Can Calorie Counters Believe What They Read?

Virtually every weight-loss plan includes counting calories in some form, so dieters often read the back of the box of their microwavable meal or inquire about the dishes at their favorite restaurants. However, according to a new study, accuracy may be too much to expect from the companies behind the calorie listings.

Researchers analyzed 10 popular chain restaurants, and the results, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, show that the provided calorie counts are significantly off. On average, the food at these restaurants is 18% higher in calories than the listed amount.

"If every time you eat out, you get a couple of hundred calories or more than you think, that can add up really easily," study author and Tufts professor Susan Roberts explained. "There's a big drumbeat for people putting calories on menus, but that's only useful if the calories are right."

But what may be even more shocking are the findings about frozen meals intended for dieters. When people purchase food by brands like Weight Watchers, Healthy Choice or Lean Cuisine, they typically take for granted that the calories listed are correct. However, the study found that the discrepancy between the printed number and the actual calories is a surprising 8%-and no, not 8% lower than what's listed, unfortunately.

Experts say it's safer to treat the number you see like a ballpark figure and not a scientifically unquestionable integer. Keep in mind that allows a whopping 20% margin of error for a package's nutritional information, so making room for a company's mistakes in your daily diet will improve your chances for weight-loss success.

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