Research Says Pretty Much All Restaurant Food Is Bad For You

A Tufts study found that 92 percent of restaurant dishes exceeded recommended calorie counts.


Restaurant photo via Shutterstock

You already know that McDonald’s is not a great nutritional choice. But your neighborhood Thai place is okay, right? Wrong, says new research from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Tufts researchers found that 92 percent of restaurant entrées they tested, from both chain and independent establishments, exceeded calorie recommendations for a single meal. They looked at the nutritional content of commonly-ordered dishes from 364 restaurants in Boston, San Fransisco, and Little Rock to reach that (very depressing) figure.

With personalized care and convenient locations, it’s no wonder patients love primary care at Tufts Medical Center. Learn More

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the worst culprits were American, Chinese, and Italian restaurants, which sold dishes with a mean calorie count of 1,495 per meal. The cross-cuisine average at non-chain restaurants—1,205—wasn’t much better. At 123 of the restaurants, an entrée alone contained more than a day’s worth of calories.

“Although fast-food restaurants are often the easiest targets for criticism because they provide information on their portion sizes and calories, small restaurants typically provide just as many calories, and sometimes more,” said senior author Susan Roberts in a statement. “Although in theory we don’t have to eat the whole [serving], in practice most of us don’t have enough willpower to stop eating when we have had enough.”

Since huge portion sizes are mainly to blame for inflated calorie counts, the study recommends sticking to appropriately-sized, healthier choices like salads. It also suggests that restaurants introduce scaled pricing models, through which diners could pay less for smaller amounts of food. “Customers could then order anything on the menu in a more appropriate size, and be able to eat out more often without weight gain,” said study co-author William Masters in the statement.

Whether restaurants will actually make that change, of course, is a different matter—so the safest course of action is still to fire up your trusty stovetop.