If you’ve been counting calories in an attempt to lose weight, your efforts may be pointless, especially when trying to account for restaurant foods. Researchers from Tufts University analyzed 269 meals from 42 restaurants, and found that a whopping 19% of dishes had at least 100 more calories than advertised. No wonder some foods seem almost too good to be true—they probably are not.
The study found that sit-down restaurants, as opposed to fast-food chains, had higher rates of inaccurate labels, most likely due to a less regimented food preparation; extra salad dressing or varying amounts of mayonnaise can significantly change the calorie content of a meal. The USDA estimates that people eat out about three times per week, and the extra calories could contribute to weight gain. Leading researcher Susan Roberts said, “a hundred extra calories a day is not inconsequential . . . it adds up to about ten pounds of extra weight a year. “ She added that the worse calorie discrepancies tended to be with salads, soups, and side dishes.
Federal law states that restaurants with over 20 locations must have calorie information available. And FDA regulations say that packaged food may contain up to 8% more calories than advertised, while chain restaurants can be up to 18% wrong.
Linda Van Horn, Ph.D. of Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine said that more problematic than inaccurate calorie counts is the fact that not many people even consider caloric information before ordering food, nor do they know how to use that information to their benefit. She said, “All the labeling in the world isn’t going to help if people don’t know what they need.”
Maybe we should rely less on numbers and more on common sense, if we cannot even trust the numbers. Calorie-counting is maybe even outdated anyway, according to studies saying that we should focus more on nutrient density of foods rather than how low in calories they are.
Do you count calories? Are there any restaurant foods you’re suspicious of?