You know that even with new, low-cal options, fast-food joints are usually a big health no-no. But chances are you never suspected your favorite sit-down spot could be doing you in as well. A new study shows that dine-in restaurants can be just as bad as their faster counterparts.
Both fast food and dine-in restaurants serve up more cholesterol and trans fat than what you make at home, researchers found. Fast food customers got an average of 3.5 more grams of trans fat a day, while restaurant eaters took in an extra 2.5 grams. That may not sound like much, but we’re talking about something so bad that the FDA has just banned it. So even just a little bit can be serious. What’s more, people who regularly dine out consume an average of 200 calories and 58 mg of cholesterol more a day than their home-cooking counterparts.
Of course, we don’t expect you to become a master chef and whip up breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home every. single. day. Going out with friends gives your social life a boost, and that can be important for lowering stress and avoiding mental health problems. (And there’s that thing, you know, fun.) The trick to dining out without wrecking your hard-earned physique? Knowing how to order, and knowing what actually goes into that food that makes it bad. Here, four reasons restaurant food is bad for you.
1. Fatty cuts and blends
When you go to the grocery store, you’re likely to choose a nice lean blend of ground beef to make your burger patties. Ideally, you can get a burger that’s 95% lean beef with just two grams of saturated fat.
But most chefs, on the other hand, prioritize flavor over health, and higher fat content is an easy way to boost taste. A restaurant burger might have as much as 30% fat or more. That means less protein and more calories between those sugary white-bread buns. The same rule applies to various cuts of steak and other proteins tucked into wraps or salads.
2. Cooking in grease
You know those big vats of grease bubbling behind the registers at your favorite fast food joint? They should pretty much speak for themselves. But even if your food isn’t being prepared in a simmering bath of fat and empty calories, it might still be cooked in melted butter (as opposed to a healthy oil like olive or coconut).
3. Rich sauces
We love a thick, creamy sauce just as much as the next guy—especially when we can control how much of it goes on our food. At home, you use just enough to get some flavor onto your food, and then up the game with herbs and spices. But at a restaurant, things are often smothered in sauce. It’s delicious, but dangerous.
McDonald’s ranch dip has 110 calories and 12g of total fat. A restaurant-made aioli may sound like a healthier option, but can be almost as dangerous (calorie- and fat-wise) as it’s non-gourmet counterpart.
4. Hidden salt and sugar
If you’re anything like us, you want to use your entire sugar allowance satisfying your sweet tooth. Coating a piece of pork? Not so much.
Hidden sugars appear in many condiments, like pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, and ketchup. That ranch dip we mentioned? 410 mg of sodium and 6g of sugar. Dried fruits, often used as a salad topping, can also pack in extra sugar without doing much to curb your appetite for sweetness. Sugar and sodium also appear in basic carbs like that bread basket they stick right in front of you as you wait hungrily for your meal. These little things, often thrown in to chef-made meals to up their complexity, can add up to a lot of sugar and sodium.