Chain Restaurants Serve More Calories Than Fast Food

New research says fast food is the "good guy" when compared to sit-down chains.

Welcome to your favorite Sunday family restaurant, where you'll enjoy an bottomless baskets of breadsticks and fill your body with 140 calories per stick. You eat five breadsticks, that's 700 calories. You have yet to dig into your fettuccine alfredo (1,010 calories). This is not the healthiest meal you've ever eaten. And for calorie counters, it's likely worse than grabbing lunch at a fast food drive-thru.

The BMJ medical journal published two studies this week that compared calories served at fast food restaurants with calories served at sit-down chain restaurants, CNN reports. The first study, conducted across the U.K., found that on average, meals at fast food restaurants had 751 calories, while meals served at sit-down chain restaurants had 1,033 calories. The worst fast food restaurant studied, KFC, packed 987 calories into the average meal, and that was still fewer than over half of the chain restaurants. Burger King meals had fewer calories than every single chain restaurant studied. (The restaurant chains in this survey included Sizzling Pubs, Wagamama, and Pizza Express, among others.)

The second study compared calories in undisclosed fast food and full service restaurant meals served in the U.S. with those served in Brazil, China, Finland, Ghana, and India. Surprisingly, only China served "significantly" fewer calories than similar eating options in the U.S. In America, full service joints served on average 1,362 calories, and fast food ones served 969 calories.

"Until now, fast food has been criticized all the time, but in this study, fast food comes out as the good guy," Susan Roberts, senior scientist at Tufts University and the lead author of the international study, said. "It was still bad, but it had 33 percent less calories than standard restaurants."


Obviously, fast food and chain meals are both unhealthy options. Olive Garden isn't wholesome diet food, and neither is Popeyes. Massive meal portions and unhealthy ingredients are punching up calorie counts, which in turn make people obese. But this research does proves your parents wrong: Fast food isn't the absolute worst thing you can put in your body—it's just one of the worst things. Maybe save some of that alfredo for the next meal.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.comMinor edits have been made by the editors.

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Sarah Rense
Sarah Rense is the Lifestyle Editor at Esquire, where she covers tech, food, drinks, home, and more.
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