Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Dining at Restaurants Is a Recipe for Unhealthy Eating — How You Can Eat Better

Food

By Moira McCarthy

  • Researchers say eating at restaurants is generally bad for our overall health.
  • They note that 50 percent of full-service restaurant meals and 70 percent of fast-food meals are of poor dietary quality.
  • Experts say you can avoid unhealthy eating habits at restaurants by checking the menu beforehand and saving a portion of your meal for lunch the next day.

There was a time not so long ago when dining out was a rare treat and most of our meals were prepared at home.


Today, restaurants are lined up along main roads, and fast-food joints are tucked into every corner of our world. We even have the ability to summon just about any kind of food to our couch with the tap of an app.

The result: A solid 20 percent of the calories we consume as a nation comes from some type of restaurant.

Those factors are bad news for the health of people in the U.S., according to a studyTrusted Source published today in The Journal of Nutrition by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

The study analyzed the dietary selections of more than 35,000 U.S. adults from 2003 to 2016 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to determine how often they dined at full-service or fast-food restaurants.

The researchers assessed nutritional quality by evaluating specific foods and nutrients in the meals, based on the American Heart Association 2020 Diet Score.

The researchers found that at fast-food restaurants, about 70 percent of the meals Americans consumed were of poor dietary quality.

At full-service restaurants, about 50 percent were of poor nutritional quality.

The researchers also report that less than 0.1 percent of all the restaurant meals consumed over the study period were of ideal quality.

The study authors point out that consumer choice comes into play here, but they add that restaurant choices don't make healthy ordering easy.

"Our findings indicate that major efforts are needed to improve the nutritional quality of meals consumed at U.S restaurants — both what's available on the menu and marketed, and what Americans actually choose," Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, BS, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and a co-author of the study, told Healthline.

"Looking at how close or far each meal was from ideal, the biggest problem is actually too few healthy components," he said.

The lowest scores — and the greatest room for improvement — were seen for whole grains, fish and other seafood, and legumes, nuts, and seeds, Mozaffarian says.

"Adding more healthy foods to restaurant meals, while reducing salt, is the biggest opportunity for improving their healthfulness," he said.

Making Quality Food Available

The study results come as no surprise to food entrepreneur Shannon Allen and her husband, former NBA star Ray Allen.

Eight years ago, while driving along a suburban Boston highway and realizing her young son with type 1 diabetes needed to eat quickly, Shannon Allen was faced with the realization that not one of the many restaurants she passed — fast food or otherwise — came close to offering the kind of meals she chooses to feed her children.

In reaction, Allen took action. She formed Grown, a group of organically certified restaurants.

Her goal is to place a healthy spot to eat quickly close enough for anyone to access.

So far, Grown has four locations, including one in the Florida stadium that will host Super Bowl 2020.

Allen agrees personal choice plays a role in ordering, but she places the responsibility squarely on the restaurants themselves.

"I think that for the most part, the food industry is broken," Allen told Healthline. "For some families, it's cost prohibitive to eat real food. Delicious, fresh, nutrient dense, organic ingredients are about three times more expensive than conventional grown ingredients, and it only costs pennies to eat traditional fast food, like burgers, tacos, and fries."

Allen says those choices aren't necessarily a bad thing if they're an occasional meal. However, if that's the only kind of food a person can afford, it will affect their health over time.

"If we lead with what's right, what is real, and what is obvious — that real food made with fresh, organic ingredients should be the right of every family," she said, "now we are really doing something to change busy people's lives for the better."

Getting the Government to Act

Mozaffarian agrees that restaurants must take action, but he adds this problem should be attacked with a societal and governmental effort as well.

He says federal, state, and local governments should reward restaurants that are doing the right thing.

Those officials, for example, can link the Opportunity Zones legislation to healthier menu items, or provide tax or regulatory policy that encourages and lowers the cost of healthier options and eating.

He adds that more messaging is needed to consumers about how critical their food choices are for health and healthcare costs.

"Many chefs are showing that healthier options can taste even better than unhealthy ones. We need more of this innovation," Mozaffarian said.

What You Can Do

So, what's a busy diner to do?

Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDE, FAADE, owner of Susan Weiner Nutrition, suggests diners take time to think ahead, study menus, and not fall prey to special "value deals."

"If you're with other people, it's always best to order first," she told Healthline. "You are less likely to be peer influenced."

She also suggests the following:

  • Review the menu before you go to the restaurant so you have a heads-up on the offerings. You can also call in advance to see if food can be prepared in a way that's satisfactory to you.
  • Try to avoid the "upsell" meal deals. Stick to the basics.
  • Your server is your friend. Be kind, and ask for recommendations that would fit your needs.
  • Put some away for lunch tomorrow. Think about how much you would eat at home. Chances are restaurant portions are much larger. Or, share a meal.

Mozaffarian would also like to see the presidential candidates not just take this up as a talking point, but take action on the campaign trail.

"With the 2020 elections in full swing, everyone is talking about healthcare and healthcare costs, but no one is addressing a leading driver: poor food," he said.

"In fact, it sometimes seems like the candidates are trying to outdo each other on the campaign trail by eating the worst food possible. We will never get healthcare costs under control until we fix our food system. This is a leading opportunity for innovation and better health," Mozaffarian said.

Reposted with permission from Healthline. For detailed source information, please view the original article on Healthline.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Smoke rises above wrecked buildings following a deadly explosion on Aug. 4, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. Marwan Tahtah / Getty Images

By Alexander Freund

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.

Read More Show Less
Black Americans are dying from Covid-19 at more than twice the rate of white Americans, and at younger ages, partly due to poor diets that make bodies less resistant to the coronavirus. Mireya Acierto / Getty Images

By Michelle D. Holmes

Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.

As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.

Read More Show Less
A warning sign near the Dakota Access Pipeline endpoint in Patoka, Illinois on Nov. 11, 2016. Cyrene Krey / Flickr

The controversial Dakota Access Pipeline won a reprieve Wednesday when an appeals court canceled a lower court order mandating the pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil while a full environmental impact statement is completed.

Read More Show Less

Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. D-Keine / E+ / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Democrats in the House and Senate on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation that would ban some of the most toxic pesticides currently in use in the U.S. and institute stronger protections for farmworkers and communities that have been exposed to damaging chemicals by the agriculture industry.

Read More Show Less
A British Petroleum petrol station on March 10, 2017, in Ciudad Satelite, Naucalpan de Juarez municipality, Mexico State. The company will reportedly start to offer electric vehicle recharging stations at its retail gasoline stations. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP via Getty Images

BP, the energy giant that grew from oil and gas production, is taking its business in a new direction, announcing Tuesday that it will slash its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase its annual investment in low-carbon technology to $5 billion, a ten-fold increase over its current level, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Recycled paper at the Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority's recycling site piles up in Edinburgh, Australia, on April 17, 2019. Brenton Edwards / AFP / Getty Images

By Alex Thornton

The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.

Read More Show Less

Trending

President Trump displays his signature after signing The Great American Outdoors Act on August 4, 2020. The White House

The Great American Outdoors Act is now the law of the land.

Read More Show Less