A meal at a full service “sit-down” restaurant is a much healthier choice than one from a “fast-food” restaurant, right?

Not necessarily, a new study says. University of Illinois researchers found that when Americans dine out at a full-service restaurant, on average they eat around 200 more calories a day than when they stay home for meals.

Although a full-service restaurant is more likely to serve more nutrient-rich foods, containing vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids, they also tend to serve up foods higher in cholesterol with more sodium per serving.

Lead researcher Ruopeng An, University of Illinois kinesiology professor, said:

“People who consume food at full-service restaurants are not aware of the calorie and nutrient content in the food served [and] are more likely to overeat and are less cautious about the extra calories they intake from the full-service restaurant."

The research assessed eight years of data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in the agency’s National Health and Nutrition Survey, covering more than 18,000 US adults between 2003 and 2010.

Ruopeng An says:

“These findings reveal that eating at a full-service restaurant is not necessarily healthier than eating at a fast-food outlet. In fact, you may be at higher risk of overeating in a full-service restaurant when eating fast food. My advice to those hoping to consume a healthy diet is that it is healthier to prepare your own foods, and avoid eating outside the home whenever possible.”

Adds dietitian Lori Rosenthal of the Montefiore Medical Center:

“When we prepare our own meals, we know exactly what the foods we are eating contain. When dining out, we are leaving the ingredients to the chef or fast food chain. When we make our own, we are in control.”

She concludes that eating out is not necessarily any healthier, suggesting:

“Before heading to a restaurant, look up the menu online. This helps to avoid succumbing to the pressure of ordering before reading all of the options.”

The study concludes that:

“A holistic policy intervention is warranted to target the American’s overall dining-out behavior rather than fast-food consumption alone."

R An Fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption and daily energy and nutrient intakes in US adults European Journal of Clinical Nutrition , (1 July 2015) | doi:10.1038/ejcn.2015.104

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