Chain Restaurants Fail To Meet Federal Nutrition Guidelines

Smiling waitress holding tray of drinks in restaurant

Smiling waitress holding tray of drinks in restaurant

Plenty of restaurants have been advertising their efforts to offer healthful choices, and it’s possible to eat carefully just about anywhere. But researchers say nearly all the entrees they reviewed at 245 U.S. chains fail to meet federal guidelines.

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Think about it, and you can figure out some likely culprits: burgers with cheese, bacon and sauce; pastas with four cheeses and sausages; outsize servings of meat; salads covered in fatty, salty dressings.

READ: Surprising Health Dangers Of Fast Food

For a study published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers looked at the nutritional content of 30,923 menu items, including those from children’s menus, from 245 brands of restaurants. They found that 96% of them failed to meet recommendations for the combination of calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The restaurants included fast-food, buffet, takeout, family style and upscale restaurants, said Helen Wu, one of the authors and an assistant policy analyst at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The majority of the entrees did not exceed 667 calories – one-third of the calories the USDA estimates the average adult needs each day, said Wu and Roland Sturm, senior economist at Rand. They looked at restaurants’ websites from February to May 2010.

But they found that few of the entrees met recommended limits when considering calories, sodium, saturated fat, and fat combined.

“Many items may appear healthy based on calories, but actually can be very unhealthy when you consider other important nutrition criteria,” Wu said.

The sodium count often put a restaurant over the limit. (The USDA’s daily recommended limit for most adults is 2,300 milligrams.)

READ: 7 Restaurant Rules To Live By

The entrees in family style restaurants — places such as Pizza Hut, Red Lobster and Denny’s — had higher levels of the items studied than fast-food restaurants: 271 more calories on average, and 16 grams more fat and 435 mg more sodium, Wu said.

Serving size counts, too.

READ: The Skinny On Belly Fat

Pizza restaurants often listed an entrée as one slice — good luck with that. Or a single piece of fried chicken. Really? “This could end up being very confusing for consumers,” Wu said in a telephone interview.

And of course, the diner determines the size of a meal from buffet restaurants. “People don’t typically go to buffets to have a light meal,” she said.

Wu and Sturm also discovered that appetizers have more calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium than all other types of menu items. From the sample studied, appetizers had an average of 813 calories.

Chicken wings with dip were a big culprit, Wu said, adding: “I’m not ordering chicken wings anymore.”

The study also found that not all restaurants provided nutrition information on their websites. Some provided it only upon email request, Wu said. And those spots tended to have “menu items with significantly more calories, fat and sodium.”


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You've Lost The Weight…Now What?

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Losing weight is only half the battle. The key to keeping it off is to understand what really motivates you to be healthy. After the initial exhilaration of losing those first few pounds, you need to find a way to convert that enthusiasm into willpower. You’ll undoubtedly have low points and high points, but let your weight loss desire help you turn all that hard work into a permanent, healthier lifestyle.

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Ask Yourself Some Tough Questions. What gives you the strength to resist temptation? What causes you to give into temptation and how do you bounce back? Can you form new habits that you can live with forever? What are the rewards of weight loss for you? How much do you want those rewards?

Be Real. Losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is a very realistic goal. Don’t fool yourself with unrealistic expectations and quick weight loss schemes. Talk with your doctor to determine a healthy and realistic goal weight.

Tackle Weight Gain Before it Spirals Out of Control. You lose weight, get off track and before you know it you’re back to square one. What in the world happened?

Usually, what happens is you’re not consistent with monitoring your weight, so you don’t notice the gradual weight loss until it’s too late. To avoid this make sure you keep a consistent check on things, and put the brakes on any weight gain before it gets out of hand again. The more weight you allow yourself to put back on, the harder it will be to get back on track.

Stay Balanced. To maintain your weight, you must balance your intake of calories with the energy you burn. Just the difference of one can of soda day versus at least 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days can add or subtract about 10 pounds to your weight each year.

Step Up to the Pedometer Challenge. Wear a pedometer and find out how many steps you take each day. Gradually add just 250 steps per day averaged out over the week. That will give you a good start on a healthy routine of physical activity. Most sedentary adults take only 2,500 to 3,500 steps a day. Aim to add about 4,000 to 6,000 steps to whatever number of steps you are doing now, for a total of 10,000 or more each day. The more steps you take the better, so challenge yourself to do more than your best.

Shop Sensibly. Start your weight maintenance at the grocery store. Shop on a full stomach, use a list, read the labels on every food you buy, and don’t even look at food that is not part of your chosen eating plan.

Take Notes on Everything. As you plan your eating and exercise strategies, keep records. What types of foods are you eating and plan to eat? Keep record of what you eat as well as how many calories are in what you eat. As you lose weight, record which strategies work for you and which ones don’t. Review your notes regularly and change your strategies as needed.

Weigh Less. Don’t weight yourself every day; once a week or even every other day is enough. Weight fluctuates throughout the day and throughout the week, especially for women. Try measuring inches lost instead of pounds.

Plan Ahead as Much as Possible. Plan and cook your meals ahead of time whenever you can to avoid skipping meals or eating something that is not a part of your plan.  Think of a strategy to keep you on track during the holidays, whether it is bringing your own dishes or limiting yourself to small portions.  If you can stick to your plan most of the time, even if you stray once in a while, you will have success in the long run.