By Kelley Herring
It’s not news that Americans enjoy dining out. In fact, the calories we consume from meals away from home have more than doubled since 1978!
And while we certainly enjoy the convenience of eating away from home, new research shows that it comes at a very high price where our health is concerned.
Today, you’ll learn how eating meals away from home increases your risk for the top chronic diseases and what to avoid when dining out. Plus, how to make restaurant-style meals at home that taste better than dining out… and are better for you too!
Is Your Love of Dining Out Digging You an Early Grave?
The consumption of meals at restaurants has been steadily increasing over the years. However, there has been little research conducted about how eating outside of the home impacts health outcomes until a recent study at the University of Iowa.
The researchers analyzed data collected from 35,084 adults aged 20+ who participated in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey 1999-2014. The respondents reported their dietary habits, including how often they ate meals away from home.
When the researchers compared the data from those who frequently ate meals prepared away from home (two or more meals per day) to those who seldom ate meals prepared away from home (fewer than one meal per week), they discovered that the frequent restaurant diners died from all causes at a 150% higher rate. Their risk of death due to heart disease and cancer increased by 118% and 167%, respectively.1
Dr. Yang Du, M.D., the lead researcher of the study states that:
“Our findings from this large nationally representative sample of US adults show that frequent consumption of meals prepared away from home is significantly associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality.”
So, what is it about restaurant meals that makes them so unhealthy?
As a diligent student of nutrition and health for more than two decades, I believe there are three primary reasons why frequent restaurant dining can lead to early death. And thankfully, these issues can generally be avoided. So, you can still enjoy all there is to love about dining out – without the risk.
Top Three Restaurant Pitfalls
There are three primary ways that dining out and the ingredients in restaurant meals can derail your health:
1. Deadly Fats
Restaurants notoriously rely on the two unhealthiest fats – trans fats and vegetable oils. These fats are clearly related to heart disease, cancer and metabolic dysfunction. And it is not enough to simply avoid the deep-fried items on the menu, because these oils are found in salad dressings, they are used for sautéing and they are often used in the recipes themselves. Avoid anything fried, and ask for simple olive oil and vinegar to dress your salad.
2. Refined Carbohydrates
Nearly every restaurant meal begins with a basket of bread or chips. But it doesn’t end there, because these “starters” are often followed by excessively large portions of refined carbs – like pasta, rice and more bread. Stay away from the carb-heavy options, and look to the grilled meats and salads section of the menu for healthier options.
3. Excess Calories
Research shows that, on average, restaurant meals contain 1,205 calories. This equates to about half of an average person’s typical daily caloric needs.2 Keep your calories in a healthy range by steering clear of the carb-heavy options mentioned above. Say “no thanks” to the bread basket. And skip the dessert.
Cooking at Home: Create Healthier, More Delicious Meals & Save Money Too!
I would never suggest that we avoid restaurants entirely. There is an enjoyment in being among the crowd, trying new and different things, and avoiding the work required to prepare and clean up a home-cooked meal. But those enjoyments are certainly not worth the significant risk of an early death.
So, stick to the rules above to enjoy dining out healthfully.
And commit to investing in your health by preparing high-quality, nutrient-dense meals at home. Not only will you enjoy healthier food, but you will save money in the process. Here are a few restaurant-style meals I love to make at home:
- Grass-Fed T-Bone Steak, Creamy Cauliflower “Fauxtatoes” & Sauteed Spinach
- Broiled Wild Salmon with Basil Pesto & Zoodles
- Pastured Pork Tenderloin with Honey-Mustard Glaze, Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Asparagus
Read more health and wellness articles from Kelley Herring on our Discover Blog.
Ed Note: Need some kitchen inspiration? Grab Kelley’s free guide – Instant Pot Keto Dinners – made exclusively with Paleo-and-Keto ingredients, for quick and delicious meals that taste just as good – of not better – than your restaurant favorites. Get your free guide here.
1. Yang Du, Shuang Rong, Yangbo Sun, Buyun Liu, Yuxiao Wu, Linda G. Snetselaar, Robert B. Wallace, Wei Bao. Association Between Frequency of Eating Away-From-Home Meals and Risk of All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2021.01.012
2. Urban LE, Weber JL, Heyman MB, Schichtl RL, Verstraete S, Lowery NS, Das SK, Schleicher MM, Rogers G, Economos C, Masters WA, Roberts SB. Energy Contents of Frequently Ordered Restaurant Meals and Comparison with Human Energy Requirements and U.S. Department of Agriculture Database Information: A Multisite Randomized Study. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Apr;116(4):590-8.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.11.009. Epub 2016 Jan 20. PMID: 26803805; PMCID: PMC5746190.