Dining out may take years off your life but not for the reason you think

Are you dying to dine out again? You might want to stay home and cook instead, according to a new study.

While coronavirus pandemic restrictions have been lifted and restaurants are slowly returning to some form of normal, the indoor dining experience has been left vacant for over the past year. It’s not exactly the same experience sitting hunched together on a crowded New York City sidewalk as it is to be dined indoors at a Michelin star restaurant. Maybe the food tastes the same but at least indoors, you’re not getting the taste of the city’s sweat.

Anyway, restaurants are creeping back to normal. You’re likely going to want to head back out there and dine like you did pre-pandemic times, but here’s the catch: there’s a link between eating out often and increased risk of early death.

A new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Diabetics said that dining out — whether it be take-out or eating at restaurants — can shorten your life compared to meal-prepping and eating at home.

The study analyzed data from questionnaires given to over 35,000 adults aged 20 and over in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey between 1999 to 2014. The questionnaires focused on respondents’ dietary habits, such as how frequently they ate meals prepared away from home. In the 291,475 person-years follow-up, researchers said more than 2,700 people died, including 511 deaths resulting from cardiovascular disease and 683 from cancer.

Researchers said that people who ate two or more meals a day away from home were 49% more likely to die of any cause, while having a 67% higher risk of dying of cancer. The odds of death via heart disease also increased, according to the study.

“This is one of the first studies to quantify the association between eating out and mortality,” said Dr. Wei Bao, MD, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Iowa, in a press release. “Our findings, in line with previous studies, support that eating out frequently is associated with adverse health consequences and may inform future dietary guidelines to recommend reducing consumption of meals prepared away from home.”

While researchers said more work needs to be done, they claim this is one of the first studies linking dining out with mortality.

“It is important to note that the study design for this research examines associations between frequency of eating meals prepared away from home and mortality. While encouraging clients to consider preparing healthy meals at home, registered dietitian nutritionists might also focus on how selections from restaurant menus can be healthy. Tailoring strategies to each client by reviewing menus from restaurants they frequent can help them make healthy food choices,” said co-investigator Linda G. Snetselaar, PhD, RDN, LD, FAND.