HEART UK study finds high street restaurants serve meals with four times recommended saturated fat

Many high street restaurants and fast food chains serve meals with four times of the UK’s national maximum daily recommended levels of saturated fat in a single meal according to research conducted by HEART UK – The Cholesterol Charity.

The research identified the top 10 restaurant and takeaway food chains that were highest in saturated fat, comparing sample meals from 16 chains. The meals were based on what is typically available and information compiled from each restaurant website.

It found that the top three food chains with the greatest saturated fat content were all Italian with Zizzi (number one 410% of saturated fat RI), ASK (number two, 400% of saturated fat RNI) and Pizza Express (number three, 362.50% of saturated fat RI) the worst offenders.

HEART UK Dietetic Adviser, Linda Main, said “High street restaurants should seriously consider how irresponsible they are by serving such unhealthy meals. The saturated fat content of these meals is incredibly high and will shock customers who are unwittingly eating over four times the acceptable daily amount.

“While we accept that most restaurants now offer healthier options, it does not excuse them from making these extremely unhealthy options available. Many of the meals were also excessively high in energy, sugar and salt as well as saturated fat.

“Regularly eating more energy and saturated fat than our bodies need can lead to obesity and unhealthy cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and the chance of an early heart attack or stroke.”

The HEART UK research was based on three items from each menu which included a main course, and depending on the availability, a starter and dessert, or a drink and a side.

Zizzi (number one) contained the highest saturated fat Reference Intake (RI), at 410%. The sample meal included the fonduta formaggi starter, followed by a zucca rustica pizza and a vanilla pannacotta.

KFC (number 10) contained the least amount of saturated fat RNI, with 116.50% in the sample meal, which included a pulled chicken twister, fries and a Krushem milky bar milkshake.

Pizza Hut (number six, 262% of saturated fat RI) contained the lowest amount of saturated fat content of all of the Italian chains that were analysed. The sample meal included garlic bread, half a large BBQ meat feast pizza with stuffed crust and a chocolate chip cookie dough.

The pattern continued as fast food brand Shake Shack (number seven) contained 235% of saturated fat RNI, Burger King (number eight) had 185% of saturated fat RNI and McDonalds (number nine) contained 136% of saturated fat RI. On the other hand, popular restaurant chain Harvester (number four) had 330% of saturated fat RI and the Gourmet Burger Kitchen sample meal (number five) produced 302.50% of saturated fat RI.

Tom Sanders, HEART UK Nutritional Director added: “People are eating out regularly every week especially younger people so the potential impact of these unhealthy dishes for their long-term heart health is real worry.

“Heart attacks remain one of the most avoidable causes of death affecting middle-aged men and women. The risk of a heart attack can be avoided by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet which is low in saturated fat and salt. Far too often portion sizes are too big and there is too much fatty meat, few vegetables with many dishes overloaded with cheese toppings and salt.”

“Whilst nutritional signposting information is provided on packaged foods there is a lack of accessible information for people in restaurants to help them make healthier choices”

Saturated fat increases the levels of cholesterol in the blood, especially our ‘bad’ cholesterol which doctors refer to as LDL cholesterol.  Saturated fats are found in a wide range of animal foods including fatty meats, butter, lard, full fat dairy and in palm and coconut oils too.  

Eating less saturated fat, and very importantly replacing it with vegetable fats such as those found in nuts and seeds, helps lower the level of harmful cholesterol in the blood and reduces the overall risk of having a heart attack.

HEART UK have written to the top ten offenders urging them to consider improving the nutritional profile of their meals, in particular to reduce the amount of saturated fat and to implement some form of traffic light system on their menus.

The UK population on average gets 12.6% of their total energy intake (kJ/kcal) from saturated fats, which is slightly above the 11% maximum recommended by the government.

The UK’s dietary recommendations are that the average man should aim to have no more than 11% of their daily food energy as saturated fat which roughly equates to a maximum of 30g per day for an average man and 20g a day for an average woman. Reference Intakes (for food labelling purposes) use 20g as a daily guide for all members of the family but clearly younger children (5-11’s) should be eating proportionally less. 

The European Food Safety Authority advised that saturated fat and trans fat intakes, because of their negative effect on cholesterol levels should be as low as possible.  


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