(NaturalNews) So, you're dining out in a better class of restaurants tonight and, being health-conscious, you might be thinking that a better restaurant means better food and food that is better for you.
If you are one of millions of Americans who believe this to be true, you are mistaken, according to new data. In fact, in many cases, upscale food can be worse for you than eating a McBurger and McFries, as reported by Everyday Health:
While the fast food burgers and deep-fried nuggets get the bulk of the blame for our ever-expanding waistlines, new research shows that upscale, full-service restaurants can be equally destructive to our diets.
A sit-down meal at a restaurant that includes a split appetizer, an entree, and one side can set you back an average of 1,494 calories while providing 28 grams of saturated fat and 3,512 mg of sodium, according to an estimate published in the "Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior."
In one meal, you will have surpassed the Food and Drug Administration's recommended daily sodium limit of 2,400 mg and saturated fat of 20 grams, and you will have consumed three-quarters of the recommended daily caloric intake of 2,000.
Adding to your upscale meal adds even more to your waistline
What's more, if you add a beverage to your meal - or a couple of beverages (especially those containing alcohol) - and split a dessert, researchers said that the average meal would then far exceed the 2,000-calorie limit.
"It's no wonder so many studies show a link between eating out and obesity," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "A lot of people think fast food is worse, but that's not usually the case."
Think about it: A Big Mac at McDonald's contains 550 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat and 970 mg of sodium; there are 660 calories in a Burger King Whopper, 11 grams of saturated fat and 1,510 mg of sodium, and so on. And while these kinds of fast food meals are anything but healthy, one meal of fast food contains far fewer calories than one meal at the upscale restaurant.
For their study, Drexel University researchers took advantage of a unique law in Philadelphia that requires any restaurant that has 15 or more locations to list its food nutrition data publicly. Researchers picked 21 full-service restaurants whose prices ranged from $10 to $25 per entree or appetizer and then examined the nutritional data for all of the available options. Wootan found that non-chain restaurants of similar pricing levels would most likely offer similar dishes and hence would have the same nutrition results.
More from Everyday Health:
Appetizers might be the thing to skip if you're trying to lighten up your meal. The researchers found that the average appetizer delivered 804 calories - just as many as the average entree.
Burgers and sandwiches accounted for the highest average calorie counts (879) in entrees, as well as higher levels of sodium and saturated fat. Other entrees were about 100 calories lighter, but at 797 calories on average, they were by no means "lite" choices. And on their own, 30 percent of the entrees and appetizers exceeded the daily recommend values for saturated fat and sodium.
The research team also found that entrees that were aimed at children or senior citizens, or those billed as "health choice" alternatives, contained far fewer calories (about 500 on average), and a little less salt and fat.
Wootan said serving sizes made a big different in caloric content; ordering small, therefore, is a smarter option.
Order less, pay attention to the calorie count
Here are some additional findings from the study:
- Extras that come with meals add up very fast. Side dishes added an additional 289 calories on average;
- Alcoholic drinks added about 244 calories, which was higher than non-alcoholic drinks at about 161 calories;
- Desserts contained a wealth of calories, averaging 700-plus.
Most people enjoy eating out once in a while, and most of us aren't willing to give up that occasional indulgence. But using this latest study as a guide, you can certainly reduce the number of calories you take in by:
- splitting entrees; or
- when you order, asking the waiter to pack half of your entree to go;
- limiting desserts to the really special occasions; and
- paying attention to the calorie counts of each entree, which will soon be more widely available due to a requirement in the Affordable Care Act.