Healthy Options Not so Healthy at Restaurants

Restaurants have inaccurate calorie count for healthy food options

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many restaurants have started providing healthier food options along with the calorie count on their menus. While their efforts are in the right direction, you can’t trust all the numbers.

Even chain restaurants are trying to help battle the obesity epidemic by providing healthier options. After analyzing the calorie counts of these foods, though, researchers have found the numbers posted aren’t always accurate.

"Restaurant menus can't count...calories."

Senior author Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging from Tufts University, found that 19 percent of healthy food options from fast-food and chain restaurants were at least 100 calories over the listed amount. One item they found was even 1000 calories more than what was listed.

The researchers randomly measured 269 food items from national fast-food restaurants and sit-down chain restaurants in Boston, Indianapolis and Little Rock, Arkansas.

The researchers found that healthy food options at sit-down restaurants tended to be more fattening than the published numbers. So what’s supposed to be 300 calories, a suitable amount for weight loss or control, tended to be 90 calories more than listed.

Even foods that are seemingly healthy like salads and soups have unreliable calorie counts.

While most of the foods they measured had accurate calorie counts, more attention is needed to ensure all foods are listed correctly – especially lower calorie foods, Roberts says. Restaurant foods - sit-down or fast-food - account for one third of an average American’s daily food intake, so it is really important that calorie listings are accurate, she notes.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 21, 2011
Last Updated:
July 24, 2011