Americans, especially young men with with more money who happen to be non-Hispanic blacks, love eating out. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in October 2018 revealed one in three adults consume fast food on any given day.

The national penchant for eating "persistent low quality" fast food meals, however, has given fast food restaurants a bad name as far as nutrition and healthy diets go. It's also harming our food health. A new study published in The Journal of Nutrition shows half of the meals Americans ate in full-service restaurants in 2015 and 2016 -- and 70 percent of their fast food orders -- were of poor diet quality.

“Food is now the single biggest cause of poor health in this country and that makes it the single biggest opportunity to improve health,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author of the study and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said.

Using the American Heart Association’s healthy diet score, the study analyzed the nutritional quality of restaurant meals consumed. The healthy diet score gives the highest grades to meals with plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. It also gives high scores to meals low on salt, sugar, saturated fat and processed meats.

The study discovered less than 0.1 percent of the restaurant meals were of “ideal quality” when measured by this standard. In addition, it found the average nutritional quality for all types of restaurant meals was low. Researchers were also surprised and disappointed by the low amounts of fruits and vegetables in both full-service and fast food meals.

The study also said on any given day during the study period, 30 percent of the participants ate a meal prepared by a full-service eatery. Almost half, or 46 percent, ate fast food. Fast food breakfasts accounted for almost 8 percent of all the breakfasts reported.

“The problem is when people just look at the calories and try to make a decision, they could be led astray,” Mozaffarian added. “It’s always better to eat 1,000 calories of healthy food -- rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, fish and healthy oils -- than to eat 800 calories of unhealthy food rich in starch, sugar and salt.”

Mozaffarian believed part of the problem is awareness. He argued people will be more likely to make a change if they truly understand how important nutrition is for health. It would also help if the government made policy changes and incentives that make healthy foods less expensive and more available.

The findings are based on the food selections of more than 35,000 adults across the U.S. The respondents took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 until 2016, and were asked to recall everything they ate during a 24-hour period.

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Eat your dinner by 6 p.m. to improve metabolism. Pixabay