Sunday, 8 June 2008

Calories provided by restaurants can be deceiving

Remember that Seinfeld episode when Kramer introduces Jerry and Elaine to delicious non-fat frozen yogourt that they soon start indulging in? After a few days they both start noticing that they’re gaining weight and, after having the yogourt sample analyzed, discover that it was in fact not fat-free as advertised! Well, this same plot is playing out in real life, as discovered by ABC2 news in Baltimore.

ABC2 news decided to verify the accuracy of the advertised calorie and fat content of low fat/low calorie menu items at the following popular American restaurants: Applebee’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Taco Bell, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Chili’s and On the Border Mexican Grill. Selected food items were sent to labs for analysis.

Click below for the full results.

If we focus only on calories, there are quite a few discrepancies. Of the 23 items analyzed and that had a calorie content advertised by the restaurant, 11, or 48%, had 50 or more calories than was advertised. 5 of these had more than 100 calories than advertised and 1 had more than 500 calories!

On the flipside, 4 menu items had less calories than advertised- In fact, 3 of them had around 200 calories less.

The 3 biggest offenders on the plus side were:

Macaroni Grill’s- Pollo Magro or “Skinny Chicken”. Macaroni Grill listed this item as having 500 calories but the lab calculated a whopping 522 more calories: 1022 calories. It should be noted, however, that the bread and butter that was served with this meal was included in the lab analysis whereas it was probably not included in the calories listed by the restaurant.

Chili’s Guiltless Salmon- Listed by the restaurant as having 480 calories but analyzed as having 664 calories; 184 calories more.

Taco Bell’s Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco- Listed as having 160 calories by the restaurant but really having 137 more calories at 297 calories, according to the lab analysis.

The same company owns Chili’s, Macaroni Grill and On the Border and they released a statement saying: “We apologize to our valued guests. As such, we will be working to reinforce these menu standards.”

Applebee’s- that partners with Weight Watchers, Taco Bell and The Cheesecake Factory stick by the accuracy of their menus. A Taco Bell representative pointed out that Federal Guidelines allow them to be 20% off in their numbers.

Having calories of the menu items available to restaurant patrons is great but this report points out the necessity of having standards to ensure validity of the analyses.

In the meantime, use the calories listed as a guide but use your judgment as well.



Anonymous said...

Interesting! I was just talking to James the other day about how this fat free, sugar free frozen yogurt, called Alpha-1, I found in the city must be wrong on the cals. Taste way too good to be true. I did a search on it the other day and found that: "Alpha-1's Peanut Butter Frozen Yogurt, for example, had 129 calories in four ounces instead of the 47 calories claimed." So don't believe everything you read, or eat for that matter :)



Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Wow- that's so wrong. The other discrepancies they found (listed on the same site) are ridiculous too!