You don’t have to be a nutrition expert to know that cooking fresh, homemade meals is way healthier than eating out all the time. This isn’t new news, but the recent surge in calorie displays on restaurant and fast food menus has helped make eating out a little more justifiable… or so you thought. New findings in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association is shedding some new light on menu nutrition facts that may make you change the way you approach “healthy” meals.
Lorien Urban and her team of researchers at Tufts University collected 269 dishes from 42 popular fast-food chains and restaurants, including some of my personal faves like Chipotle and Olive Garden. Yes, I said Olive Garden don’t even pretend you don’t love the unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks lunch! But I digress. According to the study, you’re actually better off eating at a fast-food establishment than at a restaurant like Olive Garden, where the hand-prepared food can cause major variability in calorie numbers.
“Everybody labels fast food as the bad guys, but they are the good guys in this case; their numbers were much better than those of sit-down restaurants,” says Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University.
One interesting finding was the fact that the unhealthier menu items were the ones that were actually most accurate, whereas the healthy choices packed an average of 100 more calories than listed. I always feel pretty confident that I know how to create a low-calorie Chipotle burrito bowl. But somewhere deep down, I know that nothing that tastes that yummy or is that filling could actually be that good for me. Take Urban’s advice: “If you think you’re eating too many calories at the meal, you probably are.” Here are how some of your favorite meals fared:
- Chipotle Burrito Bowl with cilantro-lime rice, black beans, peppers and onions, lettuce, green tomatillo salsa, cheese, listed calories: 390; had 249 more
- Chipotle burrito with cilanto-lime rice, black beans, carnitas, corn salsa, cheese, lettuce, listed calories: 915; 177 calories more
- Olive Garden’s minestrone soup, listed calories: 100; had 165 more
- Olive Garden’s chicken and gnocchi soup, listed calories: 250 calories; had 246 more
- P.F. Chang’s brown rice, listed calories 190; had 287 more
- Bob Evans cranberry pecan chicken salad with dressing. listed calories: 672; had 315 and 551** more calories (**tested 2nd time)