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Bad news breakfasts.

Sure, you know that eggs are high in cholesterol, sausage is fatty, and pancakes with syrup aren't diet food. That's no surprise. But the answers to this mini-quiz may be.

1. Which has more fat: an order of hash browns or two slices of toast with margarine or butter?

2. Which has more saturated fat: a Belgian waffle or an order of biscuits & gravy?

3. Which has more calories: two scram bled eggs or four strips of bacon?

You'll find the answers--as well as the (mostly) bad news about eating breakfast out--starting on page 8.

The bottom line: If you go with many of the most popular breakfast specials, you can easily blow a day's worth of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium--not to mention 1,000 calories--before 10 a.m.

What you don't know about restaurant breakfasts can hurt you, as the answers to our little page-one quiz suggest.

Who would have guessed that two slices of toast with margarine or butter have more fat than an order of hash browns? Or that a Belgian waffle has almost twice as much (arteryclogging) saturated fat as biscuits & gravy? Or that two scrambled eggs have more calories--and fat--than four strips of bacon? But they do.

You'd never know because few restaurants provide nutrition information on their menus. And we only know because we had the dishes analyzed.

We looked at popular breakfasts served at some of the country's largest family-style restaurant chains--Denny's, Big Boy, Shoney's, Perkins, IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Bob Evans. Bakers Square, Waffle House, Village Inn, and Carrows.

And what they serve is, generally speaking, different combinations of your arteries' worst nightmares:

* Eggs--alone or in the waffle, pancake, or French toast batter--contribute the cholesterol. Cheese in the omelettes adds a hefty dose of saturated fat;

* Breakfast meats like bacon and--even worse--sausage add salt and saturated fat to the wound; and

* Margarine on your toast, pancakes, or French toast--and shortening in the grill grease--supply saturated and bans fat. Both give your blood cholesterol a jolt. If your restaurant uses butter-margarine blend, it's even worse.

Any one of those ingredients is enough to make your blood vessels quake. Pile two or more on the same plate and you could be in real trouble. It's surprising that restaurants don't sell life insurance right on the premises.

Of course, you can get a healthy breakfast when you eat out. Most places have hot or cold cereal. juice, plain toast or English muffins and fresh fruit. You might even be able to scare up a bagel or some non-fat yogurt. (Some chains we looked at, like Bob Evans and Village Inn, have special "healthy" sections on their menus. We didn't test them, so we can't vouch for their claims.)

And if your favorite restaurant has a "breakfast bar," head for it. It's not perfect--you probably won't find lower-fat turkey bacon or veggie sausage. But you can load up on cereal and fruit. Just pretend that the "all you can eat" sign doesn't apply to the bacon, eggs, etc.

Other breakfasts are less healthy, but not terrible. Take scrambled egg-substitute with hash browns, ham, and two pieces of toast, or pancakes or French toast with ham or two pieces of bacon.

As long as you hold the margarine or butter, they're no fattier than a spaghetti with meat sauce dinner or the "healthy" versions of chicken fajitas we've praised in the past.

But you're still getting at least half a day's sodium plus lots of empty calories from the sugary syrup. So don't think of it as breakfast. It's really the equivalent of dinner ...a big dinner. And even if you pay extra for orange juice or a fruit cup, you've got a lot of catching up to do if you're going to get five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables by bedtime.


Pick the wrong breakfast--like pancakes or French toast with butter or margarine and sausage--and you can do as much damage to your arteries as two Quarter Pounders and a large order of fries.

Here are some of the most popular platters, with their main dishes ranked from best (least saturated fat) to worst (most saturated fat).

1. Hot or Cold Cereal. We didn't have to analyze it. This is the best breakfast you can get.

Typical Platter: Many restaurants offer something like Denny's Cereal Combo, which consists of 2% milk on cereal, plus a cup of juice, 3/4 cup of fruit, and toast, bagel, biscuit, English muffin, or blueberry muffin. Get it with plain toast, bagel, or English muffin and you could eat five of these breakfasts and still get less fat and saturated fat than you would from a ham &cheese omelette.

To Make It Better: Ask for a low-sugar, whole-grain cereal like Wheaties or shredded wheat and 1% or skim milk to pour on it. Use preserves on your (whole wheat) toast or bagel instead of margarine or butter.

2. Scrambled Eggs. While two scrambled eggs contain only 13 grams of fat (four of them saturated), they'll cost you almost two days' worth of cholesterol. But who orders just eggs, especially when, for a dollar or two more, you can add toast, hash browns. and bacon, sausage, or ham?

Most restaurants offer egg substitutes like Egg Beaters (which is cholesterol-free) or Eggstro'dnaire (which has a quarter the cholesterol of regular eggs). Combine either with hash browns and plain toast and you've got a pretty decent breakfast...if you get what you ordered. Judging by the cholesterol in the egg-substitute breakfasts we analyzed, two of the nine restaurants we visited served us regular eggs instead.

Typical Platter: Denny's Grand Slam is the best-selling restaurant breakfast. How can you beat two eggs, two pancakes, two strips of bacon, and two sausage links, all for $1.99? You can't, which is why many other chains now offer similar (but not as cheap) versions--like Big Boy's The Big Two and IHOP's Root; Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity.

They're grand slams all your heart and waistline. We're talking more than 1,100 calories, three-quarters of a day's fat, saturated fat, and sodium, and two days' cholesterol. Cholesterol aside, that's like eating two Big Macs. If you have trouble remembering that the Grand Slam type platter has two of everything, just think of it as the Double Bypass.

For an extra buck you can spring for a three-of-everything feast like Denny's Super Slam. Now you're talking Triple Bypass.

To Make It Better: Ask for egg substitute and hold the margarine or butter on the pancakes. Order fresh fruit instead of the sausage or bacon.

3. Pancakes. If you get a stack of four without the margarine or butter and use a typical four-tablespoon (1/4 cup) serving of syrup, you've got a decent, if large, breakfast--five grams of saturated fat and less than 100 milligrams of cholesterol. But add the margarine ( which was on the pancakes in most of the restaurants we visited) and watch the fat and sat fat match what's in two hot dogs--and the calories match what's in six.

Typical Platter: Four pancakes with margarine or butter and syrup, with four strips of bacon or sausage links. Bacon knocks the calories up to 1.100 and the fat and saturated fat to more than half a day's worth. Sausage makes it a full day's worth. Denny's serves just two strips of bacon, but you'd still be better off with a McDonald's Hotcake Breakfast with Sausage.

To Make It Better: Tell them to hold the margarine or butter. Use just two tablespoons of syrup or ask for "low calorie " syrup (it has less than half the calories of regular).

4. French Toast. What do you expect when you dip bread in an egg-and-milk mixture and fry it in shortening? Even without the butter (which most of the French toast we ordered came with) or margarine on top, it's got about 5() percent more fat and saturated fat than unadorned pancakes, and nearly three times the cholesterol. Add the butter or margarine and the fat equals what you'd get in three Dunkin' Donuts Boston Kreme Donuts.

Typical Platter: Three slices of French toast with butter or margarine and syrup, plus four strips of bacon or sausage links. At Denny's it's two strips or links. Eat the four-link breakfast and you'll waddle out of the restaurant 1,300 calories heavier. and with room for no more saturated fat until lunch tomorrow. This breakfast makes two Dairy Queen Banana Splits look like diet food.

To Make It Better: Have it made with egg substitute and skim milk. Hold the butter or margarine and use "low calorie " syrup or just two tablespoons of regular.

5. Biscuits & Gravy. We knew that two biscuit halves smothered in gravy that's speckled with an ounce or so of sausage bits would be bad. But more calories, fat, and salt than a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with Cheese? Sad but true.

Typical Platter: If it resembles Denny's Southern Slam--which adds two eggs, two strips of bacon, and two sausage links--it also resembles the fat and saturated fat in half a pound of Spam. Some restaurants team their biscuits & gravy with hash browns and four sausage links. Congratulations. Fat wise, you've just eaten the equivalent of nine Dunkin' Donuts Chocolate Frosted Donuts.

To Make It Better: You can 't.

6. Belgian Waffle. Who would have guessed that a 7"-wide waffle could have as much saturated fat as two Quarter Pounders? You can thank the milk, eggs, and butter in the batter and the whipped topping. As for the 900 calories, you could eat three McDonald's Hot Fudge Sundaes and still get fewer.

Typical Platter: At most restaurants, Belgian waffles stand alone (phew!). But Denny's, bless its greasy heart, will throw in a piece of ham, two steps of bacon, or two sausage links for about a quarter. Save it for the parking meter.

To Make It Better: Skip the whipped topping But that may only help a little, since most of the fat and cholesterol probably are in the batter.

7. Ham & Cheese Omelette. Three eggs layered with two ounces of ham plus an ounce of cheese means more than halt a day's fat and sat fat. That's what you'd get in two corned beef sandwiches. Of course, the sandwiches wouldn't give you more than two days' worth of cholesterol.

Typical Platter: Mercifully, omelettes usually come with "just" hash browns and least with margarine or butter. That's enough, though, to make the fat and saturated fat equal three corned beef sandwiches.

To Make It Better: Some restaurants offer vegetable or "garden" omelettes. Ask for a cheese-less one made with egg substitute or just egg whites.


Putting together your own breakfast by combining side dishes? We've ranked the most common ones, from best (least saturated fat) to worst (most sat fat).

1. Ham. Don't be too tempted by the low three grams of fat (one of them saturated) in a typical two-ounce serving. They're soaked in 900 mg of sodium. That's more than a third of a day's worth.

2. Hash Browns or Toast with Margarine or Butter. Two slices of toast with margarine (used by most restaurants) will do about as much damage as an order of hash browns. Each has around 11 grams of fat. And if the restaurant serves butter on its toast, six of those grams will be saturated. That's a third of your day's quota. Use jelly or preserves instead.

3. Bacon. A typical four-strip serving clocks in at 11 grams of fat, four of them saturated. The only reason it's not as bad as sausage is that you get less meat.

4. Pancakes with Margarine or Butter. Surprised? We were. The fat in a three-pancake stack comes to 22 grams, seven of them saturated. Skip the margarine or butter and you cut the fat and sat fat almost in half.

5. Sausage. It's the worst side dish you can add to your plate. Four links have 32 grams of fat, 12 of them saturated. That's about half a day's quota of each.



We bought takeout portions of 12 popular breakfast entrees and side dishes at 17 mid-priced family-style restaurants in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. We made a composite out of nine samples of each breakfast component (equal portions of nine restaurants' scrambled eggs were mixed together, for example), and analyzed the composites for calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

We then calculated numbers for each platter by adding together the lab results for their a la carte components. That's why we can't tell you, for example, exactly how much fat is in Denny's Grand slam breakfast. But we can give you the average fat in a typical "two-of-everything" breakfast like the Grand Slam. Judging by the weights of the components of each chain's breakfast platters, they don't differ much from our averages platters.

Julian Goldman coordinated the food purchasing and testing. Daved Alexander and Anne Didato helped purchase the food. And Ingrid Van Tuinen and Patricia Treanor compiled the information for this article.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:nutritional value of restaurant breakfast foods
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Previous Article:Let them eat you-know-what.
Next Article:Bran & calcium for the colon.

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