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Really fattening restaurant food

(Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Of course I knew that my favorite guilty-pleasure food, the Five Guys cheeseburger, wasn't exactly health food.

But thanks to a new list of extremely fattening restaurant foods released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I have to face facts: Five Guys delivers one big wallop of fat and calories.

Here's CSPI's assessment of Five Guys:

It's a meat-and-potatoes place...the kind of retro joint where you can quickly pack in a pile of calories from meat, cheese, white flour, white potatoes, oil, and sugar. Take the Five Guys Hamburger. Its 700 calories (with no toppings) makes a Big Mac (540 calories) or a Quarter Pounder (410 calories) look like kids food. And the McDonald's numbers include the burgers' fixin's. A Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger has 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat (1½ days' worth) without toppings. Think two Quarter Pounders.
And how many Five Guys patrons eat a burger without fries or a drink? Add 620 calories for the regular fries or 1,460 calories for a large. (The large is as big as three large orders of fries at McDonald's.) Now your lunch of an unadorned Bacon Cheeseburger and large fries is up to 2,380 calories. Add 100 calories for every plop of mayo on your burger, another 300 for a large (32 oz.) Coke, and 300 more for every free refill.

Here are some other choice tidbits from a CSPI press release:

California Pizza Kitchen Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak. With 1,680 calories,1½ day's worth (32 grams) of saturated fat, and more than 2 day's worth (3,300 mg) of sodium, ordering the single-serve pizza is like eating a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza topped with six Taco Bell Crunchy beef Tacos.
P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo. You could eat 10 egg rolls and not top the 1,820 calories in this dish. "They fry these noodles to make them hard and crunchy, while you end up soft and flabby," says CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman. If this noodle dish does indeed have the 7,690 milligrams of sodium to which the chain confesses, that would be about three teaspoons of salt--a five-day supply.
The Cheesecake Factory Pasta Carbonara with Chicken. When CSPI first dubbed fettuccine Alfredo a "heart attack on a plate," it was because CSPI's lab tests found it had 1,500 calories and 48 grams of saturated fat. But, according to the company, this dish--with four cups of white-flour pasta, smoked bacon, chicken, and Parmesan cream and butter sauce--has 2,500 calories and more saturated fat (85 grams) than one should consume in four days. It's like eating the chain's onion-ring-topped Grilled Rib-Eye Steak with French Fries, and a slice of Tiramisu Cheesecake.
The Cheesecake Factory Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake. A tower of any food is rarely a good idea. This six-inch-long, three-quarter-pound slab of cake has 1,670 calories and two-and-a-half days' worth (48 grams) of artery-clogging saturated fat. Feel like eating 14 Hostess Ho Hos for dessert?

I have to admit that, even armed with the facts, I'm not inclined to swear off Five Guys forever. I just intend to savor every delicious mouthful on the rare occasions when I indulge. And I may have to make those occasions even more rare.

Is one of your favorite restaurant foods on the CSPI list? Does that change your feelings about eating their food?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  May 27, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Me Minus 10 , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity  
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In a word: no. Honestly, I'm tired of the whole thing. Like it's a shock that a bacon cheeseburger and fries is bad for you?

These guys provided a valuable service 20 years ago, when no one had any idea just how bad restaurant food was -- and the restaurants sure wouldn't tell you. But now that information is all over the web. And we've had years and years of splashy headlines like this one, trying to milk even more attention and shock factor out of what is fundamentally a big "duh."

When you're inundated, you learn to tune everything out. Or worse: when you focus constantly on the worst of the worst, you make the merely bad look pretty good by comparison. You know what my first thought was reading the blog? "[Dang], that Big Mac isn't so bad after all -- maybe I can have one a little more often." And Taco Bell seems like it's practically health food (six tacos AND a pizza for less than 1700 calories?). Somehow, I don't think that's exactly what they were going for.

I wish they'd spend more time investigating things that might actually be new and useful, instead of just always going for the biggest calorie-and-fat shock value. Everyone knows that cheesecake is bad for you. But I was stunned at Macaroni Grill to realize that the salad I was going to order to be "good" actually had more calories and fat than the pizza that I really wanted. How about a little more research into things that look healthy but aren't? And things that look bad but might not be so horrible for a splurge?

But of course that won't grab the same splashy headlines as "a week's worth of calories and fat per bite." In a world where grabbing media attention is far more important than providing useful information, I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Posted by: laura33 | May 27, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

PS -- Today's headline provided by the Department of Redundancy Department. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | May 27, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm a little disappointed that they don't make a note that the "hamburger" at Five Guys is actually a "double hamburger." Why didn't they mention the little hamburger?

Posted by: stevorama1 | May 27, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

It's all a propaganda lie!! We all know that Five Guys meals are really health food in disguise. MMMMMMM Sooooo good!

Posted by: kettke1 | May 27, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

You don't need to have the bacon and cheese on the burger, you can order without. Also, adding other toppings like onion and lettuce should be healthful without adding more calories. Of course if you are getting the maxi-bacon-cheeseburger with all the fixings, the fries, soda and probably a few handfuls of peanuts while you wait - well, you're talking about a lot of calories there.

I think the food is really tasty but the 'regular' fries is larger than I'd like to eat, nearly enough for two people. Since I've usually been a solo diner there, I really would appreciate having the choice of a junior fries to go with the junior burger that stevorama1 mentioned.

Posted by: msienkiewicz | May 27, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

If I treat myself a couple of times a year, who cares?

Posted by: shlomiesdad | May 28, 2010 2:09 AM | Report abuse

Great post by "shlomiesdad" . . .feast on a totally guilty pleasure like this a couple of times a year, just to get it out of your system. . .

unless you want to be fat and dumpy and ultimately get on close and personal terms with a cardiologist out there somewhere. . in that case, have such meals routinely.

Posted by: joelcavicchia | May 28, 2010 5:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't see a problem with indulging once in a very blue moon. Real problems would start if you ate three meals a day every day at these places. But who has the time or the money to do that? Saturday is my running-around day and usually end up at Salsarita's for a taco salad -- chicken, lettuce, salsa and black olives. This is in a shopping center that also includes a Five Guys, Panera Bread, WaWa, a deli and an Italian restaurant. See-- it's nice to have choices.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | May 28, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

(giggle) Thanks for the list guys, I've been looking for some good new fare, and most of this stuff looks awesome!

Posted by: FredEvil | May 28, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Leave fat people alone, please. The last acceptable group to harass, tease, taunt, abuse, and make fun of.

Posted by: sigmagrrl | May 28, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

The denialists are here in full force today.

The fact is, Americans have become a mordbidly obese people over the past generation.

But we continue to kid ourselves that we're only having the occasional "treat", that we're "fat but fit", and that the pervasive commercial interests that have indoctrinated us to buy ever more empty-calorie-laden "comfort food" don't actually influence us.

Wake up and smell the bacon, America. We're a bunch of porkers, and the trillion-dollar processed food industry aims to keep us that way.

Posted by: kcx7 | May 28, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I have never counted a single calorie in my life. I trust my body. When I'm not hungry, I don't eat. When I am hungry, I eat until I am satisfied and then I stop eating. I weigh 125 lbs and I see no need to fix what ain't broken.

Posted by: forgetthis | May 28, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

It's always nice for every generation to be re-educated about the perils of junk food, but 40 years on, it sure as hell doesn't seem to be doing most Americans any good. The best ways to stay thin is the same as it's always been: Eat in moderation, and choose the right parents.

Posted by: andym108 | May 28, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

I would like to see some studies on the less obvious foods. I just finished some delicious leftovers from the high-end restaurant, Rasika. But the fata and calorie content of the chicken in a spinach sauce with white rice (jasmine) and Naan (bread made with white flour) could rival McD's in terms of fat and calories for all I know. I don't eat a lot of fast food because it tastes greasy to me. But a lot of restaurant food has to be just as loaded, though not as easily detected.

Posted by: conchfc | May 28, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I am really frustrated with people that blow off studies like this as in "Pfft, yeah it's bad. OMG news flash!" like scientists are wasting time trying to scold us. Here's the thing: the purpose of these type of studies is not to point out that these foods are bad.

The point of these studies is to give you an order of magnitude!!

This is actually an incredibly important thing. Without a sense of scale, without some idea of the numbers involved, things are merely "bad" and "good". Which is fine if you only ever eat good things; it breaks down if, like almost every human that ever lived and had opportunity, you at least occasionally eat bad things. Because if things are simply "bad" then in your mind they are all equal. So, if you are a typical person that eats a "bad" thing about every other day, you think "California Pizza Kitchen Tostada Pizza with Grilled Steak" and a "Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza" are about the same - in fact, you may even think the CP on is healthier! "Grilled steak, how could that not be healthier than pepperoni?" I promise almost everyone that ever ordered that would think this. To discover not only that it is worse but *how* much worse - 6 beef tacos worse! - should not only be eye-opening, but really should make you upset by how invisible the dangers of restaurant food are. Restaurants know that people have "good" and "bad" food columns in their head. They also know that what makes repeat customers is food highly flavored with fat and salt. There is a deliberate effort to make unhealthy food and sell it as healthy food. And they get away with it, because every time a group of scientists tries to expose this sleight-of-hand, most people (who seem to find everything scientists do personnally annoying, like people in lab coats are only spending their entire lives trying to make life hard) then treat the results dismissively. It's "common sense". It's "spending money to prove something everyone knew." It's "a waste of time".

No, it is none of these things. And if you think that, you should examine how much "common sense" you actually posses.

I know this is long, and I am sorry, but scale is hugely important. Without scale, nothing really means anything.

Posted by: Fizziks | May 28, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

What I would really like is for everyone to STOP worrying about what I eat. It's NONE of your business. I KNOW better than to eat fast food or even restaurant food more than once or twice a month, THANK YOU. Enough with the holier-than-thou-have-you-heard-the-message-brother? nutritionist-wannabe lecturing.

People are going to eat what they're going to eat. I keep mine on the healthier side of things, but heaven help me, I DO eat a piece of chocolate cake and a few slices of pepperoni pizza and a rib eye (not all at one meal, of course) from time to time. SO WHAT?

Other people eat bad food the way that smokers smoke tobacco, with a devil-may-care it'll-never-happen-to-me attitude. The only time I'm remotely resentful of this is when my tax dollars are spent paying their medical bills because they don't have health insurance.

You can waste your time pointing out the supposed evils of steak over pepperoni and 5 Guys over McDonalds until the cows come home, and you'll still only be preaching to the choir, some of whom get really annoyed with your sanctimonious save-the-world I-know-what's-best-for-you alarmist attitudes.

Enough, already. You are NOT going to change anyone's mind, so find something else to worry about.

Posted by: lanehatcher | May 28, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"How about a little more research into things that look healthy but aren't? And things that look bad but might not be so horrible for a splurge?"

Four words: "Eat This, Not That!"

Posted by: mattintx | May 28, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

@lanhatcher - you are exactly the type of person my earlier comment was directed at. Let's run with your smoking analogy. You are saying that since you are a "smoker" that most information on smoking dangers is worthless and a waste of your tax dollars. If a study was done to show that smoking 100's was equivalent to smoking an extra pack and a half a week, you think that info is wasting your time. If they find that smoking a hookah after work for a week is the equivalent to having spent an hour in a smoke-filled burning building, that's just a misuse of your tax dollars. You feel there is no value in estimating the degree of damage a person incurrs nor in knowing the relative dangers of one type of danger to another. In point of fact, you argue that trying to find out if one thing is more harmful than other is a "sanctimonious save-the-world I-know-what's-best-for-you alarmist attitude". So, in short, you are saying knowledge is your enemy. This is beyond foolish.

Posted by: Fizziks | May 28, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

And also, lanehatcher, if no-one had ever done studies of food on health, you might not be able to say "I KNOW better than to eat fast food or even restaurant food more than once or twice a month, THANK YOU." Nice move to be able to claim a benefit from the very people you are excoriating.

Posted by: Fizziks | May 28, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Since it is well established that healthy eating is beneficial to our overall health, and the Government is now paying for our health care, the Government will soon controll what we eat. We already see it in the proposed legislation limiting salt in proscessed food. I would bet that if Obama remains in office, before the end of his second term we will all be getting our groceries and prepared food from Government run dispensaries, and the choices there will be limited to what Government approve scientists believe to be healthy. Proabably within twenty years, we will all be forced to become vegan, and there will be calorie rationing.

Posted by: David90 | June 2, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

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