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Originally published May 17, 2012 at 8:32 PM | Page modified May 18, 2012 at 6:57 AM

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Chain restaurants don't meet U.S. nutrition guidelines, study says

Ninety-six percent of main entrees sold at top U.S. chain eateries exceed daily limits for calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, study finds.

Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES — Many restaurants have been advertising their efforts to offer healthful choices, but researchers say nearly all the entrees they reviewed at 245 U.S. chains fail to meet federal guidelines.

For a study published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers looked at the nutritional content of 30,923 menu items, including those from children's menus, at 245 brands of restaurants.

They found that 96 percent failed to meet recommendations for the combination of calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The restaurants included fast-food, buffet, takeout, family style and upscale ones, said Helen Wu, one of the authors and an assistant policy analyst at the RAND Corp. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Most entrees did not exceed 667 calories, one-third of the calories the USDA estimates the average adult needs each day, said Wu and Roland Sturm, senior economist at RAND.

But they found that few entrees met recommended limits when considering calories, sodium, saturated fat and fat combined.

The sodium count often put a restaurant over the USDA's daily recommended limit for most adults, 2,300 mg.

The entrees in family-style restaurants — such as Pizza Hut, Red Lobster and Denny's — often topped fast-food restaurants on fat and sodium content: 271 more calories on average, and 16 grams more fat and 435 mg more sodium, Wu said.

Wu and Sturm also discovered that appetizers have more calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium than all other types of menu items. From the sample studied, appetizers had an average of 813 calories a serving.

Chicken wings with dip were a big culprit, Wu said, adding: "I'm not ordering chicken wings anymore."

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