Are menu calories accurate?

July 20, 2011 5:28:20 AM PDT
Fighting the battle of the bulge means being aware of the amount of calories we take in. That's the reason many restaurants list calories on their menus. But are these accurate?

The answer, some researchers found out, is both yes and no.

Half of us eat out at least 3 meals a week. And that means sometimes making decisions on food based on calorie counts stated by the restaurants.

Some of us use the information. Others don't.

But are we getting the right information? Dr. Susan Roberts and her colleagues from Tufts University decided to find out.

They evaluated fast food and sit down restaurant meals in 3 states back at their lab, they weighed it, and analyzed it in the standard scientific manner to get an accurate calorie count.

They compared their findings to the stated amounts on the menus. Overall all the foods considered together, there was not a huge difference in the measured and stated calories.

"Fast food restaurants are doing pretty well in terms of quality control it's really the sit-down restaurants that need to examine their quality control and step up to the plate better," Dr. Roberts said.

Individual foods varied greatly. Soups and salad had large variations. Pizzas surprisingly were pretty accurate.

Of the 269 food items measured, 40 percent contained at least 10 calories more than was stated on the menu. 19 percent of the items contained at least 100 or more calories than those stated. And 52 percent had at least 10 calories less, than was on the menu.

The pluses and minuses could even out for dieters. Or, they could be a problem.

"Nobody can lose weight if they are eating out and receiving hundreds of thousands more calories than they think because portion control and how many calories you're actually eating is a major factor in weight regulations," Dr. Roberts said.

The study is published in the journal of the American Medical Association. One food was found to have a thousand calories more than stated on the menu. It was a shock even for the researchers.