PHILADELPHIAFull-service restaurants are not a healthy alternative in comparison to fast-food restaurants, on the contrary they actually tend to have menu options that are higher in calories, fat and sodium levels, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Researchers from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania studied more than 2,600 menu items served at full-service restaurant chains operating in Philadelphia and concluded that standard definitions are needed for ''healthy choice'' tags and for entrees targeted to vulnerable age groups.
The study included 21 full-service restaurant chains which offered single-serving entrees and provided calories and sodium information for all menu items on either their websites or printed menus. It also focused on entrees, appetizers, and side dishes, but also provided information on other less consistently labeled menu categories.
"The need to educate customers about the nutritional content of restaurant foods is acute because consumers increasingly eat away from home, restaurants serve large portions of energy-dense and high-sodium foods, and obesity and the prevalence of other diet-related diseases are high," said lead researcher Amy Auchincloss, Ph.D., MPH, Drexel University School of Public Health.
Although no guidelines exist for appropriate nutrient levels of full-service restaurant menu items, about half of the entrees did not meet the study's "healthier" calorie criteria. Almost one-third of the entrees exceeded the total daily recommended value (DRV) for sodium, and only one-fifth met recommended fiber minimums. Items targeting seniors and children had fewer calories, but often exceeded the DRV for fat and sodium. More than half of the studied restaurants designate some healthy choices on their menus, but the meaning of that designation varies.