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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Calorie counts listed on menus mostly accurate, JAMA says

If you’re watching your weight, it’s a good idea to patronize restaurants that list calorie counts on their menus, but the accuracy of those listings varies, according to a study published in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, led by Lorien E. Urban of Tufts University, Boston, looked at the menus at 40 fast-food and sit-down restaurants in Massachusetts, Indiana and Arkansas and found that the calorie listings on menus were accurate for the most part, according to the JAMA study.

However, foods that were listed as lower in calories tended to be higher than stated, while those with high calorie listings tended to be overstated. One reason, especially in sit-down restaurants, may be poor portion control, the authors said.

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“The prevalence of obesity in the United States increased from 14 percent of the population in 1976 to 34 percent in 2008,” according to the article, “Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Restaurant Foods.”

“Reducing energy intake by self-monitoring or selecting foods with lower energy contents is widely recommended for the prevention and treatment of obesity. However, the feasibility of reducing energy intake using these approaches depends in part on the availability of accurate information on the energy contents of different foods.”

According to the article, “From 2005 through 2006, 49 percent of U.S. residents ate out at least three meals per week and 12 percent ate out more than seven meals per week, making foods consumed away from home a major contributor to dietary energy.”

Of 269 food items tested, “108 (40 percent) had measured energy contents at least 10 kcal (calories)/portion higher than the stated energy contents and 141 (52 percent) had measured energy contents at least 10 kcal/portion lower than the stated energy contents,” according to a press release.

“Nineteen percent of foods contained greater than 100 kcal/portion more than the stated energy contents. The researchers found significantly greater variability in the discrepancy between the stated and measured energy contents in all foods from sit-down restaurants compared with all foods from quick-serve restaurants.”

For some food items, such as salads, fast-food restaurants scored better on accuracy than sit-down restaurants, according to the researchers. One item came in at 1,000 calories more than the menu stated.

So pay attention to the calorie listings on your restaurant menu, but be cautious, especially about those diet items.

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