It may seem like the healthy option on the menu, but appearances can be deceptive. For those in the UK, PizzaExpress restaurants are selling a salad that contains as much fat as two Big Mac burgers.
The D’Autunno chicken, aubergine and almond salad with dressing is 35% fat and packs in 940 calories — half an adult woman’s and more than a third of a man’s daily energy needs and more than any of the chain’s pizzas.
It is however, just one item on a menu thought to offer more calories per portion than any of the more mass-market fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s or Burger King.
A single pizza, for example, contains up to 903 calories. By contrast a Big Mac from McDonald’s contains 493 calories. Even adding regular size potato chips would add only 206 more calories, taking the calorie total to 699.
PizzaExpress is just one of a wide range of premium food outlets targeting the middle classes with dishes laden with “hidden” calories. Like All Bar One, Pizza Hut, Café Rouge, Bella Italia and Mamma Amalfi, PizzaExpress menus offer no nutritional or calorific advice or labelling.
Tom Sanders, professor of nutritional sciences and dietetics at King’s College London, was shocked by the fact that one “salad” could be 35% (55g) fat. “I have looked at the data. The level of fat is appalling. An intake of around 400-500 calories would be what you might expect for a main dish salad,” he said.
“Many people who are diet-conscious might be misled into thinking they were making a lower calorie choice by choosing salad.”
The figures come amid growing concern over the rising number of overweight people in Britain. Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said obesity levels have tripled in the past 20 years. A fifth of men and a quarter of women are now obese.
Angry campaigns have been directed at companies such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But others including PizzaExpress, Pizza Hut and Café Rouge have encountered little criticism.
That may now change. Market surveys show there has been a steady rise in eating out over the past two decades. A report commissioned for Tragus Holdings, which owns Café Rouge and Bella Pasta, said a “restaurant revolution” was under way: 30% of household expenditure on food already goes on eating out and this is expected to rise to 50% within 10 years.
A growing number of people will be ordering dishes such as the D’Autunno salad at PizzaExpress which its menu describes as: “Warm salad of succulent chicken, chargrilled aubergine and crunchy toasted almonds with baby spinach, rocket, rosemary, honey and lemon dressing, served with baked dough sticks.” The firm does not mention D’Autunno’s 942 calories or give any nutritional information on its website or in its restaurants.
While the contents of some elements of the salad are certainly nutritious, the chain offers other dishes with even more hidden calories such as its tortellini — “a subtle combination of cream, ham and parmesan”. Not mentioned are its 990 calories and 63g of fat.
A single course at PizzaExpress offers nearly 200 more calories than a Big Mac with regular fries and regular Coke (total 807 calories).
When asked directly for such information PizzaExpress refused to provide details. However, a Sunday Times reporter posing as a diabetic needing nutritional advice was sent a spreadsheet listing the nutritional content and calories for all menu items.
It was a similar picture at Pizza Hut where a medium-sized “meat feast pan pizza” contains 2,022 calories and 106.2g of fat — equal to the entire daily energy needs of an adult man. But a spokesman said that its pizzas are designed for sharing between up to three people. Pizza Hut’s Caesar salad contains 344 calories.
The chain does not provide nutritional information in its restaurants or website but sent it on request. Pizza Hut said that the information was not readily available, except through customer services, because of “lack of demand”.
Such a response was not forthcoming from Café Rouge (80 branches), Bella Italia (64 branches) and Mamma Amalfi, which between them serve 10m meals a year.
Lisa Griffiths, a spokesman for Tragus Holdings, the city firm which owns the three chains, said: “We do not know the nutritional contents of our meals. This is under review but we think there is little demand for this information.”
Sally Ellson of Mitchells & Butlers, the brewery group that owns various chains including All Bar One, Browns restaurants and the Harvester chain, said it had a similar policy.
Two years ago Geoffrey Podger, then chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, said he wanted to see restaurants offering customers much more nutritional information. However, he then became head of the European Food Safety Authority and the agency has taken no action to make restaurant menus more informative.
Claims that there is little public interest are undermined by the experience of McDonald’s, which puts the nutritional values of all its foods on the mats it places on its trays, as well as on its website. A spokesman said: “People should be allowed to know what they are eating.”
A spokeswoman for PizzaExpress said that customers could choose healthier options from its menus.
“They can ask for a pizza without oil, which cuts down the amount of fat,” she said, adding that salads “can be served without dressing, saving approximately half the fat.”
Source: Times Online
P.S. Here is the full Pizza Express Menu with Calories (pdf)