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Study: Restaurant Meals Can be as Bad for Your Waistline Fast Food

Enlarge image to see more charts . . . . .

When Americans go out to eat, either at a fast-food outlet or a full-service restaurant, they consume, on average, about 200 more calories a day than when they stay home for meals, a new study reports. They also take in more fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium than those who prepare and eat their meals at home.

These are the findings of University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An, who analyzed eight years of nationally representative data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. An looked at 2003-10 data collected from 18,098 adults living in the U.S.

His analysis, reported in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, revealed that eating at a restaurant is comparable to – or in some cases less healthy than – eating at a fast-food outlet. While people who eat at restaurants tend to take in more healthy nutrients – including certain vitamins, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids – than those who eat at home or at a fast-food outlet, the restaurant diners also consume substantially more sodium and cholesterol – two nutrients that Americans generally eat in excess, even at home. (See graphic.)

“People who ate at full-service restaurants consumed significantly more cholesterol per day than people who ate at home,” An said. “This extra intake of cholesterol, about 58 milligrams per day, accounts for 20 percent of the recommended upper bound of total cholesterol intake of 300 milligrams per day.”

Those who ate at fast-food outlets also took in extra cholesterol, but only about 10 milligrams more than those who ate at home.

Fast-food and restaurant diners consumed about 10 grams more total fat, and 3.49 grams and 2.46 grams, respectively, more saturated fat than those who dined at home.

“The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats one eats to less than 5 to 6 percent of one’s total daily calories,” An said. “That means that if one needs about 2,000 calories a day, less than 120 calories, or 13 grams, should come from saturated fats.”

Eating at a fast-food outlet adds about 300 milligrams of sodium to one’s daily intake, and restaurant dining boosts sodium intake by 412 milligrams per day, on average, An said. Recommendations for sodium intake vary between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams per day, but Americans already consume more than 3,100 milligrams of sodium at home, he found.

“The additional sodium is even more worrisome because the average daily sodium intake among Americans is already so far above the recommended upper limit, posing a significant public health concern, such as hypertension and heart disease,” he said.

An also found striking differences in the effects of dining out on different groups.

“African-Americans who ate at fast-food and full-service restaurants took in more total fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugar than their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts who dined out,” An said. “The effect of fast-food restaurant consumption on daily total energy intake appeared larger among people with lower educational attainment,” An said. “And people in the middle-income range had the highest daily intake of total energy, total fat, saturated fat and sodium when they dined at full-service restaurants.”

The obese also consumed more calories at fast-food restaurants, and took in more total energy, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium when eating at full-service restaurants than their normal-weight and overweight (but not obese) peers, An found.

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

Source: University of Illinois

Dessert of Poached Pears and Mascarpone


1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1/2 cup good-quality port wine
4 firm Bartlett pears
1 cup Italian mascarpone
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons clover honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Espresso Sauce (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons dried cherries


  1. Put the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, port, and 3 cups water in a heavy-bottomed pot just large enough to hold the pears. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. While the poaching liquid is cooking, peel but do not core the pears, use a vegetable peeler for the neatest job with the least waste.
  2. Add the pears to the simmering liquid and poach them until they are just tender to the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool the pears in the liquid for another 20 minutes, then cover and refrigerate.
  3. In a stainless-steel bowl, combine the mascarpone, milk, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and whisk to form a smooth, creamy filling. Put the filling into a clean pastry bag fitted with a star tip.
  4. Remove the pears from the liquid. Drain and dry them. Cut the pears in half lengthwise and remove the core, making a neat opening to be filled with the mascarpone filling. Slice a sliver off the outside of the pear to steady it on the plate.
  5. Pipe a dollop of filling into the pear and pour come espresso sauce around. Garnish with poppy seeds and dried cherries.

Espresso Sauce


1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup strong espresso coffee


  1. Pour the milk and heavy cream into a heavy-bottomed pot. On a cutting board, split the vanilla bean down the middle and, using the tip of your knife, scrape all the seeds into the milk. Add the bean pod to the milk and bring the milk gently to a boil over medium heat, being careful not to scorch the milk or allow it to boil over Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove from the heat and allow the vanilla bean to steep in the milk for another 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg yolks and sugar together at medium speed for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, then stir several tablespoons of the hot milk into the egg yolk—sugar mixture to temper the eggs.
  3. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice water. Return the pot of milk to the stove and, over low heat, add the egg yolk—sugar mixture in a slow, steady stream, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Stir the coffee into the sauce with a wooden spoon and continue to cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened and coats the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat and cool completely by setting the bottom of the pot in the ice water and stirring to release the heat. Once cool, the sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: Nightly Specials

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