LOS ANGELES — Calories: 1,320. Trans fats: 33 grams. Sodium: 3,700 milligrams. All that pushed Long John Silver’s “Big Catch” limited-time only fish platter to win the “Worst Restaurant Meal in America” distinction this week by a U.S. nutrition advocacy group.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest rarely makes friends in the nation’s chain restaurants. The advocacy group often calls out foods it finds nutritionally objectionable.
This week, it put Long John Silver’s Big Catch meal, with hush puppies and onion rings, in its spotlight, calling it the worst restaurant meal in America — even though plenty of other choices have more calories.
The group says laboratory tests show the Big Catch has 33 grams of trans fat, “the most powerful promoter of heart disease in the food supply,” and an additional 19 grams of saturated fat and nearly 3,700 milligrams of sodium — more salt than is recommended for a day.
The Big Catch has 1,320 calories. The dish, the Louisville-based firm says, is available only through July, “or while supplies last.”
Long John Silver’s, which was founded in 1969, issued a statement in response to the advocacy group’s assertions, saying that at $4.99, the Big Catch “delivers tremendous value to value hungry consumers.”
Instead of hush puppies and onion rings as side dishes, the company says, diners can order corn, green beans, rice, and cole slaw. The Big Catch is a wild-caught whitefish three times the weight of its usual uncooked whitefish, the company says.
The trans fat in the Big Catch, the advocacy group says, comes from the partially hydrogenated frying oil. The American Heart Association recommends that people consume no more than about 2 grams of trans fat per day — which could be found naturally in milk and meat.
“Long John Silver’s Big Catch meal deserves to be buried 20,000 leagues under the sea,” said group’s executive director Michael F. Jacobson. Continuing the play on words he added, “Instead of the Big Catch, I’d call it America’s Deadliest Catch.”
Most major chains have stopped using partially hydrogenated oil altogether, in response to bad publicity, lawsuits, and local government restrictions on its use, the group says.
“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,” Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement.
The advocacy group also alleged that Long John Silver’s Web site “greatly overstates” the amount of fish in the Big Catch and understates the amounts of trans fat and sodium in the side orders. Long John Silver’s says the fish is 7 to 8 ounces. The advocacy group says it’s 4½ ounces and the rest is breading or oil.
“We stand behind our published food data and will review any requests from [the group] that raise questions about our data,” the company’s statement says.
The advocacy group said it asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to revoke its approval of partially hydrogenated oil, and it said it would sue Long John Silver’s if it continues to use that oil and “continues to misrepresent” ingredient information.