Eating out can be a dietary minefield. So how dicey is it? A recent study found about half of the meals consumed at full-service restaurants had poor nutritional quality.
A detailed analysis of food choices by more than 35,000 U.S. adults during a 16-year period found that very few restaurant meals — less than one-tenth of 1% — were of ideal nutritional quality. Fast food scored the worst, with 70% of the study participants’ meals being deemed unhealthy.
Using data from a nationwide health survey, the researchers evaluated the nutritional quality of diners’ meals and compared that with the American Heart Association’s dietary guidelines. The findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Researchers said the results are a call to action to improve the healthiness of fast food, fast casual and full-service restaurants.
It also sheds more light on food choices among various demographic groups. The researchers noted the nutritional quality of fast-food meals improved among non-Hispanic whites and Mexican Americans but not for African Americans. Among college graduates, the percentage of poor-quality fast-food meals dropped by 14% from 2003 to 2016. Yet bad eating was very common among those without a high school degree: More than three-fourths of their meals were unhealthy.
Restaurant meals now account for more than one out of every five calories consumed. Restaurants can help by expanding their offerings to include more nuts, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and less salt, the researchers noted. And restaurant customers can do themselves a favor with a few simple words, such as no cheese and hold the fries.