96% of US Restaurants Exceed USDA Health Limits in Shocking New Study

US Restaurants Exceed Food Limits
A whopping 96% of main entrees sold at top U.S. chain eateries exceed daily limits for calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reports the 18-month study conducted by the Rand Corp. and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"If you're eating out tonight, your chances of finding an entree that's truly healthy are painfully low," says Helen Wu, assistant policy analyst at Rand who oversaw the study. It examined the nutritional content of 30,923 menu items from 245 restaurant brands across the USA. "The restaurant industry needs to make big changes to be part of the solution," she says.

The restaurant industry-supported "Healthy Dining" seal of approval is too generous on sodium, Wu says. It allows up to 2,000 milligrams of sodium for one main entree, while the USDA's daily recommended limit for most adults is 2,300 milligrams, she says.

Other highlights of the study:

•Appetizers can be calorie bombs. Appetizers — while often shared — averaged 813 calories, compared with main entrees, which averaged 674 calories per serving, Wu says.

•Family restaurants fared worse than fast-food. Entrees at family-style restaurants on average have more calories, fat and sodium than fast-food restaurants. Entrees at family-style eateries posted 271 more calories, 435 more milligrams of sodium and 16 more grams of fat than fast-food restaurants, Wu says.

•Kid "specialty" drinks often aren't healthy. Many drinks offered on kids' menus have more fat and saturated fat on average than regular drinks. While regular menu drinks had a median of 360 calories, the median number of calories in kid specialty drinks, such as shakes and floats, was 430. The message to parents, Wu says: "It's the little extras you order that add up."

Calories don’t tell the whole story

The majority of restaurant entrée calories weren’t grossly high—667 is about one-third of what the average adult needs each day. But fat, especially saturated fat, and sodium matter too—especially when you consider that 82 percent of adults eat out at least once a week.

Cooking at home may save your life

The study found that people who cook up to five times a week were significantly more likely to be alive after 10 years than people who never or rarely cooked. Now, there are limitations here: It may be that people who are healthier in the first place may be more apt to cook than people who are sick. But cooking at home provides a great combination of healthy meals without all the extra fat, sodium, sugar, and calories that restaurants tend to pack in, plus the physical and mental activity of shopping for groceries, following a recipe, then actually cooking it and cleaning up afterward.

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