Restaurant Meals Could Be Wrecking Your Diet

Are sit-down restaurants more unhealthy than fast food? A recent study suggests so

by Beth Fontenot, MS, RD, LDN
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Photograph: Shutterstock.com

Eating out is an enjoyable venture, and if you do it just once in a while it isn’t going to affect your overall diet or health. The picture is different for people who make a habit of eating out every day or even very often, however. In fact they may be in for quite a surprise after reading the results of a new study on the nutritional profile of the menus at sit-down restaurants (SDRs).

The nutritional risks of fast food are familiar to most people; they have received lots of attention. But few are aware of the nutritional profile of what is on the menu at those offering table service — sit-down restaurants.

The average calories and sodium in fast food as identified in previous research is lower than what was found at the average sit-down restaurant in this study.

Researchers looked at over 3,500 variations of 685 breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals on the menus of 19 sit-down restaurants and evaluated them for calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium.

They found that, on average, a single meal at a sit-down restaurant can contain contains 1,128 calories, 2269 mg of sodium, 58 grams of fat, 16 grams of saturated fat, and 179 mg of cholesterol. Compared to the Recommended Daily Allowances (which are based on a 2000-calorie diet), the average meal at a sit-down restaurant provides 56 percent of your daily calories; 151 percent of your daily sodium; 83 percent of your saturated fat; and 60 percent of your cholesterol.

And that's just the average meal. More than 80 percent of meals exceeded the maximum sodium level of 1,500 mg while over 50 percent contained more than a full day’s worth of sodium (2,300 mg). Only one percent of the meals analyzed contained less than 600 mg of sodium which, according to the FDA, is the “healthy level” for meals. Nearly 50 percent of meals exceeded the recommended levels of fat, containing nearly a day’s worth, while 25 percent topped the recommended intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Since consumer spending at these restaurants is expected to increase over the next ten years, we can expect an increase in health problems if something doesn’t change. Of course, there are ways to avoid overeating in restaurants.

The analysis did not include dessert which would add another 550 calories, 27 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, and 46 grams of sugar on average. Neither did the researchers include beverages, appetizers, or condiments. Two bright spots stood out: Low levels of trans fat were found, and menu items designated as “healthy” were lower in calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium than average meals. However, the sodium content of the “healthy” meals was still half of the daily value.

The study's most important message may be its puncturing of the myth that eating at sit-down restaurants is healthier than eating at fast food places. In fact, the average calories and sodium in fast food as identified in previous research is lower than what was found at the average sit-down restaurant in this study.

So what can you do? Eating out is a fact of life, but one that should be approached with knowledge and caution. There is no doubt that the study highlights one of the routes we take in our overconsumption of food. The components targeted in this research are linked to an increased risk of developing hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

“Overall, the results of this study demonstrate that calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium levels are alarmingly high in breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals from multiple chain SDRs. Therefore, addressing the nutritional profile of restaurant meals should be a major public health priority,” the researchers concluded.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

This story originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com

Photo courtesy of Vudhikrai/Shutterstock.com

First Published Fri, 2013-06-21 11:28

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