One More Reason Not to Count the Calories

Generally speaking, I don’t care what the menu says about how many calories are in my steak.  I’m pretty sure I’m not making a stellar nutritional decision by dining at Outback (or any other chain restaurant) in the first place.  I already know the less sauce and the more vegetables there are on the plate, the “healthier” it is.  I don’t need a little heart printed next to it on the menu.

Plus, I don’t trust their numbers.  They have plenty of motivation to be less-than-honest about the calorie count on any given item, and there’s plenty of room for error in the kitchen.

Vindicating my distrust of menu-math, a friend of the blog (actually my Lovely Wife) sent me this NPR story highlighting a Tufts University study printed in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week.

In all fairness, it turns out restaurants are right more often than they’re wrong (by a long shot) but when they’re wrong, they’re really wrong.  One chain mis-labelled their chips and salsa (yeah, they couldn’t even get chips and salsa right) by more than a thousand calories.  Considering that I know people who refuse to eat more than 600 calories a day, that’s a a substantial error.

What the article doesn’t report, but which is, I think, pretty important, is that there are diet plans out there (I won’t mention them by name, ’cause I don’t make any money off this and don’t want to pay a lawyer when they sue me, but the second word in the title of one of them is “Watchers”) who actively promote checking the printed calorie counts.  You’ll notice many of the chains even include “exchange” information next to the calorie count.

If the data is wrong … and you’re counting it for your “points” … you’re likely to be left wondering what went wrong at your weigh-in.   Which is devastating to the psyche of someone committed to a program like that.

So while part of me is happy to be right about those calorie counts, the consumer advocate in me is more than a little annoyed by this news.  Let the eater beware, I suppose, but I’d like to see the counts ditched altogether.

There are few crutches worth using on the path to losing weight.  In the long run, we all have to do the hard work on our own.  But there’s no reason for restaurants to make the work harder.

Here’s a rule of thumb:  Eating at a chain restaurant is not good for you.  Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it occasionally – they make stuff that tastes GOOD to most of us.  It means you have to be careful and you have to do your own research.

As a side-note to this, the NPR Health Blog (“Shots“) is a fine health resource.  I recommend it.


2 responses to this post.

  1. […] What’s this all about? « One More Reason Not to Count the Calories […]


  2. […] with a calorie count on the menu.  Which is apparently a Mayor Bloomberg thing in New York.  Longtime readers know I don’t so much care about calorie counts on menus.  People don’t go to steakhouses to worry about calories.  Which is, I suppose, why the […]


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