Did you ever wonder why eating out tastes so good? The answer lies in restaurants' not-so-secret ingredients, like butter, oil, sugar and salt. All of these are classic culinary methods of adding flavor, but too much of any can be harmful to your overall health. Meals high in calories, sodium, fat, cholesterol and low-grade carbs abound on menus at fast food joints and chain restaurants, but these perpetrators need to be avoided at all costs - even if they are on the value menu.
With some detective work from Andrew Knowlton, restaurant editor for Bon Appetit magazine, Dr. Oz has identified the 6 worst meals in America. Here are Dr. Oz's Most Wanted:
#6 Most Wanted
Breakfast Sandwich: pancake-wrapped egg, sausage and cheese
This meal was caught with 973 milligrams of cholesterol. The average amount recommended per day is 300 milligrams.
Breakfast provides the fuel that gets you going every day. Don't start out on an unhealthy note by choosing a cholesterol-laden breakfast sandwich. Eggs, sausage and cheese stuffed in any kind of bread - even whole-grain - is not a healthy combo. But wrapped in a pancake? That's a serious offense. Restaurant sleuth Andrew came across this item on a diner menu. "And if that wasn't bad enough," he says, "it was served with syrup and butter on the side."
Choose cholesterol-lowering steel-cut oats or low-fat yogurt with fresh berries instead.
#5 Most Wanted
Chicken burrito and chips
This lunch special was caught loaded with 1700 calories. On average, adult women need about 2000 calories per day. Remember, exact recommended caloric intake varies based on age, gender, exercise habits, etc. Click here to read about daily calorie intake.
Beware: a chicken burrito may resemble a simple sandwich, but once unwrapped, it's clear this culprit is hiding high calorie ingredients like refried beans, white rice, cheddar cheese and sour cream. This meal is often accompanied by the standard chips and salsa, racking up even more calories.
#4 Most Wanted
Fish encrusted with parmesan cheese, served with spicy rice
This salt-laden dish was caught containing 3300 milligrams of sodium; the average maximum daily intake should be 2300 milligrams.
You think you're making a healthy choice by ordering the fish, but not if it's served encrusted with salty breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese and seasoned rice on the side.
"When you go to culinary school, the first thing they teach you is salt equals flavor," says Andrew. But you can't tell how much salt you're getting unless you're doing the cooking. To better control your salt intake, reach for fresh or dried herbs, like basil or rosemary, which add flavor without the sodium.
#3 Most Wanted
Pepperoni and meatball pizza
The average slice was caught with 25 grams of fat; most people should aim for no more than 50 grams of fat per day.
Everyone loves pizza, especially when it's fully loaded with pepperoni and meatballs. But large slices with meaty extras are groaning with fat. Instead, order "Neapolitan-style" with a thin crust and minimally classic, beautifully matched ingredients like tomato sauce, fresh cheese and basil.
Try creating this whole-wheat margherita pizza at home, courtesy of Oprah's one-time personal chef, Art Smith.
#2 Most Wanted
Pasta with breaded shrimp
This dish was caught with 196 grams of carbs, nearly an entire day's worth.
Huge portions of inexpensive carbs like pasta or fries are common offerings at restaurants. Such ingredients are both cheap and make the customer feel stuffed, as if they've gotten a great deal. A Dr. Oz trade secret is for a party of 2 to each order salads and split the entree.
Click here for more on healthy carbs.
Click here for the Kitchen Diva's vegetarian Italian feast recipes.
#1 Most Wanted
Ice cream with mix-ins (such as candy, brownie bits, sprinkles and sauce)
This sweet treat was caught with 1344 grams of sugar, basically a quarter cup of sugar per scoop.
The most-wanted worst meal in America is a decadent dessert, such as ice cream crammed with mix-ins. The popularity of adding candy, brownie bits, sprinkles and fudge sauce send this dessert's sugar content through the roof. If you want to indulge a bit, just stick to a plain scoop or order gelato or sorbet instead, which are often lower in sugar; also trade candy mix-ins for fresh fruit.
Click here for some healthy dessert choices.