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Christmas Research – Is Fast Food Healthier and Less Calorific than Restaurants?

By Jiri Kaloc

The holiday season can get hectic so many of us turn to fast food dishes to save time. We all know that it’s not the healthiest choice and that going to a full-service restaurant is probably the better alternative. But is that actually true? Researchers from the University of Liverpool decided to find out.

Researchers collected and analysed more than 13,500 meals from 27 UK-based restaurant chains out of which 6 were fast food and 21 full-service, sit-down restaurants. They estimated the caloric value of these meals and started comparing fast food meals and full-service restaurant meals. What they found is quite surprising.

Fast food or a full-service restaurant? © Rompav / DPphoto / Profimedia

9 out of 10 meals contained more calories than they should

Experts at the Public Health England agency recommend that main meals shouldn’t exceed 600 calories to avoid the risk of overeating and weight gain. This study found that, on average, the meals they analysed had a whopping 977 kcal! Only 9 % of the meals met the recommendations for energy content. On the other hand, a stunning 47 % of the meals would be classified as high-calorie meals with 1000 kcal or more.

Fast food offers less calorific meals

You might think that fast-food chains are pushing the average up but shockingly, the opposite is true. The study found that meals from full-service restaurants averaged at 1,033 kcal whereas fast-food meals only at 751 kcal. Full-service restaurants were also 5x more likely to offer high-calorie meals of 1000 kcal or more than fast-food restaurants.

Meals from full-service restaurants averaged at 1,033 kcal.

Burger King and McDonald’s were among the least calorific

For example, a popular full-service restaurant chain called Hungry Horse had the highest average meal calorie content of 1358 kcal. KFC didn’t even come close to that with an average of 987 kcal per meal and Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway were even less calorific with around 700 kcal per meal. You might still think that it’s comparing apples and oranges because fast-food serves different kinds of meals. But even when the researchers compared similar meals, the numbers didn’t change. Burger meals in full-service restaurants contained an average of 414 kcal more than burger meals in fast-food chains and even restaurant salads were slightly higher in calories than fast-food salads.

Careful about desserts and drinks

Dr Eric Robinson, the lead researcher from Liverpool’s department of psychological science, said the results were shocking and probably even underestimated the calories consumed in restaurants. “Our analysis did not include drinks, starters, desserts or side orders.” So, next time you are about to eat out, remember that fast food is likely the less calorific option unless you get a large soda and a big dessert.