help of lobbying groups, was instrumental in delaying the law. That’s why the center awarded the pizza chain its first ever Xtreme Putting Profits Before Public Health award, it says. “Who cares about the obesity and diabetes epidemics, as long as the cash keeps rolling in,” the center wrote on its awards page.
If you’d like to see the complete list of awards, you can view them here.