WASHINGTON – A batter-laden fried fish dish that packs over two weeks’ worth of harmful trans fat in a single serving was named the worst restaurant meal in the United States on Tuesday by a consumer advocacy group.
The Big Catch meal, sold at the fast food chain Long John Silver’s, contains 33 grams of trans fat and 3,700 mg of sodium, said the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
People should limit themselves to 2 grams of trans fat per day, according to the American Heart Association, and most should eat 1,500 mg of sodium daily, the Institute of Medicine advises.
“Long John Silver’s Big Catch meal deserves to be buried 20,000 leagues under the sea,” CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson said in a statement announcing the group’s pick of worst restaurant meal in the nation. “This company is taking perfectly healthy fish and entombing it in a thick crust of batter and partially hydrogenated oil.
“The result? A heart attack on a hook.”
The fish is battered and fried in partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and sold with onion rings and hush puppies — fried balls made of leftover batter drippings, cornmeal and onion.
Its total calorie count is low for a fast food meal, at just 1,320, CSPI said. But its artery-clogging trans fat is twice the level of the worst KFC dish, which had 15 grams of trans fat before a 2006 CSPI lawsuit caused the fried chicken chain to stop using partially hydrogenated oil.
“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 Willett, nutrition department chair at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Long John Silver’s introduced the Big Catch meal in May, describing it as “the largest fish we have ever offered, weighing in at 7-8 ounces (around 200-225 grams) of 100 percent premium haddock caught in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.”
But that claim did not stand up to the scrutiny of CSPI inspectors, who picked apart the breading from the fish and said they found “an average of about 4½ ounces (130 grams) of actual fish and almost 3 ounces of oil-soaked batter.”
Long John Silver’s, which bills itself as the “largest quick service seafood restaurant in the world,” responded to a request for comment by describing the dish as “a limited time-only special that delivers tremendous value to value-hungry consumers.”
CSPI said it plans to sue the chain if it continues to use partially hydrogenated oil in its deep-fryers and if it keeps misrepresenting the amount of fish in the meal and the nutrition information for the side items. The group’s researchers found that the meal’s onion rings were advertised to contain 7 grams of trans fat but actually contained 19.5 grams.
The threat to sue was described as “outrageous” by Baylen Linnekin, executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit group Keep Food Legal.
“I am very much in favor of groups like CSPI,” said Linnekin, a lawyer whose membership group says it is devoted to “food freedom” and opposes bans.
“Where I tend to depart from their actions is when they threaten to sue. It is one thing to put out information and to rail against too many calories or trans fats or what-not,” he said. “It is an entirely different thing to sue a company.”