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Typical Restaurant Meal Loaded With Fats, Calories

Just one meal often provides most of the daily recommended amounts, encouraging obesity

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Without posted calorie counts, there was "no way to identify the meals that had appropriate calories for a normal human being," Roberts said. "Portions and calories per ounce were very variable between restaurants even for the same dishes -- often by a factor of two."

Therefore, "restaurants that do not provide nutrition information are very unhealthy places to eat, from the calorie perspective," she said. Roberts would like to see many more restaurants posting calorie and nutrition information, "so consumers can choose whether to overeat or not."

In the second study, Canadian researchers led by graduate student Scourboutakos analyzed 685 meals and 156 desserts from 19 sit-down, chain restaurants.

They found the average breakfast, lunch and dinner contained 1,128 calories, again a majority of the daily number of calories recommended for adults.

In addition, the meals typically contained 151 percent of the daily amount of salt a person should ingest daily, 89 percent of the fat recommended per day, 83 percent of daily recommended saturated and trans fats, and 60 percent of the cholesterol one should have daily.

One expert agreed that restaurant meals often include unexpected amounts of calories, salt and fat.

"Eating out is fun," acknowledged Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City. "For the homemaker, it is a break from nightly cooking and cleaning up." However, the problem is that many, if not most, restaurant foods, whether from chain or local eateries, contain far more saturated fat, calories and sodium than anyone would imagine, she said.

"Recently, I reviewed online menu choices from a chain restaurant with a patient. The grilled chicken salad he was eating regularly and believed was a healthy choice, wound up having over 2,000 milligrams of sodium and 41 grams of fat. He was stunned," she said.

Another problem is that many people eat out several times a week, putting them at risk for overeating, Heller said.

The good old family meal has advantages beyond a healthy diet, she noted. "Family meals at home keep kids healthier and support better relationships among family members, reduce disordered eating and substance abuse and improve well- being," Heller said. "If you eat out several times a week, try cutting back a few nights. Fresh, home-cooked meals can be simple, healthy and delicious."

Another study published in the same journal found that much-touted voluntary reductions in salt levels in foods by the restaurant and food industry has been "inconsistent and slow."

The research, led by Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, D.C., found that salt in 402 processed foods dropped by only about 3.5 percent from 2005 to 2011.

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