Weight Loss

The Hidden Calories of Dining Out

A recent study has shown that eating out at restaurants, regardless if they are fast food, a chain restaurant, or a privately owned establishment, consistently provides excessive calories compared to the healthy recommended intake per meal. The study looked at 364 restaurants from 2011-2014, with food styles ranging across all popular options. Locations included establishments in Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock, Arkansas.

Meals eaten at nine out of 10 of the restaurants studied averaged 1,200 calories, over half the recommended daily intake for an adult woman and close to half of the recommended daily intake for an adult man. Popular food options such as American, Chinese, and Italian cuisine averaged closer to 1,500 calories per meal. That means that eating out can be even more difficult to do in a measured way for women than for men, said Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Centre on Aging at Tufts University.

“I feel like women get a particularly bad deal with these excessive portions, given that their caloric needs are, on average, substantially less than a man’s,” said study author Susan Roberts.

In addition, the reported calories for restaurant meals were for entrees only, and do not include drinks, appetizers or desserts; the calorie count for a full course meal may be twice as high or even higher. And even with calorie counts on menus, diners may have a tough time understanding the caloric impact of their meal.

“I have a Ph.D. in nutrition, and I still find it nearly impossible to make an accurate guess because there are so many hidden calories on the plate,” Roberts added.

Roberts feels the study findings are important because they help educate consumers on the high calorie counts of food served in all restaurants, not just fast-food joints which are known for their unhealthy and high calorie options.

Most readers have probably seen lists of the crazy-high calorie foods that can be found across America. However, the calorie count of many meals should cause alarm. Here are 10 common tasty food items found in chain restaurants across America, and their calorie count:

1. Olive Garden Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara, 1,590 calories

Olive Garden’s Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara is considered by many to be possibly the tastiest dish on the menu. Too bad it’s more than 79 percent of a woman’s daily caloric intake, and 63 percent of a man’s.

2. Friendly’s Swiss Mushroom Burger – 1,440 calories

With a whopping calorie count of 1,440, without fries or any sides, Friendly’s Swiss Mushroom Burger is either 57 percent or 72 percent of your daily intake.

3. 99 Restaurant and Pub Crispy Fish Tacos – 1550 calories

Fish tacos sound healthy in theory, but not this meal. At 1,550 calories, these tacos alone bring in more of your daily caloric intake than most full dinners.

4. Outback 12 oz. Herb-Roasted Prime Rib – 1331 calories

A piece of meat alone may seem like a healthy option that’s loaded with protein, but this one doesn’t make the cut. The 12 oz. piece is more than double some recommended single-meal calorie intakes.

5. Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad – 1,390 calories

Salads are usually healthier fare, but not this one. With more than half the daily caloric intake for both men and women, the Oriental Chicken Salad is not be the best leafy green choice for weight loss.

6. Chipotle Chicken Burrito with White Rice, Pinto Beans, Cheese, Sour Cream and Guacamole – 1,305 calories

Who doesn’t love a good burrito? But the add-ons can be weighty. Chipotle’s chicken burrito offering, with rice, beans, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole comes in at 1,305 calories, double the recommended caloric intake for a meal.

7. Friendly’s Turkey and Avocado Wrap – 1,260 calories

Maybe you wanted a healthier choice than the Swiss Mushroom Burger, so the Turkey and Avocado wrap looked appealing. Although among the lower calorie items on this list, the wrap is still 1,260 calories, over double the recommended caloric intake for a meal.

8. Applebee’s Chicken Tenders Platter – 1,380 calories

Chicken fingers are an American classic, but at 1,380 calories for the platter, it may be best to share them amongst friends.

And two desserts….

9. Outback Chocolate Thunder From Down Under Dessert – 1,559 calories

At 1,559 calories, this dish accounts for almost all the calories you need in a day – and most people only order this after eating dinner!

10. Sonic (Large) Peanut Butter Fudge Shake – 1,940 calories

Maybe you stopped at the drive-through on your way home from work, or maybe you just wanted something sweet and cold on a hot summer day. Regardless of your reasoning, Sonic’s Peanut Butter Fudge Shake accounts for almost 100% of caloric intake for the average woman, and 4/5th of the daily caloric intake for an average man.



Justin Surgent served as an assistant editor for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. Previously, he was a photo editor and copy editor for UMass Amherst’s independent newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.


Justin Surgent served as an assistant editor for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation. Previously, he was a photo editor and copy editor for UMass Amherst’s independent newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

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