Fast Food and Restaurant Calorie Counts are Higher Than Advertised

A recent study discovered that the calories listed by many popular chain restaurants in the United States and in frozen processed meals sold in the grocery stores are understated by 10% to 18%.  The study calls into question the accuracy of the calorie amounts that are listed on packages or displayed by fast food chain restaurants in the United States and worldwide.

The study was published in the January edition of Journal of the American Dietetic Association and was conducted by nutrition experts.  The research looked at various menu offerings at restaurants including Wendy’s, Ruby Tuesday, McDonald’s, Denny’s, and Domino’s Pizza and noted that the average menu item was understated by 18% of calories.

The researchers in the study made a point to mention that it didn’t feel that the restaurants were intentionally trying to mislead consumers as to the amount of calories, but that the errors were probably a result of variances in portion sizes and ingredients.  The researchers were careful to mention that the marginally trained 17 year old preparing the sandwich might have added too much “special sauce” or mayonnaise which could have added to the high calorie count.

Also examined were processed frozen meals sold in grocery stores under the Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, South Beach Living, and Healthy Choice product lines.  The frozen meals examined were on average 8% higher than the listed amount of calories on the package. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for up to 20% variance on the printed calories from the actual calories in the product.

The moral of the story is that the calorie counts that you read, whether on the frozen entree box or on the wall poster at McDonald’s are probably lower than what you’re actually consuming.  In general, calorie counts should be used as general guidelines, not specific and exact amounts to be stringently relied upon.  You can read the original article on the study on CBC News here.

Photo Credit: Jeff Poskanzer on Wikimedia with a Creative Commons license.

2 Comments

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  1. John,

    10-18%! Look, if you are buying that meal (which I do at times), that percentage is not even significant. I hope my life never needs to be monitored by me or anyone else to that level of accuracy.

  2. Steve,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. On the rare occasion that I eat food of that nature, I couldn’t care less about the calories.

    But when you consider how many people are on a diet right now in the US (about 70% of college age women, and 40% of other women in the US, depending on the study you review), you realize that there’s this whole bizarre culture of calorie counting people for whom 50 or 75 extra calories in a meal/day is a self-imposed devastating event.

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