Despite public health progress in cutting calories, as well as salt and fat from fast foods and supermarket products, neighborhood restaurants are still packing big helpings of each into their meals, three studies suggest.
Small independent restaurants are not required to display nutritional information for consumers - if they did, the researchers report, patrons would routinely see single meals containing nearly a full day's worth of calories and fat plus one and half times the daily recommended intake for salt.
But one of three new studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine this week points out that policy only applies to about half of the nation's restaurants. The other half is made up of smaller chains or independent restaurants exempt from the requirement.
For their analysis, researchers measured the calories in 157 meals at small Mexican, American, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Thai restaurants in and near Boston between June and August 2011.
Overall, the researchers found the average meal at those restaurants contained 1,327 calories. That's about 66 percent of the 2,000 daily calories recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
About 8 percent of the meals exceeded 2,000 calories.
The meals from small restaurants also contained up to 18 percent more calories than comparable dishes from larger chains - suggesting the requirement to display nutritional information is keeping the large-chain restaurant meals healthier.
In the second study published this week, Canadian researchers from the University of Toronto found similarly high calorie counts in more than 3,500 meals from Ontario restaurants they analyzed.
They also found that individual meals contained an average of 89 percent of the daily-recommended amount of fat and 151 percent of the daily recommended amount of salt.
A third study also zeroed-in on salt as a major area of concern. Read more about this study.
Several organizations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization have all called for reductions in the amount of sodium people consume.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that most healthy people get 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, with an upper limit of 2,300 mg. But the average North American eats 3,400 mg each day, largely in processed foods.
SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online May 13, 2013.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.