Monday, March 12, 2007

Fat City

IT'S lunch time. What do you feel like eating?

How about dropping by Ruby Tuesday for a colossal burger. That's two gigantic burger patties, melted American and Monterey Jack cheese in a presentation so big they plunge a steak knife through the middle of it to hold it together.

Don't feel like a burger? Try UNO Chicago Grill for a dish that fuses pizza with stuffed potato skins. "We start with our famous deep dish crust, add mozzarella and red bliss mashed potatoes," the menu says, "and top it off with crispy bacon, cheddar and sour cream." It's described as an appetizer.

Maybe Italian is more to your likening. Get next to the Macaroni Grill's twice baked lasagna with meatballs, described as "six layers of tender pasta stuffed with seasoned meatballs, three cheeses and Bolognese sauce."

Or this sounds healthy: Ruby Tuesday's fresh chicken and broccoli pasta. But they add a generous dollop of parmesan cream sauce and a layer of melted cheese, and you're eating the equivalent of two 12-ounce sirloin steaks, two buttered baked potatoes and two Caesar salads.

For dessert, waddle over to the Cold Stone Creamery for their Founder's Favorite - 14ounces of ice cream with pecans, brownie pieces, fudge and caramel.

These heart-stopping menu selections are brought to you courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as "a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy and sound science."

The center gained some notoriety as the food police a decade ago by analyzing popular dishes from restaurants and declaring the numbers "shocking."

Now, the center says, "... by today's standards, they appear almost tame. Restaurants now dish out even more calories, even more bad fat and even more sodium."

To bring it into perspective, savor this: most people this side of hod carriers, lumberjacks and aerobics instructors should try to hold their caloric input to 2,000 a day and their fat intake to 20 grams.

The Ruby Tuesday burger has 1,940 calories and 141 grams of fat.

The UNO Chicago Grill checks in at 2,050 calories and 48 grams of fat.

Macaroni Grill's lasagna delivers 1,000 calories and 20 grams of fat.

Ruby Tuesday's chicken and broccoli pasta tips the scales at 2,060 calories and 128 grams of fat.

And Cold Stone's Founder's Favorite hits 1,740 calories and 48 grams of fat.

It sounds like someone passed the Cardiologist Full-Employment Act. They haven't, but politicians, always wanting to appear alert and engaged, are calling for greater nutrition labeling on restaurant menus.

Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) would require larger restaurant chains to include calorie counts on menus. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) would require menus to include fat and carbohydrate amounts.

Hearings will be held. Testimony will be heard.

Such bills have already been introduced in 19 cities and states in recent years, but it apparently hasn't slowed down the onslaught of gut-busting menu selections.

I've got to wonder whether a guy (or gal) who plops down his hard-earned money for a colossal burger or lasagna with meatballs really cares about the nutritional data. If he did, he'd be ordering a salad. Dressing on the side.

Menu labeling won't solve the problems of obesity and diet-related diseases. But other than the fact that the restaurant industry will pass on the cost of labeling to its customers, it can't hurt either. Education often leads to better choices.

In the meantime, I'm off to Starbucks for a white chocolate mocha and a blueberry scone. What's that? It's 1,100 calories - or about as much as you'd get in a Burger King bacon double cheeseburger, medium fries and medium Coke, according to the CSPI.

OK, make that a dry bagel and a cup of tea.

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