Eating out may be worse than you think

Published On: May 17 2012 11:38:46 AM CDT   Updated On: May 18 2012 09:09:45 AM CDT
HOUSTON -

A warning if you eat out more than you eat at home. There's a 96 percent chance that your next restaurant entree will fail to meet federal nutrition recommendations for both adults and kids.

The fast-food drive-through gets a bad reputation when it comes to a healthy meal. But at least here you know what you're getting.

The new study released Thursday by the Rand Corporation found 96 percent of main entrees sold at top U.S. chain eateries exceed the daily limits for calories, sodium and fat recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The published study doesn't name the 245 restaurants it evaluated, but Local 2 Investigates analyzed meals offered at some of those family-style restaurants.

Take the grilled chicken pasta pesto deli salad from Cafe Express. Our test revealed it had 660 calories and 33 grams of fat. That's 100 more calories and more grams of fat than a Big Mac from McDonald's.

"They're not helping you at all. They're not helping the obesity problem in the United States and in Houston at all," Eileen Lancer, a diner said.

Olive Garden's spaghetti and meat sauce along with one breadstick totals 770 calories and 16 grams of fat. That's more calories but less fat than a Big Mac.

The same dish at the Macaroni Grill has 1,100 calories and 63 grams of fat.

"You're thinking, 'Oh tomato sauce? What could be wrong with tomato sauce?' Well it's all those words that you can't pronounce at the bottom of the list of ingredients - that's the problem," said Randy Evans, chef and co-owner of Haven.

According to Evans, when chains get so big, they prepare food off site and ship it to the restaurants. That means they add a lot of salt and preservatives to keep the processed food fresh.

He said people should try and stick to simple foods when dining out.

"The fewer ingredients, the simpler it is, the easier it is to know what you're getting," Evans said.

The study pointed out that restaurants are doing more to offer healthy alternatives. But, even choices labeled "healthy" by the restaurant industry allow far more sodium, fat and calories than is recommended by federal guidelines.