Food Cravings and Eating Out

One of the most striking trends in the eating patterns of Americans is the increase in meals eaten away from home. Based on the ongoing Continuous Survey of Food intake by individuals (CFFII) the proportion of foods consumed from restaurants and fast food outlets increased from 16% in the mid 70’s to 27% in the mid 90’s. Why does it matter? Read on.

A new study from the University of Arizona has found that food cravings are positively related to eating out, particularly in fast food restaurants. Top item on the craving list: French fries. It’s possible that certain kinds of foods- particularly those found in fast food restaurants-, lead those who frequent these establishments, to want to keep coming back for more. Fast food restaurants can be a disaster from a health and nutrition point of view, so anything we can do to break the cycle is going to help. More meals at home is one way to do just that.

But since eating out is a fact of life, do damage control when eating out. Choose restaurants that give you a fighting chance at a healthy meal. Look for salad bars, and fill up on vegetables. (Sprinkle on some sunflower seeds, and take your dressing on the side). For cooked meals choose baked, broiled, or stir fried protein choices as an entrée and have them with vegetables. Avoid deep fried food whenever possible, especially French fries which can be a significant source of trans-fats.

A number of studies have also indicated that both school age kids and adults consume more when portion sizes are larger. Do damage control by sharing portions with friends, or filling up on salad first and taking half home in a doggie bag. When possible, order sauce or dressing on the side. Even fast food restaurants are beginning to offer some healthier options like salad with chicken – look for them.

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