The calorie content of restaurant food is sometimes greater than what those restaurants report. Surprised? I was. I really trusted those guys.
After analyzing the calorie content of food from quick-serve and sit-down restaurants, researchers at Tufts University found that, on average, the calorie content of the food weighed in at 18 percent higher than the restaurant reported values.
Researchers compared the gross energy, or total calorie content, of a dish obtained at a restaurant to the restaurant reported calorie information for that dish. Nutrition labels normally report metabolizable energy, or the calories available to the body after some are burned off by digestion. The use of figures for metabolizable energy is consistent with FDA regulations for nutrition reporting.
As someone who often eats out, I religiously check nutrition information online before going to a restaurant. I suppose being able to rattle off how many calories are in a Taco Bell taco is useless if I am just going to eat four anyway. But that’s beyond the point. It never even occurred to me that the nutrition facts I have could be so off.
The researchers believed that the calorie discrepancy was partly due to the use of more high-calorie ingredients than those included in the restaurant counts, and also due to the restaurants’ dishing out portions bigger than those used to calculate calorie content.
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I will always argue against restricting the creativity of chefs by forcing them to micro-manage the food prepared. But, then again, we aren’t talking about Michelin 3-star dining here, just your local neighborhood chain. And, as a junk food junkie who shamefully admits to having scarfed down a few deep-fried onion flowers in her time, I also know how unhealthy the food I’m eating may be. My bad—I chose to eat it even though I know better. And, I assume that is the case for most consumers.
What’s not fair is if diners make a choice thinking they’re getting X amount of calories in X-sized serving, but are unknowingly eating more because the portion was bigger than the restaurant advertised. Not our faults.
If a restaurant is going to advertise a special 5 meals under 500 calories for 5 people 5 days a week after 5 P.M. menu, it had better make sure those entrees actually have 500 calories in them. Otherwise, that is just plain false advertising, my friends, and people have successfully sued for a lot less. (Coffee is supposed to be hot, no?)
But what about regular menu items?
I can’t as much as think about a piece of sushi without being warned about the lurking danger of food-borne illness. So, why not just warn me that there might be more calories in the food I’m eating than I might think? A simple “these nutrition facts are estimates meant to help our guests make informed choices,” would do the trick. Then we also know the lurking caloric danger and make an informed choice instead of blindly biting into a raw oyster or grande chimichanga thinking no repercussions could come of it. It may seem like a cop-out, but at least people would know they need to pay more attention to what they are eating. Dining out is a two-way street.
I’m going to stick to the drive-thru diet, though. I hear it works wonders.
- blog authored by Rebecca Dolan