Maybe the name "monster" should be a clue. If not, the nutrition watchdogs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest have news for you: A "Monster" double burger, served with "bottomless" fries and a "Monster" milkshake at the Red Robin burger chain, is not very good for you at all.
At 3,540 calories, it's the "single unhealthiest" meal the group could find on more than 200 chain restaurant menus it reviewed for the 2014 edition of its not-very-coveted Xtreme Eating Awards. The awards go to dishes and combos especially high in calories, fat, sugar and salt.
The group found it even easier than usual to find nutrition offenders this year, says the center's Paige Einstein, a registered dietitian.
"In the past, our winners have usually had about 1,500 calories," she says. "Most of these dishes have at least 2,000." They often are on menus that feature new, lighter options, too — but "those are much smaller parts of the menu," Einstein says.
While Red Robin gets the top spot, the Cheesecake Factory gets the most — three — for its Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic (2,410 calories), Bruléed French Toast (2,780 calories) and Reese's Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake (1,500 calories).
To burn off those calories, the center says, you would have to do:
• 12 hours of brisk walking for the Monster Burger meal
• 7 hours of lap-swimming for the French toast.
• 5 hours of jogging for the chicken pasta dish
• 4.5 hours of aerobics for the cheesecake.
The list also includes a spare rib plate from Famous Dave's; a combo plate from Chevys Fresh Mex; a seafood platter from Joe's Crab Shack; a steak dish from Maggiano's Little Italy; and a deep-dish chicken-bacon-ranch pizza from BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse.
"I don't think people really know just how bad these meals can be in restaurants," Einstein says, despite years of warnings from the center and others. (The awards have been around since 2007).
Some help is on the way, though, with the federal government preparing to require calorie counts on chain restaurant menus nationwide, she says
Meanwhile, the group says there are ways consumers can help themselves — such as ordering their burgers with steamed broccoli instead of fries (which Red Robin offers) or trying the reduced-calorie menus many chains now feature (including the SkinnyLicious menu at the Cheesecake Factory).
That 50-item, low-calorie menu is "actually larger than many restaurants' entire menus," says Alethea Rowe, senior director of public relations for Cheesecake Factory. She says the restaurant "has always been about choices."
Denny Marie Post, Red Robin's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, says the burger combo criticized by the center "combines some of our most indulgent items into one meal." A customer could just as well order a lettuce-wrapped turkey burger, sans cheese and bun, with a side of broccoli and a light lemonade for 540 calories, she says
Joy Dubost, senior director of nutrition and healthy living for the National Restaurant Association, also emphasized the growth of healthy options in her response to the new report, saying that they "are not a passing fad, but a top trend across the industry."
She said the calorie counts soon coming to 250,000 chain restaurant locations nationwide will help consumers "determine the best menu selections for their diet and lifestyle."