Restaurants Lying About the Amount of Calories in Their Food? You Don't Say

Categories: Fuming Foodie
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I knew it! Some restaurants, both sit down and fast food are downplaying the amount of calories in their menu items, according to an article at Susan Roberts, who directs the Energy Metabolism Laboratory of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University, says that "healthy" menu items are usually listed as having 100 fewer calories than they actually do.

These calorie counts are based on an the "average" of several preparations. "We found huge discrepancies," Roberts told Time. "Our statistician gave me this analogy: let's say you sell 10-lb. bags of sugar, and you sell 15-lb. bags to your friends and 5-lb. bags to your enemies, and you call them all 10 pounds. The average would be accurate but it wouldn't be fair to individual buyers. We found that's what may be happening in restaurants. Overall, the main calories on the plate were not very different from what was listed on websites. But low calorie foods that are appropriate for weight control have more calories than listed, and high calorie foods have less calories than listed."

In plain English, this means that the "healthy" meals at restaurants are the ones most likely to have this discrepancy. An extra 100 calories per meal can lead to a weight gain of over ten pounds in the course of a year.

Roberts continues, "Anybody trying to lose weight or avoid gaining weight -- and that's about 50 percent of the American public -- are ordering the lowest calorie foods when they eat out, so this is an important group of foods for American health. And the information about their calories is inaccurate."

Forty-two restaurants were used in the report, resulting in the study of 269 food items. Restaurants named in the study include Olive Garden, McDonald's, Outback, and Boston Market. The most popular menu items were ordered in Boston, Little Rock, and Indianapolis, frozen, and shipped to the lab to be analyzed.

Surprisingly, the discrepancy was more often found in sit-down restaurant food as opposed to fast food restaurant menu items. This is probably because fast food is scrutinized much more than the food at sit-down restaurants.

Shenanigans like these really get my blood boiling. As a diabetic, I need to know that nutritional information is accurate. A "miscalculation" of grams of sugar or carbohydrates can result in me ending up in a coma. This is an example of why I am slowly developing a phobia about eating out.

Why can't restaurants just report the nutritional content of their meals accurately? Oh, yeah -- because they care more about the peso than the American people.

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Man, sometimes these people who comment on New Times articles must be recovering from a 5 day bender. What a grouch!

Anyway, as a server for more than 3 years, I definitely believe that we under report the calories. Especially when the chefs decide it'll taste better with more butter or salt...

Foodie # 1
Foodie # 1

This is such a helpful article. I am also a Diabetic & like to read the calorie content in the food that I am about to scarf down. This article and the research done, should be mailed to all the restaurants listed above. Come to thinkn of it, also the FDA(Food & Drug Administration) and the National Diabetes Foundation.

Jon Heald
Jon Heald

Goyanes said "It also means that the high-calorie meals have more calories than listed.".

No it doesn't. Didn't you read what you quoted?

Roberts clearly said "high calorie foods have less calories than listed."

That's how AVERAGES work.

Ily Goyanes
Ily Goyanes

Thanks, Jon. I appreciate you pointing that out. And I know how averages work, that wasn't the issue. God bless. 

Jon Heald
Jon Heald

 Sorry about that...

Beyond that glaring error, this was an interesting article.

It's also interesting to consider the difference between the calculated calories, which are based on portion-controlled products, and the actual number of calories dosed out by restaurants. The calorie counts will only be accurate if the portions served are accurate.

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