According to a study recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, less than 0.1% of all restaurant meals were of ideal quality.
The researchers surveyed 35,015 adults between 2003 and 2016 and found that 50% of full-service restaurant meals are poor quality. That number rises to 70% for fast food meals. And almost none of the meal choices at restaurants are ideal in terms of nutrition and portion sizes.
What Makes Food “Ideal”?
The American Heart Association (AHA) created a Health Diet Score for their Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This scoring system is based on five primary metrics and three secondary components.
- Fruits and Vegetables – at least 4.5 cups per day
- Fish and Shellfish – 2 or more 3.5 oz. servings per week
- Sodium – Less than 1500mg per day
- Sugar-Sweetened Beverages – Less than 36 fl. oz. per week
- Whole Grains – 3 or more 1 oz. servings per day
- Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes – more than four servings per week
- Processed Meats – 2 or fewer 1.75 oz. servings per week
- Saturated fat – less than 7% of your total calories
The Risks of Eating at Restaurants
Restaurants are not in the business of making people healthy. Their goal is to fill you up with tasty food so that you’ll tell your friends and keep coming back for more.
An easy and cheap way to make food taste delicious is to add more salt, sugar, and fat.
Restaurant meals are often made with high amounts of fat and sodium. Increased sodium and fat intake are closely associated with increased risk for obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
They also tend to be lower in fiber, which can make it harder for your body to digest the food and absorb the nutrients.
Restaurants often serve overly large portion sizes, and it can be hard to stop eating when you’re paying for a nice night out. Fast food places even offer discounts for ordering larger sizes.
One large drink at most fast food places is already nearly exceeding the weekly recommendation for sugar-sweetened beverages.
And restaurants typically charge more for “healthier” options, which aren’t usually very healthy.
Strategies For Better Restaurant Eating
It’s easier to eat healthy food when you are cooking at home. But you can still make sensible choices at restaurants.
- Look at menus ahead of time to choose a place with healthy options.
- Order water to drink instead of a soda or alcohol.
- Avoid high-calorie appetizers.
- Split a meal with your dining partner.
- Avoid deep-fried foods.
- Choose meals with fruits, vegetables, or whole grains as the main ingredient.
- Stop eating when you are full and box up the rest for tomorrow.
- Eat fresh fruit for dessert instead of a high-fat, high-sugar pastry.
Don’t expect restaurants to encourage healthy eating. It’s up to you to know what you need to be healthy and make the right choices.