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Study Shows Some Restaurant Food Isn’t Much Better Than Fast Food


Calorie intake and the quality of a person’s diet are influenced by the source of their food and the places they eat. Fast food is often equated with junk food, but not as much is known about food served in full-service restaurants or how its nutrition compares to fast food or homemade meals.  

A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating food from restaurants – whether from a fast food place or a full-service restaurant – leads to increases in calories, fat, and sodium compared to homemade meals. According to the study, home cooking is the best way to control the calories, fat, sugar, and nutrients that families consume. 

For the study, Ruopeng An, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which regularly gathers health and nutritional information from representative samples of the U.S. population.  

More than 18,000 adults answered survey questions about what they had eaten over a two-day period. About a third of participants reported eating fast food on one or both days, and one in four participants reported eating food from a full-service restaurant on at least one day.   

The study showed that participants who ate at fast food restaurants rather than eating food prepared at home consumed an average of 190 more calories per day, nearly 11 grams more fat, 3.5g more saturated fat, 10mg extra cholesterol, and approximately 300mg of additional sodium. And participants who ate at full-service restaurants consumed about 187 more calories per day compared to those who ate homemade meals, nearly 10 more grams of fat, 2.5g more saturated fat, almost 60mg more cholesterol, and more than 400mg more sodium.  

It was also clear that the impact of fast-food and full-service restaurant consumption on energy and nutrient intakes differed by sex, race/ethnicity, education, income, and weight status. For instance, the impact of fast food consumption on daily total calorie intake was largest among participants who had the least education, while participants in the middle-income range were more likely to get their extra calories from full-service restaurants.  

And participants who were obese were more likely to consume additional calories from full-service restaurants compared to people who were normal weight or overweight.  

Additionally, when An compared the calorie and nutrient intake of restaurant food taken home to eat, he found there wasn’t much of a difference between eating fast food out or at home. Full-service restaurant meals consumed at home, however, had about 80 fewer calories, slightly less fat, and roughly 80mg less sodium. 

These study results show that public health interventions simply focusing on fast food may not be enough. Policy interventions targeting dining-out behavior overall may be warranted to improve the way Americans eat. 

To check out the study abstract, click here.