Sunday, June 09, 2002

The fat's out of the bag

Book a collection of nutritional studies, including fast food chains' own data

By Polly Campbell,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Once again, the nutritionists from the Center for Science in the Public Interest are telling us things we don't want to know. The group is known for its nutritional analyses of movie popcorn, Chinese restaurants and most recently, pizza restaurants.

        All the studies, with calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium counts, have been collected in a book Restaurant Confidential (Workman; $12.95). It also includes fast food restaurants' own nutritional data, and information about how to make eating out more healthy.

    • Cheese fries with ranch dressing have 3,010 calories, 217 grams of fat, 91 of which is saturated. (that's four day's worth of saturated fat).
    • Denny's Meat Lover's Skillet (ham, bacon, and sausage over fried potatoes with cheddar and two eggs) has 1,150 calories, 93 grams of fat, 26 of it saturated.
    • Subway's low-fat subs have 260 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 gram saturated.
    • Pasta with red clam or marinara sauce has 870 calories, 20 grams of fat, 4 saturated.
    What: Co-author Jayne Hurley signs Restaurant Confidential.
When: 7 p.m. Monday.
    Where: Books and Co. 350 E. Stroop Road, Kettering.
    Phone: (800) 777-4881.
        Registered dietitian Jayne Hurley, author of the book with Michael F. Jacobson, will be signing Restaurant Confidential 7 p.m. Monday at Books and Co. in Kettering. We spoke with her by phone from her Washington office.

        Question: Are you really holier-than-thou, big-brother kill-joys?

        Answer: Well, that's what the restaurant industry says we are. They don't like us much. But we are just providing information. It's impossible to know what's in restaurant food. At the store, you can turn over the box and read the nutrition information. But that's not listed on menus. So we want to help fill that gap. It's important, since Americans now get half of their calories from food prepared outside the home. And more than half of Americans are overweight.

        Q: Aren't you just stating the obvious? We all know that fettuccine Alfredo is fattening.

        A: People may have a general idea of what's fattening, but their idea is not very accurate. A few years ago, we went to the American Dietetic Association meeting and showed trained dietitians some average restaurant meals. We asked them to guess the number of calories and fat content. They usually guessed about half of the real number. And these are dietitians, the most likely to guess correctly.

        Q: What's with all the Big Mac comparisons? You like to say that a Starbucks' venti white chocolate mocha is like drinking a Big Mac, for instance.

        A: We use it because a Big Mac is the most recognizable sandwich in the world. People also understand it as high-fat and decadent. While a mocha is “just a drink.”

        Q: So I go to a restaurant, I ought to get a salad, right?

        A: A salad's a good choice. But it's not necessarily diet food. The problem is the full-fat dressing, of course. Caesar salad with chicken is one we looked at: It has 660 calories. Taco salad is the only salad I'd put a big “Watch Out” sign on — the problem is that it's served in a fried shell, has cheese, beef and sour cream. So it's not just high-fat, it's the worst kind of fat that clogs your arteries. Salad dressings, at least, are unsaturated fat.

        Q: And there's those salads covered with cheese . . .

        A: Cheese is on everything! It's on sandwiches, salads, burgers. And cheese is a real problem. Even one-quarter of a small cheese pizza has half a day's saturated fat. We think the Pizza Hut veggie Lover's pizza ordered with half the amount of cheese tastes good.

        Q: Is eating healthy in restaurants just a matter of choosing the right menu item?

        A: It's not the only thing. We had a hard time finding any one item, whether an appetizer, an entree or a dessert, that was under 1,000 calories. So you have to limit how much you eat. You have to share some things to have a good meal. Or take things home.

        Q: Kids are eating out with their families more and more. What should they eat?

        A: The kids' menu is not where you want to look. They all have hot dogs, burgers, chicken nuggets. It depends on what your kids like, but look for other things, maybe share what you're eating. The problem with kids eating out is that they now think of pizza or a burger as a whole meal. They need to eat vegetables so they don't get cancer. They should be having a little pizza along with a lot of salad. French fries are not a vegetable.

        Q: Any bright ideas or changes out there?

        A: When we first started looking at this, very few restaurants had a healthy or light section. Now you see that more often. Subway is doing well with its healthy sandwich choices. The new salads at Wendy's are good: they're not just iceberg lettuce, but have dark leafy greens, and make eating a salad enticing. The McDonald's fruit and yogurt parfait is really good for a fast-food dessert. It has fruit, good custardy yogurt and high-fiber granola. And Burger King has introduced the first fast-food chain veggie burger.

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