Fast-food and large-chain restaurants have taken the brunt of the blame for high-calorie meals that add to the nation's obesity epidemic. But your local favorites are just as culpable.
A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that single meals (entrées and side dishes) from non-chain restaurants can contain more than 50 percent of the daily recommended calories for adult women (about 2,000 calories per day) and more than 40 percent of the average daily recommended calories for adult men (about 2,500 calories per day). These amounts were comparable to the number of calories in similar meal options at big-chain restaurants. Overall, 92 percent of meals contained more calories than experts recommend for a single serving.
Some of the biggest offenders? Local restaurants with American, Italian, and Chinese cuisines. That's not so surprising—a huge serving of spaghetti with meatballs can easily exceed the recommended number of carbohydrates. And prior research has shown that carbohydrate-rich foods in restaurants often have more calories than what's stated on the menu.
While most chains are now required to list calorie counts and offer nutritional information, your local hangout has no such restrictions. That means you're usually unaware of the number of calories you consume.
You don't need to stop eating out, but it's important to set some rules for yourself so that you can enjoy what you order and stay healthy. Try these smart tips to stay on track when dining out:
- When you receive your meal, decide how much you're going to eat and have your server wrap up the other part. Having food on your plate while you enjoy a conversation may result in extra nibbling.
- Look for food that is steamed, roasted, baked, or grilled, not sautéed or fried.
- Indulge in an expensive glass of wine instead of splitting a bottle or ordering multiple mixed drinks.
- Order two appetizers: one for before the meal and one for your main dish. That can help with portion control.
- If you're in the mood for salad, skip the creamy dressings and high-calorie toppings such as cheese and bacon. Try a vinaigrette or other oil-based dressing instead.
- Heading out for Chinese food? Order steamed chicken or shrimp with vegetables and ask for sauce on the side. Use only enough sauce to flavor the meal.
- At an Italian restaurant, skip the cream sauces and dishes heavy on the mozzarella. Instead, opt for options with tomato sauce and grated Parmesan.