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Astonishingly Unhealthful Eating

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This all began when one of the pharmaceutical reps brought in some “treats” for our staff. Bringing morning snacks is one of those strange drug company rituals that’s been occurring for decades across the US. And recently, snack dispensing is on the rise because new government restrictions make it illegal for companies to give doctors anything (pens, pads of paper) with a drug name printed on it. So…we get more food, you get more TV drug commercials.

Keeping the good health of the American public uppermost in mind, the usual pharmaceutical food drops are a couple of dozen Dunkin’ Donuts, a bag of Starbuck’s scones, or a small shopping bag filled with life-preserver sized bagels and a bucket of cream cheese. Today it was a tub of M&M’s. Over the course of a day, just about all this food manages to disappear, though when questioned individually, staff members rarely remember eating any of it. (“Well, somebody must have eaten all those bagels!”)

Several staff hands were headed for the M&M’s when our nutritionist Marla Feingold offered, “Here’s an interesting fact about M&M’s. Do you know that you’d need to briskly walk the length of a football field, back and forth, to burn off the calories from a single M&M?”

Hands froze mid-air, then slowly retreated.

She continued, “Dr. E, because you walk to work and home again, you can have two M&M’s and not worry.”

Needless to say, the candy has been sitting there for days. Maybe we’ll leave them in the waiting room for you.

With that preamble, what I wanted to share was an article I came across that same morning, the list of the 2009 Xtreme Eating Awards from the public watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Now, as you read this list, remember that the average person pursuing a heart-healthy lifestyle needs a total of 2,000 calories a day, with a maximum 20 grams of fat and 2,000 mg of sodium (salt).

The winners, courtesy of Medical News Today:

Cheesecake Factory’s Fried Macaroni and Cheese which contains 1,570 calories and 69 grams of saturated fat. “You would be better off eating an entire stick of butter,” said the CSPI statement.

Olive Garden’s Tour of Italy invites you to pile Lasagna, Chicken Parmigiana, and Fettuccine Alfredo onto a very large dinner plate.

Uno Chicago Grill, The Melting Pot and Olive Garden’s Red Lobster Ultimate Fondue, described as “shrimp and crabmeat in a creamy lobster cheese sauce served in a warm crispy sourdough bowl,” contains 1,490 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, and 3,580 mg of sodium.

Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger is essentially a bacon cheeseburger inside a quesadilla and contains two flour tortillas, two kinds of meat, two kinds of cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, Mexi-ranch sauce, and fries. This dish has 1,820 calories, 46 grams of saturated fat, and 4,410 mg of sodium. Plus there is an option to top up the fries with more sauce and cheese.

Chili’s Big Mouth Bites is four mini-bacon-cheeseburgers with fries, onion strings, and jalapeno ranch dipping sauce (the term “mini” is misleading said the CSPI report because each burger is like a quarter pounder). This dish comes as an appetizer or an entrée. The entrée version contains 2,350 calories, 38 grams of saturated fat, and 3,940 milligrams of sodium.

The Cheesecake Factory’s Chicken and Biscuits has 2,500 calories. CSPI describes this dish as “discomfort food.” and said that “if you wouldn’t eat an entire 8-piece bucket of KFC Original Recipe plus 5 biscuits, you shouldn’t order this.”

Unless you live in a city with menu calorie labeling, you might not even guess that the last dish has 2,500 calories. The rest of the winning (er, losing) appetizers, entrées, and desserts are in the June issue of Nutrition Action. You can see the entire list of winners, runners-up (with photos!), and 3,000-calorie desserts by clicking here. (My favorite runner-up was Chili’s half slab of baby back ribs served as a side dish.)

Fortunately, the government is pushing some helpful nutritional legislation. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) sponsored a bill requiring restaurant chains to provide complete nutritional information about their menu items. The restaurant lobby opposes this completely, with the predictable (I’m paraphrasing): We’re not required to be nutritional nannies. Adults can make their own food choices.

But even the most well-informed adults are not nutritionists. Kind of like us with those M&M’s.

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