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Restaurant Dishes: More Calories Than Fast Food?

Restaurant rib dinner
Restaurant rib dinner
Flickr/Joelk75

The average meal at an average sit-down restaurant chain contains a belt-busting 1,128 calories -- more than half of the Food and Drug Administration's recommended 2,000 calories a day for a healthy adult, according to a study by University of Toronto researchers.

In contrast, the average fast food meal contains 881 calories.

The researchers, who analyzed the posted nutritional content of 685 meals ordered at 19 popular sit-down restaurant chains, found that it wasn't just the dinnertime portions that packed a caloric punch. A typical lunch averaged more than 1,000 calories. (That's a big sandwich.)

In addition: "This was a little surprising, but the volume of food served in many breakfast options is comparable to those served at dinnertime," Mary Scourboutakos, one of the study's authors, told ABC News.

The restaurant-chain meals were also loaded with fat and salt. On average, they contained 151 percent of the recommended daily salt intake, 89 percent of daily fat, and 60 percent of daily cholesterol, Scourboutakos said.

But if you think eating at your local independent café is a better idea, you will fail your University of Toronto nutrition sciences final. Dining at such spots appears to be even more disastrous to weight-control efforts, according to a second study by researchers at Tufts University in Boston.

The Tufts researchers analyzed the calorie and nutritional content of more than 40 of the most frequently purchased dishes at independent and small-chain eateries.

Using a method known as "bomb calorimetry," which measures the heat given off in the form of calories when food is burned up, the researchers determined that the average lunch or dinner entree with sides contained 1,327 calories. That's 17 percent more than similar menu items offered at larger chains. More than 90 percent of the small chain (meaning less than 20 eateries in the chain) restaurant meals analyzed contained more than a third of daily calorie requirements. Almost 10 percent contained more than a day's worth of calories. And that doesn't even include drinks, appetizers or desserts.

That was the sound of your MyFitnessPal app exploding.

What is the worst offender? Both studies singled out "rack of ribs": a rib dinner with all of the accoutrements contains between 1,850 and 3,500 calories.

David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., told ABC that preparing your meals at home slashes calorie consumption by 20 to 35 percent, because there is a tendency to serve yourself smaller portion sizes. Because restaurants are trying to impress you.

"The amount of food and calories you consume per dollar is one of the major reasons you go back to that place," he told ABC. "Restaurants know they are competing with other restaurants based on value, so they tend to be less concerned with your health and more concerned that you come back."

He recommends that when eating out, order half portions or ask the server to pack up half of your meal before it even hits your plate.

And skip the sauces, the dressings, the appetizers, the desserts, the drinks -- and of course the ribs.

Eff it. Just stay home.


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