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Study Confirms 92 Percent of Restaurants Serve Up Too Many Calories

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
According to the FDA, Americans consume approximately one-third of their calories outside of the home. This poses a dietary challenge for those trying to lose weight or eat healthier. If you think you'll be safe as long as you steer clear of fast food, think again: Many full-service restaurants are the biggest calorie culprits.
In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 92 percent of entrees from sit-down eateries contain significantly more calories than the average person should consume in a single meal.
According to an FDA statute, fast food restaurants and chain restaurants with more than 20 locations are required to post nutritional information—including calorie counts and fat content—on their menus and menu boards. However, approximately half of all restaurants in the United States are non-chain, and thus exempt from that rule. That means when you have dinner at that independently owned Chinese restaurant, you won't have any idea how many calories are really in your lo mein.
The study analyzed the calorie content of meals randomly chosen from 123 non-chain restaurants in California, Massachusetts and Arkansas. Below are some of the most notable findings:
  • When calorie counts from non-chain restaurants were compared to those from large chains, there was not a significant difference.
  • Out of the diverse food types included in the study, the cuisines with the highest calorie counts were Italian, American and Chinese.
  • 92 percent of the non-chain restaurant entrees contained far more calories than recommended for a single meal—and some exceeded an entire day's worth.
  • The average calorie count of the analyzed restaurant meals was 1,205.
  • Portion sizes were found to be excessive, which triggers a biological impulse to overeat, study authors say.
So, what's the solution? Instead of providing "light" menus with reduced-calorie entrees, the study authors recommend that all restaurants should be required to offer their entrees in smaller portions at lower prices. This would allow diners to enjoy the foods they love, without exceeding their calorie quotas.
Want to indulge in a restaurant meal without dooming your diet? See our dining out tips for ways to make the best choices at casual chain restaurants.

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Maybe I'm trying to track meals out too much, but this is not so surprising! Good confirm, though! Report
I often bring a half portion home. But I would like to get that 1/2 portion at lower cost. I don't like to eat alone so don't go out that often Report
Absolutely right. I have a hard time picking foods that I think maybe more healthy. Which it ends up being a heavy oiled down meal Report
As you browse a menu, unless you already have experience at the restaurant, you can not be sure what volume of food your order will bring, regardless of the presence of pictures. Therefore, you should ask. I know I've been surprised, even when I thought my choices would fit comfortably into my consumption plan. Report
This is a huge concern of mine. I have to eat out often--I'm in sales, and I attend many customer lunches, dinners, etc. And eating only half(which I do) still doesn't really cut it because so many meals are unhealthy, even cut in down in size.
I try to go online ahead of time and select the best option, it helps when the restaurant is a chain and I can see nutrition info, but I still feel like it's a minefield.
I honestly think something needs to be done--so many people eat out and probably don't realize how unhealthy the food they are eating is. I'm just not sure what the solution is... Report
This doesn't surprise me. Portion size is a big part of it, but so is the way the food is prepared. There is an extraordinary amount of sodium + fat/oil going into dishes prepared in these restaurants. We can divide a meal in half and take the other half home to eat another time, but it doesn't make it healthy. Don't get me wrong ~ I still eat out occasionally, but it is a rare treat, and I have to be very careful about ordering. I just can't take that calorie hit very often! Report
This is not a surprise, at least not to me or any one who has started measuring food and then looked at the amount of food brought to the table at any restaurant. The only solution for this is education people need to KNOW what the counts are and what they actually NEED, then it is just a matter of personal discipline. Report
None of this is a surprise. If people asked for smaller portions then restaurants would benefit from serving them and make them a priority. I usually plan on taking a portion of my meal home with me for lunch the next day. Report
Smaller portions at smaller prices (because it's not always practical to take 1/2 home nor to share a meal) would be very helpful for me. Ordering appetizers instead can add up to the same or higher cost than a full meal! Report
That's why I usually eat only half my entree and have the rest for lunch the next day. Report
Who really goes to a restaurant expecting not to overeat in calories? Few restaurants offer low calorie dishes which are fairly good but costs as much as the full calorie version. LOL Report
Did we REALLY need a *STUDY* to figure this one out? LOL Report
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