Sitting down for dinner at a full-service restaurant feels like a healthier choice than grabbing a burger from a fast food place, but research has shown that it could actually be worse for you.

According to research from Liverpool University, many family restaurant chains in the UK are serving up food with 45% more calories than a Burger King meal.


Yep, that’s right. Just when you thought you were being good by resisting the lure of a drive-through, you might actually be doing more damage to your health.

The study found that an average meal in a pub restaurant such as Wetherspoons or Nando’s contained an astonishing 1,033 calories, compared with 711 calories found in an average BK meal.

Experts are now warning that ‘excessive’ restaurant meals are helping fuel Britain’s rising obesity levels – a quarter of UK adults are now classified as obese.

If you’re looking to live a more health-conscious life, but you don’t want to limit yourself to eating at home, eating out can seem tricky – but it’s not impossible.

Healthy food swaps when eating out

Try these healthy swaps and tips to keep your calories in check when you’re next scouring the menu…

1. Swap fries for steamed veg or salad

One of the big calorie drivers for pub grub is that many of the dishes are accompanied with a side of chips – a 100g serving can count for around 400 calories.

Instead of plumping for fries, ask if the restaurant can switch them out for some freshly steamed veg. Broccoli and spinach are great choices; they’re extremely low in calories, but high in fibre, vitamin C and other nutrients that have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, obesity and depression.

2. Ask for sauces to be served separately

Sauces are notorious for hidden gluten and refined sugars, and they can pack on hundreds of extra calories – especially if the chef has doused your dish in them.

You don’t have to avoid eating them altogether, but ask for your waiter to serve the sauces in a separate dish, so you can control your portion size and avoid going overboard.

3. Avoid snacking on bread


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The bread bowl can be a tempting appetiser while you’re hungry and waiting for your main to arrive, but once you start dipping it in oil and spreading butter on top, the calories can really start to add up.

Limit yourself to one piece and opt for healthier wholemeal varieties, as white bread has few nutritional benefits.

4. Think about your meats

If you’re the type of person that has to have some meat on your plate, swap pies, bacon and sausages for healthier protein, such as lean cuts of meat, like turkey, or chicken without the skin.

5. Check the menu before you leave home

You’re more likely to make unhealthy choices when hungry, distracted or under pressure to order.

If you’re not familiar with the menu, read it before you get to the restaurant – many will have it available online.

6. Swap fizzy drinks for water

glass of water on a table in a restaurant

Squashes, cordials and fizzy drinks are usually packed with calories and sugars. Keep your drinks on the healthy side by ordering tap water instead. Not only is it better for you, but you’ll also save money.

7. Order a soup to start

Ordering more food sounds counter-intuitive, but studies have found that having a soup or a salad before your main course can stop you from eating too much and craving sugary desserts.

8. Swap creamy sauces for tomato-based ones

Creamy white sauces are often  packed with butter, cheese and a whole load of hidden calories. If you’re ordering pasta, stick to the tomato varieties, as they’ll usually be easier on your waistline and may also act as one of your five a day.

Most chain restaurants will list the calorie content of their dishes on the menu, but if in doubt – always ask the waiting staff.

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