Time Magazine reported that in a recent study by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University the lowest calorie menu items at dozens of popular restaurant chains actually contain more calories than are listed on the menu. Forty-two restaurants were reviewed in the report, about 269 food items; and restaurants named in the study included Olive Garden, McDonald’s, Outback, and Boston Market.
Susan Roberts, the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at USDA says that the calorie amounts they got back from their tests were on average 100 calories over the menu count. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but the practice of counting calories for weight loss and/or health reasons is on the rise as people are becoming more aware of and making healthier decisions when it comes to what to eat. And the unaccounted for calories that diners may be taking in ordering off these low-calorie menus can potentially represent up to 15 pounds of weight gain over the course of a year. All other things constant, that’s two pants sizes!
But before we all get bent out of shape, remember that in life all other things are not constant, you don’t always finish every meal that you eat while you’re out or perhaps you don’t even dine out on a consistent basis, and there are many other ways that a person can find to gain weight. Restaurants could argue that the calorie counts displayed on menus are representative of the average amount of calories over several different plates of the same meal and no two plates are going to be identical. So there really is no way to guarantee a certain calorie count on any plate every time.
Roberts told Time, “Anybody trying to lose weight or avoid gaining weight — and that’s about 50% 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.” Surprisingly, discrepancies were less prevalent in fast food restaurant menu items, but then again portions are more controlled and uniform in fast food establishments.
So whether it’s the restaurants misrepresenting their low-calorie selections purposely or whether it’s an honest mistake because it’s too difficult to keep track; calorie counts on menus should be taken with a grain of salt. Or rather just use them as a guideline and make sure to leave some room for error . . . . And while you’re at it, leave some of your most likely overly large portion on your plate!
- New Study: Calorie Counts on Menus Can’t Be Trusted (healthland.time.com)
- Restaurants’ Calorie Counts Are Wrong, Research Finds (livescience.com)
- Dieting? Calorie info in menus may mislead (abclocal.go.com)
- Some Restaurant Calorie Counts May Be Inaccurate (webmd.com)