A lot has changed in the food and restaurant industry in the past two years. Some of these changes have made eating easier than ever, while others continue to put industry interests in front of our collective need to slim down. For example, New York City, California, and Seattle have all passed calorie count laws. The decision was (predictably) met with outrage from the restaurant industry, even though these pieces of legislation are a socially responsible trend. A less positive trend? Rising rates of obesity. Between 2008 and 2009, obesity rates rose in 23 out of 50 states, and remained troublinglysteady in all the others, according to a report issued by advocacy groups Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Not a single state saw their obesity rate fall.
The good news is that word is out. Since we wrote our first book in 2007, Eat This, Not That has helped call attention to restaurants that bathe all their items in trans-fatty oils, or that serve platters with calorie-and sodium-counts reaching into the thousands, or that offer plates devoid of nutritional substance but utterly teeming with saturated fat. And to our delight, some restaurants actually noticed. The authors of the all-new “Eat This, Not That!” 2010 edition reveal the best changes in the food industry:
Menu items vanish
Since we published our first list of the 20 Worst Foods in America over two years ago, a full 10 of those dishes have either disappeared or have been altered significantly. And in the time since, a number of other caloric calamities have come and gone, making America a safer place to live and eat. Here are three of our favorite vanishing acts:
Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Oreo Shake (Large)
135 g fat (59 g saturated, 2.5 g trans)
263 g sugars
1,700 mg sodium
Romano’s Macaroni Grill Kids’ Double Macaroni ‘N’ Cheese
62 g fat
3,450 mg sodium
Ruby Tuesday Colossal Burger
141 g fat
95 g carbohydrates
Macaroni Grill improves their menu
A few months back, we lambasted the Seared Sea Scallops Salad from Macaroni Grill on the Today Show. That leafy abomination packed in 1,170 calories, 27 grams of saturated fat, and 2,680 milligrams of sodium. That’s more calories than in two Big Macs, and more sodium than you should eat in an entire day!
And even better news? The new Scallops and Spinach Salad from Mac Grill has undergone a 64 percent reduction in calories and an 85% reduction in saturated fat, making it our Most Improved Meal in America.
Eat This at Romano’s Macaroni Grill:
Scallops and Spinach Salad
4 g saturated fat
1,510 mg sodium
Red Lobster tells all
In our first book, we assigned Red Lobster a grade of F — for failure to disclose. See, at the time, Red Lobster was one of a handful of restaurant chains that refused to share their food’s nutrition information. Our attitude is that if you won’t talk, it must be because you’re hiding something. Fast-forward two years, and in our newest book, “Eat This, Not That! 2010,” Red Lobster has a score of A-. That’s the highest grade for any restaurant in America! It’s largely due to a host of incredibly lean seafood dishes, very few fried foods on the menu, and excellent, low-calorie sides. When at Red Lobster, choose an item from the Wood-Grilled menu, and ask for a baked potato with pico de gallo on the side. You’ll consume around 500 calories for an entire meal!
Eat This at Red Lobster:
Full-Portion Wood-Grilled Mahi Mahi with Broccoli and Baked Potato with Pico de Gallo side
2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated)
1,480 mg sodium
48 g carbs
Red Lobster is unique in that it’s a sit-down restaurant that offers nutritious and light sides. Unfortunately, most other restaurants don’t.
Jamba Juice drains the calories
In our original book, we slammed the smoothie chain Jamba Juice for their Peanut Butter Moo’d: a simple drink packed with 1,170 calories. Order one of those cutesy-sounding beverages, and you were liable to consume more than half a day’s worth of calories in the span of ten mindless minutes! Thankfully, Jamba has trimmed a full 400 calories from the Peanut Butter Moo’d. Even better, they offer two lines of much lighter smoothie options. We like the Jamba Light line, which averages about 150 calories per drink, and the All Fruit Smoothies, which are only a fraction the caloric cost of the original or creamy treats.
Drink This at Jamba Juice:
Peach Perfection All Fruit Smoothie (16 oz)
0 g fat
42 g sugars
Starbucks slims down
We’ve given Starbucks a lot of grief over the years for serving specialty coffee drinks that are expensive while adding hundreds of calories to your waistline. But the coffee conglomerate has really amped up its efforts to add healthy alternatives. It recently introduced the Vivanno smoothie line, for example, which offers low-calorie smoothie options that trump any of its other frozen beverages. A 16-ounce Orange Mango Banana Vivanno Smoothie, for example, is made from real fruit, and only serves 260 calories. It could be a great grab-n-go breakfast option.
An even better breakfast bite from Starbucks, though, is one of its specialty breakfast wraps. It has expanded its food menu recently, and we like the results. A perfect breakfast includes a hearty dose of protein. The Egg White, Spinach, and Feta Wrap has just 280 calories and 9 grams of fat, but it’s absolutely packed with 19 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. Both slow your digestion, which means you’re eating a light, low-calorie meal, but you won’t feel hungry again for hours. Exactly what you want for breakfast.
Eat This at Starbucks:
Egg White, Spinach, and Feta Wrap
9 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
1,140 mg sodium
5 restaurant survival tips
Check the company's website before you go out
Many of them are now listing the calorie counts, and you'll know what you're ordering when you go. If that information isn't available, you're atan enormous disadvantage and you may want to consider other options.
Avoid anything with the word "crispy" or "crisper" in its name
That just means breaded, fried and loaded with bad-for-you fats.
Be careful what you drink
We now drink twice as many calories as we did 30 years ago — more than 400 calories a day! Switch to low-calorie options and you can lose a lot of weight without changing what you eat at all. Or, if you must have that full-calorie drink, order the small size. You might feel as if you’re not getting your money’s worth, but new research from Duke University shows that’s not actually the case. See, the researchers discovered that some fast-food chains are encouraging customers to buy larger soft drinks — which justifies higher prices — by increasing the number of ounces in all sizes of drinks. They know what you may not: Most people subconsciously pick the middle option without considering the actual amount.
Avoid combo meals
The average “value” meal packs 1,200 calories! You might be saving moremoney than if you had ordered all items in the meal separately, but that’s NOT a deal you want to make.
Remember that the waiter is a salesperson
It’s his job to get you to open your wallet. A 2005 study from the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services found that you’re more likely to order a side dish when the server verbally prompts you. Remember this the next time you hear, “Do you want fries with that?”