"Eating out is fun," acknowledged Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City. "For the homemaker, it is a break from nightly cooking and cleaning up." However, the problem is that many, if not most, restaurant foods, whether from chain or local eateries, contain far more saturated fat, calories and sodium than anyone would imagine, she said.
"Recently, I reviewed online menu choices from a chain restaurant with a patient. The grilled chicken salad he was eating regularly and believed was a healthy choice, wound up having over 2,000 milligrams of sodium and 41 grams of fat. He was stunned," she said.
Another problem is that many people eat out several times a week, putting them at risk for overeating, Heller said.
The good old family meal has advantages beyond a healthy diet, she noted. "Family meals at home keep kids healthier and support better relationships among family members, reduce disordered eating and substance abuse and improve well- being," Heller said. "If you eat out several times a week, try cutting back a few nights. Fresh, home-cooked meals can be simple, healthy and delicious."
Another study published in the same journal found that much-touted voluntary reductions in salt levels in foods by the restaurant and food industry has been "inconsistent and slow."
The research, led by Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, D.C., found that salt in 402 processed foods dropped by only about 3.5 percent from 2005 to 2011.
Over the same period, the amount of salt in fare from 78 fast-food restaurants rose by 2.6 percent.
While some food products saw a 30 percent decrease in salt, more saw at least a 30 percent increase, the CSPI researchers found.
"Stronger action [for example, phased-in limits on salt levels set by the federal government] is needed to lower sodium levels and reduce the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases," the researchers concluded.
For more on healthy eating, visit the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
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