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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Questioning the Accuracy of Calorie Counts

We've blogged in the past about efforts to shed more light on the calorie content of food. When Kaiser Permanente started adding calorie information to menus in its hospital cafeterias, we were all for it. But now, a new study suggests that you might have to take some of those calorie counts with a grain of salt.

The Journal of the American Dietetic Association has just published a study that tested the accuracy of calorie counts at 10 chain restaurants. According to an article at the Huffington Post, "the number of calories in 29 meals or other menu items was an average of 18 percent higher than listed."

Researchers were quick to say that they don't believe restaurants are intentionally low-balling calorie counts. Instead, they chalk up the difference to inevitable variations in portion sizes and preparation methods. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration allows a 20 percent margin of error.

My hunch is that most people think of calorie estimates as just that--estimates. Even at a chain restaurant, we all know that meals will never be completely uniform. But as long as restaurants make a good-faith effort to be accurate, I think it's important to offer consumers as much information as possible about the food they eat. It will help them make healthier choices.

So what do you think? How much faith do you place in posted calorie information?

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