Americans love dining out but nothing we eat is healthy: researchers

It might be time to reconsider your dining habits.

On average, more than half of Americans dine at a restaurant, get take out, or have a meal delivered multiple times a week. One recent study found that 10% of Americans said they eat out as many as six times a week, with 6% admitting to eating out every day. Even as people make wiser choices by purposely targeting healthier quick-food options, not all of these choices come with the benefits initially though.

As Americans dine more and more through their phones and around town, a recent study found that restaurants provide American adults with one of every five calories they consume, and to make matters worse, most of these experiences come with a poor nutritional cost.

Researchers at Tufts University published a new study in The Journal of Nutrition Wednesday that analyzed the diet habits of more than 35,000 American adults between 2003 to 2016 who dined either at restaurants with table service or fast-food establishments, like pizzerias.

Perhaps the most concerning finding were the dietary habits of diners at fast-food restaurants. Seventy percent of meats Americans had at fast food joints were considered of poor diet quality in 2015 and 2016, according to the study. That number decreased from 2003 and 2004, which saw 75% of fast-food diners consuming foods similar to the quality scale.

For those who dined at full-service restaurants, the number was significantly lower but about half were of dining experiences were of poor nutritional quality, according to the study. They did, however, remain stable across the study’s period.

“Our findings show dining out is a recipe for unhealthy eating most of the time,” Dariush Mozaffarian, the senior of the study said in a statement. “It should be a priority to improve the nutritional quality of both full-service and fast-food restaurant meals while reducing disparities so that all Americans can enjoy the pleasure and convenience of a meal out that is also good for them.”

If diners are under the assumption that there are healthy options out there on the streets, chances are they’re going to be sorely disappointed. Less than 0.1%, or basically none, of all restaurant meals consumed in the study’s period, were of ideal quality, according to researchers.

A breakdown of each dining style revealed specific calorie intake, which could make consumers cringe. Restaurant meals, like dining with family and friends, accounted for 21% of Americans’ total calorie intake. Full-service restaurant meals ran at about 9% of total calories consumed, according to the study.

As for fast-foot, the meals themselves represented 12% of total calories consumed, while breakfast options became more of a norm with Americans as 8% of all breakfasts eaten in the United States were from fast-foot restaurants.

Researchers suggested restaurants add healthier options while reducing salt like more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, and nuts and legumes.

“Our food is the number one cause of poor health in the country, representing a tremendous opportunity to reduce diet-related illness and associated healthcare spending,” Mozaffarian added. “At restaurants, two forces are at play: what’s available on the menu, and what Americans are actually selecting. Efforts from the restaurant industry, consumers, advocacy groups, and governments should focus on both these areas.”