Diners beware! Think you're making healthy choices when eating out? Researchers at Cornell University say that you're probably not.
A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people often consume more calories when dining out at restaurants they regard as healthy than they do at those considered to have high calorie, high fat fare. For someone who dines out regularly, this could translate into significant weight gain.
Sneaky calories at "healthy" restaurants
Despite a rapid increase in the number of restaurants marketing themselves as healthy over the past five years, the obesity rates in American continue to rise. This led the researchers to theorize that people are consuming more calories than they realize when eating at these "healthy" restaurants. The study findings confirm this theory.
The researchers found that people eating at Subway underestimated the number of calories that they had consumed by hundreds more than those who ate at McDonalds. They also found that those eating at Subway were more likely to choose less healthy sides like chips and regular soda than those eating at McDonalds because they believed that their sandwich had fewer calories.
Even health experts are fooled
It's an easy trap to fall in to, and one that even health professionals like me need to be aware of. In fact, a similar thing happened to me last year! I chose to eat at Baja Fresh thinking that my lunch would be lower in calories than if I went elsewhere. When I got back to the office and looked up the nutrition information online, I was shocked to see how many calories I had just consumed for lunch.
This does not mean that restaurants like Subway, McDonalds and Baja Fresh can't be part of a healthy diet. With a little effort, they can. The key is knowing the calorie content of the foods you are eating and working the meal in to your total calorie intake goals for the entire day.
Tips for staying healthy at every restaurant
Don't be unrealistic when considering the calorie content of the foods you are eating. A 12 ounce can of regular soda has 140 calories, so a small regular soda in a restaurant is going to have at least that many.
The researchers of this study found that people who estimated the calorie content of their meals "piecemeal" instead of estimating the total number of calories for the whole meal were more accurate. This means that people who estimated the calorie content by looking at the sandwich, side and drink individually and then adding them together were closer to the actual calorie content than those who looked at the whole meal and made one estimate.
If you're really confused about dining options, go online. Most chains, like those mentioned above, offer their nutrition information online. This means that you can plan ahead and make informed decisions when dining out. The more information you have ahead of the time, the more likely you are to make the choice that best supports your diet goals.
Published On: September 14, 2007