The 30 Worst Fast-Food Restaurant Choices
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Fitness

The 30 Worst Fast-Food Restaurant Choices

Reader beware: the 30 unhealthiest choices at fast-food restaurant chains -- and the healthier substitutions you can make to avoid the calorie bomb.

Why Eating Out Is Making You Fat

In recent years, American restaurants have been piling layers of fat, salt, and sugar on their creations -- all of which tricks our brain into craving more food, says former FDA commissioner David Kessler, MD, in his book The End of Overeating. "Even lettuce has become a vehicle for fat," he says, citing the cream-based dressings, cheese chunks, bacon bits, and oil-soaked croutons that turn many restaurant salads into health hazards.

If you're watching your calories -- or your life expectancy -- there are a few fast rules to follow if you eat out at a popular restaurant chain:

  • Avoid anything with the word "sampler" or "platter," unless you plan to share it with three or more people and make it your main course.
  • Skip anything that comes in an edible bowl or includes the words stacked, stuffed, double, triple, slammed, or dunked.
  • Nachos are something best shared with a group, and subs are something best measured in calories, fat, and sodium -- not inches.
  • When you see the words crispy or glazed, realize that's what will happen to your arteries and your eyes, respectively, if you consume too many of these items.
  • Dressing and sauces are among the major calorie culprits of many restaurant choices, sometimes doubling the fat and sodium content of an entree. Ask for all sauces on the side, and try replacing cream-based dressings with mustard (straight mustard, not sugar-loaded honey mustard), suggests New York City-based nutritionist Sharon Richter, MS, RD. Other good alternatives: lemon and grated cheese (25 calories per tablespoon).
  • Just because an item falls under the word "appetizers" does not mean it should be followed by more food. Not even in the same day. Some of the country's most ubiquitous food establishments serve appetizers that would stuff a Sumo wrestler.

And remember, the average woman needs 1,500 to 1,800 calories a day to maintain weight (depending upon activity level and frequency), and the American Heart Association recommends limiting dietary fat to 30 percent of total calories.

Armed with these basic tenets, prepare yourself as we unveil some surprising calorie bombs -- and the choices you can make to avoid them.

Quizno's

If you fix yourself an oversize sandwich at home - say, with ham, cheese, and mustard -- it would likely contain one-third the calories you'd find in many of this chain restaurant's large subs.

The good news about Quizno's, though, is that their Sammies (small, folded flatbread sandwiches) limit the calories to around 300 apiece. Try one with a cup of lower-sodium soup, and you'll be full and mobile. We can't quite say that about the tuna melt.

Calorie Bombs Tuna Melt with Cheese and Dressing (large)

1,760 calories, 133g fat, 25g saturated fat, 200mg cholesterol, 2120mg sodium

It looks so harmless: tuna salad, cheddar, lettuce, tomato. But the combination of mayo, cheese, and fatty tuna -- not to mention the sheer size of this monster -- adds up to more fat grams than four Big Macs, says Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC, a Long Island, NY-based nutritionist and author of The Lifestyle Fitness Program. Even the small sub contains more fat (55 grams!) than most of us should be consuming in an entire day.

Classic Italian Sandwich

Large size, with cheese and dressing: 1,330 calories, 68g fat, 24.5g saturated fat, 135mg cholesterol, 3,760mg sodium

This salami-pepperoni-capicola-ham combo comes with a light vinaigrette and still eats up nearly a day's calories and two days' worth of sodium. If that's not enough to scare you, "We have clear and convincing evidence that sodium is associated with high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke -- and it is pretty consistent across populations and ethnic groups," Dr. David Katz, a preventive medicine specialist at Yale University Medical School, told the Los Angeles Times in June. "It is unconscionable that a single meal would have 2,000 milligrams or more of sodium."

"Meats like salami, pepperoni, capicola, and ham are loaded in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories," adds Silber. "These foods are caloric time bombs -- offering little nutrient value for the amount of calories and fat they have."

Chicken with Honey Mustard Flatbread Chopped Salad

1,070 calories, 71g fat, 13.5g saturated fat, 135mg cholesterol, 1,770mg sodium

This salad looks healthy enough, with chicken breast, tomatoes, and red onion. However, the biggest calorie culprit isn't even the bacon in the salad -- it's the honey mustard dressing, which clocks in at 500 calories all on its own. And the skinny-sounding "flatbread"? That adds an additional 330 calories.

Healthier Alternatives Broccoli Cheese Soup

140 calories, 10g fat, 6g saturated fat, 15mg cholesterol, 580mg sodium

This soup is a low-cal way to get a good dose of calcium, folic acid, and antioxidants, thanks to the veggies and dairy. And though the soup comes with 580 mg of sodium (still less than half the amount in their chicken noodle), broccoli has been found to have heart-healthy benefits as well. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that rats fed with broccoli had decreased blood pressure and inflammation in the heart, as well as higher levels of heart-healthy chemicals.

Sonoma Turkey Sammie

280 calories, 14g fat, 4g saturated fat, 30mg cholesterol, 740mg sodium

(Without cheese and mayo): 170 calories, 3.5g fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 10mg cholesterol, 580mg sodium

Lean turkey, pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomato, and they claim they've even factored in the Chipotle mayo to the total calorie count. Skip the mayo and you'll bring this down to 220 calories and just 1 gram of saturated fat.

Chicken with Honey Mustard Flatbread Chopped Salad

(Without flatbread and dressing): 240 calories, 11g fat, 5g saturated fat, 70mg cholesterol, 620mg sodium

Yes, this is the same calorie-bomb salad we previously mentioned -- but if you skip the flatbread and replace honey mustard with just mustard, you'll winnow this down to around 260 calories. Not bad for a high-protein salad that still has bacon and cheddar.

TGI Friday's

TGI Friday's is also tight-lipped about their nutritional stats -- for good reason. Eating can be an extreme sport here. And while they do post a "Right Portion, Right Price" menu, it's intended to help the wallet, not the waistline. We could only find two items that were 500 calories or under.

Calorie Bombs Jack Daniel's Ribs & Shrimp

1,910 calories

A "full rack" of baby back pork ribs -- flinch-inducing on its own -- is basted in the chain's Jack Daniel's glaze, accompanied by "battered and fried shrimp" and fries. There are so many kinds of wrong here, someone oughta write a country-Western song about it.

Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad

1,360 calories

Sure, there are good ingredients in here: pecans, chicken breast, dried cranberries. And the choice in dressing (balsamic vinaigrette) is wise. But watch out for the word "glazed," which just means the nuts are covered in sugar. And adding blue cheese to an already-dressed salad is yet another example of the "conditioned hyper-eating" referred to by Dr. Kessler.

Loaded Potato Skins Appetizer

1,430 calories

Potato skins are nothing but "fat on fat on fat on fat, much of it loaded with salt," as Dr. Kessler puts it -- and nowhere is this more evident than at Friday's. The hollowed-out skins are fried, giving the surface area extra "fat pickup" -- which is then loaded up with bacon, cheese, and sour cream.

Healthier Alternatives Shrimp Key West

370 calories

Two skewers of grilled shrimp with lime and Cajun spices, served with steamed broccoli florets. According to the menu, net carbs are just 12. Give TGIF points for evoking the vacation resort with this healthy option -- that's the kind of conditioning we all need.

Dragonfire Chicken

500 calories

They couldn't help themselves with the glaze (Chinese Kung Pao sauce), but at least this is served over brown rice with pineapple pico de gallo, Mandarin oranges, and broccoli. Compared to white rice, brown rice has more riboflavin, folate, iron, and magnesium. Moreover, it has triple the amount of fiber, which helps you feel fuller longer -- and able to resist second helpings.

California Pizza Kitchen

California -- the land of fruits and nuts and avocados. Surely their kitchens are healthier than, say, Big Al's New York Pizzeria? Yes and no. California Pizza Kitchen has some eye-poppingly caloric pastas, salads, and specialties -- though they are introducing lower-calorie salads in November. In the meantime, stick with what they do best: thin crust pizza. And try not to eat too many slices!

Calorie Bombs Thai Crunch Salad

2,115 calories

If only they'd stopped at the shredded cabbage, grilled chicken, cucumbers, edamame, carrots, green onions, and lime-cilantro dressing -- this would be a healthy, crunchy salad. But the peanuts, crispy wontons, crispy rice sticks, and peanut dressing (yes, again with the double dressings) turn this salad into three meals' worth of calories.

Note: California Pizza Kitchen plans to reduce the calories of this salad down to 1,253 by November 2009.

Avocado Club Egg Rolls Appetizer

1,180 calories

The avocado, chicken, tomato, and Monterey Jack cheese sound good. But then you see the rest: bacon, deep-fried wontons, and a double whammy that is the ranchito sauce and herb ranch dressing. You don't even want one ranch, much less two.

Blue Crab Cakes

1,567 calories

Crab cakes are usually small enough to make for a reasonable lunch entree. But not when they come extra-large and are served with remoulade sauce and an accompaniment of "spaghettini in a creamy lemon-caper sauce." Don't let the word lemon fool you into thinking it's light -- this is what the Center for Science in the Public Interest would call "discomfort food."

Healthier Alternatives Sesame Ginger Chicken Dumplings Appetizer

326 calories

With this app you get a unique mix of flavors along with the heart-healthy omega-3s in sesame seeds and the vitamin A and cholesterol-lowering properties of green onions.

Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza

(1 slice) 188 calories

Here's a pizza you won't find at Big Al's in New York - vitamin C-rich pears, chopped hazelnuts, caramelized sweet onions, and fontina, gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses. Not only do the hazelnuts provide vitamins E and B, but among all nuts, they also have one of the lowest percentages of saturated fat and are one of the best sources of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Just be sure to ask for the Gorgonzola ranch dressing on the side when ordering this pie!

Pesto Chicken Thin Crust Pizza

(1 slice) 155 calories

Pesto and pine nuts are rich in calories and fat, so be careful how much you eat. The trick here is to share the pizza with at least one other person -- there are six slices in each pie, or 900 calories total for this one.

Denny's

Though you might know them for their "Grand Slam" breakfasts or their "Rock Star Menu," Denny's has gotten some bad press recently when the chain was sued for "putting customers at risk with its unsafe sodium levels." With the help of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the New Jersey man behind the suit demanded the chain reduce its sodium and fat content across all menu items. Denny's claimed it couldn't meet the demands completely, citing costs and taste compromises, and instead introduced a line of healthier menu options. The chain now claims to use frying oil that adds zero grams of trans fat per serving.

Still, that doesn't mean it's entirely safe to go back into the Grand Slam waters. Brace your arteries and waistlines for these shockers.

Calorie Bombs Cheesy Three Pack Appetizer

1,940 calories, 125g fat, 23g saturated fat, 100g cholesterol, 3,840mg sodium

"But they're so cute!" Not everything that comes in "mini" size is adorable. You'd be better off ordering the Fit Fare Boca burger (410 calories), or even their Classic Burger (770 calories) than this three-pack of mini cheeseburgers served with onion rings -- a frightening overdose of calories, saturated fat, and sodium.

Granola (4 ounces) with Milk (8 ounces)

690 calories, 12g fat, 2g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 430mg sodium

A bowl of cereal that adds up to nearly half a day's calories? And this is supposed to be a breakfast "side"? Take heed: "People don't realize there's a ton of fat and sugar in granola, and restaurants serve oversized portions," says New York-based nutritionist Richter, who tells her clients to avoid granola altogether, not just at Denny's. "Opt for oatmeal instead -- or Cheerios."

Heartland Scramble

1,150 calorie, 66g fat, 20g saturated fat, 530mg cholesterol, 2,800 sodium

There are only two eggs in this breakfast entree, yet the bacon, fried potatoes, and cheddar cheese send this one into the danger zone, especially when you factor in the sodium content.

Healthier Alternatives Baja Chicken Salad

280 calories, 13g fat, 3g saturated fat, 75mg cholesterol, 780mg sodium

It may be only half of a salad, but with the double protein combo of grilled chicken and bacon plus folate-rich avocado, this can fill you up. Consider the pico de gallo topping as your dressing and spare yourself the doubling (or tripling) in calories a ranch or blue cheese would provide. And remember to skip the bread!

Seasonal Fresh Fruit Appetizer

70 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 7mg sodium

Yes, you can find fresh fruit at Denny's -- and you'll be a walking caveat to all those with stomachaches from wolfing down a French Toast Slam.

Egg-White Omelet

280 calories, 16g fat, 6g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 720mg sodium
(omelet only; not counting the toast or sides)

This one will give you bragging rights -- a big, fat omelet with only 20 mg of cholesterol, less than a tenth of the average woman's daily cholesterol consumption. For eggs! At Denny's! (Compare that to 530 mg for the Heartland Scramble.) You're also getting a big helping of veggies (green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes) and enough protein to last you until lunch.

Applebee's

Don't be fooled by the "apple" in their name -- this chain has one of the most egregious menus of the bunch, which might explain why they're secretive about their nutritional information and won't make themselves available to talk to media.

Thanks to legislation in New York City, Seattle, and California, we got the rundown on their biggest diet busters -- and the (few) Weight Watchers approved alternatives that will help you dodge their worst bullets.

Calorie Bombs Quesadilla Burger

1,820 calories, 46g saturated fat, 4,410mg sodium

This new menu item stuffs a burger into an already stuffed bacon-cheddar-pepper Jack quesadilla, then adds a Mexi-ranch sauce. With fries (440 calories), this full day's worth of calories adds up to 46 grams of saturated fat -- the equivalent of two jumbo steak burritos at Chipotle. And with 4,410 milligrams of sodium, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) calls this one "a prime candidate for Applebee's Don't-Have-a-Stroke (on our property) Special."

Grilled Shrimp Pesto Alfredo Fettuccine

1,790 calories

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) once referred to fettuccine Alfredo as "heart attack on a plate." This entree takes the heart attack and finishes it off with a bullet of highly caloric pesto and high-cholesterol shrimp.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip Appetizer

1,590 calories

Even though it's an appetizer, it still packs more punch than an entree should. "'Spinach dip' is a misnomer," says Dr. Kessler. "The spinach provides little more than color and a bit of appeal; a high-fat, high-salt dairy product is the main ingredient. It's a tasty dish of salt on fat."

Healthier Alternatives Grilled Chili-Lime Chicken Salad

250 calories

Reduced-fat cheddar and mozzarella and chili-lime vinaigrette help curb calories, and a nutrient-rich combo of spinach, red onions, roasted red peppers, and mushrooms make this salad a diamond in the (deep-fried) rough.

Onion Soup au Gratin

150 calories

While this soup can vary in calories depending upon the restaurant, Applebee's claims to go light on the cheese. Consuming onions also has blood sugar-lowering effects and may lower your risk for several common cancers.

Cajun Lime Tilapia

230 calories

A grilled Cajun-seasoned tilapia fillet topped with mango salsa and rice. "Tilapia is a good source of protein and rich in omega-3s," says Silber.

On the Border

This chain of Tex-Mex restaurants is expanding internationally as it expands waistlines here at home. Owned by the people behind Chili's (another restaurant full of insane menu bombs -- no small feat to earn the distinction of "absolute worst burger in America" from Men's Health), On the Border wins its own place in the nutritional hall of shame for most caloric salad in America. And just because your doctor told you to eat more fish doesn't mean you should eat it here!

Calorie Bombs Dos XX Fish Tacos with Creamy Red Chili Sauce

2,350 calories, 152g fat, 31g saturated fat, 4,060mg sodium

No, those numbers aren't typos. Yes, this is all meant for one person. Though fish is generally considered a healthy option, these three fish tacos stuffed with Dos XX beer-battered, golden fried fish, creamy red chili sauce, and cheese are far from that. What it all means, in plain English: fat on salt on fat on deep-fried-fat on alcohol and fat, in a fat-soaked shell...with a little bit of fish hidden inside it all.

In one single meal, you are getting two to three times the maximum daily dose of fat, saturated fat, and sodium. "When our levels of sodium are too high, our blood volume increases which puts more pressure on the arteries and blood vessels," says Silber. "This makes the heart work harder than it needs to." The effects can be cumulative, and it's worth noting that heart disease is the number one killer of women over 65.

Grande Taco Salad with Taco Beef and Smoked Chipotle Vinaigrette Dressing

1,680 calories, 121g fat, 40g saturated fat, 2,660mg sodium

This salad was chosen by Men's Health as the Worst Salad in America in 2008 -- perhaps because it contains "as much saturated fat as 40 strips of bacon and more calories than 11 Taco Bell Fresco Tacos." How's that even possible? Watch out for the bowl -- it's made of deep-fried tortilla. That's fat-onto-fat-onto-fat, holding up a whole pile of fat.

Big Beef Bordurrito

1,600 calories, 110g fat, 27g saturated fat, 3840mg sodium

The word "stuffed" is a big red flag, because not only is the Bordurrito filled to bursting, but you probably will be too after ingesting it. In this case, it's stuffed with fajita steak or chicken, Mexican rice, cheese, black beans, caramelized onions and red peppers, and sour cream sauce. Oh, wait, what's that noise? Probably your digestive tract staging a pre-emptive rebellion.

Healthier Alternatives Pico Shrimp Taco with Black Beans and Veggies

490 calories, 5g fat, 1g saturated fat, 1,650mg sodium

Shrimp done right with two of the best sidekicks: black beans and veggies. "Black beans are a low-fat source of protein and fiber that helps lower cholesterol," says Silber. Plus, putting the veggies into your taco ensures you don't skip them.

Citrus Chipotle Chicken Salad with Mango Citrus Vinaigrette

290 calories, 3.5g fat, 2g saturated fat, 840mg sodium

Perhaps in response to earning the title of "World's Worst Salad" by Men's Health, On the Border has offered this new "Border Smart alternative": Pulled chicken breast tossed in a Mango Citrus Vinaigrette with peppers, red onions, tomatoes, corn, jicama, and mixed greens -- overall, a low-fat salad that's still filling, thanks to the protein from the chicken.

Outback Steakhouse

Home to the 16-ounce steak and the 2,700-calorie dessert, Outback is for big appetites and big groups, crocodile hunters, and other people with nerves -- and arteries -- of steel. The restaurant chain does offer menu suggestions for people concerned about their heart health, carb, sugar, sodium, or MSG intake, or food allergies (including gluten) -- but no nutritional breakouts. You can, however, request that your food be prepared without butter, glaze, or seasoning, allowing you to control how much you fatten and salt your meals. Remember to do this, and you'll add years to your life!

Calorie Bombs Bloomin' Onion Appetizer

1,560 calories

This could be called "The Bloomin' Butt." Outback representatives say this is meant to be shared with a group, but the onion -- healthy and flavorful on its own --- provides a whole lot of surface area to absorb fat, Dr. Kessler explains. Here it's fried in batter and topped with "spicy signature bloom sauce" -- layering salt on sugar on fat.

Aussie Cheese Fries Appetizer

2,140 calories

Make sure there are at least five of you digging into this plate! Cheese fries come under particular condemnation from Kessler. "The potato base is a simple carbohydrate, which quickly breaks down to sugar in the body. Once it's fried and layered with cheese, we're eating salt on fat on fat on sugar." And that's not even to mention the bacon and the ranch dressing.

Baby Back Ribs (full rack)

2,580 calories

Can you count the sins in here? A full rack of ribs smoked, grilled, coated in BBQ sauce, and served with Aussie fries. That's what's known as fat on fat on sugar on fat on fat.

Healthier Alternatives Seared Ahi Tuna Appetizer (small)

360 calories

From a calorie and fat perspective, you can't really go wrong with seared Ahi tuna. Split this with someone as an app so you can still indulge in one of the (lower-cal) entree runner-ups.

Prime Rib (8 ounces)

350 calories

You are at a steakhouse, so if it's meat you're craving, opt for this one. It's a healthy size, and if you ask them to prepare it without butter, it will still be delicious while sparing you the artery-clogging cholesterol and diet-crushing calories.

Shrimp on the Barbie (half-order)

330 calories

Finally, shrimp that isn't deep fried, drowning in glaze, or piled on a plate designed to feed orca.

Baja Fresh

"Fresh" has become synonymous with "healthy," and this chain boasts "no freezers, can openers, or microwaves" -- in other words, nothing processed, preheated or reheated. That all sounds great, except that nearly a third of the menu items here will run you 1,000 calories or more. Order from their "Healthy Choice" menu -- which eliminates the edible shells, tortilla strips, and chips -- the fat traps that most people tend to eat once they're put on their plate.

Calorie Bombs Breaded Fish Quesadilla

1,400 calories, 770g fat, 38g saturated fat, 170mg cholesterol, 2,350mg sodium

More than half the calories in this entree are from fat (770), and 38 grams of saturated fat is more than twice the maximum amount you want to be digesting in an entire day -- much less in one meal. The red flag here is the word "breaded" -- and the irony is you'll hardly taste it since the fish is buried in a cheesy quesadilla. Avoid this and your heart will pump with pride (and relief).

Shrimp Bean & Cheese Burrito

950 calories, 34g fat, 17g saturated fat, 310mg cholesterol, 2,320g sodium
Enchilada Style: 1,580 calories, 74g fat, 36g saturated fat, 385mg cholesterol, 3,770mg sodium

Shrimp and black beans = good. This burrito = bad. It's the size of a linebacker, for one, and if you order the enticing "Enchilado Style" -- melted jack and cheddar on top of the cheese that's already in the burrito, plus nachos and sour cream on the side -- you could find yourself consuming a day's worth of calories (1,580 calories), roughly two days' worth of fat (74 grams) and enough sodium (3,770 mg) to bloat you into the next dress size.

Charbroiled Steak Tostada Salad

1,230 calories, 63g fat, 17g saturated fat, 140mg cholesterol, 2,380mg sodium

Be afraid of the word "tostada" -- it involves a whole lot of surface area that's deep fried into an edible shell, designed to be eaten after you consume the steak, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole it will contain. The only actual salad ingredients you'll find in here are some (buried) lettuce and tomato.

Healthier Alternatives Charbroiled Shrimp Baja Ensalada

(Without tortilla strips): 193 calories, 1g fat

With romaine lettuce, sliced tomatoes, cotija cheese, and pico de gallo, you'll want to opt for the salsa verde. Just make sure you skip the tortilla bowl and those little crispy "strips" on top -- they may look harmless, but they're soaked in fat.

Original Baja Taco Chicken

210 calories, 5g fat, 1g saturated fat, 90mg cholesterol, 280mg sodium

Always look for the word "original," which likely means it was created before the entire restaurant industry overloaded their menus. This relatively lean taco is a good example of fast food done right, and with only 230mg of sodium, it's close to health food in the realm of takeout.

Mango Chipotle Chicken Salad

390 calories, 1g fat

This salad has the kind of "stimuli overload" you can love: mango, avocado, cotija cheese, romaine lettuce, chicken, and chipotle vinaigrette. Enough protein, greens, healthy fats, and fruit in a combination that will make you feel like you've indulged, all for less than 400 calories.

PF Chang's

This may come as a surprise to many, but restaurant noodle dishes and stir-fries can be frighteningly high in fat and calorie counts. And few people understand that places like PF Chang's create entrees intended to be shared by the table.

To minimize the damage, ask them to go light on the oil and sauce in the food prep. Chang's also offers "stock velveted" treatment, which replaces oil with vegetable or chicken stock in the cooking, which can "drastically reduce the amount of fat and calories to an entree while still providing great flavor," says Silber. Also, ask for your sauces on the side, and always opt for brown rice.

Calorie Bombs Chicken Chopped Salad with Ginger Dressing

940 calories, 68g fat, 10g saturated fat, 2,225mg sodium

According to the menu, this salad is simply grilled chicken with house greens tossed with the restaurant's "signature ginger dressing." But they add, "for a lighter touch, try it with our sesame vinaigrette dressing" and that should be your cue that their signature tosser is anything but light. Eater beware: not all salads are made equal.

Crispy Honey Shrimp

2,110 calories, 70g fat, 10g saturated fat, 1,815mg sodium

Though shrimp is relatively low in calories (three ounces contains around 90 calories), the two words "crispy" and "honey" spell bad news. This is the fat on sugar concept, and it works like crack. Remember, kids: just say no!

Lo Mein Combo

1,968 calories, 24g fat, 3g saturated fat, 1,465mg sodium

We're used to seeing our lo mein noodles in a small, harmless-looking white cardboard box. This is something else entirely. Intended to be shared by three people, a big pile of lo mein noodles are stir-fried in oil with large portions of beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp. To avoid keeling over from cardiac arrest, ask for a "vegetable stock velveted" preparation to replace the oil, and remember to split this one!

Healthier Alternatives Asian Ginger Salmon

272 calories, 14g fat, 2g saturated fat, 159mg sodium

We all need more heart and brain-healthy salmon in our diets, and ginger is good for the stomach and for reducing inflammation, according to Silber.

Mahi-Mahi

325 calories, 16g fat, 4g saturated fat, 749mg sodium

An 8-ounce portion has only a little over 300 calories, and in addition to being a great source of omega-3s and protein, mahi-mahi provides plenty of selenium, an antioxidant thought to help prevent cancer.

Chang's Lemon Scallops

188 calories, 3g fat, 0g saturated fat, 257mg sodium

More than 80 percent protein, scallops are also a good source of both magnesium and potassium, and these quick-fired scallops in a light lemon sauce won't balloon your waistline, either.

Olive Garden

Attempting to curb calories at a family-style Italian restaurant is not for the weak-willed. This is where people go for the ultimate "carbo loading," after all -- and Olive Garden doesn't skimp on the carbs or the fats. The restaurant chain does, however, offer a "Garden Fare" section with low-fat options, and their menu suggests substituting sauteed fresh vegetables for potatoes when you choose your side. We suggest asking for those veggies steamed -- once you work them into your entree, they'll be plenty sauteed anyway.

Calorie Bombs Create Your Own Pizza Appetizer (cheese and sauce only)

930 calories, 910 calories, 28g fat, 12g saturated fat, 2,970mg sodium

Before you even add a tomato, you're looking at nearly 1,000 calories and -- gasp -- 2,970 mg of sodium! The 12 grams of saturated fat also clogged our arteries just thinking about it.

Pork Milanese

1,510 calories, 87g fat, 37g saturated fat, 3,100g sodium

Milan may be the fashion capital of Italy, but you can be sure those runway models aren't eating anything "Milanese": pan-seared pork scaloppini covered in Italian herb breadcrumbs, accompanied by "asiago cheese-filled tortelloni pasta tossed in a garlic-butter sauce with fresh spinach." Step away from this entree, and no one gets hurt.

Tour of Italy Pasta

1,450 calories, 74g fat, 33g saturated fat, 3,830mg sodium

For the indecisive hedonist, this entree includes lasagna, "lightly breaded" chicken parmigiana, and fettuccine Alfredo -- all with a meat sauce made of beef and Italian sausage. In other words, your tour of Italy begins and ends with "The Last Supper."

Healthier Alternatives Venetian Apricot Chicken

380 calories, 4g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 1,420mg sodium

Venice appears to be a much healthier city than Milan. Case in point: this low-cal grilled chicken breast in an apricot citrus sauce, which is served with an impressive array of top veggies: broccoli, asparagus, and tomatoes.

Linguine alla Marinara

430 calories, 6g fat, 1g saturated fat, 900mg sodium

If you can't stave off the pasta cravings, this classic marinara dish is your best option. No meat, but plenty of ripe tomatoes, onions, and herbs.

Minestrone Soup Appetizer

100 calories, 1g fat, 0g saturated fat, 1,020mg sodium

This very low-calorie soup offers fresh vegetables, beans, and light tomato broth, all of which offer heart-healthy benefits that will help offset the relatively high dose of sodium.

How to Navigate the Menu

Knowing what you're up against is the first step in conquering restaurant bombs. Arming yourself against the seductive smells, tricked-out menus, heaping plates, and multiple distractions will help you make sane choices. "We have made food into entertainment -- a 'food carnival,'" says Kessler. "Go into a modern American restaurant: the colors, the TVs, the monitors, the music. You do it with your friends. We've taken sugar and added all these multiple levels of stimuli. What do we end up with? Probably one of the great public health crises of our day."

All nutritional information is from the restaurants' online menus, their respective publicists, and/or Men's Health magazine (NYS ordinance/their NYC menu, and the Center for Science in Public Interest).

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, October 2009.

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