J Acad Nutr Diet 2016 10 11;116(10):1606-12. Epub 2016 May 11.
Background: Frequently eating fast food has been associated with consuming a diet high in calories, and there is a public perception that fast-casual restaurants (eg, Chipotle) are healthier than traditional fast food (eg, McDonald's). However, research has not examined whether fast-food entrées and fast-casual entrées differ in calorie content.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether the caloric content of entrées at fast-food restaurants differed from that found at fast-casual restaurants.
Design: This study was a cross-sectional analysis of secondary data. Calorie information from 2014 for lunch and dinner entrées for fast-food and fast-casual restaurants was downloaded from the MenuStat database.
Outcome Measures: Mean calories per entrée between fast-food restaurants and fast-casual restaurants and the proportion of restaurant entrées that fell into different calorie ranges were assessed.
Statistical Analyses Performed: A t test was conducted to test the hypothesis that there was no difference between the average calories per entrée at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. To examine the difference in distribution of entrées in different calorie ranges between fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, χ(2) tests were used.
Results: There were 34 fast-food and 28 fast-casual restaurants included in the analysis (n=3,193 entrées). Fast-casual entrées had significantly more calories per entrée (760±301 kcal) than fast-food entrées (561±268; P<0.0001). A greater proportion of fast-casual entrées compared with fast-food entrées exceeded the median of 640 kcal per entrée (P<0.0001).
Conclusions: Although fast-casual entrées contained more calories than fast-food entrées in the study sample, future studies should compare actual purchasing patterns from these restaurants to determine whether the energy content or nutrient density of full meals (ie, entrées with sides and drinks) differs between fast-casual restaurants and fast-food restaurants. Calorie-conscious consumers should consider the calorie content of entrée items before purchase, regardless of restaurant type.