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Yes, eating out too often is bad for you
We know that people who eat out frequently are more likely to develop obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions, likely because restaurant and fast foods tend to be more calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, and higher in fat and sodium than what you might make at home.

When is a serving not a serving?
When it's ultra-processed food. Recently Drs. Young and Nestle, both of New York University, updated their look at serving sizes of ultra-processed foods, including serving sizes at fast food restaurants. Today's article is an extension of a review that was first published in 2002, when the authors identified single serving sizes of packaged foods such as candy, sodas, and beer, along with common fast foods such as hamburgers and french fries.

Majority of restaurant meals do not meet AHA criteria
Over the last couple of months I've been updating our lists of healthier choices at fast food and chain restaurants. If you've been reading those columns, it will be no surprise to you that foods from chain restaurants, whether they are full-service restaurants, fast casual restaurants, or fast food restaurants, simply aren't very good for you in general.


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Vegetarian does not equal healthy - at least when it comes to fast food

a fast food restaurant advertises the availability of the 'impossible burger' at that location

There's a 'health halo' around vegetarian food. People seem to think that if it's vegetarian, it's good for them.

I can't blame them, with all the media hype about this, that, and the other diet which purports to be The Healthiest Diet for Everyone(tm).

We do know that eating more plants is better for you, but that doesn't mean you must eat vegan (no animal products whatsoever) or even lacto-ovo (still eating dairy products and chicken eggs) vegetarian. The evidence shows that you can still eat protein from animals and have a terrifically healthy diet.

Scientists affiliated with Harvard noted this and wondered if the vegetarian options available at fast food restaurants were really better for you than the other options on the menu (Acad Nutr Diet 2021;doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2021.01.010).

To assess the nutrition of vegetarian options, the authors utilized a database of nutrition information from restaurants, limiting their exploration to the years 2012 to 2018. They further limited their analysis to 36 fast food chain restaurants in the United States with the largest sales volumes.

The authors analyzed the vegetarian options with respect to the total number of vegetarian main course options available at each restaurant chain, then considered the vegetarian options' comparative nutrient density, caloric density, and the amount of fats and sodium per serving. They further compared the vegetarian options to the non-vegetarian options within each chain as well as across restaurant chains.

Unfortunately, the authors found that fast food is still junk, even if it's vegetarian.

On the one hand, vegetarian options at fast food restaurants tended to be lower than nonvegetarian items in terms of calories, saturated fats and protein after adjusting for the number of calories each serving contained. On the other hand, vegetarian items were "significantly" higher in sugar. More immediately, vegetarian meat alternative sandwiches such as the "Impossible Whopper" had 1080mg sodium while the beef-containing version of the same sandwich ("The Whopper") had only 980mg sodium.

What this means for you

Don't be fooled into thinking that because something is "vegetarian" or even "vegan" that it's necessarily better for you. Read the Nutrition Information as well as the Ingredients to accurately evaluate whether a vegetarian option is really better for you than the alternative. You may be surprised.

First posted: March 9, 2022