Study: Don't be swayed by independent restaurants when trying to cut calories

Story highlights

  • Study: American, Italian, Chinese and Indian restaurant meals had the most calories; Greek, Vietnamese and Mexican had fewer
  • Researchers looked at the most popular dinners at independent eateries around Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, Arkansas
  • They found a lot of variability among similar dishes at different restaurants

(CNN)Many chain restaurants and fast-food joints now post calorie information on their menus, even before they will be required to by federal law at the end of 2016, making it obvious how calorie-laden their meals can be.

Non-chain restaurants are often seen as the healthier choice, even though -- or perhaps because -- the number of calories in their meals is a mystery. But a new study finds that these meals are generally just as calorie-rich as similar meals at chain restaurants.
Researchers determined the calorie content of the most popular dinners at independent eateries around Boston, San Francisco and Little Rock, Arkansas. In each area, they included about a dozen restaurants across a range of cuisines, from American burger joints to Italian trattorias and Greek cafes.
    The researchers determined the average dinner at a non-chain restaurant had about 1,200 calories, which they found was similar to comparable dinners at chain restaurants and around half of the daily energy requirement for adults. Women are recommended to consume about 2,000 calories a day to maintain their weight, whereas men can reach about 2,500 calories a day.
    "Many nutritionists say fast food is making us obese, but that's just because they tell us their calories. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Non-chain restaurants are just as bad as chain restaurants," said Susan B. Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Roberts led the research, which was published Wednesday in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics.
    "I think chain restaurants are better personally because you can make informed choices," she said.
    Roberts and her colleagues found a lot of variability between different types of cuisines. American, Italian, Chinese and Indian meals had the most calories on average, whereas Greek, Vietnamese and Mexican tended to have the fewest.
    Across the range of cu