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Meals at restaurant chains with calorie counts you really shouldn't ignore

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

The biggest calorie offenders at fast-food chains and what to order instead

For several years, New York has been doing an experiment, mandating that calorie counts be posted on menus in every restaurant in the state. And now the verdict is in: People really, really don't care about the calories in their food — at least when dining out.

Chances are you've seen them too — little numbers, always in the hundreds or thousands (sigh), right by your favorite dish on the menu, trying to lead you (or scare you) into making better food choices. Even those of us who don't live in New York have become accustomed to seeing them, thanks to many restaurants doing it without being legally compelled to. And that might be the problem, according to a new study. We've all become so used to seeing them that, well, we really don't see them anymore.

Researchers from New York University compared people in New York, which has the calorie counts, with those in New Jersey, which does not, and found that the average diner ate about 800-850 calories in both states. Essentially, seeing the numbers made absolutely no difference to what people chose to order. Why? After the novelty of the numbers wore off, less than a third of people even noticed the calories and just 12 percent cared about them.

More: How we miscalculate fast-food calories

Some occasions warrant eating with total abandon (Hello, birthday!), and calories aren't the end-all and be-all when it comes to determining how healthy a food is. That said, plenty of research has shown that being aware of how much you're eating, whether that's through calories or portion sizes, is important to good health. There are just some calories you shouldn't ignore.

So, since the study focused mainly on fast-food restaurants, we've found some examples of calorie bombs at your favorite fast-food chains and how easy it is to replace them with healthier fare, without leaving the restaurant. Little changes can have big results!

1. Breakfast

Calorie bomb: One of the most popular breakfast items at Burger King is the King Croissan'wich with Double Sausage. But with 680 calories, 48 grams of fat (19 grams saturated fat, 0.5 grams trans), 1,390 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of sugar and 27 grams of protein, it will set you up to feel sluggish and bloated the rest of the day.

Better: Instead, swap it for the maple oatmeal, which has just 160 calories and is full of filling fiber. Not a fan of oats? Just swap for a regular ham, egg and cheese Croissan'wich, which has 390 calories, 20 grams of fat (8 grams saturated, 0 grams trans), 1,080 milligrams of sodium, 7 grams of sugar and 17 grams of protein. Ditching the sausage nearly halves the calories without leaving you feeling deprived.

2. Coffee break

Calorie bomb: No shame in wanting a little mid-morning pick-me-up! But while the Starbuck's Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino may look appealing, it's basically dessert in disguise — a common problem for fancy coffee drinks. This "little snack" has 600 calories, 20 grams of fat, 101 grams of carbs and a whopping 99 grams of sugar.

Better: Instead grab a regular latte — it has just 130 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbs, 11 grams of sugar and 8 grams of protein. You'll get your treat minus any tricks.

3. Lunch

Calorie bomb: You may think you're eating healthy by choosing the Premium Grilled Chicken Club at McDonald's but with 570 Calories, 21 grams of fat and 1,720 milligrams of sodium, it's more fat and salt than filling protein.

Better: Swap the bun and turn it into a wrap and you'll save 300 calories while still getting your chicken fix. The Grilled Ranch Snack Wrap has just 270 calories, 10 grams of fat and 830 milligrams of sodium.

4. Snack

Calorie bomb: The mid-afternoon slump is real, and a quick snack can be a great way to help you power through the rest of your workday. But, before you head to the vending machine, know that not all snacks are created equal. For instance, a Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tart may be tasty, but we doubt there are any strawberries in there and with 420 calories, 10 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 40 grams of sugar, the risk of a mega sugar crash is real.

Better: Instead, push the buttons for a pack of Planters Sunflower Kernels. Not only does it have just 160 calories, 14 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar, but also the healthy fats and protein will give you a sustained energy burst.

5. Dinner

Calorie bomb: Meeting up with friends at TGI Fridays is a great start to your weekend, so don't derail it with food choices that will leave you feeling like going home and curling up on the couch. While the signature Jack Daniels Ribs and Shrimp have lots of protein, with 1,910 calories, that's likely more than you need for an entire day, much less a single meal. Even the Pecan Chicken Salad isn't much better, with 1,360 calories.

Better: Instead, order the Shrimp Key West. Not only does it clock in at just 370 calories, but almost all of them are filling protein and it comes with healthy vegetable sides.

For more information on individual restaurant chains and dish comparisons, check out Eat This, Not That!

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