The Weighty Truth About Eating Out

Healthy Living

June 21, 2016

For those of us who love dining out, but still want to watch our caloric intake and select restaurants with menus that purport to accommodate our health conscious choices the truth is about to hit the fan, oops I mean pan! A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has concluded that both large chain type and local eateries exceeded the recommended caloric intake for a single meal. The study was conducted in 123 restaurants in three random cities in the United States from which the team of researchers discovered that a single portion meal, excluding appetizers, desserts, or beverages sometimes exceeded not only what is considered a healthy meal, but the daily nutritional requirements for an entire day. According to the study 92 percent of the 364 measured restaurant meals from both style restaurants exceeded recommended daily requirements for a single serving.

The researchers and colleagues from the HNRCA and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University who conducted the study analyzed commonly chosen (popular selections) meals specifically for their calorie content from restaurants in the cities of San Francisco, California, Little Rock, Arkansas and Boston, Massachusetts. The restaurants selected for the study included the cuisine of both the “local style restaurant” and it’s large chain equivalent of (in alphabetic order) American, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants and culinary selections to examine the calorie count per serving. The study parameters were to analyze the caloric information gathered during the test period of 2011 to 2014 in all three cities and various cuisines by comparing the meals served at the restaurants with the recommended daily requirements and the USDA food database values.

Not only did the conclusions of the study reveal that the meals far exceeded what is considered a “healthy meal” in terms of nutrition and calories, but it shined a light on the fact that people who are trying to be health conscious and even may believe they are ordering a meal that will help them lose weight or maintain their current weight are being misled. Furthermore it should be noted that the accompanying “sides” which are typically included with a meal were not even factored into the study menu and which more often than not most diners consume as part of their meal.

The senior author of the study, Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston is quoted as saying:

These findings make it clear that making healthy choices while eating out is difficult because the combination of tempting options and excessive portions often overwhelm our self-control. Although fast-food restaurants are often the easiest targets for criticism because they provide information on their portion sizes and calories, small restaurants typically provide just as many calories, and sometimes more. Favorite meals often contain three or even four times the amount of calories a person needs, and although in theory we don’t have to eat the whole lot in practice most of us don’t have enough willpower to stop eating when we have had enough.”

In looking at the results of this study it is no wonder that there is an obesity epidemic in the United States, even the healthiest of people are being led to the tendency to over eat without even being aware of it calorically. It is a sad commentary that most people have to avoid eating out when dieting because they know it will sabotage their progress and the temptations are often too great.

According to co-author of the study, William Masters, Ph.D., professor of food economics at the Friedman School, “More than 100 years ago the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov received the first Nobel Prize awarded for integrated systems physiology for discovering the ‘cephalic phase of digestion’ which is basically a mechanism designed to make us hungry and tempted when there is available food for the taking. All we have to do is see and smell food and our sympathetic nervous system revs up, insulin secretion drops blood glucose and our stomach relaxes – the goal of these physiological changes being to prepare us to eat all the food within reach,” that certainly explains why many of us eat to the point it makes us feel uncomfortable because we’ve eaten too much.

The authors of this study would like to see legislation created that would allow customers to order their meals on a proportional basis and pay for it based on the size of the portion. It took a lot of public opinion to enact regulations on the fast food industry to have to post the calorie content of the food on the menu … perhaps we need to do the same for portion sizes.

Oh and just one more little ray of sunshine … an additional finding from the study is that of all the cuisines in the study group the American, Chinese and Italian meals were the biggest offenders with an average calorie count per meal at a whopping 1,495, there goes three of my four favorites!