Whether it's visiting your favorite pizza place every weekend or the posh restaurant you waited months to get reservations at, eating out will damage your health, if this new research published in Public Health Nutrition is anything to go by. According to the study, eating out, either at fast food joints or full-service restaurants, causes a significant increase in the intake of calories, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.

The study finds that on days adults ate out they consumed an average 200 extra calories. Previous studies have showed that Americans spend nearly half of their food budget on eating in restaurants or take outs. And though restaurants also offer healthy choices, people choose to eat food high in calories, sodium, and saturated fats.  They also miss out on the nutrition provided by fruits, vegetables, and vitamins that people eating home-cooked food get.

For the current study, Binh T. Nguyen of the American Cancer Society and Lisa M. Powell of University of Chicago used more recent data from more than 12,000 respondents between the ages of 20 and 64 taking part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003 (NHANES). The respondents were asked about their visits to fast food joints and full-service restaurants on two successive days.

The study found on days when eating at a fast food restaurant, there was a net increase of total energy intake (194.49 kcal), saturated fat (3.48 grams), sugar (3.95 grams) and sodium (296.38 milligrams). Eating at a full-service restaurant was also associated with an energy intake (205.21 kcal), and with higher intake of saturated fat (2.52 grams) and sodium (451.06 milligrams).

"The United States is one of the most obese nations in the world, with more than one in three adult men and women in defined as obese," Dr. Binh Nguyen, of the American Cancer Society, said in a press release. "Just as obesity rates rise, there's been a marked increase in total energy consumption consumed away from home, with about one in four calories coming from fast food or full-service restaurants in 2007." The study, she added, confirms that adults' food consumption at both types of eateries is linked to higher daily total energy intake and poorer dietary indicators.  

The study also found that negative impacts on diet were larger for lower-income groups and certain ethnicities. Fast food consumption greatly increased the sugar, fat, and sodium intake in these groups. These findings should lead to some change in policies, say the researchers. They say efforts to provide a balanced, nutritious diet and reduce energy intake from restaurant sources could actually help to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities in Americans' diets.

But if you still feel the urge to once in a while dash into a diner, then follow these tips offered by the American Heart Association to choose your restaurant and the menu, to enjoy a soulful, healthy meal.

Source: Nguyen B, Powell L, The impact of restaurant consumption among US adults: effects on 2 energy and nutrient intakes. Public Health Nutrition. 2014.