How Accurate Are Calorie Counts, Anyway?

January 6, 2010 at 2:42 pm , by

fast foodI always groan a little when I read the calorie counts displayed next to each coffee, cake and cappuccino in Starbucks. A while ago, New York City passed a law requiring restaurant chains to post the number of calories in their foods. And believe me, it was a shock to find out how much could be hidden in a blueberry muffin.

The real kicker? These calorie labels may not even accurately reflect what you’re eating. According to a new study by Tufts University, the actual number of calories in quick-serve and sit-down restaurant foods may be about 18 percent higher than what’s printed on the menu. Frozen food meals can exceed their stated calorie counts by 8 percent. The FDA only requires that the actual caloric value packaged food be no more than 20 percent of its stated amount (there’s no range for restaurant foods). But for people trying to lose weight, those extra “hidden” calories can make a difference.

So when eating out, what can you do? Keep in mind these tips.

1. Beware of “free” side dishes: When you look at your entrée’s calorie count, be sure to factor in the extra calories from any side dishes. Side dishes alone can double your caloric intake at a meal.

2. Split an entrée or set aside half of your portion to take home. It’s probably a more accurate portion size.

Photo via ebruli