Report: Restaurants Fudging on Calorie Counts

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The Food and Drug Administration estimates one third of all calories in the U.S. are consumed while eating out.

Although the majority of Americans are battling to lose weight, some wonder whether knowing how many calories are in that mouth-watering Big Mac really matters.

"It wouldn't phase me one bit," one person commented. "I am still going to go out to dinner and treat myself."

But another person said, "If something says a lot of calories, I usually tend not to get it."

Health experts say knowing calorie counts will help slim down waistlines.

"We know that consumers make healthier choices when the posted calories are on the menu," said Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

But a new study, led by Roberts, is raising questions about whether the numbers on the menu are accurate.

Researchers recently put the posted calorie counts of several popular restaurants to the test.

The food was ordered and sent to a lab. Researchers chopped it, freeze dried it, and turned the meals into powder -- a process that helps researchers get an accurate calorie count.

So how did the restaurant numbers stack up against the lab tests?
 
"Typically the foods that were stated as low calorie on the menu contained more calories than they should, which is really bad for dieters. The high-calorie foods actually contained fewer calories than they should," Roberts said.

One meal actually came in a thousand calories higher than the posted menu amount. And the tests showed soups and salads with large calorie variations.

Sit-down restaurants were the worst offenders.

"Fast food restaurants are doing pretty well in terms of quality control," Roberts said. "It's really the sit-down restaurants that need to examine their quality control and step up to the plate better."

The most accurate calorie counters were pizza restaurants.

In the end, being able to rely on the nutritional information provided key to helping consumer make smart choices and keep down American's waistline.

"We're expecting consumers to go and look after their own weight," Roberts said. "And this is really tying their hands."

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Tyler James

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