Everyone knows that trademark fast food like Whoppers and Big Macs doesn't fit comfortably under a "diet" label. But sit-down family chains have eye-opening menu entries, too, that can supply as much or more fat or salt as anything dished out at a drive-thru window. Here's a look at some of America's favorite family restaurants—and one juice joint—and their surprisingly unhealthy offerings.
Boston Market. You may think grabbing a Boston Market salad in lieu of rotisserie chicken is the healthier choice. Think again. Its chicken Caesar salad has 660 calories and 43 grams of fat—slightly more than what's in the half-chicken á la carte. The salad also has 1,590 mg of salt, approaching the 2,300 mg per day the government recommends you stay below, and exceeding the 1,500-mg limit for anyone who is 51 or older, African-American, or has hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
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Olive Garden. "When you're here, you're family," goes the Olive Garden pitch, but you might think twice about feeding your family this much fat. The government urges adults to ingest no more than 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat. That equates to a max of 44 to 78 grams of total fat per day if you're on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Olive Garden's fettuccini Alfredo has a whopping 1,220 calories, 75 grams of fat, and 1,350 mg of salt—the caloric equivalent of two Big Macs and an order of small fries—and that's before the all-you-can-eat breadsticks, which have 150 calories each. Even without the creamy Alfredo sauce, the restaurant's dishes can be packed with calories, salt, and fat. The chicken and shrimp carbonara has 1,440 calories, 88 grams of fat, and 3,000 mg of salt, while the chicken parmigiana has 1,090 calories, 49 grams of fat, and 3,380 mg of salt, for example.
The Cheesecake Factory. This joint is known for its generous portions, and if you manage to finish an entire meal there, you've likely inhaled more than a day's worth of calories. One serving of the avocado egg roll appetizer—or one egg roll— has 960 calories and 1,130 mg of salt (the restaurant does not disclose the total fat content of its dishes, only saturated fat). The wasabi-crusted ahi tuna entrée packs 1,750 calories, 58 grams of saturated fat, and 1,300 mg of salt—numbers typical of most of its sandwiches, salads, pasta, steak, and seafood dishes. And take care with the restaurant's new "Skinnylicious" options: While they have fewer calories, their sodium content is just as high—if not higher—than regular-menu items.
Panera Bread. Even though Panera Bread bills itself as a healthy alternative to most fast-food chains, many of its sandwiches are no healthier—or they're worse—than what you'd find at a McDonald's. The "Sierra Turkey" on Asiago cheese focaccia has 920 calories, 49 grams of fat, and 1,900 mg of salt. Even the vegetarian option, tomato and mozzarella on ciabatta bread, has 770 calories, 29 grams of fat, and 1,290 mg of salt. To put this in perspective, a McDonald's double cheeseburger has 440 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 1,150 mg. of salt. If you're opting for a salad, also beware—while their calorie counts are relatively low, the amount of salt, even before dressing, can come close to 1,000 mg.
P.F. Chang's. The sweet and sour chicken dinner has 1,110 calories, 57 grams of fat, and 1,101 mg of salt. The vegetable lo mein has 1,260 calories, 45 grams of fat, and more than double the adult daily salt allowance. Even a seemingly harmless appetizer plate of vegetarian lettuce wraps has 420 calories, along with 28 grams of fat and 2,600 mg of salt.
Jamba Juice. With its vitamin "boosts," fresh fruit, and strict ban on high-fructose corn syrup, Jamba Juice may seem like a healthy choice, but these fruit smoothies are loaded with calories and sugar. A regular-size Razzmatazz smoothie has 390 calories and 74 grams of sugar—as much as two cans of Coke. The large size has even more: 520 calories and 100 grams of sugar. Some of this sugar comes from naturally-occurring fructose, which is found in fruits, but much of it comes from "added sugars" from ingredients such as frozen yogurt, sorbet, and sherbet. Most Americans consume too much sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women get no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories per day from added sugar, and men get no more than 9 teaspoons and 150 calories per day.