In an effort to meet consumer expectations and comply with new state regulations, most restaurants and fast food joints have begun listing calorie counts on their menus. This information is used by consumers to make educated and well thought-out decisions about their meals. It’s supposed to help fight obesity by allowing the health-conscious population to enjoy eating out without entirely giving up on their nutritional goals.
A study was recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association that exposes the truth about restaurant menus. According to CBS News, nearly one in every five restaurant menus contains inaccurate calorie counts. In most instances, the laboratory results revealed a measly 10 calorie difference. However, some menu items (close to 20 percent) contained more than 100 calories over what the menu claimed, with one dish setting the record for inaccuracy at being 1,000 calories off.
Overall, the fast food chains had more accurate calorie estimations than sit-down restaurants, the reason being menu items that are packaged off-site are more uniformly prepared. Although highly processed and mass produced food is typically frowned upon, in this case, it ensures an accurate reporting of calories and nutrition information. When food is freshly prepared in the kitchen, a larger nutritional margin is present because of inconsistency between chefs at different locations.
This isn’t permission to start eating at McDonald’s or Wendy’s every day. A healthy, reasonable diet (even with small indulgences!) always trumps counting the calories in junk food. When it comes down to it, this study provides one more reason to avoid eating out. Most importantly, it’s a reason to learn about the food you put in to your body. Knowing basic nutritional information, where the food comes from and how the dish is prepared, will help you make wise decisions in any situation.
When you do enjoy a meal out (whether it be drive-thru or sit-down) leave some wiggle room for the amount of calories you consume. Eat just a little bit less and focus more on quality over quantity because you can’t always count on the calorie estimation of a dish.