Is That Restaurant You’re Eating at Healthy?


From 1977 to 1991 the number of restaurants in America grew by 75 percent1. With an endless array of choices, most people pick eateries based on convenience, food quality, and price. And when convenience is a main factor influencing restaurant choices, consumers are 17 percent more likely to purchase fast food2. Although convenience is important, the nutritional value of the food selection should also be a significant factor in deciding on a restaurant.

When it comes to your health, your diet is only as good as the food establishments you frequent. Your chances of ordering healthy food greatly diminish when almost nothing on the menu is less than 30 grams of fat, like in some fast food chains. Because many restaurants offer a majority of unhealthy menu options, learning how to choose healthy restaurants is essential to developing a good diet.

What to Look for in a Restaurant

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the organic food market has grown roughly 20 percent each year since 1990, and in 2000 organic food revenue reached $7.8 billon dollars3. Needless to say, the organic food movement has taken the food industry by storm. This movement seeks to promote local, chemical-free farming and natural ingredients in meals. From this movement, countless organic restaurants have emerged all over the country, and these eateries are breaking the stereotype that all healthy food is tasteless.

These restaurants serve as a great substitute to most fast food and mainstream restaurants whose menus are high in fat and food with artificial ingredients. Organic restaurants often offer non-fried meats and locally grown vegetables and fruits. In addition to being environmentally responsible and beneficial to the local community, organic restaurants sell fresh, healthy food. So the next time you’re look for a place to eat, consider trying a place that specializes in organic foods.

Deli shops can also serve as a good alternative to unhealthy fast food establishments. These shops make for a good restaurant choice because they give you a variety of menu options and often have low fat condiments so that you can tailor your order to your diet. And instead of fries, many of these delis offer healthy sides like fruit, yogurt, and low fat chips.

Upscale fast food eateries which offer gourmet food tend to have a larger selection of healthier menu options and fresher ingredients than fast food chains. Most gourmet fast food establishments offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and non-fried meats. But several menu items in gourmet restaurants can seem healthy when in fact they are very high in fat and calories. So if you go to a gourmet fast food restaurant, make do some menu research beforehand so that you know the healthiest options available.

Many people think that desserts are off limits for people on a diet. But you don’t have to give up sweets to be healthy; you just have to choose the right ones. If you want a dessert after your meal, instead of going to a traditional ice cream shop, consider trying a frozen yogurt bar. Ice cream is made from pure cream and as such is more fattening than yogurt which is made from milk. So next time you want an after-dinner desert, find a place that serves frozen yogurt and order a low fat or fat-free frozen yogurt.

Some Unhealthy Restaurant Choices

Although most people consider Chinese food to be healthy, some of the staple dishes in this food genre are high in fat and calories. Egg rolls, fried chicken, and butter saturated fried rice can increase cholesterol and weight gain, both of which raise your risk of heart disease. That doesn’t mean you have to renounce Chinese food for the rest of your life. Rather, when you go out for Chinese, look for a restaurant that offers authentic Chinese cooking, which is healthier than the Americanized version. Traditional Chinese cuisine centers on steam cooked or boiled rice and vegetables with small portions of grilled, rather than fried, meats.

Restaurant portion size plays a big factor in shedding weight because weight loss occurs when you expend more energy than you take in through food. So if you eat large portions of food, you will have to exercise more. In order to balance dieting and exercise you need to improve the types of food you eat as well as how much you eat. Unfortunately, many restaurants are successful because of their large portion sizes. This is especially true for all-you-can eat buffets. But the amount of food given at these restaurants usually exceeds the recommended severing size for an average meal.

Excessively large portion sizes encourage overeating, because when we pay for food, we feel obligated to clean our plates, no matter how large the serving4. That’s why it’s best to avoid restaurants that serve enormous portion sizes or all-you-can-eat buffets. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a filling meal when you go out to eat. Healthy weight loss never involves depriving yourself of needed food. In fact, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that drastically reducing the amount of calories you eat can slow your metabolism and hinder weight loss5. So stick with restaurants that serve enough food to fill you up but not so much that you have to force yourself to overeat.

With our busy schedules, it’s unrealistic to try and eat at home every night of the week, but it is possible to make better restaurant choices. When it comes to nutrition, no restaurant is perfect, but some restaurants are better than others. As long as you follow the guidelines given above and do your research on the nutritional facts of restaurant menus, you can maintain a healthy, weight reducing diet even when eating out.



U.S.Department of Agriculture andU.S.Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.Washington,DC:U.S.Government Printing Office.

2 Stewart, H., Blisard, N., & Jolliffe, D. (2006). Let’s Eat Out: Americans Weigh Taste, Convenience, and Nutrition.Washington,DC:U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 3 Dimitri, C., & Greene, C. (2002). Recent Growth Patterns in theU.S. Organic Foods Market.U.S. Department of Agriculture.Washington,DC:U.S. Government Printing Office.

4 Rolls, B., Morris, E., & Roe, L. (2002). Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1207-1213.

5 Leibel, R., Rosenbaum, M., & Hirsch, J. (1995). Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. TheNew England Journal of Medicine, 621-628.


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