Eating Out May Increase Salt, Calorie Intake

Both fast food and full service restaurant dining made meals more unhealthy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Obesity in the United States is often blamed on unhealthy diet choices like fast food. But fast-food joints may not deserve all the blame.

A recent study found that people who ate at a fast-food or full-service restaurant consumed more calories, sugar, saturated fat and salt in a day than people who ate at home.

The study authors also found that black adults and those in the middle class were more likely to experience this caloric increase than white or Hispanic adults and people with higher incomes.

"Discuss your daily eating habits with a nutritionist."

This study was conducted by Binh Nguyen, PhD, of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and Lisa Powell, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study included 12,528 people between the ages of 20 and 64 who completed two nonconsecutive dietary interviews for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2010.

The respondents listed everything they had consumed within the past 24 hours, including any foods or drinks from fast-food or full-service restaurants.

The findings showed that eating at either a fast-food or full-service restaurant often resulted in consuming more calories, saturated fat and sodium (salt) than eating at home.

The study authors also found that the participants who ate at a fast-food restaurant consumed more sugar in a day than those who did not eat at a fast-food restaurant.

"Those restaurant patrons interested in enjoying fine cuisine that's healthfully prepared stand a much better chance at a full service restaurant," said Dr. Mark Mincolla, legendary health care practitioner and author of "Whole Health: A Holistic Approach to Healing for the 21st Century."

"The very term 'full service' generally indicates that they are set up to hold the butter, salt and sugar if requested. Most full service establishments are pretty amenable to making healthy substitutions. Their chefs are typically adept at replacing butter with olive oil, salt with spices like cumin and sugar with raspberry and mandarin orange drizzles. On the other hand, by the time you hold the roll, fries, dessert and soda from your fast food faire, there's little left to eat," Dr. Mincolla told dailyRx News.

"While it's true that if you don't mind a bit of salt, you can order a flame broiled filet of chicken, throw away the bun, and combine it with a lightly dressed salad for a pretty healthy fast food option, you are still far better off, in my opinion, special ordering your healthy meal at a full service restaurant," he said.

Overall, the respondents in this study who ate at any type of restaurant consumed an average of 200 more daily calories than those who ate at home.

The findings revealed that race and income status connected to total calorie intake.

On average, calorie intake increases were higher in black participants than in white or Hispanic participants.

Compared to the participants with high incomes, those in the middle class had larger increases in calorie intake.

The study authors said public policy could lessen the racial and economic differences in caloric consumption.

"The United States is one of the most obese nations in the world, with more than one in three adult men and women defined as obese," Dr. Nguyen said in a press release. "Just as obesity rates rise, there's been a marked increase in total energy consumption consumed away from home, with about one in four calories coming from fast food or full service restaurants in 2007. Our study confirms that adults' fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption was associated with higher daily total energy intake and poorer dietary indicators."

The study data was based on self-report on only 24 hours' worth of eating. The authors did not collect data on exercise levels.

This study was published Aug. 7 in Public Health Nutrition.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provided funding. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 8, 2014
Last Updated:
August 12, 2014