The next time you sit down at a restaurant—be it fast food or sit down, obviously unhealthy or seemingly good for you—ponder this truth: The average restaurant meal provides diners with most of the calories, fats and salt they require for the entire day.
Now, if you eat out more than once a day, these excesses can make restaurants incredibly unhealthy places to eat, adding to the obesity epidemic and increasing diners’ risk for heart disease. Recent studies have found that typically ordered restaurant meals contain more than half the calories the person would need per day. Your average serving — just an entree, no drinks, no appetizers, no desserts – can be virtually a whole day’s calories on one plate.
One study found 73 percent of the meals ordered had over half of the 2,000 daily calories recommended for adults by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and 12 meals contained more than the full daily recommendation. Large portion sizes seemed key, because prior research has shown that people tend to eat what is placed in front of them. When restaurants provide these [large] portions — which are far more than the human body can process — they are very directly contributing to the terrible epidemic of obesity we have today.
Meals with the highest average number of calories included those from restaurants specializing in Italian (1,755 calories), American (1,494 calories) and Chinese (1,474 calories) fare. Meals with the fewest average number of calories were from Vietnamese (922 calories) and Japanese (1,027 calories) restaurants, the researchers said.
A person’s local diner or family-run restaurant was just as likely to pile on the calories as a big chain. In fact, local, small-chain restaurants tended to have slightly higher calorie counts per meal (an average of 1,437) than national chains (1,359), although the difference wasn’t statistically significant.
Many of these [local] restaurants make fast food look healthy. However, without the aid of calorie counts on menus, figuring out which meal is better for you can be tough. They found the average breakfast, lunch and dinner contained 1,128 calories, again a majority of the daily number of calories recommended for adults.
In addition, the meals typically contained 151 percent of the daily amount of salt a person should ingest daily, 89 percent of the fat recommended per day, 83 percent of daily recommended saturated and trans fats, and 60 percent of the cholesterol one should have daily.
One expert agreed that restaurant meals often include unexpected amounts of calories, salt and fat.