Restaurant Food is Even Worse Than You Think

If you’re under the impression that only fast-food chains are guilty of super-sizing their meals and piling on the hidden calories, think again: The average meal from independent restaurants and small-scale chains contains a whopping 1,327 calories—more than twice the recommended amount—according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers at Tufts University analyzed 157 of the most popular meals (including side dishes) at 33 restaurants in the Boston area. While the average meal clocked in at 1,327 calories, some types of food were worse than others. Italian (1,755 calories per meal on average) and American (1,494 calories) were the worst. Even Vietnamese, which was the best, averaged 922 calories per meal. To put this in perspective, though, the average woman only needs about 600 calories per meal, says senior study author Susan B. Roberts, PhD, co-author of The “I” Diet. And 1,327 calories is more than double that—not to mention about 66 percent of the total calories the average adult needs in one day.

You can thank huge portion sizes and unhealthy ingredients for the excessive calorie counts, says Roberts. Even something as benign as tandoori chicken, which is typically grilled and should be relatively healthy, can come soaked in oil that cranks up the calorie count, she says.

What’s worse is that you have no way of knowing what the calorie counts are at these types of restaurants. Unlike major chains, small restaurants aren’t required to list nutrition info on their menus or websites. And Roberts says humans tend to be pretty bad at guessing how many calories are lurking in a large dish. “When restaurants are serving these gross, obscene portion sizes, we don’t know what we’re eating,” she says.

This doesn’t mean that you have to give up on dining out altogether, though. Roberts suggests immediately setting aside half of your order and asking your server to put it in a to-go box, as well as asking for condiments on the side. Both of these steps can help keep your meal under control.

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More From Women’s Health:
How to Kick Your Fast-Food Habit—For Good
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Is Restaurant Silverware Making You Sick?

In new stomach-turning news, a gastroenteritis-causing virus could be lurking on restaurant silverware and dishes—even if they’ve been washed, according to a new study published online on PLOS ONE.

To “simulate a worst-case scenario,” researchers at the Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science infused cream cheese and reduced fat milk—both of which are difficult to properly clean off of tableware—with disease-causing murine norovirus (MNV-1), Escherichia coli (E. coli K-12), and Listeria innocua (L. innocua). They then coated ceramic plates, forks, and drinking glasses with the infectious mixture and put them all through either a mechanical wash or a hand wash.

The good news? Both washing methods reduced bacterial cells E. coli and L. innocua enough to meet safety standards, though using a dishwasher was slightly more effective than hand washing. But before you head to your nearest restaurant to celebrate, take note: Norovirus particles survived both washing techniques and were not significantly reduced by either wash method.

“Norovirus is the leading cause of about 90% of epidemic gastroenteritis,” says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of Clinical Laboratory Science at Saint Louis University. The danger: “Gastroenteritis is a pretty uncomfortable disorder—it causes nausea, vomiting, and severe diarrhea that lasts for days.” Plus, it’s not easy to get over and is very easily spread, she says.

That said, it isn’t necessarily a restaurant’s fault if norovirus particles remain on tableware. Food itself can act as a barrier, protecting the bacteria and viruses from cleaning products and heat, says Duberg. Also, milk products—like the ones used in the study—can neutralize cleaning products, making them less effective, she says.

But don’t stress: This doesn’t mean you should swear off restaurants altogether. “The idea that we’re going to ‘kill’ things [bacteria and/or viruses] is probably a little far-fetched,” says Duberg. “What we’re doing is trying to reduce the number of germs to a level that our bodies can handle—one we can clear with our defense system.”

While we have little control over what a restaurant does behind closed doors, there are a handful of things to consider before you place your order. Here, Duberg’s tips on how to stay as germ-free as possible while dining out.

Follow your nose
A restaurant should smell good. “It shouldn’t smell dirty or contaminated,” she says. “The bathrooms should smell fresh and clean and not have a heavy odor of air fresheners that are covering up dirty odors,” Duberg says. So if you smell anything other than the delicious food that’s cooking, it might be time to try a new spot.

Take a look around
Any clean establishment will look clean and will have good cleaning habits. “There shouldn’t be sticky tables,” says Duberg. “That’s where bacteria is going to breed, and where bacteria breed, viruses are right behind them.” And take note of the color of the cloths employees use to wipe down the tables. They should be white and clean, and buckets of water should be clear, says Duberg. Also, be aware of whether or not your server or maître d’ is sniffling or has a runny nose, she suggests.

Inspect the utensils
Your silverware and tableware shouldn’t have remnants of a past meal. Silverware should also come wrapped in clean napkins. Plus, serving utensils shouldn’t be transferred from one dish—and one person—to another, says Duberg.

Know when to stay in
“If your immune system is low—if you’re stressed, or had a cold, for example—you can handle less bacteria and viruses effectively,” according to Duberg. In this case, you might not want to expose your weakened system to germs that might make you get sick all over again. Plus, you don’t want to be the person responsible for contaminating anyone else, do you?

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

More from WH:
Could This Be the Worst Flu Season EVER?
The Easiest Way to Be a Better Cook
Decode Your Stomach Problems
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