When you’re watching what you’re eating and don’t have a ton of time, McDonald’s isn’t typically the first parking lot you pull into.
But new findings from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina shows that you might want to reconsider—especially if you tend to opt for one of the “healthier” not-quite-a-restaurant/not-quite-fast food counterparts.
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The research, released in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics this week, found that entrées at fast casual restaurants—a category that includes restaurants such as Chipotle and Panera Bread—actually have a higher average calorie count when compared to fast food establishments (those ones that get the bad rap), such as a McDonald’s or Bojangles.
Perhaps even more interesting, the research found that not only do fast casual restaurants actually have MORE high-cal options available on the menus, but the average meal clocks in 200 calories higher than the typical fast food one. (The researchers took a look at the menus at 34 fast food and 28 fast casual restaurants, but it is important to note that only calorie count—not nutritional profiles—were measured.)
“We were surprised that there were higher calories at fast casual restaurants, but one of the main takeaways from the paper is that there are a lot of high-calorie options at both kinds of restaurants,” said Schoffman, the lead researcher.
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