It’s no secret that dining out can pad your waistline, but a
new study from the USDA about the unhealthiness of restaurant meals truly blew
me away: When researchers looked at the nutrition information for
almost 31,000 menu items at 245 restaurants (not just fast-food, but also takeout, family style, and upscale places), they found that 96 percent of them exceeded some combination of daily
government recommendations for calories, fat, saturated fat, and
sodium, according to USA Today. Also surprising: fast-food joints are not the worst offenders, appetizers are total calorie bombs, and cooking at home could add years to your life. Read on:
restaurants are worse than fast food
Believe it or not, entrees from popular chains such as Red
Lobster and Denny’s had on average 271 more calories, 16 more grams of fat, and
435 more mg sodium than items from fast food places. I suspect a lot of this
discrepancy has to do with portion size—most restaurant entrees are two or even
three times larger than they should be.
Appetizers add up big
Sure, appetizers are meant to be shared, but the calorie,
fat, and sodium counts of the average appetizer were much greater than those of the average
entrée. Appetizers had an average of 813 calories each
compared to 667 for entrees, for example. The common habit of splitting an appetizer and
then having your own entrée is simply providing too much food. Consider
splitting both your first and main course with your dining partner, or stick to
light apps like garden salads and broth-based soups.
Calories don’t tell
the whole story
The majority of restaurant entrée calories weren’t grossly
high—667 is about one-third of what the average adult needs each day, according
to the Los Angeles Times. But fat,
especially saturated fat, and sodium matter too—especially when you consider
that 82 percent of adults eat out at least once a week.
Cooking at home may
save your life
I also came across this separate (but ironically related)
study from the same journal, which found that people who cook up to five times
a week were significantly more likely to be alive after 10 years than people
who never or rarely cooked. Now, there are limitations here: It may be that
people who are healthier in the first place may be more apt to cook than people
who are sick. But cooking at home provides a great combination of healthy meals
without all the extra fat, sodium, sugar, and calories that restaurants tend to
pack in, plus the physical and mental activity of shopping for groceries,
following a recipe, then actually cooking it and cleaning up afterward.
It’s such a seemingly simple thing, yet a great goal to
strive for: aim to eat out just a little less and cook at home just a little
more. My book, The Digest Diet, asks that followers prepare most of their meals at
home, and they tell me that while it can be a tough adjustment at first, they
ultimately love the process—picking out tasty, nutritious ingredients,
sharpening cooking skills, enjoying home-cooked meals with their family.
And who knows? It may be the secret to a slimmer jeans
size—as well as the fountain of youth.