Can Restaurants Make You Fat? Tips for Bypassing the Damage

Today we eat out more than ever.  When I went to New York for my nutrition training, several of the students were chefs or were in the restaurant business.  They all said the same thing about restaurant food: “You have no idea how much salt, sugar and butter/oil we put in food to make it taste good.”  Those words stayed with me, and I began to notice.  

Even if you don't eat out regularly, you may be picking up prepared food on your way home from work.   In 2015 Massachusetts, where I live, there were 15,397 restaurants that grossed $16.5 billion. 

That’s a lot of meals.  If you said each meal averaged $25, that means residents ate a total of 66 million meals in restaurants in a single year.  That’s a lot of eating out. 

If you go back to the chefs’ salt, sugar and fat stories, that means a lot of exposure to foods that make us fat.   

Lisa Mancino, a food economist for the USDA noted "For the average consumer, eating one meal away from home each week translates to roughly two extra pounds a year”. This is typically how most people gain weight -not suddenly, but gradually over time, so it isn’t noticed right away.  If lunch and dinner are eaten out, unless careful choices are made, you could easily gain 40 pounds or more over a 10 year period. 

While weight gain isn’t easy to swallow, the health implications of eating high sugar, salt and fat containing foods can be serious. 

Cynthia Huffington, director of research and education for a Florida Hospital adds that “ obesity-promoting foods include sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, processed grains and trans fats — all cheap ways that restaurants add flavor. These foods lead to changes in blood sugar that cause cells to store food energy rather than burn it,” says Buffington. This can eventually develop into Type II diabetes. . 

Let’s say you already know all this, but you still prefer or must eat out several times a week.  How can you avoid those extra pounds Lisa Mancino speaks about?  

Tips for Healthy Restaurant Dining:

  1. always skip the bread and ask for water if they don’t offer it
  2. check the menu online before you go; less chance of making a richer choice 
  3. ask for vegetable choices if they aren’t on the menu
  4. choose brown rice over white; sweet potato over white
  5. request low/no salt or sugar in your food
  6. choose baked or steamed, not fried
  7. eat slowly and consciously so you only eat as much as you need
  8. skip the alcohol and dessert

If you take leftovers home and refrigerate them, you will see how much oil/butter was used because it will congeal in the refrigerator.  That’s an indicator of how a restaurant prepares their food. 

Recommended Restaurant Choices

I pulled Boston Magazine's recommendations for the healthiest restaurants in the Greater Boston area. While I don’t necessarily accept all of this to be true, it may be a good place to start. 

Where Do You Eat?

What are your experiences? Have you found some treasured healthy restaurants? Share your wisdom here in the comments section.  

Want to Grt back to your own kitchen?

Most of what we do in life comes from habit.  In a future post I will build a case for eating more meals at home for your health and your wallet. 

If you need help in making changes in your way of eating, even if it only means reducing a few restaurant meals, contact me for a complimentary health consultation.