Meals at Regular Restaurants are Even Worse Than Fast Food

food, restaurants, fast food, calories, portions, obesity, overweightA new study has compared fast food and table service meals at restaurants. Both types of meals are larger and have more calories than meals prepared at home. However, the typical fast food meal is smaller and has fewer calories than the average meal from a table service restaurant.

The study used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals, a large sample of information regarding nutritional intake.

Fast food was found to be more energy dense than food from a table service restaurant, but fast food meals also tend to be smaller. As a result, the typical fast food meal had fewer calories than the average meal from a table service restaurant.

However, table service diners were more likely to reduce their food consumption during the rest of the day, most likely because of the difference in energy density. As a result, fast food may ultimately result in more calories.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Most people are well aware of the Super-Size-Me trap at fast food joints, but it may not occur to you that eating at sit-down diners and restaurants will also lead to consuming inferior food, and far more calories, than eating at home.

Restaurant meals can be highly deceptive, not only due to the fact that you don’t really know what’s in that meal, but you may also overindulge, eating more than your fill. Previous studies have shown that it actually takes you longer to reach fullness or satiety when you’re served a larger than normal portion of food.

Additionally, even when the plate comes stacked to the hilt, many have trouble leaving food on their plates. In one survey, 67 percent of participants said that they finish their entrees when eating out all or most of the time. As many restaurants serve very large portions, it’s no wonder studies have also found a link between body weight and frequency of consuming meals from restaurants.

Always use your hunger as a guide, rather than deciding how much to eat based on what’s on your plate.

As I’ll discuss in just a moment, your hunger may in fact be a major clue that you’re eating not only the wrong types of food, but that you’re likely consuming them in lopsided ratios for your individual biochemistry.

But the sheer size of the meal does matter, when it comes to weight control.

In the past few decades, American meal portions have steadily increased, and our waistlines have expanded accordingly.

However, in some ways this study reminds me of the rhetorical question that I frequently used to ask patients: Would you rather be hit in the head with a baseball bat or a hammer? Of course there is no good answer to this. They both should be avoided as they both can cause severe injury or death.

I personally believe that if you have the discipline to control your serving size,  the typical restaurant food is likely to be far healthier for you than a fast food restaurant. But both of them prevent you from eliminating potential toxins from your food.

Can You Lose Weight By Simply Counting Calories?

Generally, when you read about government guidelines for weight control, you’ll get an eyeful about the importance of counting calories.

But is that all there’s to it?

No, of course not. If it were, you’d be able to substitute one meal a day for a Twinkie and still lose weight.

More important than the simple counting of calories is looking at the source of those calories.

Back in 2004, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report accurately concluded that carbohydrates are the reason why Americans, women in particular, have been consuming increasing numbers of calories over the past 30 years.

In 1971, women consumed an average of 1,571 calories per day. Of those, 45.4 percent came from carbohydrates. By 2000, women had increased their average daily consumption to 1,877 calories – a 22 percent increase – and carbs now made up 51.6 percent of those calories. 

Men increased their daily calorie consumption from 2,450 to 2,618 calories per day during that same timeframe, with carbs making up 42.4 percent and 49 percent of those calories respectively.

Meanwhile, obesity rates jumped from 14.5 percent of U.S. adults in 1971, to 30.9 percent in 2000.

Previous research linked this increase to a greater intake of salty snacks, pizza and other fast foods -- in other words, a greater intake of carbohydrates, mainly in the form of grains.

Fast-forward eight years, and today, the average American consumes a whopping 3,770 calories a day, is 10 pounds overweight, and our adult obesity rate is over 65 percent!

Apparently, excessive carb consumption is showing no signs of slowing down.

According to a registered dietician and representative for the American Dietetic Association, restaurant meals average between 1,000 to 1,500 calories.

But one of the often ignored MAJOR culprits boosting calorie intake today is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), in the form of soda. It is the number one source of calories in the American diet today. In fact, the average American gets an astounding one-fourth of their daily calories from soda!

What’s the Answer?

At the end of the day, your consumption of carbohydrates, whether in the form of (all) grains, sugars, or high fructose corn syrup, will determine whether or not you’re able to manage your weight and maintain optimal health.

Cutting out or severely limiting all three can be the U-turn you’ve been looking for if you are currently overweight and/or your health is suffering.

Keep in mind that if you choose to rely on restaurant food for most of your meals, you are likely slashing decades from your lifespan and increasing the likelihood of having to rely on expensive and potentially toxic drugs to treat the symptoms that will result from not eating healthy.

So you either pay now or wind up paying later, at which point it will typically be far more painful and expensive.

The real remedy is to return to your kitchen and embrace good old-fashioned home cooking.

You, a family member, or someone you pay, simply has to spend time in the kitchen cooking fresh wholesome meals if you have any hope of staying healthy.

Like many people, I have very little "free time" in my life, but still I am committed to preparing over 95 percent of my meals in order to preserve my health. It is a commitment, a truly important one, and it CAN be done.

A major leap forward would be to strive for a diet of 90 percent non-processed food and only 10 percent from other sources.

Not only will you enjoy numerous health benefits, but you will gain the satisfaction of preparing meals and being able to control the ingredients.

Yes, it takes more time and energy to follow an individualized nutrition plan than to eat fast food, but doing so could:

  • Add years to your lifespan
  • Give you more energy than you know what to do with
  • Help you avoid cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis

Your Hunger is Your Guide to Your Optimal Fuel

As I stated earlier, frequent hunger may be a major clue that you’re not eating correctly. Not only is it an indication that you’re consuming the wrong types of food, but it’s also a sign that you’re likely consuming them in lopsided ratios for your individual biochemistry.

The beauty of eating according to your nutritional type, which is based on your personal biochemistry, is that your food cravings will dissipate, making reducing the sizes of your portions that much easier. You can split your meals into five or six smaller portions, and still be far less hungry than you ever were before because your body is finally getting the fuel it needs to thrive.

Typically, finding your optimal diet involves shifting the ratio of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, once you have determined what types of food your body is designed to eat. Optimal health may actually have less to do with the type of food you are eating, but with the relative percentage of each food you consume.

If you are eating right for your nutritional type, your meal should leave you with increased energy, noticeable improvements in mental capacity and emotional well-being and should leave you feeling satisfied for several hours.

However, if you feel worse in some way an hour or so after eating, such as:

  • You still feel hungry even though you are physically full
  • You develop a sweet craving
  • Your energy level drops
  • You feel hyper, nervous, angry or irritable
  • You feel depressed

... then you are likely eating the wrong combination of protein, fat and carbohydrates for your nutritional type. In this case, I strongly suggest that you read my book Take Control of Your Health, which discusses these topics in greater detail.