Dieters Beware, Calorie Counts Are Off

Discussion
Jan 08, 2010

By George Anderson

If
you’ve made a resolution to lose some weight and haven’t, even though you’ve
been diligently counting calories, there could be a good reason for that.
The calories listed on your frozen entrees from the supermarket and those
posted by your favorite restaurant may be much higher than advertised.

A
study published in the current month’s Journal of the American Dietetic
Association
found that menu items at 10 chain restaurants contained calories
that were 18 percent higher on average than listed.

In
the frozen food case, brands including Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, South
Beach Living and Weight Watchers were eight percent higher than labeled.

Researchers
said that the difference in actual calories was not a ruse being played out
against unsuspecting consumers but boiled down to portion sizes, variations
in ingredients and testing methods. The Food and Drug Administration requires
packaged food to be within the 20 percent margin of the calories listed on
packaging.

Bob
Bertini, a spokesperson for Wendy’s, told The Associated Press, “Since
our food is prepared to order by restaurant teams, there can be small variances
in the calorie count. For example, one sandwich might have a bit more mustard
or ketchup. The next sandwich, the customer might choose to leave off the
lettuce and tomato.”

Marion
Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, said most people
don’t understand that calories listed on menus or packages are not exact.

“It
would never occur to me that the calories posted on menu boards are anything
close to reality,” she told The Associated Press.

Discussion
Questions: Do most consumers understand that calorie counts are
intended as a guide and not a hard number? Will this report negatively
affect consumer confidence in restaurant and frozen food brands?

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8 Comments on "Dieters Beware, Calorie Counts Are Off"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 4 months ago

As long as calorie counts are not off by large margins, the discrepancies should not undermine consumer confidence. What’s more important is the serving size that accounts for the calories. It’s hard for consumers to picture that size in relationship to the number of calories.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 4 months ago

I believe that most consumers rely on those labels as gospel when shopping. Look at some of the labels themselves. Phrases like Nutrition Facts instills a level of confidence in the numbers presented. Restaurant and fast food nutrition guides should only be taken as estimates. You will probably see fine print warnings somewhere indicating approximate values, etc.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 4 months ago

We have been bombarded in recent years to “cut calories” and lose weight. That overkill has made us a bit leery of eating things we might otherwise prefer. Now we hear that calories in frozen foods and in restaurant entrees are being understated by as much 18%. Now that we are kind of educated, common sense is kicking in. We now eat what we like but do it more prudently.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 4 months ago
One solution for restaurants is to use a range for calories. This helps a consumer understand that portion size and ingredients will vary. I agree with Max Goldberg for restaurants; as long as the variance is small, it should be fine for consumers. Portions with larger variances may want to use a range. For pre-packaged foods including frozen meals, I believe the calories and all other information need to be dead on or a range should be used. People who are truly watching calories, cholesterol, sugar, or salt intake depend on the labeling to be accurate. The other area that still needs to be improved is portion size on labels. You don’t open a sports drink and expect not to finish it. That said, most bottles have 2.5 servings on the label. This is misleading, in my opinion. If you expect a consumer to finish what they open in one sitting, list the calories, sugar, etc, appropriately. Let the consumer do the division if they feel like saving some for later.
Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 4 months ago

I agree with Gene, and as I mentioned yesterday. Moderation, moderation, moderation. Eat fresh and healthy as often as you can. Take a break with the frozen foods, and then make sure you exercise.

People need to realize you need to change your behavior. Exercise and moderation are the keys. I am almost 40 and weigh the same as I did in college. I ride or run every morning (listening to or reading the Wall Street Journal) and then try to work out 3-4 days a week.

You will find that you need less sleep and are WAY more productive.

Mark Plona
Guest
Mark Plona
11 years 4 months ago
Of course the “calorie” should only be treated as a guide. After all, the device used to measure them (albeit improved since) was invented in the 1800s. We can certainly do better than that in terms of technology, and consumers know it. Consumers also know that 100 calories of strawberries would affect you differently than 100 calories of chocolate, nutritionally speaking. Therefore, the integrity of the nutrition label is key. Today’s consumers are realizing that the claims made on the nutritional label are as much a part of the marketing of the product as the front of the package and are thus reading into the ingredients. You need to look no further than the reaction to High Fructose Corn Syrup as evidence of this. To an educated consumer, sometimes the trade-off to make claims like “Low Fat” aren’t worth it, as may be the case for some peanut butters–just as that educated consumer also knows what a realistic serving size really is. Ultimately, there are more and more consumers that are “in the know” as… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
11 years 4 months ago

I’m sure consumers would prefer accurate calorie counts or fairly precise estimates over a range. One concern is that if individual brands develop a reputation for under counting calories, they will be in for a drubbing via social media.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 4 months ago

Did any of the restaurant or frozen foods have fewer calories than published? I guess that’s like asking how many motorists fudge the speed limit downwards rather than upwards. If you buy the rationalization offered by restaurants and manufacturers–“there can be small variances in calorie count”–then it stands to reason there would be as many calorie counts below the target as above. Who do they think they’re kidding?

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