One Meal, Half a Day's Calories

Eating at chain restaurants may raise risk of consuming excess calories

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Warnings against overeating fast foods have been issued for a while now. But that's not the only kind of away-from-home dining with potential pitfalls. 

A single meal at a sit-down restaurant with waiter service can account for more than half of the average adult's recommended daily calories and way more than the suggested overall amounts of salt and fats, a new study found.

"Carefully weigh the caloric costs of eating out."

Nutritionist Mary L'Abbe, PhD, of the University of Toronto and the study's lead author, found that eating either breakfast, lunch or dinner at chain restaurants with waiters added an average of 1,128 calories to the daily diet.

It is recommended that the average adult eat no more than about 2,000 calories a day to guard against diet-related disease. 

"Calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium levels are alarmingly high in...meals from multiple chain [restaurants]. Therefore, addressing the nutritional profile of restaurant meals should be a major public health priority,” the Canadian researchers said, according to a press release.

They calculated the nutrition in a total of 685 meals, and variations on those meals, and 156 separate desserts served at 19 chain restaurants. The researchers used nutritional values listed on restaurant websites in 2012.

Those 1,128 calories from a solitary meal included 151 percent of the amount of recommended daily salt intake; 89 percent of the daily allowance for non-saturated fat; 83 percent of the saturated and trans fats allowance; and 60 percent of the cholesterol allowance, the study reported.

Just 1 percent of the meals had less than 600 mg of sodium, which equals about a quarter of a teaspoon and a quarter of the daily maximum intake. The “adequate intake” for sodium is 1,500 milligrams daily.

Overall, almost half the meals exceeded the suggested daily allowance for non-saturated fat, while a quarter exceeded the daily value for saturated fat and cholesterol.

Diners who chose dessert added 549 calories. The dessert calories met 43 percent of the daily allowance for non-saturated fat and 68 percent of the daily allowance for trans fat. They also contained 46 grams of sugar, or 11 teaspoons. 

It is suggested that added sugar intake not exceed 40 grams per day.

Meals the restaurants labeled as “healthy” contained, on average, 474 calories, 20 percent of the daily allowance for non-saturated fat, 17 percent of the saturated fat allowance and 50 percent of the daily sodium allowance.

The researchers noted that excessive intake of calories, including those from various fats and salt have been linked to such conditions as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and University of Toronto Earle W. McHenry Chair funded the research, which was published online on May 13 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers did not report any financial gains or investments that could affect study design or outcomes.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 11, 2013
Last Updated:
August 13, 2013