Do The Public Want Healthy Restaurant Eating?

There seems to be a correlation between the rise in obesity and the amount of time and money we spend eating out.  We just love it!

Recent studies are beginning to show that people are starting to want healthier options when they eat out.  Earlier this year the calorie content of our restaurant and take out food appeared on the menu for the first time.  It is very clear now for everyone to see which are the best and worst options for our health, calorie intake and waistlines!

A report by the US Department of Agriculture showed that the “food away from home” sector comprised of 16% of all eating occasions, and 19% of all calorie intake in 1977-1978.  By 1995 these proportions had risen to 27% and 34% respectively.  Also the proportion of the US $ that is spent on “away from home” food has gone up from 40% in 1981 to 47% in 2001.

Unsurprisingly this trend can be seen in the UK.  Figures from the Office For National Statistics (ONS) show household spending on eating  out has overtaken spending on meals at home.  In 2004, Uk households spent £85.8 billion on fresh and processed food and drinks, 53.4% more than they did in 1992.  But over the same period, spending on food and drink consumed outside the home grew by 102.2% to £87.5 billion.

This trend seems to be here to stay despite the economic downturn.  3000 UK consumers were recently questioned about their spending habits  and they reported that they are intending to increase, by a slight amount (1.4%) the number of times they go out to eat over the next 6 months.  As far as the economy is concerned, this seems to be good news but is it good news for our well-being?  When we eat out we tend to see it as a treat or special occasion even if we’re doing it more often than we were.  When we eat out we often make poor choices in our food that we consume.  For example, if we eat cheese at home it is likely to be unprocessed whereas the cheese when eaten out is likely to be processed and therefore not as nutritionally good for us.

Every year since 2007, the non profit health advocacy Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in the US has identified the most fattening restaurant meals and given them “Xtreme Eating Awards”.  

CSPI nutrition director Bonnie Liebman said “it’s as if the restaurants were targeting the remaining one out of three Americans who are still normal weight in order to boost their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer”.

Recently in the British press there have been reports of some real gut- busting dishes including this gut-busting meal from Mario’s in Bolton which includes 10 sausages, 10 eggs, 10 bacon, 5 black puddings, and piles of beans, mushrooms and tomatoes!  My belly aches just thinking about it!

Seeing as we’re not supposed to eat more than 2000 calories a day, is anyone still alive out there?!

Although our love for junk food is set to continue there are other options out there.  A few years ago McDonald’s were becoming extremely unpopular and their profits were slumping.  So they introduced carrot sticks and fruit bags for the kids meals and salads.  Since then we have fallen back in love with the golden arches.

Basically, the jury is still out regarding whether or not putting the calories on menus is beneficial.  In fact in some sectors of the fast food industry, people’s intake has actually been shown to go up following the introduction of calorie content on the menu.

Of course people with eating disorders may well find all of this a real struggle.  When confronted with a vast menu and also the calorie content could seem very overwhelming.  It could also make one even more obsessed with the calorific content of food.  Not a good situation to be in.

Here are some tips as to how we can eat healthily when we eat out. 

1.  Before you go, have a look on the internet at the menus – most menus are on line these days.  Look to see if you can spot a healthy option before you go.  That will take some of the stressful decision making out of it.

2.  Eat something small, like a piece of fruit or drink a glass of water with a slice of lemon in it about half an hour before hand so you are not ravenous when you get there.  Never a good combinations to be really hungry when you turn up to a restaurant or when you are going round the supermarket!

3.  If you are not the best at controlling portions, avoid buffet “all you can eat” type scenarios!

4.  You could have a starter as a main course.  This is a great way to cut the cost as well as the portion size.

5.  Go for dark green leaf salads as the are the most nutritious.  Try and think about dressings, it’s not to say you can’t have any, but be mindful of the calorie content as it can be very high.

6.  Stick to stock based sauces if possible rather than thick, flour based sauces.

7.  Avoid the chips!  Come on, you know it’s right!  Go for a baked potato and eat the skin!  Or, a side salad or vegetables.

8.  Ask them to leave out the mayonnaise in your sandwich.  Ask to substitute with extra tomatoes, onions or lettuce.

9.  Try and eat less at another meal during the day but DON’T skip a meal.  This will lead to overeating and will slow your metabolism.

10.  Keep a close eye on your alcohol intake!

11.  Avoid croissants!  Choose hard rolls, plain bread sticks and wholemeal bread.

12.  Try and avoid battered, deep fried and breaded dishes.  Go for steamed and grilled options.

13.  Choose soups that are clear or broth based without being made of cream or milk.

14.  Have extra veg or tuna toppings on your pizza rather than cheese or meat.

Remember, when you eat out you can ask for ingredients to be changed to suit your needs. After all, you are the paying customer and above all, enjoy your meal!