New Study Suggests Fast Food Is Better For You Than Fast Casual

Your fast-casual order probably has way more calories than fast food

If you think you're automatically making a smarter decision by choosing fast casual over fast food, you may need to think again. According to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, meals from fast-casual restaurants tend to have higher calorie counts than fast-food meals.

The study surveyed more than two dozen fast-food and fast-casual chains, and found that on average, an entrée at a fast-food joint has 560 calories versus 760 at a fast-casual place.

The FDA's recent update to nutritional labels, featuring calorie counts that are three times bigger than any other piece of information, calls attention to the current emphasis on calorie intake. Still, as critics of the new labels point out, calories shouldn't be an isolated measure of what's healthy or not.

In an article by Reuters, dietitian Lauren Graf warns of the study's emphasis on calories alone: "It can distract customers from what makes foods healthy—nutrient density, fiber content, antioxidants, quality of the fat, etc. It's important to look at health more holistically," she says.

Indeed, dietitian Melissa Rifkin tells Reuters that from a nutritional standpoint, fast-casual restaurants often tend to offer healthier options.

The researchers behind this recent study agree. Though they did not evaluate nutritional value, lead researcher Danielle Schoffman tells Reuters that she hopes to tackle that next. When in doubt, just be smart about it: If the fast-casual burrito you just ordered for lunch is bigger than your head, maybe you should save half for later.