Living with diabetes blog

Eating out: Tips for watching those calories

By Sara J. Carlson, R.N., C.D.E. March 18, 2016

I was struck by a study published in the Jan. 20, 2016, issue of the "Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics" and reviewed in "Health Day: News for Healthier Living".

We often hear about the huge portions served at fast food restaurants, but this study was based on an analysis of 364 American, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, AR, from 2011-2014. The restaurants sampled were both local and from large chains.

You may not be surprised that more than 9 in 10 restaurants served meals that exceed the recommended calorie limit for a single meal; however, you may be surprised by the extent at which the limit is exceeded.

The average U.S. woman needs about 2,000 calories per day, the average man about 2,500 calories.

The entrees in the study averaged approximately 1200 calories (beverages, appetizers and desserts not included!). That's more than double the 570 calories experts recommend the average adult woman consume at lunch or dinner.

American, Chinese and Italian fare topped the list with an average of 1495 calories per meal.

Study author Susan Roberts is director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

She offers one possible solution, suggesting laws be passed at the federal, state or local level which would give customers the right to purchase specific portions at proportional prices. For example, a customer could buy one-third of an entrée for one third of the price.

Lona Sandon, a registered dietician and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, offers the following suggestions:

  • Eat out less often or never.
  • Try ordering the kid's meal.
  • Share a meal among 3 people.
  • Order soup and side salad or something from the side menu.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends the following:

  • Check the menu for terms or icons that indicate healthy items, such as low-fat or low-calorie dishes.
  • Share your meal, order a half portion, or order an appetizer as a main meal. Examples of healthier appetizers include grilled or steamed seafood, minestrone soup, tomato or corn salsas and vegetable salads with dressing on the side.
  • Stop eating when you no longer feel hungry. It may take 15 minutes or longer for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full. Put down your fork and focus on enjoying the setting and the company for the rest of the meal.
  • Avoid large beverages such as "super-size" sugar sweetened soft drinks. They have a large number of calories. Instead, try drinking water with a slice of lemon or a sugar-free beverage.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Best wishes,


March 18, 2016