On top of that, some new studies are finding much higher fat, calories and sodium levels at full-service restaurants higher than at fast-food restaurants! Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University took a look at over 2,600 menu items from full-service restaurant chains in Philadelphia. The researchers focused on entrees, appetizers and side dishes as well as other less consistently labeled categories.
Their conclusion was that foods served at full-service restaurant chains are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium. They also advised that standard definitions are needed for healthy choice tags and for entrees targeted to vulnerable age groups.
- No guidelines exist for appropriate nutrient levels of full-service restaurant menu items.
- About half of the entrees at the selected restaurants did not meet the studys healthier calorie criteria, which is based on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines general nutrition advice.
- Almost one-third of the entrees exceeded the total daily recommended value for sodium.
- Only one-fifth met recommended fiber minimums.
- Items targeting seniors and children had fewer calories but often exceeded the DRV for fat and sodium.
- More than half of the designated restaurants designated some healthy menu choices but the meaning of that designation varied. In most cases, only calorie content is considered and they may still have high sodium levels.
- Based on related work, this same research team previously reported that consumers at full-service restaurants who used nutritional information on the menu ordered significantly fewer calories, however, policy changes for restaurants that parallel those of fast food may be more effective.
- Having a definition for a healthy choice entre could help consumers who want to choose food for taste and health promotion.
The need to educate customers about the nutritional content of restaurant foods is acute because consumers increasingly eat away from home, says lead researcher Amy Auchincloss, PhD, MPH of the Drexel University School of Public Health. Restaurants serve large portions of energy-dense and high-sodium foods, and obesity and the prevalence of other diet-related diseases are high.