The Heartbreakers at Chain Restaurants

The Heartbreakers at Chain Restaurants

A McDonald’s customer trying to decide between a Big Mac and a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese might be swayed by the fact that the Big Mac has 200 fewer calories. But diners faced with the seemingly healthier choice of the Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken might be more tempted by the Double Cheeseburger, which has 10 fewer calories than the salad.

In New York City, menu calorie postings have been required since 2008, and a study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that Starbucks customers ordered food with 6 percent fewer calories, on average, as a result. This may not sound like much, but over time such small changes add up; this country’s obesity epidemic can be explained by a mere 100 extra calories a day for each person.

Furthermore, following the negative publicity received from previous Xtreme Eating Awards, several chain restaurants were prompted to make meaningful calorie reductions in the notoriously featured dishes. The changes most likely had little or no deleterious effect on the dishes’ flavor, texture or popularity but may have resulted in belt-tightening for some steady customers and possibly even saved a heart or two.

Here, for example, are some caloric reductions made in earlier winners of Xtreme Eating Awards, starting with the first year of the awards, 2007.

Ruby Tuesday cut the calories in its Chicken & Broccoli Pasta from 2,060 to 1,521 in 2012 and then cut them again to 1,405 currently. The Cheesecake Factory’s Chicken & Biscuits, at 2,500 calories a serving in 2009, is now down to 1,690; its Bistro Shrimp Pasta was cut from 3,120 calories in 2012 to 2,360 now; and its Crispy Chicken Costoletta, at 2,610 calories in 2012 is now 1,760, the center reported.

And the California Pizza Kitchen has proved that even America’s favorite pie can handle a hit. Its Tostada Pizza, which had dished up 1,440 calories in 2010, is now at 1,140.

Why, you may wonder, is this so important? There are at least three good reasons:

1) A third or more of the calories Americans now consume come from foods eaten in or purchased from restaurants, and most people are clueless as to how many calories they are consuming as a result.

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