Are Restaurant Calorie Guides Accurate?

Almost every restaurant offers nutritional information these days. Even fast food chains like McDonalds list the calorie content of their menu items. Unfortunately, they might not be all that accurate.

What’s On Your Plate?

When it comes to estimating calorie content accurately, fast food restaurants actually came in ahead of sit-down restaurants. Not that a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese is “good” for you, but at least you know what you are getting. Real Evidence Researchers lead by Susan Roberts of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University looked at 269 dishes from 42 restaurants, including Denny’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Olive Garden. While some restaurants were accurate, and some dishes even contained fewer calories, most were higher by as much as 300 calories. Need an Example? Say you go to PF Chang’s and order a simple bowl of brown rice. At the menu’s listed 190 calories, it isn’t a diet buster. But the study shows that this rice actually had 287 more calories. That’s almost 500 calories for that rice; for that “price,” you could have added protein from chicken or nutrients from vegetables. Tortilla chips and salsa can be a good alternative to potato chips and dip. If you go to On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina, you may opt to share an appetizer with friends. For 430 calories, it can be a good treat with your drink. But the study shows that the appetizer has about 1000 calories more than listed. The Dilemma Most people eat about 35 percent of their food out, and if you’re trying to lose weight, this could be your biggest source of frustration. Even “healthy” options may be more calorically rich than you think. The study’s advice? If you think you’re eating too much, you probably are, despite what the menu may say. Trust your instincts, and don’t let portion control fly by the wayside.