I was encouraged to see chain restaurants offering nutritional information on their menus listing calories and fat content.  I always encourage my clients to watch their calories when they eat out and make healthy choices. But it turns you can’t trust nutritional labeling in chain restaurants. In a study just published by the Journal of American Dietetic Association, researchers from Tufts University found that some commercially prepared foods contain more calories than are listed on nutritional labels and restaurant menus.

The study looked at 29 chain restaurants. The restaurants on average under estimated calories by 18%.  They also measured the energy values of 10 frozen foods purchased at supermarkets, where manufactures also under estimated calories by an average of 8%.  The goal of this study was to see the accuracy of stated energy content of foods. Another problem they found is that restaurants were giving away free additional side dishes that were not counted in the stated nutritional labeling.  Some of these side dishes had more calories than main entrees. You can order a 500-calorie meal and be served a 1,000-calorie meal instead.

When eating out you have to be extra careful. A restaurant wants you to come back so they want to mislead lead you into thinking that your meal is only 500 calories instead of 1,000 calories.  Therefore, if your eating out and the calorie content as stated looks too good to be true, watch out. I don’t recommend eating out in restaurants that serve processed or frozen foods but if you have kids its unavoidable; we all seem to find ourselves there every now and then

Some Tips for Eating Out in Chain Restaurants:

  • Always start the meal off with a salad. It’s most likely the healthiest and most unprocessed item on the menu.  Plus, ask for olive oil and vinegar for your dressing.
  • Try to split an entrée with another adult at the table. You will save some money and a lot of calories. Plus, you should be half full from the salad already.
  • Stay away from the bread on the table. It’s most likely not that good anyway.
  • If your there with your kids, don’t finish their leftovers. You don’t need a few 100 extra calories from salty fried chicken fingers and fries.
  • Drink unsweetened ice tea, water or club soda with lemon. Don’t add unwanted calories with soda or juices.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Let me know if you come across any restaurants that appear to be misleading their stated calories.

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Best  – Mike Cola

Fitness Contrarian

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