Whether you want to get healthier or trying to lose weight, one of your first goals should include avoiding chain restaurants.

It’s probably no surprise that fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s or Burger King sell little -- if anything -- that’s healthy. But what about chain restaurants such as Applebee’s or the Cheesecake Factory? The surprising truth is that these places don’t fare much better.

So what makes chain restaurants so popular?  It’s their comfort foods. These preprocessed  / prepackaged meals are often loaded with excess calories and saturated fat. Here are just a few examples: Applebee’s sells a provolone-stuffed meatballs dish, which comes with garlic bread and a side of fettuccine pasta. The calorie count? 1,520 per dish. That’s the entire recommended daily intake of calories for women, according to the USDA. On top of that, the dish also contains 43 grams of saturated fat. The recommended daily amount? Only about 15 grams per day on a 1,500-calorie diet.  Additionally, the Cheesecake Factory sells a “Bistro Shrimp Pasta, made with a butter and cream sauce and topped with battered, fried shrimp.”  The damage? 89 grams of saturated fat and 1,090 milligrams of sodium.

Portion sizes have also been super-sized at many of the big at chain restaurants. We’re talking huge -- three to four times larger than the average recommended portion. For example, Hardee’s sells the Monster Thick-burger, which contains 382 grams or 13.5 ounces. The recommended serving size of meat? Three to five ounces. The “Thick-burger” contains 1,300 calories and a whopping 93 grams of fat. 

And that’s not all. Chain restaurants are notorious for the amount of sodium their dishes contain. Chili’s Southern Smokehouse Bacon Burger contains 3,350 mg of sodium -- that’s 1,350 mg more than what the American Heart Association recommends as a daily limit. Denny’s The Grand Slamwich, which comes with hash browns, is even worse at 3,690 mg of sodium. As most of us now now. high levels of sodium -- especially if consumed on a regular basis -- can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can increase your risk of heart disease.  According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “more than one-third of Americans are obese, and about 10 percent of the nation's healthcare bill is tied to obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.” 

If that’s not enough to scare you, think about this: You are unlikely to get much, if any, healthy fiber or nutritional value chain restaurant meals. That’s because comfort food is all about meats, fats and carbohydrates. Vegetables and fruits, which are sources of fiber and valuable nutrients, are typically only used in very small side dishes, if at all!

On a more positive note: some restaurants have recently started to take notice, and are adding low-calorie options to their menus. According to Wall Street Journal, “restaurants from Applebee’s to Starbucks are pushing new low-calorie menu items in an effort to attract customers who say they want healthier options. Applebee's last month introduced five items including grilled shrimp with island rice (280 calories), a spicy shrimp and pasta dish (500 calories), and asiago peppercorn steak (390 calories), after consumer studies and focus groups revealed that customers wanted healthier choices.”

If your goal is to lose weight or just be healthier, high calorie/sodium restaurant meals are not a wise choice. However, if you do find yourself at one of these restaurants, you at least have the option of reaching for one of these lower-calorie menu options.

Want to know more?  Checkout a copy of our most recent book, Chain Reaction - America’s Toxic Love Affair with Chain Restaurants.  Available soon in Kindle and pint versions from Amazon.

For more information on this topic see our book, Chain Reaction:  America's Toxic Love Affair with Chain Restaurants  


Baertlein, L. (2013, January 16). Cheesecake Factory pasta on annual list of caloric ''food porn.” Yahoo! Health - Reuters. Retrieved February 10, 2013, from http://health.yahoo.net/news/s/nm/cheesecake-factory-pasta-on-annual-list-of-caloric-food-porn

Jargon, J. (2010, Jan 22). Restaurants begin to count calories; applebee's, starbucks push healthier food items to boost customer foot traffic amid federal health-care debate. Wall Street Journal (Online).