It hasn’t even been seven months since the Center for Science in the Public Interest unveiled its annual list of most calorific, fat-fortified meals, but the CSPI was apparently so grossed out by a new menu item from Long John Silver’s that it couldn’t wait to include in next year’s round-up and has awarded it the title of Worst Restaurant Meal in America.
LJS’s Big Catch is a large slab of haddock, which the fast food chain describes as “3X Bigger,” though it’s only in the fine print that it clarifies what exactly it is three times larger than. “Compared to one piece Alaskan Pollock by weight,” reads the fine print, though that’s still pretty vague as far as we’re concerned.
Still, it’s fish. How unhealthy could it be, right? The company claims that each serving is 7 to 8 ounces of fish, but that’s apparently the pre-cooked weight, as the end result is about 4.5 ounces of fish encased in another 3 ounces of fried breading, says CSPI.
And of course the meal comes with fried hush puppies and onion rings. All three components of the meal are cooked in partially hydrogenated frying oil, which CSPI says is responsible for most of the 33 grams of trans fat found in the meal. That’s 16 times the American Heart Association’s recommended daily maximum intake of trans fat, or more than two weeks’ worth.
The organization also alleges that LJS is understating the trans fat in its online nutritional information. For example, the company claims the hush puppies have 3 grams of trans fat, but CSPI tests found 3.7 grams. You might consider that acceptable, but CSPI’s test of the onion rings showed a much larger discrepancy. The website states 7 grams of trans fat, while CSPI claims to have found 19.5 grams. Info for the fish in the Big Catch meal is not listed on the chain’s website as it’s a temporary menu item, but CSPI says it found 10.4 grams of trans fat.
And this is all on top of the 19 grams of saturated fat and 3,700 mg of sodium already found in the meal.
“This company is taking perfectly healthy fish and entombing it in a thick crust of batter and partially hydrogenated oil,” says CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, who calls the Big Catch “A heart attack on a hook.”
CSPI points out that many fast food chains have stopped using partially hydrogenated frying oil in the wake of growing concern about trans fat. Even when the organization sued KFC in 2006 to stop it from using the oil, the worst meal on the menu had 15 grams of trans fat, less than half of what was found in the Big Catch meal.
“Trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil is a uniquely damaging substance that raises your bad cholesterol, lowers your good cholesterol, and harms the cells that line your blood vessels,” said Walter C. Willett, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It might have been defensible to use hydrogenated oil in the 1980s, before trans fat’s harmfulness was discovered, but no longer. It is outrageous that Long John Silver’s foods are still loaded with artificial trans fat and that the FDA still permits it in foods.”
We’ve reached out to reps for Long John Silver’s, which former parent company Yum! Brands sold to franchisees in 2011. If we hear anything back, we’ll be sure to update.