Dining out? There’s a good chance you’ll eat more than if you had a home-cooked meal.
A new Tufts University survey of national chain and independent restaurants has found that 92 percent serve oversized portions, loaded with calories and unhealthy ingredients.
In a new report on the survey, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the researchers called for new requirements than restaurants offer patrons the choice to reduce meal sizes for a lower price.
"These findings make it clear that making healthy choices while eating out is difficult because the combination of tempting options and excessive portions often overwhelm our self-control," said Susan B. Roberts, a nutrition and aging specialist at Tufts.
"Although fast-food restaurants are often the easiest targets for criticism because they provide information on their portion sizes and calories, small restaurants typically provide just as many calories, and sometimes more. Favorite meals often contain three or even four times the amount of calories a person needs, and although in theory we don't have to eat the whole lot in practice most of us don't have enough willpower to stop eating when we have had enough."
For the study, researchers tracked 364 restaurant meals from both large-chain and local restaurants in Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock between 2011 and 2014. Among the findings:
• More than nine in 10 (92 percent) exceeded recommended calorie requirements for a single meal. Among the findings:
• In 123 restaurants, a single meal serving — without beverages, appetizers, or desserts — sometimes exceeded the caloric requirements for an entire day.
• American, Chinese, and Italian dishes had the highest calorie counts with a mean of 1,495 calories per meal.
"Oversize servings lead a lot of dieters to avoid most restaurants entirely, or stick to items like salads that they know are served in reasonable portions," said co-author William Masters, professor of food economics at the Friedman School.
"Standard meals are sized for the hungriest customers, so most people need superhuman self-control to avoid overeating. There is a gender dimension here that is really important: women typically have a lower caloric requirement than men, so on average need to eat less. Women, while dining out, typically have to be more vigilant."
He argues that local ordinances empowering customers to order partial portions at lower prices would lead restaurants to adjust their sizes towards what the average customer wants, rather than the hungriest person.
"Customers could then order anything on the menu in a more appropriate size, and be able to eat out more often without weight gain," he said.
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