Have Restaurants Gone Too Far with the Unhealthy Offerings?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to the healthfulness of menu items and information shared by restaurants, just think about how far we've come in just the last decade. Nutrition facts for most restaurant foods are available not just online, but on menu boards in many states. Happy Meals can be bought with apples and milk instead of fries and soda. And we're no longer limited to greasy burgers when we stop at a fast food joint: salads, yogurt parfaits, and even oatmeal are standard these days. Healthful options abound where once there were none!

Sometimes it seems like restaurants are listening to consumers who want healthier options. But are they taking two step backwards when they release items like the KFC's Double Down or promote the inclusion of a "fourth meal" in their commercials (as if we really need to eat more than we already do)?

This week I read about a new menu item from Friendly's, a burger that replaces the bun with TWO GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES for a reported 1,500 calories and 79 grams of fat. Have they gone completely mad?

I believe that these gluttonous creations are released for publicity. It seems that the bigger, greasier, and bad-for-you food a brand can conjure up, the more free press and attention they get. (And yes, I realize the irony of writing this blog, which certainly isn't helping matters.) That has to be a big reason why restaurants, especially struggling ones like KFC, take extreme measures to garner attention and boost sales. First KFC touts its 395-calorie meal for $3.95 (thumbs up!), and then a few months later, they released the Double Down (thumbs down).

Foods like these remind me of two comedy sketches that poke fun at just how far restaurants are willing to go to get attention and boost sales. These are so funny to me because there is a lot of truth in them.

"Taco Town" commercial from Saturday Night Live

"Domino's Scientists Test Limits of What Humans Will Eat" from The Onion

I admit that I struggle between wanting to share news like this with our readers (in a be-sure-to-avoid-it way) and saying nothing (so that I'm not contributing to their attention-seeking behavior). Sometimes, our desire to share the food news wins out, but other times, we keep mum. So tell me, readers: Do you like to hear about these types of foods or would you rather we all kept quiet and focused on the good things coming out of restaurants these days?

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On the one side, the restaurant has a responsibility to not try to kill it's customers with some much fat and calories, but on the other hand, the consumer does indeed have the CHOICE to say NO, I don't want to eat your two donuts with a fattening burger and cheese in between.

I order the steak nachos at Qdoba, but order the chips on the side and the queso on the side so I eat much less. We are not mindless drones.

I also think that the whole concept of "if you build it, they will come" does work. If we make healthy options available and affordable to the masses, they will eat them.

rumbamel Report
I don't think hearing about some of these ridiculous food items will make any sane person order them. It really is about publicity. What bothers me more are the seemingly 'regular' menu items that are ridiculously calorie-loaded. I recently went to Uno Chicago Grill for the first time. I wont be doing that again. I couldn't find anything to eat that had a reasonable calorie count. Even the personal pizza on the kids menu was 450 calories. Report
to me it's all about choice; I want the healthy options, and they have started providing them - so I am happy. they can add on terrible choices, it won't change what I order when I go there. (personal responsibility goes far on this - we can't blame the restaurant for what we choose.) Report
These products are available because there is a demand for it. If people didn't eat so much fast food then there would not be a McD's and Wendy's every block. Report
OMG, the gluttony continues to expand. Report
Be aware of what you're eating. Commercialism does not care if we are overweight and unhealthy. Report
Since information is power, I think that knowing what is in food is important. Thank you for taking the time to gather the information and for sharing it with us. This allows us to make more informed choices for our bodies. Report
I feel that since I am in control of my mouth it doesn't really matter what they advertise. There are obviously people out there that want that kind of food or they wouldn't serve it. I don't want it so the commercials don't affect me. Report
Well yes I do think restaurants have gone to far but at teh same time I am in charge of what I eat so I don't have to fall inot the trap for the most part I think those food items are really nasty and it doesn't have anything to do with diet just completely gross items Report
I think ignorance is bliss...if we don't hear about all the awful stuff restaurants have, we won't be tempted to eat it! ;) Report
I just think it sounds like something a no-carb, yes-fats-and-meats diet would approve. :) I know - can't be healthy. Maybe it's geared to the Michael Phelpses among us - people with such superb metabolisms that 1500 calories is a normal meal to them.

I just find it funny that even on SparkPeople, there are more blogs about specific "bad" items than "good" ones ... just saying! :)

Maya Report
I've read recently about the hamburgers at local restaurants. McD, BK and KFC have been scrutinized so much by the public eye that their food looks like health food!!. The hamburgers in places like Chili's, Perkins (especially them!!), Outback, Friendly's, Wendy's...... calories are 2,000-3,000 and sodium is 1,500-over 5,000 and fat is up to the 70g. That is ONLY the hamburger and not including sugared drink, deep fried fries, sugared desert etc.
This is an example why America is turning fat. Why pharmaceuticals are making tons of money for supplying high blood pressure and diabetes medications!!
:( Report
I always check nutritional information before going out to eat. I think that as long as restaurants provide nutritional information they can serve what they want. If they have meals that are within the calorie range and taste preferences I have, then I will go there. I used to go to Outback and order the prime rib garlic potatoes, and side salad with ranch dressing. Now, I order a dish that is a third of the calories. I get the small steak with a double order of steamed veggies. Now, if more people ordered meals like that, then they might put more on the menu.

The only thing that bothers me is some restaurants do not let you do half orders. My solution is usually to order it with half served on a plate and half in a take out container. Report
Even after educating myself and using Spark for all of these months, restaurants never cease to amaze me. They have definitely gone MUCH too far!! Report
I've heard of these things but I don't pay much attention to them because I know how bad these restaurants are which is why I rarely go out to eat. I don't like to hear about the gluttony of other people. At the same time though, it's a bit like putting your head in the sand. So, good to hear about it in a way because the more you know the better off you'll be. Report
Knowledge is power, but I think personally I'd rather hear about what healthy options are out there, because the unhealthy ones are already so obvious.
Have certain restaurants gone too far? Yes, but businesses will more likely respond to the level demand (not an outraged minority), so vote with your dollars. Report
I really hate going out to eat anymore. I was hoping that the government would make the fast food places get healthy since we are a overweight and unhealthy country, but if you go to the Burger King website they have their own nutrition and advertises the trans fat. I will never eat there. Report
Actually to me it seems that food like the Double Down, that is obviously just a artery clogging heart attack waiting to happen, makes it easier for me to look for and want to eat the healthier choices...oh yeah, two pieces of chicken with cheese and bacon sounds delicious.....but it also gives me a stomach ache and heart burn just thinking about it. Report
Everyone must choose for themselves. Those who choose to eat healthy should not be "punished" for their choices, by having to avoid certain restaurants, just because the food offered there is unhealthy. Restaurants need to make better choices as well, when it comes to healthy eating. Many restaurants now offer "healthy" choices, but often they are the most unappetizing choices on the menu. Why can't they put more effort into making better food, better tasting? I just saw a recipe on Betty Crocker's web site for a dessert that was 530 calories per serving. That's more than I allow myself per meal, and more than a quarter of any "normal" 2000 calorie daily allowance. But it sure looked delicious & decadent. Report
I think that restaurants have a right to serve what they want--and that individuals have a right to eat what they want. But I believe that everyone should be educated in what constitutes healthy choices and why, starting at a young age. Many chains post their nutritional info on their websites. It would be nice if more local restaurants would do the same--but generally they don't have an IT department to lean on and have to pay their freelance web designer each time they update their site. The upside, though, is many times those local restaurants have wait staff that are familiar with the dishes and can guide in choosing items that reflect our healthy lifestyles. Report
In our family, we avoid national chains and fast food because of this type of stuff. And although a few of us are FAT (hand waving in the air) at least it's because of real, mostly healthy food. Just too much of it, but we're working on that, now aren't we!
Spark helps me make nice choices about what to fix for dinner, how much to fix, and keeps me moving! Report
I respect the restaurant's right to serve whatever crazy thing they want to, and I respect people's right to eat said crazy things. However, I think we need clearer labeling all across the country. Everyone knows that the KFC Double Down isn't good for you, but I honestly don't think most people realize just how bad it is. We need food labeling in restaurants (fast food and otherwise) equivalent to that on packaged food. It needs to be clearly displayed in the restaurant or on menus; people can choose to look at it or not, just as they do packaged food labels. We need to make sure everyone realizes that restaurants are in business to sell food, not to fuel our bodies! Report
I don't care what they put on the menu. There's a reason why they do and it's because it sells. What I do mind is when they 1. don't post nutritinal information 2. When they don't have options for those looking for healthy foods. Report
It's all about making good choices for yourself. I feel good and empowered when I make a healthy choice. Report
The Double Down is ridiculous! The other places I avoid are Friday's, Chili's Burger King and Hardee's. They all put out the most fattening options I know. Report
KFC is not really struggling. Yum! Brands is one of the fastest growing fast food chains in the world. And sales in the last quarter were up over the one before and the quarter one year ago. People must be liking the food. Report
I think it's good to be educated abou the junk that's out there as well as focus on the heathy options.

But seriously? Three sandwiches in one?? Who does that?? Report
Resturants have a should have a moral obligation to serve better option. I m not saying everything has to low fat or low sugar. i am saying that something that has 72grams of fat per serving is horrific. That is more than unhealthy it is deadly. By supporting these restaurant decisions We are all paying with our pocket book with the high cost of health care. We have the fattiest county because we think money before our health. SAD Report
Here in Canada, we have been spared the hideous KFC double down but unfortunately we have more than enough other artery cloggers available. So these things are out there - that doesn't mean that you HAVE to eat them. No one puts a gun to your head to make you purchase fast foods that are high in fat, calories and sodium. It does seem that these heart attack pushers are trying to one up each other as far as who can come up with a grosser product. It is simply up to the consumer to avoid them and choose healthier alternatives or better still, stop being so bloody lazy and make your own food. That is the best way to ensure exactly WHAT you are putting in your mouth. Added plus? It's also cheaper. Report
I think it is outrageous the way restaurants are acting! They should be fined or at least boycotted for coming up with meals that are more than a day's worth of calories, or fat etc. I subscribe to the newsletter "Eat This Not That", and I am amazed at the things they serve in restaurants! Let this be a lesson to us to always watch what we eat, because they are not always so honest about how bad their food is. Report
I like to hear about it all! The good and the bad. Hearing about all the foods they're coming out with helps us decide whether to eat these different foods or how often. However, I don't think that these companies are "bad" for releasing unhealthy foods because they don't force it on people. People decide what they eat. If these restaurants only came out with healthy foods, they wouldn't make as much money. Personally, I won't totally avoid the unhealthier foods, but if I find out that some things on their menu are much worse than others, then I won't get it everytime I eat out at that restaurant.
It is up to the buisness to decide what is a marketable product. If people buy the product it is the correct thing to market and I'll invest in that buisness. Let the market decide!!! Report
Just as the restaurants can put it on their menu, but we don't have to order it ... you can blog about it, but we don't have to read it. While it does seem like stopping to watch a train wreck, some will want to read about these over-the-top menu items, if only to stay motivated NOT to eat these things. (Really, do any of us think the Friendly's grilled cheese burger is low fat? Do we need the warning?) What I prefer to read is a list of menu items that seem healthy but secretly pack in the calories. For instance, many restaurants' salads are as fat- and calorie-filled as their burger/fry combos. To each his own blog! Blessings. Report
I think restaurants can serve anything they want. Just because there are Hummers for sale doesn't mean I'm going to/have to buy one. When I do need to eat at restaurants I do favor the ones that have nutrition content at the restaurant or online. Report
Yes I believe that we do need to know more of what is in the food that we eat at restaurants. There are times that it is not convient to eat at home. I am amazed at how much fat and sodium is allowed to be placed in our foods. I agree that safest way is to cook at home. This does not mean buy prepackaged food and reheat. It means buying the ingredients and preparing totally from scratch. Report
I think the best thing entirely is to kept to your own kitchen. You have more control over the nutrition, flavor, and cleanliness (!) of your own cooking. Restaurants are an okay treat, but even their so-called "healthy" offerings can be deceptive--like the salads that have more calories than a cheeseburger. Offerings like the Double Down should be treated for what they are--disgusting publicity attempts. Report
I think it's good to bring attention to the unhealthy and "extreme" menu items that are being introduced in restaurants these days, especially on a health conscious website like Spark People. Who knows -- we may be moved to write to these restaurant companies to compliment their healthy efforts and "complain" about their extreme menu choices. By voicing our opinions, we can make a difference! Report
I would much rather be told about the food--that way I can see it, get repulsed by it, and then avoid it! If I'm disgusted by it at first glance, then I will NEVER be tempted to want to eat it. If we keep it hidden, then I won't know to avoid it or know how many calories are in it before trying to eat it. Report
I'm glad you shared this -- also the hilarious "commercials." It's a relief to know I'm not the only one horrified by the fast food restaurants' horrific creations. Report
I feel we need to know about both -- the good and the bad -- so we can make better decisions for those times we have to get food while we are away from home. Report
I rather know all the news about such things!

Thank you for sharing!

Be blessed! Report
Friendly's has definitely gone over the top with their new cheese burger. It's called the Friendly's Grilled Cheese Burger Melt. It's a cheeseburger that uses TWO grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun !! it's outrageous. Go here to check it out.


I can't fault these restaurants for thinking up these outrageous concoctions. They're doing whatever they can to bring in business. Also, we have to realize not everyone is eating healthy yet. So, places like Wendy's Domino's, etc... they're target audience are all those people who aren't watching what they eat.

I love hearing about these foods! They sound so disgusting, it's easy to talk to my 11-yo son about them - even he thinks they are crazy! :-) Report
While it is totally disgusting, it does remind me to eat healthy. My first reaction to the Friendly's ad was "You have got to be kidding!". My next thought was "What are their healthier offerings? Do they have any?"

It would be nice to know, so maybe you could include a healthier option in your blog.(if there is one)
I prefer to know about these things. I hate the commercials that encourage overeating, whether they're the ones you've mentioned or others. I especially hate the "in-your-face" commercials by certain fast food restaurants that encourage the eating of the monster type burgers. And I find the Man Vs. Food show on TV to be disgusting.

I'm overweight, yes, but don't insult me by trying to say overeating or eating disgusting things are good habits. And, don't insult me by trying to make me feel ashamed for occasionally eating a hamburger either. Report
Forewarned is forearmed. Report
Keep the information coming. An informed consumer is a smart consumer. SparkPeople members are probably not enticed by 'bigger is better'. Report
Hey Nicole!

I admit that I tried a double down mostly because of what I read about it on SP. That being said, the commercials themselves do what you indicate. They put out something really out there unhealthy to get people's attention. I would think that few who tried the DoubleDown thought it was anything less than one of the unhealthiest food entities that they'd ever tried.

If you can put a perspective on those types of that we can immediately relate to (# of calories, mg of sodium, cholesterol,etc vs. RDAs), it can help us understand what's really wrong and be like, "Whoa, that's really REALLy bad"

To me it's the foods that are billed as "Healthy"but really kind of aren't ("Low Fat" with ton's of sugar, "Lower calorie" but with ton's of sodium, etc.) that really need attention drawn to them. I wonder how much salt is in the grilled chicken.

I dunno, I'm rambling. Have a great week! Report
Well Nicole I see the struggle - if you write a blog about it, you might just be unintentionally contributing to the hype. For me, it won't matter since I know enough not to eat those monstrosities, but on the other hand, I probably would never have heard of them unless I read the blog. I rarely eat out and don't watch commercial TV. However, it may also be important to shed some light on how many calories these mega meals actually contain - especially for those just starting out with SparkPeople. Restaurants will provide what their customers are willing to buy - the only reason these types of things will stay on the menu past their "promotional" stage is if people are actually eating and enjoying them. The more people who are making wise choices, the less of these we will see.

I thought the SNL skit was hilarious, the Dominoes segment was kinda funny. Just shows you how outrageous our food offerings have gotten - but it's the restaurant's choice to offer them, and it is our choice to eat them (or not), and it is also our choice whether we respond to the hype. Report
Nicole, I saw the Friendly's ad with the burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches, and I really thought I was hallucinating! I pointed it out in horror to my husband, who laughed and said, "Some people will eat anything on a dare." Sheesh! Not for me! Report