You are more likely to become bikini ready or fit into your skinny jeans if you eat at a fast-food restaurant (and supersize your meal) than if you dine at a small chain or individual sit-down restaurant. This is not an April Fool's Day prank or the story line for an episode of MTV's "Punk'd." According to researchers from the Tufts University Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, the average meal at one of these restaurants contains 6 percent more calories than an equivalent meal at a fast-food restaurant.
Who would have ever thought that table service, eating with silverware, and having a cloth napkin on your lap at your local family-style restaurant could be less healthy than a meal at a fast-food restaurant? But a single meal, on average, consists of 1,300 calories at these restaurants, according to the study's results, which were posted on the Journal of the American Medical Association website this month. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the recommended total daily calories for the average adult is less than 2,000 calories. You are consuming more than half of your recommended total daily calories in one sitting.
How could this be possible? Variability in the preparation of meals and large portions are mostly to blame. Fast-food restaurants prepare their foods in a methodical and assembly-line manner. There is little to no variation. On the other hand, smaller restaurants may soak the meat in oil to enhance flavoring instead of marinating it in a lower-calorie sauce. Additionally, these individual and small chain restaurants have limited marketing budgets compared to franchises. Oftentimes, they try to attract diners by filling or overfilling their plates.
The Affordable Care Act made it a law that any restaurant with more than 20 locations would have to post calorie counts. However, the legislation left out individual and small-chain restaurants, which make up more than half of all restaurants. With Congress having attempted 37 repeals of Obamacare, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to amend the current legislation to include these restaurants based upon these recent findings.
However, as a consumer, you can demand change, or at the very least make more intelligent decisions when ordering. Talk to the manager or owner and suggest that they have a healthy menu selection with calorie, fat and sodium postings. Another option is to ask your server to pack half of your meal to enjoy the following day. You are not at someone's home and will not offend your host if you do not clean off what is on your plate. Consider substituting unhealthy sides like french fries for a salad or veggies, requesting that salad dressings and sauces be placed on the side, and asking to reduce the oil or cream that is used to prepare your meal.
With over 60 percent of American adults being obese and an alarmingly growing number of school-aged children considered obese, posting calorie counts cannot single-handedly solve the epidemic. Additionally, it also appears that the stomach is more powerful than the brain. Preliminary studies have not shown substantial changes in consumer habits based upon calorie postings. However, more studies are needed, and I remain hopeful. Calorie counts may not change behavior, but customers like to know the information.
Dr. Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is an anesthesiologist.