Palo Alto Medical Foundation Newsroom

PAMF Researchers Study Healthiness of U.S. Chain Restaurants

GrellinNew Website Points Consumers to Healthiest Places to Eat Out

In a recent study, researchers at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI) ranked the healthiness of 150 national chain restaurants in the United States. The 2013 study was lead by Primary Investigator Lenny Lesser, M.D., MSHS, a family medicine physician at PAMFRI, and funded in part by The California Endowment. Dr. Lesser presented the team’s research – and the launch of a new interactive rating system and website for consumers that shares information on which chain restaurants are healthier than others – on November 19, 2014 at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

“With this transparent data, consumers can see which chain restaurants are actually ‘healthier’ places to eat,” Dr. Lesser said in announcing the new Grellin website. “Restaurants often claim they are ‘healthy’ by adding one or two wholesome items on a menu filled with unhealthy food. The new Grellin Grade tells consumer what percent of the restaurant’s menu is actually healthy.”

Lenny Lesser, M.D.

Lenny Lesser, M.D.

According to Dr. Lesser, consumers can use the Grellin website to see where they can find a nutritious meal and judge the healthiest menu options. The rankings and information are available on the web via computer or mobile devices.

The Grellin Grade uses a combination of technology and nutrition science to compute the grades. The grades take into account both the nutrients (calories, sodium and fat) of the food and the estimated amounts of fruit and vegetable in the food.

Each food in Grellin gets ranked as unhealthy or healthy, based on its nutrient and food components. These foods are then summed up for each restaurant, with each restaurant getting a Grellin Grade from 0-100. A “100” means 100 percent of the items at that restaurant are healthy. Some restaurants that ranked a zero do not release enough information to the public so they could not be scored.

“The goal is to give people objective information about which restaurants are likely to be healthier for families and children,” said Dr. Lesser. “I hope that restaurants will compete for customers on their healthiness of their menu, rather than just the price. If a chain restaurant’s score is low, it begs the question: how can they provide healthier choices to their customers?”

Learn more about the PAMF Research Institute.

Learn more about Grellin Grade at and follow Grellin on Twitter at @grellingrade.