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Restaurant Calorie Counts Are Often Inaccurate — Do You Trust Them?

Do You Trust Calorie Counts on Restaurant Menus?

As more and more restaurants start labeling their menu choices with calorie counts, you may think dining out has gotten easier for your diet. Turns out, however, that those calorie labels may not be telling you the full story. A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that calorie counts on menus at fast food restaurants and sit-down chains like McDonalds, Chipotle, and Olive Garden are often inaccurate. Only seven percent of the sample meals the researchers tested were within 10 calories of their stated counts, and 20 percent of the meals tested differed by more than 100 calories.

Even more bad news: the researchers found that restaurants were more likely to underestimate the calories in healthier food options like salad or soup. Of course, since proportions and ingredients depend on the chef preparing it, restaurant meals can never clock in at the exact amount of calories that's on the menu, but it's surprising that certain meals could be much more than you think.

When you dine out, do you use restaurant calorie counts as a guide, or do you check ingredient lists to decide on what to order?

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Join The Conversation
amber512 amber512 6 years
Yes! The serving size really matters. I actually got a small banana sundae from Dairy Queen the other day and online it says it's supposed to be something like 163 grams, so I weighed it and it was 260! Quite a bit more calories than I had thought. But it was delicious :)
Vanonymous Vanonymous 6 years
Another thing I've learned to pay close attention to is what the serving size is for the calories they list. I was recently going to Pizzeria Uno so I looked at their nutrition menu online. Their veggie burger was listed as 200 calories. I thought that seemed low for anything that came with a bun so I looked more closely - 1 veggie burger has "2 servings". In fact, all of their burgers and sandwiches were "2 servings" each. So, that's definitely one way that they make their foods look healthier.
KeLynns KeLynns 6 years
I use them as a general guideline. Somewhere like McDonald's, where everything is exactly the same everywhere, I think they're probably pretty accurate. But at Olive Garden or anything else where (I assume) someone does a little more preparation in-house than just unwrapping a frozen burger shipped to them from a warehouse and pressing a button on a ketchup machine, I assume the counts are about 20% off.
Giasbash6260 Giasbash6260 6 years
I look @ them but don't think anything really of them because I ALWAYS modify what I order... I put dressings on the side, ask for no croutons, cheese or fatty meats and take off the nuts, etc... so I know what I order is healthy and MAJORLY different in terms of calories from what's listed.
amber512 amber512 6 years
I'm more in the middle, I use them as a guide, but I know how inaccurate they can be.
merricontrari merricontrari 6 years
I almost never pay any attention to them. The only time I have is when I'm deciding between two different options, and then, if its available, I might factor in the calorie count. But of course I know how inaccurate they are, so they really don't matter at all. Haha.
gumdrops334 gumdrops334 6 years
I guess I trust them too much. I don't think about the fact that a turkey sandwich at one Subway is different from another, but they definitely pile on different amounts of ingredients. Sigh...
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