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Study: Eating out may mean poor nutrition quality

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File photo (Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

The average American consumes as much as 20% of their calories while eating out, according to a recent study.

Cleveland Clinic’s Camille Skoda, R.D. (registered dietitian), did not take part in the study but said the research also tells us about the quality of the foods we’re choosing at restaurants.

“One in five calories that were consumed during the study period were consumed at restaurants, both fast food and full-service restaurants,” she said. “The main takeaway of this study was that the quality of these meals actually remained really poor throughout the time of the study.”

Skoda said even though many restaurants are offering healthier options, such as salads instead of French fries, it’s up to the consumer to make the better choice, and this study shows we’re not always choosing the healthiest options on the menu.

For those who eat out often, she said, it’s important to be mindful of menu selections.

“If restaurant meals are a regular part of your diet, I usually guide my patients to keep things as simple as you can,” said Skoda. “This means choosing things that are grilled, rather than fried. Choosing simple things, like a piece of chicken with a couple non-starchy vegetables, is a great start.”

And while it’s OK to indulge in a calorie-rich menu item from time to time, Skoda encourages us to keep the majority of our meals homemade.

“It’s not surprising that the meals we’re cooking at home are much healthier than when we eat out, as we do have more control over what we’re putting in those,” she said. “We have more control over the quality of the ingredients. If we keep those meals that we’re eating at home to the foundation of our diet, then being able to splurge a little bit when you go out to eat is not such a big issue.”

Skoda said the study was performed before it became mandatory for restaurants to list nutritional content on their menus. She said knowing more about what’s in the foods we’re choosing may help us make better choices in the future.

Complete results of the study can be found in The Journal of Nutrition.