Fast food doesn’t just get a bad rap, it gets the worst rap when it comes to healthy eating. But if you’re thinking about turning to the fast casual trend to cut down on calories, a new study suggests you won’t be doing your waistline any favors.
Researchers from the University of South Carolina compared the caloric content of entrees at 34 fast food restaurant to those at 28 fast casual restaurant (places like Chipotle and Panera Bread) and found that, on average, fast casual entrees had nearly 200 more calories – 760 calories per dish at fast casual chains compared to 561 calories per entrée at fast food restaurants.
“We were surprised that there were higher calories at fast casual restaurants, but one of the main takeaways from the paper is that there are a lot of high-calorie options at both kinds of restaurants,” lead researcher Danielle Schoffman said according to Science Daily. So, if you want to be gluttonous, you can do it anywhere. That’s the American way.
Though the idea that fast casual restaurants might be a less diet-friendly option than fast food might seem initially surprising, it seems to make sense when you consider consumer expectations. In general, fast casual tends to imply you’ll get a more substantial meal than hitting a drive thru. And since fast casual chains tend to be more upmarket, I’d assume most consumers expect a bit more for their buck.
But it’s also important to point out that, as the researchers openly admit, they looked at calories and calories only, which doesn’t reflect the overall nutritional value and health repercussions of eating any particular entrée. “A burger on a white bun may have fewer calories, but when you're talking about cancer prevention or other chronic diseases, you have to look beyond calories,” said study co-author Brie Turner-McGrievy. “We don't want the message to be, ‘Go eat hamburgers and don't eat guacamole and beans and brown rice.’”
Overall, the message seems to be the same as it’s always been: If you really want to be healthy, hole up in your room with a crate full of cauliflower and never leave your house.