Fast Food vs. Restaurant Food: A Fair Fight?

While it may seem like sitting down for a meal at a restaurant is better for you than running through the drive-thru or ordering takeout, a recent study is proving otherwise. So if you’re thinking about swearing off of fast food for your next diet, you might have to swear off of eating out altogether after reading this.  

Should you opt for McDonalds or your local steakhouse? 

This particular study looked at both fast-food and full-service restaurants and compared them to the health benefits of eating at home. Both types of establishments are worse for you than eating at home, as they were associated with an increase in calories, fat, and sodium. Both added an average of about 190 calories per day, and fat was equally distributed as well, at an extra 10 grams per day. 

However, researchers were surprised to find that eating at full-service restaurants added more sodium and cholesterol to the participants’ daily diet than fast food did. Fast food only added an average of 10 mg of cholesterol each day, with restaurants coming in at 58 mg of cholesterol. Similarly, restaurants add an additional 412 mg of sodium, with fast food adding only 297 mg of sodium per day. 

On the other hand, when compared to fast food, restaurant food is associated with an increase in omega-3s, vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, as well as a reduction in sugar—all of which is a good thing.  

Since people tend to be more relaxed while eating at restaurants, they're more likely to indulge on foods they normally wouldn’t eat. Additionally, the portions found in restaurants are generally much larger than you need. Therefore, one thing that can make eating at restaurants a little healthier is to keep in mind that you don’t have to eat the entire portion in one sitting—you can always get a to-go box and eat the rest of the food the next day. 

Why should you care?

Going off of the relatively accurate assumption that an extra 3,500 calories causes you to gain one pound of body fat, consuming 190 calories per day more than you expend (from fast food OR restaurant food) will lead to gaining almost 20 extra pounds per year. At that rate, it's no wonder the United States is one of the most obese countries in the world. 

Additionally, since restaurant food contains so much excess sodium and cholesterol, it can also contribute to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, while fast food may be “better” than restaurant food, it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. When possible, cook your own meals and eat at home—it’s cheaper and better for your health!

What does all of this mean? recently conducted a study to determine the healthiest fast food restaurants. Their criteria was based on the use of healthy fats during preparation, healthy sodium counts, and the use of organic produce. While using “healthy” and “fast food” in the same sentence may seem like an oxymoron, there are ways to make your fast food experience healthier. For example, look for fast food restaurants that display calorie counts and other nutritional information to keep yourself in check, and when possible, opt for the more heart- and weight-healthy options such as fruit instead of fries or low-fat milk instead of soda.