The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I spent my lunch hour logging calorie counts at chain restaurants. Read at your own risk.

Sure, get the burger. In fact, get a double: 930 calories.  (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and I was about to ruin my appetite.

And the truth is, I’m probably going to ruin yours, too. (Sorry!)

On Monday, federal rules went into effect requiring restaurants and grocery and convenience store chains to post the calorie counts for all standard menu items.

And so, as if ignorance wasn’t bliss, I spent my lunch hour at Washington’s Union Station — which boasts a multi-floor smorgasbord of some of the nation’s most popular food chains — to take stock of the new calorie counts on display. Travelers wheeled suitcases through the lines at salad bars. Business folk scanned emails while awaiting the call of an order number. They all looked too distracted to realize the calorie bombs they were about to consume.

What follows is a sampling of unexpected calorie counts from 10 restaurants. In several cases, the more healthful looking option turns out to be more caloric. The list doesn’t include other metrics, like fat or sugar content, but that’s mostly because I don’t think any of us can handle that much truth all at once.

For some, the calorie counts alone might be too much. As one Twitter user put it: “I’m all for eating healthy, but I really don’t need a calorie count on these things to know they’re horrible for me.”

Potbelly Sandwich Shop:

The surprise: Ranch dressing has fewer calories (240) than balsamic vinaigrette (260).

Auntie Anne’s Pretzels:

The surprise: A single, regular-size pretzel dog has 360 calories, compared to an order of mini pretzel dogs, which has 630.

Dried fruit vs. sour cream? A sour cream and onion pretzel has the same number of calories as a raisin pretzel, at 360 calories each.

Chopt Creative Salad Co.:

The surprise: Falafel has 210 calories, compared to bacon’s 150.

Some good news? Smoky bacon Russian dressing has 120 calories — less than half of that of olive oil, at 270.

Shake Shack:

I’ll just leave this here: A double Busy Bee shake — a swirl of vanilla custard, salted caramel sauce and a shortbread bar — brings 940 calories. That’s almost equal to the Double SmokeShack burger, which has 930 calories.

Shake Shack did not include a calorie count for one menu item: dog treats.


The surprise: Skipping the cilantro-lime rice (210) doesn’t save many more calories than a side of queso (230).

Jamba Juice:

It’s all in the name: A small Amazing Greens Smoothie — which whirls greens, peaches, bananas, lemonade, peace juice and pumpkin seeds — has 420 calories. So let’s be honest: You might as well go for it with the Cookies ‘n Creme Protein smoothie, which blends milk, creme filled chocolate cookies, banana and whey protein for 480 calories.

Other surprises: A Chunky Strawberry Bowl — essentially a strawberry smoothie topped with granola and fruit — has 590 calories. That’s more than each of these sandwiches: a turkey sausage ‘n cheese breakfast wrap (320), a four cheese flatbread (330) and a ham, Jarlsberg and dijon mustard sandwich (290).

Einstein Bros. Bagels:

The surprise: A Power Protein bagel has 350 calories — more than a french toast bagel, at 320 calories.

And another: A bacon and cheddar egg sandwich has 470 calories — fewer than a spinach, mushroom and swiss cheese egg sandwich at 490.


The surprise: A meatball marinara sub has the same number of calories as a tuna sub, at 480 calories for a 6-inch sandwich and 960 calories for a footlong.

Au Bon Pain:

The surprise: A hot turkey sandwich with avocado, cheddar and honey mustard has 730 calories, which is 30 more than a hot steak and cheese sandwich.

And another: A black bean burger with avocado has 690 calories, or 20 more than a turkey and swiss cheese sandwich.

Pret A Manger:

The surprise: A falafel and pepper wrap has 690 calories, only slightly fewer than a grilled cheese, which has 710 calories.

And the moment my lunch hour was officially ruined: An acai bowl has 460 calories. A prosciutto and pea mac and cheese has 430.

You’re welcome. (And again, sorry.)

Read more:

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