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Dining Out Can Harm Your Health

rsz_dining_outMost of us lead busy lives.  Dining out can be an enjoyable and convenient way to feed ourselves and our families.  Where you dine, how often you dine and what you dine on, however, can greatly damage your health and your waistline.  This is what you need to know:

The Bad News

Let’s start with the bad news and unfortunately there’s a lot to share:

*  Most people greatly underestimate how harmful a restaurant or fast food meal can be.  Most meals outside the home come loaded with far more calories, sodium, unhealthy fats or sugar than you need. 

*  Fast food meals, in particular, are usually lacking in fruits, vegetables and milk, as well as valuable nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, iron and fibre.  People are also more likely to consume sugary drinks with these meals.

*  Although most fast food restaurants now carry at least some healthy items, people often don’t buy them. 

*  The frequency with which many people dine out, including busy families and especially teens, is dangerous to health.  The risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity all go up. 

*  Every fast food meal you consume increases your risk of being overweight.  Eating two to three fast food meals per week is linked to as much as a 60% to 80% greater risk of obesity.  No other lifestyle factor is so strongly linked to severe obesity than the consumption of fast food. 

*  Convenience stores also contribute significantly to the number of unhealthy food items consumed each day. 

Just One Fast Food Meal Damages Arteries

Researchers from the University of Montreal report that a single fast food meal that is high in saturated fat is detrimental to the health of the arteries, while no damage occurs after consuming a Mediterranean meal that is rich in healthy fats.  After eating the fast food meal, the arteries of the study participants (28 non-smoking men) dilated 24% less than they did when in the fasting state.  In contrast, the arteries were found to dilate normally and maintain good blood flow after the Mediterranean-type meal.  Poor endothelial function (measured by the ability of the artery to dilate) is one of the most significant precursors of heart disease.

Save Your Liver

There is strong evidence that a diet high in fast food can be highly toxic to your liver.  Liver specialists, however, say that you can undo this damage if you change your habits, start eating healthy and stay physically active.  If you don’t, you’re looking for trouble.  Doctors are starting to see children and teens with cirrhosis of the liver, a serious disease normally seen in adults with a history of alcohol abuse or hepatitis C.  These kids are eating too many calories, too much fat and too much sugar from unhealthy foods.  Holy liver batman – something has to change!

Working Parents Listen Up!

Today in many households both mom and dad head out the door to work each day.  This has repercussions for both our health and our children’s health.  Researchers from Temple University in Boston involving almost 4,000 parents found that when women work full-time the result is fewer family meals, less frequent encouragement of their adolescents’ healthful eating, lower fruit and vegetable intakes, and less time spent on food preparation.  If either parent has a high stress job, intakes of both sugar-sweetened drinks and fast food goes up, as does the risk of their child becoming obese.  In other research from Cornell University, fathers who work long hours are more likely to order take-out, miss family meals, purchase prepared entrees and eat while working. 

Does this mean parents should quit their jobs?  No, but it does mean they need to make more of an effort to feed their family well.  More food planning and advance preparation needs to take place on weekends and in the evenings.  It makes sense to make bigger batches of food to freeze, take for lunches and use for leftovers.  Men need to help out more with food shopping and cooking – research shows they’re not helping out as much as they could.  Teaching our kids to cook is also important, so when mom and dad are away, they can fend for themselves.  Bottom line, don’t let your work life compromise the health of your family!

Restaurant Meals Contain Three Times As Many Calories As Needed

Researchers from Tufts University in Boston analyzed frequently purchased meals from independent and small-chain restaurants that generally don’t post nutrition information about their menu items.  They looked at 157 full meals from 33 different restaurants, including Mexican, American, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Greek and Vietnamese.  On average, the meals contained 1,327 calories.  This is about two to three times more calories than the average person should eat at one meal.  Among the types of meals studied, the Italian (1,755 calories), American (1,494 calories) and Chinese (1,474 calories) meals had the highest average calorie levels.  Vietnamese meals had the lowest levels (922 calories), followed by Japanese (1,027 calories).  Some meals contained over 2,000 calories per meal or more than you should have in an entire day.  Bottom line:  restaurant meals generally contain an insane amount of calories!

Lose The Weight & Keep It Off

Let’s assume you’ve successfully lost the weight you wanted to lose.  How do you make sure you don’t gain it back?  Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta looked at what factors were associated with successful weight maintenance.  They found that men and women with the following behaviours were more likely to achieve success.  They ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.  They engaged in at least 150 minutes or more per week of physical activity (for example, exercising for at least 30 minutes five days a week).  Lastly, they shared portions when dining out and avoided fast food restaurants.  In contrast, those who ate at fast food restaurants two or more times per week were significantly more likely to gain the weight they lost!

Buffet Restaurants

Everything about a buffet screams “eat more than you need!”  The choice of food options is endless, tempting you at every turn.  You can refill your plate as many times as you wish.  You don’t get charged more if you eat more (getting your money’s worth is important!).  The dessert options alone are enough to put you well over your daily calorie allotment.  What’s my advice?  Don’t eat at buffet restaurants unless you have amazing self-control and know how to choose wisely.  Otherwise, do so at your own peril.  Buffet restaurants and over-eating simply go hand in hand.  Eating more calories than you need is pretty much a guarantee!

Lessons Learned:

When dining out most people consume far more calories, fat, sodium and sugar than they need.  Frequent dining, especially fast food dining, greatly increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.  Dine at home more often and when dining out be wise and choose well.


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