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Nutrition: Eating Out – Healthfully

Author: Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D. and Jayne Hurley, RD
Source: Restaurant Confidential

Nutrition: Eating Out-Healthfully

Calorie Overload

“From 50 to 75 percent of the new cases of diabetes seem to be triggered by people weighing too much,” according to JoAnn Manson. In a dozen studies that monitored tens of thousands of people for years, “being overweight increased the risk of developing diabetes in men and women more than tenfold.”

Unfortunately, anyone trying to avoid weight gain and diabetes will find little help from restaurant menus. Restaurants serve large portions of tasty calorie-rich foods. That’s a recipe for flab…and for diabetes.

“Americans are exposed to a toxic food environment,” says Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology, epidemiology, and public health at Yale University. “Americans have unprecedented access to a poor diet–to high-calorie foods that are widely available, low in cost, heavily promoted, and good tasting.” And much of that food is served in restaurants. (See Foods Highest in Calories)

“One of the first things people from other countries notice when they visit the United States is the large portions served in restaurants,” says Brownell. “In most of the world, there’s no such thing as a doggie bag.”

In the United States, that doggie bag is one of the best strategies for dealing with the out-of-control serving sizes in restaurants. “Before you put the first fork in, think about how much you’re going to eat and have them wrap up the rest for the next day,” suggests Marion Nestle of New York University. It can pay off. Studies show that even modest weight loss can prevent diabetes. “Women and men cut their risk of developing diabetes by 30 percent over a two-year period just by losing ten pounds and keeping it off,” says Rena Wing of the University of Pittsburgh.

There’s no doubt that exercise and staying lean will both help cut the risk of diabetes. Exercise helps whether or not you are overweight, and staying lean helps whether or not you exercise. Either way, you come out ahead.

The Wrong-and Right-Calories

What you eat, not just how much you eat, may affect your risk of diabetes. A recent study found that women who ate larger quantities of refined, low-fiber carbohydrates like white bread and sugar had a higher risk of diabetes. Of course, those are precisely the kinds of carbohydrates that diners find in abundance on restaurant menus, where the vast majority of breads, pasta, and rice is refined. Restaurant desserts are laden with sugar or refined flour or both, and the most common beverages are, of course, sugar-laden soft drinks.

“Diets high in high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with a lower risk of diabetes,” says JoAnn Manson of Harvard University. Unfortunately, you really have to hunt through a restaurant menu to find meals that fit that description. “Healthy” or “light” menus are a good place to start. What’s more, these menus are also lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

People with diabetes should be especially careful to cut back on hamburgers, cheeseburgers, lasagna, pizza, beef tacos and cheese nachos, and other fatty cheese or meat dishes, as well as ice cream, cakes, cookies, pies and other fatty sweets. This is critical, because the most common cause of death among diabetics is heart disease.

Foods Highest in Calories

The average person needs only about 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. Eating out makes it extremely easy to exceed that level. Some of the numbers in the table underestimate the calories because they don’t include side dishes, appetizers, desserts, and drinks.



Cheese Fries with Ranch Dressing 3,010
Fried Whole Onion with Dipping Sauce 2,130
Orange (Crispy) Beef 1,770
Movie Theater Popcorn with “Butter” (Large) 1,640
Kung Pao Chicken 1,620
Sweet and Sour Pork 1,610
General Tso’s Chicken 1,600
The Cheesecake Factory Carrot Cake (1 Slice) 1,560
Fettuccine Alfredo 1,500
House Fried Rice 1,480
Taco Bell Mucho Grande Nachos 1,320
Prime Rib, Untrimmed 1,280
Stuffed Potato Skins with Sour Cream 1,260
Spaghetti with Meatballs 1,160
Fudge Brownie Sundae 1,130
Porterhouse Steak, Untrimmed 1,100
Fried Calamari 1,040
Spaghetti with Sausage 1,040
Burger King Double Whopper with Cheese 1,020
Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dressing and Celery Sticks 1,010
McDonald’s Vanilla Shake (Large) 1,010