A typical restaurant meal contains 1000 to 2000 calories, and up to 100 fat grams (more than a stick of butter!) – Which makes eating out while eating healthy a hard combination. But thanks to a new helpful tool that lets you research nutritional and healthy meals in your own neighborhood, it’s no longer a problem. Healthy Dining Finder does the hard work by evaluating the nutritional content of restaurant meals across the United States.
Type in your zip code and the site generates a list of restaurants in your area with a nutritional table of each restaurant’s menu items that meet Healthy Dining’s requirements:
1. Entrées (or full meals) must include at least one of the following:
- Fruits and/or Vegetables
- Lean Protein (eg. skinless white meat poultry, fish/seafood, tofu, etc.), with no more than two red meat dishes per restaurant
- 100% Whole Grains
2. Menu items must meet the following criteria:
- Entrées (or full meals):
- 750 calories or less
- 25 grams of fat or less
- 8 grams of saturated fat or less
- Appetizers, side dishes and desserts:
- 250 calories or less
- 8 grams of fat or less
- 3 grams of saturated fat or less
3. Deep fried items (egg rolls, chicken fingers, tostada shells, etc.) are excluded from the website, except for very small amounts of garnishes, such as wonton strips.
Whether or not you have a computer to check out restaurants before dining, knowing what nutritionists look for when choosing a healthy menu can be helpful in making smart food choices.
• Calories: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses 2,000 calories per day as a reference level for nutrition labeling. Healthy Dining’s upper limit of 750 calories for one meal represents about 37% of total calories for the day – reasonable, because a restaurant meal is generally the largest of the day.
• Fat: The USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that total fat be limited to 20 to 35% of calories. Assuming 2,000 calories per day, the recommended fat intake for a full day is between 44 and 78 grams. The Healthy Dining fat guideline for one meal is 25 grams or less.
• Saturated Fat: The USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that saturated fat be limited to 10% of total calories. Assuming 2,000 calories per day, the maximum recommended saturated fat intake for a full day would be 22 grams. Healthy Dining’s saturated fat guideline for one meal is set at 8 grams or less of saturated fat for the meal, again assuming the restaurant meal accounts for the largest of the day’s meals.
Of note is that most of the menu items featured on the site do not meet the FDA criteria for “healthy.” The criteria for the website focus on calories, fat and saturated fat, whereas the FDA’s criteria for “healthy” also include cholesterol and sodium. However, values for sodium and cholesterol are posted, so that consumers can make informed choices.