The Shocking Secret Behind (Almost) Every Meal You Order Out

Fast food chains may get a bad rap when it comes to hidden calories, but a new study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and conducted by researchers at the HNRCA and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, shows that they might not be the worst offenders.

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The research analyzed the calorie content of frequently ordered meals (including American, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese fare) in both local (non-chain) restaurants and their large-chain equivalents in the three separate locations of Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock. The findings: 92 percent of the 364 restaurant meals that were measured—defined as a single meal serving, minus a beverage, appetizer or dessert—exceeded the recommended calorie requirements for a single meal.

“Although fast-food restaurants are often the easiest targets for criticism because they provide information on their portion sizes and calories, small restaurants typically provide just as many calories, and sometimes more,” said 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. 

Another jaw-dropping stat from the study: American, Chinese and Italian fare rang up the highest calorie counts—coming in with a mean of 1,495 calories per meal.