Restaurant Confidential: The Shocking Truth about what You're Really Eating when You're Eating Out

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In May 2001, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) will break a major pizza story on the ABC television program 20/20 and once again capture front-page headlines, just as it did when it released studies on movie popcorn and take-out Chinese food. Published to coincide with this story is Restaurant Confidential, in which Dr. Michael F. Jacobson and his CSPI team do for sit-down meals what their Fast-Food Guide--with 247,000 copies in print--does for fast food.Belgian Waffle or Rib-Eye Steak? Bloomin' Onion or Mrs. Fields's Double-Fudge Brownie? Americans are now eating almost one-third of their meals outside the home, spending $222 billion annually doing so-and watching their waistlines balloon. What's in this food? To answer, CSPI performs across-the-board restaurant profiles that give straight-shooting scientific data on the fat, sodium, and calorie content of the most popular dishes. The information is organized by type of cuisine--Chinese, Mexican, steak house, and more--and covers all the major chains, such as The Olive Garden, Applebee's, and Outback. The book provides specific eating strategies for every kind of restaurant, as well as shocking facts: Did you know that a typical order of stuffed potato skins packs a whopping 1,260 calories and 48 grams--two days' worth--of saturated fat? A 10-point plan for ordering wisely, plus dozens of tips throughout, takes the information one step further by showing how to eat happily and healthfully. It's the nutrition book that reads like a thriller. Take the steak and brownies; a whole fried onion with dipping sauce has a blooming 163 grams of fat, and the seemingly innocent Belgian waffle with whipped topping and fruit has even more fat and calories than two sirloin steaks.

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User Review  - littlemac86 -

I eat out atleast five times a week and because of this book i have found a healthy way to do so. You will be surprised how much fat and caloires are in certain items. Read full review


Introduction Eating Out as a Way of Life
Nutrition Eating OutHealthfully
Rise and Dine Breakfast

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About the author (2002)

Chapter 6 - Use Your Noodle: Italian Restaurants

When it comes to ethnic eating in America, Italian food, together with Mexican and Chinese food, are what the restaurant industry calls the "Big Three." In addition to their popularity, these cuisines share something else-a loss of authenticity that with time has transformed some once-healthful traditional specialties into ones you should think twice about before ordering. The best way to enjoy a terrific Italian meal these days is to take your cues from the past.

The Italian food most Americans have grown up eating in restaurants has its roots in the cuisine of southern Italy, which is bolder, more highly seasoned, and has less meat, cheese, and cream sauce than northern fare. It evolved from traditional peasant food that made the best and most delicious use of inexpensive, readily available ingredients. Vegetables, including familiar favorites like tomato, eggplant, peppers, and artichoke, were served in season. Fresh seafood was caught and savored the same day. Sauces, whether fresh and uncooked or slow simmered until the flavors melted into one another, always included a splash of olive oil to add an extra dimension to the taste. Seasonings such as fresh basil, capers, oregano, lemon, and olives lent their zesty, lively flavors. Meat, expensive and far from abundant, was enjoyed on the occasional feast day or used in small quantities as a flavoring rather than as a main dish-a tradition that continues today in Italian home cooking. And flavorful cheeses were used sparingly but to great effect as a garnish rather than as the focus of a dish. From humble ingredients came a great cuisine. The Italian way of eating has become one of the world''s most beloved. Americans adore Italian food. It is a cuisine that wraps its arms around diners with bold, fresh flavors. Over the years, however, something has been lost in the translation. For many people, Italian food has become veal smothered in mozzarella, fettuccine coated with cream-and-cheese sauce, and lasagnas oozing with fatty meat and cheese. And our servings are far larger than is customary in Italy. Nothing could be further removed from the light, fresh preparations for which southern Italy is noted.

You can still find the basic components of low-fat, healthful eating in most Italian restaurants; you just need to choose carefully. If you opt for pasta with marinara, clam, or even meat sauce (forget the cream and cheese sauces) and add a salad of dark, leafy greens and fresh vegetables, you can have a delicious, healthy, and truly Italian meal.

The Dishes and the Data

We bought dinner-size take-out portions of 3 popular appetizers and 13 entrees from 21 midprice Italian restaurants in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. (For more on our methodology, see pages 12-14.) We chose independent restaurants rather than chains like The Olive Garden because more than three-quarters of the country''s Italian restaurants are independently owned. (However, The Olive Garden provides numbers on its healthy meals, which are found on a separate chart on page 133.) We didn''t do pizza because it''s more like fast food. It''s covered in chapter 7, Any Way You Slice It: Pizzerias, page 135. Within each category, we''ve listed the dishes from best to worst-that is, from least to most saturated fat. We did not test for trans fat; if we had, the saturated-fat numbers would be higher than those indicated.


Fried calamari - (1,040 calories and 70 grams of fat, 9 of them saturated)

Although most of the 1,000-plus calories and 70 grams of fat in an average 3-cup portion of fried calamari comes from the breading and deep frying, you can thank the squid itself for the whopping amount of cholesterol. The 925 milligrams of cholesterol in this dish are a three-day supply, or about what you''d get in a four-egg omelette. The restaurants told us that a portion serves just one, but even a half-portion is enough to make your arteries howl. When your appetizer packs 1,000 calories, your hips and paunch don''t have a fighting chance.

The Bottom Line: Don''t order this unless you''re dining out with a crowd of friends and can share the calorie and cholesterol burden.

Garlic bread - (820 calories and 40 grams of fat, 10 of them saturated)

Most restaurants consider an 8-ounce serving to be an order for one, so that''s what our chart lists. But the equivalent of eight slices of Wonder bread seems extreme to us. The 40 grams of fat come from the olive oil (3 tablespoons) or butter (almost half a stick) and, in some restaurants, from the Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

The Bottom Line: Order plain Italian bread instead and stop at one or two slices. If you''re in a restaurant that brings olive oil to the table for dipping, dip lightly. Whether the olive oil is regular or extra-virgin, it will have 120 calories per tablespoon.

Antipasto - (630 calories and 47 grams of fat, 15 of them saturated)

Here''s an appetizer that gives new meaning to the word "Mangia!" Its long list of components generally includes assorted meats like salami, mortadella, prosciutto, ham, and pepperoni; cheeses like provolone and mozzarella; and marinated vegetables, olives, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, and tomato, all topped off with olive oil or other dressing. We estimate that if you eat the whole lollapalooza (all 11/2 pounds worth!) by yourself, you''ll end up with three-quarters of the fat and saturated fat and all-or more-of the sodium you should eat in an entire day.

The Bottom Line: Share the plate with three friends. Get the oil and vinegar or other dressing on the side and use just a touch. Ask the kitchen to go lightly on the meats and cheeses and heavy on vegetables, like peppers, olives, chickpeas, and kidney beans.

Main Dishes

Spaghetti with marinara sauce - (850 calories and 17 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated)

Spaghetti with marinara (or just tomato) sauce is a winner because it''s low in saturated fat. The problem is that it''s got 850 calories. It''s the generous portion of pasta-31/2 cups-that piles the calories on. Then again, when it comes to restaurant meals, you could do a lot worse than 850 calories. And the tomato sauce is rich in lycopene, a carotenoid that may help cut the risk of prostate cancer. So overall, this one''s a go.

The Bottom Line: The best choice.

Linguine with red clam sauce - (890 calories and 23 grams of fat, 4 of them saturated)

This popular dish has only 4 grams of saturated fat. That''s pretty hard to beat. But it serves up almost a day''s sodium (2,180 milligrams). And, like other bountiful pasta dishes, the calories approach 900. Just make sure you start out with a salad (and light dressing) rather than half a loaf of garlic bread for an appetizer.

The Bottom Line: A decent dish for seafood fans.

Linguine with white clam sauce - (910 calories and 29 grams of fat, 5 of them saturated)

The sauce for this Italian restaurant favorite, which is typically made with clams, olive oil, garlic, and sometimes white wine, has only 5 grams of saturated fat. It lacks some of the nutrients in its tomato-based counterpart, but it''s a good alternative if you''re looking for a change of pace from red sauce.

The Bottom Line: A popular classic worth ordering.

Chicken Marsala - (460 calories and 25 grams of fat, 7 of them saturated; with a side order of spaghetti, 870 calories and 33 grams of fat, 9 of them saturated)

Surely the skinless chicken breasts or the mushrooms that are the basis of this relatively uncomplicated dish can''t be to blame for all that fat? They''re not. The sauce, which also has marsala wine in it, is made with butter or oil. And although the calories (460) are far lower than any other Italian dish that we analyzed, most people get a side order of spaghetti to round out the meal. That would put its calories and saturated fat in line with a plate of spaghetti with meat sauce.

The Bottom Line: Ask the kitchen to go easy on this rich sauce. If you''re watching your weight, consider replacing the side of spaghetti with a side of vegetables or a salad (but only if you get light dressing).

Spaghetti with meat sauce - (920 calories and 25 grams of fat, 7 of them saturated)

Often called Bolognese on menus, this meat and tomato sauce has nearly 50 percent more fat than marinara or tomato sauce. As restaurant dishes go, this one''s not too fatty because the high proportion of pasta overwhelms the 3 to 4 ounces of greasy ground meat in the sauce.

The Bottom Line: A satisfying choice for meat lovers who don''t want to overdo it on the fat front.

Spaghetti with sausage - (1,040 calories and 39 grams of fat, 10 of them saturated)

Because it contains three times more pasta than fatty Italian sausage (sometimes sliced into chunks, other times served as links), this dish is better for you than you might expect. Even so it''ll cost you more than 1,000 calories and 2,400 milligrams of sodium.

The Bottom Line: Order the sausage with marinara or tomato sauce rather than meat sauce.

Spaghetti with meatballs - (1,160 calories and 39 grams of fat, 10 of them saturated)

Between the meatballs and the meat sauce, you can expect a third more meat on your plate than you''d get by ordering spaghetti with meat sauce alone.

The Bottom Line: No need to gild the lily by eating a meat sauce on meatballs. Do your arteries a favor and ask the kitchen to top the meatballs with a marinara meatless tomato sauce. Save half for tomorrow.

Cheese ravioli - (620 calories and 26 grams of fat, 11 of them saturated)

Much of the saturated fat here comes from the 3 ounces of ricotta cheese filling in these square pillows of pas

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