Creamy pasta dish tops US fatty list


A Cheesecake Factory pasta dish with 3,120 calories - or more than a day and a half of the recommended caloric intake for an average adult - is among the headliners on this year's Xtreme Eating list of the most unhealthy dishes at US chain restaurants.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-focused non-profit group that promotes healthier eating, compiles an annual list of "food porn" to alert consumers to menu items with eye-popping levels of calories, saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium.

"You'd think that the size of their profits depended on their increasing the size of your pants," CSPI director Michael Jacobson said of the industry's Xtreme Eating winners. The list was released today.

For years, CSPI  has used the "awards" to raise awareness and drum up support for calorie disclosure on restaurant menus - something that larger chains soon will be required to do under the US health reform law.

The Cheesecake Factory's bistro shrimp pasta, made with a butter and cream sauce and topped with battered, fried shrimp, also contains a 89g of saturated fat and 1,090mg of sodium. CSPI said it confirmed the nutritional data with the companies on the list.

Typical adults are advised to consume no more than 20g of saturated fat and 1,500mg of sodium per day.

"It's like eating three orders of Olive Garden's lasagna classico plus an order of tiramisu for dinner," CSPI said. Some in the food and beverage industries have dubbed the Washington-based group the "food police".

More than one-third of Americans are obese, and about 10 per cent of the country's healthcare bill is tied to obesity-related diseases, such as Type II diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

US food and beverage industries are under increasing pressure from consumer, health and parents' groups to offer more healthy alternatives.

Restaurant companies say it is their job to give consumers choice. Many, including Cheesecake Factory, have lower calorie sections on their menus alongside their indulgent offerings.

Cheesecake Factory is known for its ample portions and wide array of cheesecakes - many of which weigh in at around 1,000 calories per slice. It makes regular showings on the Xtreme Eating list, but since August 2011 has promoted its "SkinnyLicious" menu of dishes with 590 or fewer calories, including salmon rolls and a pear and chicory salad.

Jayne Hurley, CSPI's senior nutritionist and an author of this year's Xtreme Eating report, said such lower-calorie items should be recategorised as "normal" rather than "diet".

"It's the steady stream of high-calorie foods that sabotage your diet not just for the day, but for the entire week," Ms Hurley said.California-based Cheesecake Factory did not respond to requests for comment about their winning dishes.

Other Xtreme Eating winners for 2013 include:

- Johnny Rockets' bacon cheddar double hamburger with 1,770 calories, 50g of saturated fat and 2,380mg of sodium. For comparison, three quarter pounders with cheese from McDonald's have 1,570 calories.

- Cheesecake Factory's crispy chicken costoletta with 2,610 calories, 89g of saturated fat and 2,720mg of sodium. CSPI said an entire 12-piece bucket of KFC original recipe fried chicken has about the same number of calories but less than half the saturated fat.

- Smoothie King's peanut power plus grape smoothie, which includes peanut butter, banana, sugar and grape juice. A large size of that drink has 1,460 calories and 22 teaspoons of added sugar plus 29 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar. The US government's dietary guidelines for Americans recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugars per day and that men consume no more than nine.

- Chocolate zuccotto cake from Maggiano's Little Italy. One slice weighs nearly 500g  and has 1,820 calories, 62g of saturated fat and 26 teaspoons of added sugar, CSPI said.

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