Are you trying to count calories in order to lose weight? Be careful about relying on nutrition labels or calorie lists on restaurant menus for accurate calorie counts—researchers say that you could be consuming as much as twice as many calories as you think.
Researchers at Tufts University looked at the calorie information for 29 quick-serve and sit-down restaurant foods. They then did their own calorie analysis and found that the menu items contained an average of 18 percent more calories than the stated values. Seven of the restaurant foods contained more calories, with some having up to twice their stated amount of calories. In addition, five of the restaurants provided free side dishes with the meal, and researchers discovered that the free side dishes had an average number of calories that was actually higher than the original entree.
In addition to restaurant menu items, the Tufts researchers also looked at 10 frozen meals bought from supermarkets. These meals had an average of 8 percent more calories than what was printed on the labels. Three of the store-bought meals contained up to twice their stated amount of calories.
“These findings suggest that stated energy contents of reduced energy meals obtained from restaurants and supermarkets are not consistently accurate and, in this study, average more than measured values, especially when free side dishes were taken into account, which on average contained more energy than the entrees alone,” wrote the researchers.
Not only could this make it difficult for dieters to lose weight by counting calories, but the researchers also noted that it could “reduce the potential benefit of recent policy initiatives to disseminate information on food energy content at the point of purchase.”