Menu Calorie Counts Often Inaccurate; Food Boredom and Weight Loss

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Menu Calorie Counts Often Inaccurate
If you’re carefully counting calories, you may want to proceed with caution when using restaurant calorie listings, according to new research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

As reported by researchers, approximately 35% of calories in American diets come from restaurant food. The study authors purchased 269 items from 42 fast-food and sit-down restaurants in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Arkansas, then measured the number of calories the foods contained compared to the corresponding calorie counts provided by the eateries on their menus or Web sites. Among the establishments included in the study were Burger King, McDonald’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, and Chuck E. Cheese.

Of the foods tested, only 7% were within 10 calories of what the restaurants listed, and nearly 20% of the foods had at least 100 more calories than stated. At sit-down restaurants, the average discrepancy per item was 225 calories, while at fast-foods establishments, the calorie estimates were off by an average of roughly 134 calories. An extra 100 calories eaten daily over the course of the year could potentially add up to 10 to 15 pounds, according to lead study author Susan Roberts, PhD.


Seventeen of the foods had discrepancies of more than 250 calories compared to what was stated. The researchers repurchased 13 of these items and found that, on average, this subset of foods contained 273 calories more than their listed calorie counts.

The study authors note that “Although our study showed that stated energy contents in restaurants are relatively accurate on average, thus supporting greater availability of this information, projected benefits for preventing weight gain and facilitating weight loss are likely to be reduced if restaurant foods with lower stated energy contents provide more energy content than stated.”

Whether or not consumers often use menu calorie counts to make food choices is up for debate — one study indicated that parents use the information to make better food choices for their children, but not for themselves — but according to Susan Algert, RD, “This may be a word of caution that people are always better off eating at home.”

To learn more about the study, read the article “Restaurant Calorie Counts Not Always Accurate” or see the study’s abstract in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Food Boredom and Weight Loss
Looking for a way to lose some of that weight you may have gained dining out? Researchers at the University of Buffalo are looking into one possible, if dull, way to shed those pounds — bore your palate.

Many of us are probably familiar with the experience of indulging in a favorite song or food until we tire of it. Scientists call this phenomenon “habituation,” in which “repeated exposure to a stimulus leads to a decrease in responding.” To study habituation in relation to food consumption, researchers recruited 32 women — half of them obese and half of them non-obese — and divided the participants into two groups, each group having equal numbers of overweight and normal-weight women.

Both groups were instructed to complete a task for 28 minutes and then given a 125-calorie portion of macaroni and cheese, with access to as many extra helpings as they wanted. Each group completed this routine on five occasions, one group on five consecutive days, the other group once a week over the course of five weeks.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the women assigned to receive the macaroni and cheese on a daily basis had decreased their intake by approximately 30 calories per session, while the women who were presented with the food only once a week had increased their consumption by roughly 100 calories per session. The study authors concluded that the first group had grown tired of the food, and suggest that the research may provide a starting point for determining how frequently a food should be eaten so that it is satisfying but not overly tempting.

For more information about this research, see the article “How Repetitive Foods Can Mean Weight Loss” or the study’s abstract in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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