Tuesday, July 2, 2013 | 5:23 p.m.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest rarely makes friends in the nation's chain restaurants. The advocacy group frequently calls out foods it finds nutritionally objectionable.
And on Tuesday, 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 CSPI 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 company says, is a temporary menu addition it will offer through July, "or while supplies last."
Long John Silver's, which was founded in 1969, issued a statement in response to the CSPI's assertions, saying that at $4.99, the Big Catch "delivers tremendous value to value hungry consumers."
Diners don't have to take the hush puppies and onion rings, the company says. Other side choices include corn, green beans, rice and cole slaw. The Big Catch is a wild-caught whitefish three times the weight of the company's usual uncooked whitefish, the company says.
The trans fat in the Big Catch, the CSPI 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 CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. And in another 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 CSPI 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, chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement.
The CSPI also alleged that Long John Silver's website "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 CSPI says it's 4 ounces, with the rest being breading or oil.
"We stand behind our published food data and will review any requests from CSPI that raise questions about our data," the company's statement says.
The CSPI 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.