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16 Secrets The Restaurant Industry Doesn't Want You to Know
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Posted 8/1/08 , edited 8/1/08

What does the restaurant industry have to hide? A lot, apparently. A hidden force behind America's obesity epidemic is the fact that many chain restaurants-which provide one-third of all restaurant meals, according to the New York Department of Health-obfuscate the fat and calorie counts of their menu items, and fight any attempt to shed light on what, exactly, is going on between their buns and inside their taco shells.

Last summer, when coauthor Matt Goulding and I began researching Eat This, Not That, we were shocked by how far restaurants were willing to go to hide their nutritional info from our prying eyes. So we conducted our own scientific testing, consulted with nutrition experts, and did some good old-fashioned snooping. In the end, we uncovered countless secrets these mega-restaurateurs had been keeping. The 16 most mind-blowing are below, but they just scratch the surface, really.

Since Eat This, Not That hit bookstores in December 2007, it's become a bestseller. And, in one city anyway, the hide-the-calories game has gotten a bit tougher—a new law in New York City compels restaurants to list calorie data. (Similar legislation was first passed in 2006, but only took effect in June because it had to survive several legal challenges from—you guessed it—the restaurant industry.) But, for the most part, little has changed.

So it's no wonder that . . .

1. Outback Steakhouse

... doesn't want you to know that the only nutritional information it provides is for its Tangy Tomato Dressing. When we contacted the company, a spokesperson claimed, "Ninety percent of our meals are prepared by hand ... Any analysis would be difficult to measure consistently." Yet, no fewer than 45 national restaurant chains do just that. One of our sources—calorieking.com, which has analyzed more than 55,000 foods—reported that an order of Outback's Aussie Cheese Fries has 2,900 calories, and its Ayers Rock Strip has 60 grams of fat.

July 2008 Update: Because Outback has a New York City location, it's been forced to reveal nutritional info. It lists the Aussie Cheese Fries at 2,030 calories. Did the company change the recipe? Reduce the portion size? Stay tuned: We'll be investigating this further.

2. Applebee's

... doesn't want you to know that many of its "low-fat" items have more than 500 calories. In fact, its low-fat chicken quesadillas have 742 calories and 90 grams of carbohydrates per order.

July 2008 Update: Since Eat This, Not That called Applebee's out, its "low-fat" menu has disappeared. The chain does have a new eight-item Weight Watchers menu, however—all with fewer than 500 calories. The most caloric dish is the Tortilla Chicken Melt appetizer, at 480 calories. Okay, that's progress.

3. IHOP

... doesn't want you to know that its Omelette Feast has 1,335 calories and 35 grams of saturated fat. By the time you finish eating this behemoth breakfast, you'll have consumed 150 percent of your daily fat requirement and 300 percent of your suggested cholesterol intake. Said IHOP's director of communications, "We do not maintain nutritional data on our menu items, so I am unable to assist you."

July 2008 Update: Since Eat This, Not That hit bookstores, IHOP has discontinued the Omelette Feast. But . . . every other omelette at the New York location we snooped around in had more than 1,000 calories. The Garden Omelette contained the fewest calories (1,150), while the Big Steak Omelette had the most (1,490).

4. Red Robin

... doesn't want you to know the nutritional impact of its gourmet burgers. "A gourmet burger starts by being an honest burger," Red Robin's Web site declares. So how come they've refused to provide calorie counts on any of their foods for so many years? And while we applaud them for finally giving up the data (after being pressured by us and others), why did it take so long in the first place? A quick glimpse of the numbers themselves might hold the answer: An A.1. Peppercorn Burger has 1,440 calories and 97 grams of fat, more than you would find in 32 strips of bacon! Add onion rings to that and you've just crossed the calamitous 2,000-calorie barrier, more than most people should eat in an entire day.

July 2008 Update: Want to know what's in your favorite Red Robin burger? On the company's Web site, just click on . . . "Customize Your Burger." Hmm, could it be that Red Robin really would prefer that you stay in the dark? And good luck finding "Customize Your Burger." The quickest way we found it: Click the "About Us" tab, then on "FAQ" in the menu on the left. One of the frequently asked questions is "Does Red Robin offer nutritional information for its menu items?" Within the answer is the "Customize Your Burger" hyperlink. Finally, click the menu item you want, then the Nutrition tab on the far right. Thanks, Red Robin, for your . . . transparency.

5. Hooter's

... doesn't want you to know anything about what's in its food. Although chains such as Chili's and Uno Chicago Grill divulge the hundreds of calories in their chicken wings, Hooters blames its nutritional-disclosure negligence on its expansive menu, which contains about 25 entrées: "Because of the millions of combinations available and our desire to frequently give you new menu options, it is impossible to provide accurate nutritional data," responded a PR representative.

Our own investigation revealed that the chain's wing sauce (which consists primarily of butter, sweet cream, and partially hydrogenated margarine) also contains such unappetizing additives as maltodextrin, propylene glycol alginate, xanthan gum, calcium disodium EDTA, and potassium sorbate. (Not being able to tell what's natural and what's enhanced has always been a problem for us at Hooters.)

July 2008 Update: Hooter's one New York location sheds light on the calories in its dishes, but the menus keep diners ingredient-ignorant. What's scarier about the wings—the horrifying ingredients we listed above, or the fact that just six Hooter's chicken wings have between 520 and 726 calories?

6. Arby's

... doesn't want you to know that the FDA has no definition of "all natural." Thus, chains like Arby's can say they serve "100 percent all-natural chicken," despite using artificial flavoring. Even worse, the "all-natural" smoothies at chains across the country may contain high-fructose corn syrup.

July 2008 Update: Since Eat This, Not That hit bookstores, Arby's has stopped advertising "all-natural" chicken. The assistant manager at the Emmaus, Pennsylvania, location told our reporter that he doesn't think the chicken is all-natural anymore. We wonder if it ever was.

7. Fuddruckers

... doesn't want you to know the fat content of its 1-pound burgers. We contacted our local Fuddruckers restaurant and were told that the nutritional information was available on the chain's Web site (it's not). The corporate office later responded that providing such information would be "very extensive and timely." We're pretty sure he meant "very expensive and time-consuming." How's that for a Freudian slip?

July 2008 Update: Fuddruckers is still hiding from us. It has no New York City location, and the company is mum, nutritionally, on its Web site.

8. Dunkin' Donuts

... doesn't want you to know that each of its medium-size fruit-and-yogurt smoothies packs at least 60 grams of sugar-more than seven times the sugar in a chocolate-frosted cake doughnut. The fruit purees used in the smoothies are mixed with liberal doses of sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup.

July 2008 Update: Dunkin' Donuts allows full access to all its nutrition facts and ingredients online. But the smoothies are still sugar-loaded. Only the small Reduced Calorie Berry Smoothie has fewer than 60 grams of sugar, packing a not-so-modest 41 grams. Knowledge is power: Use the Dunkin' Donuts Web site to avoid sugar bombs like these!

9. Papa John's

... doesn't want you to know that unlike rival chains such as Domino's, it has made little effort to introduce healthier options. A Papa John's representative admitted, "At this time, we have no additional regular menu items that are targeted toward eating lighter."

July 2008 Update: Papa John's has finally disclosed all its nutritional information online, and has made small strides toward healthier options, such as the 100 percent whole grain wheat crust pizzas the company introduced in May. Now, if only Papa would toss a thin-crust version into the mix and stop serving sides like the mozzarella sticks, with more than 2,905 milligrams of sodium!

10. Burger King

... doesn't want you to know that its French Toast Sticks (which deliver more than 4 grams of fat per stick) share a deep fryer with the pork sausage, Chicken Tenders, Chicken Fries, Big Fish patties, hash browns, onion rings, and Cheesy Tots-and that all of those items contain harmful trans fats. But there is hope: After the company was sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for moving too slowly to remove trans fats from its menu, Burger King promised to phase them out by the end of 2008.

July 2008 Update: Burger King still has not eliminated trans fats. A large order of hash browns has an incredible—borderline criminal, really—13 grams of trans fat.

11. Panera Bread

... doesn't want you to know that the synthetic food colorings in its pastries have been linked to irritability, restlessness, and sleep disturbances in children. And British researchers found that artificial food colorings and preservatives in the diets of 3-year-olds caused an increase in hyperactive behavior. (The same ingredients appear in fast-food items like mayonnaise, M&M Blizzards, and McDonald's shakes.) To its credit, Chipotle uses no artificial colorings or flavorings.

July 2008 Update: On Panera's Web site, you can track down calories, fat, sugar, and other nutritional numbers. If you look hard enough you'll find ingredient lists, too—and note that a few items still contain artificial coloring. Disappointing.

12. Chevy's Fresh Mex

... doesn't want you to know how its tortillas stack up nutritionally. The chain says it provides "nutritional information regarding calories, fat, protein & carbohydrates for some of our most popular items"-the chicken, steak, and shrimp fajitas, for example-on its Web site. But the numbers provided don't include an essential component: the tortilla.

July 2008 Update: Chevy's still doesn't disclose the calorie count of its tortillas online. When we called a New York location, a server told us he couldn't find that info on the inhouse menu, either, which would seem to be a violation of the New York law. He did direct us to the same misleading nutritional information on the company's Web site. Gee, thanks.

13. Maggiano's Little Italy

... doesn't want you to know just how many calories and carbs you're consuming in those massive pasta portions. (As the menu puts it, "Family-style service or individual entrees are available ... Whichever you choose, you'll have plenty to share or take home.") In Italy, a standard pasta serving means 4 ounces of noodles with a few tablespoons of sauce. At Maggiano's, a large order of pasta translates into 2 pounds of noodles piled high on a hubcap-size dinner plate (15-1/2 inches in diameter). A Maggiano's PR rep responded to our request for nutritional information a week later: "Sorry for the delay, I had to wait for corporate's approval. Unfortunately, they have declined to participate."

July 2008 Update: With no New York City locations, Maggiano's is still hiding from us—and you. But we're still watching.

14. T.G.I. Friday's

... doesn't want you to know how little nutritional info it provides. A Friday's PR rep told us that the chain makes the data available for only its "low-fat" dishes-those coming in under 500 calories and 10 grams of fat. Ah, hello, that's three items on the entire menu.

July 2008 Update: When T.G.I. Friday's was forced to comply with the New York law, we realized why it had been hiding. The menu is riddled with fat traps like the Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad, which is an outrageous 1,360 calories.

15. Baskin-Robbins

... doesn't want you to know that, unlike Jamba Juice's all-fruit smoothies, the top four ingredients in its Blue Raspberry Fruit Blast are Sierra Mist soda, water, sugar, and corn syrup.

July 2008 Update: Since Eat This, Not That called the company out, Baskin Robbins discontinued the Blue Raspberry Fruit Blast. It also began listing all nutrition and ingredient information online. We call that progress.

16. Sit-down chains

... don't want you to know that their food is actually considerably worse for you than the often-maligned fast-food fare. In fact, our menu analysis of 24 national chains revealed that the average entree at a sit-down restaurant contains 867 calories, compared with 522 calories in the average fast-food entree. And that's before appetizers, sides, or desserts-selections that can easily double your total calorie intake.
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Posted 8/1/08

Outback's Aussie Cheese Fries has 2,900 calories

holy moly.....
i ate one of those before....
but outback is sooo good
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Posted 8/1/08

music190 wrote:

That's how they make money.

Oh and another thing, stop putting your post in quote form. It gives me a headach. And FYI, i didn't read that.


/sees avatar

/lols were had
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Posted 8/1/08
interesting. never knew about such things :/
Posted 8/1/08
Welcome to America. Land of the morbidly obese.
Posted 8/1/08
You know, that top paragraph was really really long, so i didn't read it. But yeah, of course the fast food industry doesn't want you to know that their food is terrible for you. speaking of Outback though, one time the server said "You're going all-out on your arteries" once when my brother ordered the cheese fries. I was the only one who heard him, but i laughed my ass off.
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Posted 8/1/08
Lol who really looks at nutritional info when they are eating?
Posted 8/1/08
i have come to a conclusion...the worse the shit is for your health the tastier it is
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Posted 8/1/08
The only thing I've seen in Australia is Baskin Robins and I never have that haha.
Posted 8/1/08
Lol good shit I don't eat at any of those places
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Posted 8/1/08
wow D:
Posted 8/1/08
so instead everyone should start eating grass and twigs *grins*
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Posted 8/1/08
Good thing I don't eat at Dunkin' Doughnuts and Burger King anymore
Posted 8/1/08
Holy shit on Mother F*cking sandwhich! I knew they were bad but not this bad
Posted 8/1/08 , edited 8/1/08
If you eat at one of those restaurants, thinking you're going to get some nutritious food......then you're an idiot. Nobody goes there thinking "gee, this food is loaded in calories and I need to cut my calorie intake.". They go there because they want something quick to eat and without having to do dishes. Convenience, not calories, is what most people are thinking about when they go there.
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