New study suggests that eating at restaurants is as unhealthy as eating junk food

Whether it’s to celebrate an important day or just to catch up with friends, going out to eat can be so lovely and relaxing — not to mention delicious. Tasty food with great atmosphere prepared and delivered to your table while kicking back and relaxing with friends? Yes, please. But unfortunately, a new study suggests we should keep it to a minimum. . . not only for our wallets, but for our waistlines as well.

People associate fast food with junk food, but it turns out that most dishes at restaurants aren’t much better. “. . . people don’t know much about the food provided by full-service restaurants and if it is better or healthier compared to fast food or compared to food prepared and consumed at home,” Ruopeng An, professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Reuters Health.

An decided to shed some light on the issue in his study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. He used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which measures health and dietary information of the average U.S. population through survey questions. Over 18,000 adults answered questions about what they’d eaten in the past two days: about a third of participants ate fast food on one or both days, and one quarter ate full-service restaurant food on at least one day.

An noticed that compared to those who ate food they prepared at home, those who frequented fast food joints consumed an average of 190 more calories per day, 11 grams more fat, 3.5 g more saturated fat, 10 mg extra cholesterol, and 300 mg additional sodium. Not terribly shocking, since, ya know, it’s fast food. But what totally bums us out: those who ate at full-service restaurants consumed about 187 more calories, 10 more grams of fat, 2.5 g more saturated fat, almost 60 mg more cholesterol, and over 400 mg more sodium compared to the eat-at-home participants. Not much better, TBH.

Survey participants who were obese were more likely to consume these extra calories from full-service restaurants, according to An. And no wonder: Restaurants with 20 or more locations are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to provide calorie content and nutrient content in their menu labeling. . . but for those who prefer mom-and-pop places to chains, that doesn’t apply. “So people who consume food at full-service restaurants are not aware of the calorie and nutrient content in the food served [and] are more likely to overeat and are less cautious about the extra calories they intake from the full-service restaurant,” An explained to Reuters.

Lori Rosenthal, a dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, was not involved with the study — but she told Reuters that she was certainly not surprised. “When we prepare our own meals we know exactly what the foods we are eating contain,” she explained to Reuters. “When dining out, we are leaving the ingredients to the chef or fast food chain.” Rosenthal also pointed out that people are more likely to enjoy “cheat” meals and splurge on higher-calorie items if they’re out to eat.

So, foodies, home cooking is the way to go. Of course, the occasional night at your fave restaurant won’t kill anyone, but as always, moderation is key. If you don’t make it, you never know what is in your food — even when it seems like a harmless salad. Time for us to pull out the cookbook and do a little kitchen experimentation of our own!

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