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Calories gone wild: 'Xtreme' restaurant meals under scrutiny

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has announced its Xtreme Eating Awards, which show restaurant meals with high calorie counts.
/ Source: TODAY

From “sippable candy” to 1,500-calorie appetizers, consuming an entire day’s worth of calories in one sitting is a piece of cake — or more like a burger platter — when you go out to eat.

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest on Monday announced its annual Xtreme Eating Awards, which highlight restaurant meals with mind-blowingly high calorie counts.

These extreme offerings are more like the rule, not the exception, said Lindsay Moyer, a senior nutritionist at CSPI. Some options make McDonald’s Quarter Pounders look like sliders, she noted.

“America’s restaurant chains are serving up meals that seem engineered to promote diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and strokes,” Moyer told TODAY.

“Instead of doing their part to reverse the obesity epidemic, America’s chain restaurants are pouring gasoline on the fire.”

Related: New food labels show how much you need to exercise to burn off calories

Here are some of the 2016 award “winners”:

Whole Hog Burger from Uno Pizzeria & Grill

The burger features sausage, bacon, prosciutto, pepperoni, four types of cheese, garlic mayo and pickles; and comes with fries and onion rings.

CSPI’s verdict: 2,850 calories, three days’ worth of saturated fat (62 grams), and six days’ worth of sodium (9,790 milligrams). “You might as well eat four McDonald’s Quarter Pounders with Cheese and two medium fries doused with 18 packets of salt,” the group says.

Fried Chicken & Waffles Benedict from The Cheesecake Factory

A Belgian waffle topped with fried chicken strips, poached eggs, and Hollandaise sauce, served with maple-butter syrup and a side of breakfast potatoes.

CSPI’s verdict: 2,580 calories, four days’ worth of saturated fat (86 g), two days’ worth of sodium (3,390 mg) and a day’s worth (15 teaspoons) of sugar. “It’s like eating two Marie Callender’s one-pound Chicken Pot Pies topped with half a stick of butter and a quarter cup of maple syrup.”

The Cheesecake Factory has made the Xtreme Eating Awards every year since CSPI started compiling the list in 2007. The chain has a lot of work to do, Moyer told TODAY. “The Cheesecake Factory’s portion sizes are out of control, and they always have the worst contenders for Xtreme Eating,” she said.

In response, the company said that with a 250-item menu, the restaurant has always been about choices.

"Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories," said Alethea Rowe, a spokeswoman for The Cheesecake Factory, in a statement. "Others want to share their dish... that's a great sign that our portions are generous — and a large percentage of our guests take home leftovers for lunch the next day."

Related: Confessions of a food addict: I couldn't stop eating

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Short Rib & Cheesy Mac Stack from Dave & Buster’s

A sandwich stuffed with beef short rib and macaroni and cheese, and served with “crispy seasoned tots.”

CSPI’s verdict: 1,910 calories and two days’ worth of saturated fat (42 g) and sodium (3,390 mg). “It’s like eating three McDonald’s Big Macs and a medium fries.”

RT 44 Grape Slush with Rainbow Candy from Sonic

The company describes it as “icy slush made with sippable candy.”

CSPI’s verdict: The 44-ounce drink has 970 calories and the equivalent of 1¼ cups of sugar.

Dessert Nachos from Buffalo Wild Wings

A fried flour tortilla with four scoops of ice cream, sugar, and “gooey breaded cheesecake bites” topped with chocolate and caramel sauce.

CSPI’s verdict: 2,100 calories, 64 grams of saturated fat, and 5 grams of trans fat. “Nutritionally, that’s like eating four Taco Bell Crunchy Tacos (filled with beef and cheese) topped with a 14-ounce container of Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream and two melted Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars.”

Calories gone wild

CSPI also called out Applebee’s Build Your Sampler, Marco’s Meal For Two at Maggiano’s Little Italy, Cremini Pork Shank at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and the Giant Chipotle Cheese Steak at Jersey Mike’s Subs as part of its 2016 Xtreme Eating Awards.

“Some restaurants do offer a handful of lower-calorie meals on a ‘light’ or ‘healthy’ menu. But most items on restaurant menus are still loaded with calories,” Moyer said.

“It really needs to be the other way around. People want healthier options, and restaurants aren’t doing nearly enough to meet that demand.”

What’s a person watching their weight to do?

CSPI has these tips:

Look for those “light” menus at your favorite restaurant.

Skip the appetizers. You may be adding more calories to your meal than you realize.

Focus on vegetables. Fill your plate with the green stuff, but skip the potatoes.

Save some for tomorrow. Put some of your meal in a take-out container to take home and reheat for another time.

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