Can You Trust Calorie Counts on Menus?
If you want the most accurate picture of your nutritional intake, your best bet is to dine exclusively at fast food restaurants. No, really. A 2011 study, revisited by ABC News earlier this month, compared the nutritional content that chain restaurants self-reported, and the analysis done in their own labs. The results? Many calorie counts at restaurants are off by as many as 420 calories. The most accurate restaurant of the bunch? McDonald’s.
Now, of course, we would never advocate a switch to a diet made up exclusively of Egg McMuffins and french fries — ever! Accurate calorie counting does not a healthy food make. It’s the opposite, in fact. The reason that McDonald’s, and other fast food restaurants, so accurately report their calorie count is because, well, their food is so processed. With everything meticulously prepared before it even ends up in a kitchen, it’s a lot easier to measure quality. The least accurate calorie counts tended to come from meals with more variables, such as, how much oil the cook uses, for instance. Sit-down restaurant meals were more likely to stray from the reported calorie count than fast food restaurants.
Another alarming finding? Over half of “low calorie” dishes researchers analyzed had more calories than the chain restaurant claimed.
You may not see calories on your menus yet, but be prepared for it to become the norm. Next year, a federal law goes into effect mandating chain restaurants, vending machines and convience stores provide nutritional information on their menus. Similar laws already exist in a few states, counties and cities across the United States.
So what to make of all of this — especially to those of us who aren’t obsessive calorie counters? Take a closer look at that “healthy” meal at a chain restaurant — if it sounds too good to be true, it just might be.