The Surprising Calorie Costs of Dining Out

ByABC News via logo
May 19, 2002, 9:26 PM

May 20 -- Americans open their wallets at restaurants an average of four times a week, according to the National Restaurant Association. But the real cost of restaurant food may be ballooning waistlines and clogged arteries.

We're spending about $222 billion on dining out each year, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest says it's becoming a dangerous habit.

In CSPI's new book, Restaurant Confidential,the non-profit group that campaigns to improve nutrition and health makes some surprising claims about the nutritional value of typical restaurant dishes.

The magnitude of the fat and calories in many of the foods surprised even the authors, CSPI's Jayne Hurley and Michael F. Jacobson.

"More than half of Americans are overweight and it's no coincidence that we are eating out in record numbers," Hurley told Good Morning America. "More restaurants are serving huge portions of high-calorie food. An entree or appetizer or dessert that is less than 1,000 calories is tough to find. That's half of what you need for the whole day."

CSPI nutritionists spent nine years and several hundred thousand dollars analyzing about 250 menu items. They examined national chains like Bennigan's and Applebee's, as well as family-style, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Greek, seafood, steakhouses, pizzerias and some fast food restaurants. They also looked at mall food, drinks and movie snacks.

The average person needs about 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, containing about 65 grams of fat. But Americans can take a big bite out of that allotment with seemingly simple snacks, or healthy-seeming meals that may be surprisingly high in calories and fat. Here is a sample of some of the items cited in the book:

Cheese Fries (appetizer size), 3,000 calories, 217 grams fat and 90 grams saturated fat

Pizza Hut Sausage Big New Yorker, per slice, 570 calories, 33 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat

Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream, 600 Calories, 25 grams fat, 15 grams saturated fat.