Monday, January 11, 2010
According to researchers at Yale University, including calorie counts on menus seem to affect diner's choices. But what use is that if the reported calorie counts are wildly inaccurate?
A report in next month's Journal of the American Dietetic Association finds that the published calorie counts for so-called "reduced calorie" meals served at various chain restaurants were wildly inaccurate. On average, the actual calories were almost 20% higher, but the range of discrepancy was huge.
Some of the tested entrees contained fewer calories than advertised. For example, a slice of thin-crust cheese pizza from Domino's was listed at 180 calories but actually provided only 141. Several others were within 5% of the menu listings. A Taco Bell Crunchy Beef Taco was exactly as advertised: 191 calories.
However, an order of Szechuan-style asparagus from P.F. Chang's, which was listed at 260 calories, actually contained 558. And the Taco Bell Chicken Taco Salad, listed as 326 calories, was actually 607 calories.
In some cases, the serving size was the culprit. A side order of grits from Denny's is listed at 86 calories on the menu, for example. However, the 262-gram serving delivered to the table was twice as large as the 113-gram serving listed on the menu. Total calories: 258. Always be careful of SUPERSIZING specials.
Another problem was that low-calorie entrees often come with free side dishes that are not included in the posted calorie counts for the dish. For example, the petite sirloin steak served at Ruby Tuesday's weighed at 118 grams, exactly as advertised and, at 244 calories, actually came in slightly under the posted calorie count of 271. However, it came with a side of broccoli and a baked potato, which added another 667 calories to the meal.
Obviously putting calorie counts on menus is only going to help diners moderate their caloric intake if they bear some resemblance to reality. In the meantime, I'd take them with a grain of salt. If what arrives at your table looks like way too much food for the advertised calorie counts, it probably is. Be familiar with and pay attention to portion sizes. For example, do you know what a 118g (4-ounce) steak looks like? Check out this Portion Control Slide Show from WebMD( link is proved on this post located by the arrow). And finally, be aware of extras and sides that aren't included in the posted calorie counts.