Prior studies link fast-food intake with a diet lacking in quality, but a 2016 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition was the first to look beyond total calories, fats and sugars to address essential nutrients Americans miss out on when they eat out.
The University of Illinois analyzed the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) results from 2003-2010 to assess two 24-hour diet recalls of 18,098 participants over the age of 18 who were not pregnant, breastfeeding or on a special weight loss diet at the time of interview. Data was collected regarding nutrient intake and eating location. The researchers found that eating out was associated with a higher intake of calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and a decreased intake of fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D and K.
This study also looked at the correlation of dietary behavior and eating environment, and included both fast-food and full-service restaurants. Researchers found that less vitamins and minerals were consumed when eating away from the home compared to taking food to go and eating at home.
Current research highlights the need for dietary changes in overall dining out, including fast-casual and full-service restaurants. What can we do as consumers? When eating out, make sure your dish comes with fruits and/or vegetables. Ask your server to replace refined grains with whole grains. Eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains when dining out will help ensure you are getting the vitamins, minerals and fiber your body needs.