Study Confirms 92 Percent of Restaurants Serve Up Too Many Calories

By , Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist
According to the FDA, Americans consume approximately one-third of their calories outside of the home. This poses a dietary challenge for those trying to lose weight or eat healthier. If you think you'll be safe as long as you steer clear of fast food, think again: Many full-service restaurants are the biggest calorie culprits.
In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 92 percent of entrees from sit-down eateries contain significantly more calories than the average person should consume in a single meal.
According to an FDA statute, fast food restaurants and chain restaurants with more than 20 locations are required to post nutritional information—including calorie counts and fat content—on their menus and menu boards. However, approximately half of all restaurants in the United States are non-chain, and thus exempt from that rule. That means when you have dinner at that independently owned Chinese restaurant, you won't have any idea how many calories are really in your lo mein.
The study analyzed the calorie content of meals randomly chosen from 123 non-chain restaurants in California, Massachusetts and Arkansas. Below are some of the most notable findings:
  • When calorie counts from non-chain restaurants were compared to those from large chains, there was not a significant difference.
  • Out of the diverse food types included in the study, the cuisines with the highest calorie counts were Italian, American and Chinese.
  • 92 percent of the non-chain restaurant entrees contained far more calories than recommended for a single meal—and some exceeded an entire day's worth.
  • The average calorie count of the analyzed restaurant meals was 1,205.
  • Portion sizes were found to be excessive, which triggers a biological impulse to overeat, study authors say.
So, what's the solution? Instead of providing "light" menus with reduced-calorie entrees, the study authors recommend that all restaurants should be required to offer their entrees in smaller portions at lower prices. This would allow diners to enjoy the foods they love, without exceeding their calorie quotas.
Want to indulge in a restaurant meal without dooming your diet? See our dining out tips for ways to make the best choices at casual chain restaurants.