I have had three meals out over a recent 24-hour period. I went to lunch with an out-of-town friend Thursday, joined my uncle for dinner at a restaurant that night, and then had lunch on Friday with a friend in order to celebrate her birthday. In doing so, I may have increased my caloric intake by about 600 calories when compared to what I would have eaten at home, according to new research.
This study out of the University of Illinois at Chicago involved 12,528 participants who were between the ages of 20 and 64. These participants, who took part in cohorts involved in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003-2010, completed interviews about their food consumption during two specific days of the study.
The researchers’ analysis found that eating at a fast food restaurant was associated with consuming an average of 194 calories more than would have been eaten at home. Furthermore, participants who ate at a full-service restaurant consumed an average of 205 calories. These extra calories came from larger portions, more energy-dense foods as well as empty calories from sugar-sweetened beverages.
Researchers calculated that many Americans consume an extra 24,000 calories annually – or 6-7 pounds – because they eat out regularly. Earlier studies suggest that more than one-third percent of adults get meals from fast-food restaurants each day while 27 percent frequent full-service restaurants daily. In addition, both of these types of dining experiences led to higher intakes of saturated fats (3 grams for fast food restaurants and 2 grams for full-service restaurants) and sodium (296 milligrams in fast food restaurants and 451 in full-service restaurants).
So what can you do to enjoy eating out while still focusing on your health? Here are some tips:
- Check out the restaurant’s menu beforehand. Most restaurants post their menus on their website. You can start making some decisions about what you’re going to order prior to being seated in the restaurant. That way your brain – instead of your hunger pangs – can be in charge of your choice.
- While checking the online menu, look at the nutritional content. Most chain restaurants post nutritional information about their meals. I know that you’ll be paying attention to the calories that are listed, but it also will behoove you to pay attention to the sodium content of potential meals that you may order. Many seemingly healthy-titled dishes are actually not that healthy when you look at the large quantities of salt they contain.
- Order a salad or a clear soup – especially one that has vegetables -- before your main course. That way, you can fill up your stomach some prior to getting your entrée.
- Go for the vegetable-centric meal. For instance, I recently dined out at an Italian restaurant. In looking over the menu, I saw a lot of the usual fare, such as pizza and spaghetti with meatballs. Then I found pasta primavera! I went for that one because I was assured of getting a bunch of vegetables. And I ate all my vegetables (although I didn’t eat all my pasta).
- Avoid the bread basket. You can either politely refuse it when it’s offered or ask your server to not deliver it to your table.
- Order water or unsweetened ice tea, in order to limit the calories you get from beverages.
- Restaurant meals tend to be huge. Therefore, it’s great if you split them up before you start eating. Or better, yet, ask your server to split it up for you before bringing your main course out to you.
- Order a few appetizers or tapas and split them with your dining companions.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Nguyen, B. T. & Porter, L.M. (2014). The impact of restaurant consumption among US adults: effects on energy and nutrient intakes. Public Health Nutrition.
MedlinePlus. (2014). Eating out equals eating more.
Published On: August 11, 2014