A typical U.S. restaurant meal provides enough calories for two or more healthy meals - and that’s not just true in fast food and large chain restaurants, according to a new study from Tufts University in Boston.
Independent restaurants and chains with fewer than 20 outlets won’t be required to post calorie counts under a nationwide law that goes into effect at the end of this year, but that doesn’t mean their meals are any better for the waistline, the researchers said.
On average, meals from the non-chain restaurants contained about 1,200 calories each, which is more than half the daily requirement for most women and about 44 percent of the daily requirement for men.
Most meals deliver more than 570 calories
Between 2011 and 2014, the researchers collected and analyzed a total of 420 meals from randomly selected non-chain restaurants in three U.S. cities: Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, Arkansas. For comparison, they also collected 56 meals from large-chain restaurants in the same cities.
Overall, they found that 92 percent of the meals contained more than 570 calories, which they call the benchmark calorie count in a single meal for a woman who needs about 2000 calories a day to maintain the same weight.
American, Chinese and Italian cuisine most caloric
Some cuisines were consistently heavier in calories than others. American, Chinese and Italian meals all averaged about 1,500 calories, while Greek, Japanese and Thai meals averaged 900 to 1,100 calories.
When the study team compared the large-chain meals with similar non-chain meals, the big chains’ meals averaged 68 calories less than their non-chain counterparts.
The lead researcher would like to see legislation push restaurants to price their meals by portion. Without such a proportional pricing concept, calorie counts should be required on the menus of all restaurants, not just large-chain and fast food places.
It’s unlikely that new legislation targeting smaller restaurants will be put into effect anytime soon, so it is important to know how to avoid excessive calorie intake while dining out.
Sharing a meal with a friend or asking the waiter to serve half the meal and pack up the other half to take home are ways to decrease the portion size and reduce the temptation to overeat.
It’s also helpful to order menu items that are baked, broiled, steamed rather than fried, asking for sauce or dressing on the side, loading up on vegetables, choosing whole grains, and avoiding calorie-containing beverages.
Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, January 20, 2016.
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