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Independent Restaurants Carry Higher Calorie Foods than Fast Food Options, Study Says

Update Date: May 13, 2013 11:46 PM EDT

One might think that eating at a local eatery and independent restaurant might be healthier than grabbing a burger and fries from your local fast food joint, but a new study says that these meals average more than 1,300 calories a plate.

Researchers from the University of Toronto sampled hundreds of meals at 19 chain sit-down restaurants and found that average breakfast, lunch and dinner meals contained 1,128 calories, or 56 percent of the daily 2,000 calorie recommendation, according to the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine journal.

The Food and Drug Administration is working on legislation that will require chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie content for all of their menu items.

According to the meals sampled for the study, the average sit-down restaurant meal has 151 percent of the daily recommended amount of sodium for adults, 60 percent of the daily recommended amount of cholesterol, and 89 percent of the daily recommended amount of fat. And the average meal contained 83 percent of the daily recommended trans and saturated fats particularly.

"The high level of saturated fat is worrisome because according to the Institute of Medicine, intakes of saturated fat should be kept as low as possible," the researchers wrote in the study. "Furthermore, though recommendations suggest that approximately 20 [percent] to 35 [percent] of energy should come from fat; in this study, 45 [percent] was derived from fat."

A second study in JAMA focused on dishes available at 33 small independent and small chain restaurants in the Boston area, and found that the average meal contained two-thirds of daily calorie requirements.

Samples were taken from Mexican, American, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Greek and Vietnamese restaurants.

"On average, the meals studied contained 1,327 calories, which significantly exceeds the estimated energy needs of an individual adult at a single meal," said senior author Susan Roberts.

"Meals from all restaurant types provided substantially more energy than is needed for weight maintenance," said Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

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