The Scary Truth About Your Restaurant Meal

More evidence that choosing to dine out may be sabotaging your diet. 

restaurant-check
Photo by Jim Franco

It can be tempting to make a pit stop at a local restaurant at the end of a long day. The excuses run rampant through your mind: you're tired, you don't have the right ingredients, the food will be better... the list goes on and on. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides even more evidence that eating out—and not just at fast-food restaurants—may be harming your health.

While analyzing the calorie content of 364 restaurant meals from both large-chain and local restaurants, researchers from Tufts University found that 92 percent of those meals exceeded recommended calorie requirements by as much as three to four times the amount of calories a person needs in a single sitting.

"These findings make it clear that making healthy choices while eating out is difficult because the combination of tempting options and excessive portions often overwhelm our self-control," senior author Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston, said in a statement.

Fast-food restaurants often get more criticism than their neighborhood counterparts, despite the fact that small restaurants typically provide just as many calories (if not more), says Roberts. The cuisines studied included American, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese fare. The biggest offenders? American, Chinese, and Italian cuisines had the highest calorie counts with a mean of 1,495 calories per meal.

"We order our favorite dishes because that is what tempts us, and then we eat more than we need because the portion is too large," co-author William Masters, Ph.D., professor of food economics at the Friedman School, said in a statement. "There is a gender dimension here that is really important: Women typically have a lower caloric requirement than men, so on average need to eat less. Women, while dining out, typically have to be more vigilant."

Masters says creating local ordinances requiring restaurants to provide partial portions would lead restaurants to adjust their default sizes away from what the hungriest person may want and towards what the average customer needs.

But, for now, here are 18 healthy reasons to cook at home tonight.