WELLNESS
07/20/2015 04:39 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2015

Restaurant Meals Are Just As Unhealthy As Fast Food

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Fast food is associated with clogged arteries, obesity and overall poor health, but full-service restaurants are often serving up even more sodium and cholesterol than their quicker counterparts. 

 New research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, compared to meals prepared and eaten at home, both fast food and full-service fare is linked to increased fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calorie consumption. But while the increases in calories and fat was consistent for both types of eateries, the study revealed that sit-down restaurants added even more sodium and cholesterol to their meals than fast food outlets.

Perhaps surprisingly, eating at traditional restaurants added roughly 58 mg of cholesterol and 412 mg of sodium to a person's average daily intake, while switching from home-cooked to fast food meals added just 10 mg of cholesterol and 287 mg of sodium.  

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

To reach these conclusions, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign analyzed representative data of 18,098 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2003-2010, which took note of where and what people were eating. The analysts also found that when it comes to nutrition, take-out trumps table service: People tended to consume about 80 calories less when they ate restaurant food at home rather than dining in. That's because in-restaurant dining is more leisurely, social and relaxing, so people aren't as concerned with overeating, researcher Ruopeng An, an assistant professor in UIUC's department of kinesiology and community health, told Time.

 It's not all bad news, foodies. While sit-down restaurants boasted fattier stats than fast food, such meals were also packed with more good stuff, like vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, potassium and omega-3s. Restaurant food also contained less sugar. 

An admitted he doesn't expect Americans will suddenly abandon eating out altogether, but said he hopes the findings will encourage people to cook and eat at home more often. Perhaps we'll at least be motivated to make more informed choices while eating out, like skipping the salt shaker and doggy-bagging half of their entrée. 

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