Perception vs. reality: “healthy” eating out

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Keeping up with all of the opportunities to eat out while trying to make healthy choices can be difficult as a university student. Dates, hangouts and reunions all seem to revolve around food. However, when selecting “healthy” choices, many BYU students simply rely on a hunch.

“I always feel great after eating (at Zupas), so I just assume that it’s healthy,” said Rachel Lang, a BYU student.

Others BYU students’ “feel-good” favorites include Cafe Rio, Subway, Pita Pit and even Yogurtland. Further exploration of  the actual nutritional value of these restaurants and subsequent favorite dishes brings to light reality as opposed to simple perception.

Government regulation requires the nutritional information of most restaurants to be available on-site or online. However, theses nutrition charts can be difficult to navigate. Often meals are broken up part by part, so the calorie count initially presented is different than the overall calorie count once cheese, dressings and other extras are added on.

People will look with satisfaction at a 280 calorie listing for a six-inch turkey breast sub while ignoring the whopping addition of 100 calories from adding just mayonnaise or just southwest chipotle. While calorie counts are usually afforded the most attention on a nutritional fact sheet, other areas, such as fat, sodium and protein should also be taken into account.

Nutritional menus can be helpful if one is willing to take the time. An interactive “Build A Pita” nutrition calculator available on the Pita Pit website breaks down the meals ingredient by ingredient to reveal the overall nutritional contributions. Many, however, form their own opinions about the breakdown of their favorite meals.

“I always try to make it a little healthier by getting a wheat tortilla,” Katie Henderson said of the wildly popular Cafe Rio Pork Barbacoa Salad. “It’s not too bad, there’s a lot of lettuce and tomatoes; it’s just the pork that is bad, but maybe you can get it on the side.”

Several fellow students agree with Henderson, with most believing the pork to be the worst part of the crowd-favorite salad. Surprisingly, the dressing actually has more calories and just as much fat as the pork. Perhaps more shocking is the fact that nearly half the calories (420) of the meal come from the tortilla alone.

This particular dish is only one example that shows most people are not as aware of the makeup of their meals when eating out. A student looking to make wise decisions when eating out should consult the posted nutrition facts and make adjustments according to parts of the meal that inflict the most nutritional damage.


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