Entrées from non-chain restaurants specifically had an average of 1,205 calories, but some types of cuisine were far worse than others: While Greek and Japanese meals averaged less than 1,000 calories a pop, American, Chinese, and Italian dishes contained a gut-busting average of 1,495 calories each.
Even the researchers were surprised.
“That was so shocking—worse than we expected,” says lead author Susan Roberts, PhD. “How can Americans expect to manage their weight when faced with such terrible portions?”
Researchers also found that about 50% of restaurants in the US are small, independent companies that don’t provide calorie counts—so you can’t even really plan ahead if you want to, unless you go to a major chain.
So what’s a diner to do? For one, you can choose to eat at places that do provide comprehensive nutrition info and pick lower-calorie dishes (these clean fast-food meals are a great place to start). But the best thing you can do is to cook at home. This advice is already backed by plenty of common sense and even some scientific research: A 2014 study reports that people who regularly cook at home eat around 140 fewer calories per day than people who dine out frequently. And that can add up fast—gaining a pound only takes 3,500 extra calories!
The bottom line: Save dining out for special occasions. When you prep most of your meals at home, you’ll almost certainly take in fewer calories—a huge boon for your weight and health.