Calorie Counts…Are They Accurate?

Calories…you count them, you read food nutrition labels, but are they accurate?  I recently read an article from Precision Nutrition pointed out that a recent study found that nutrition labels on processed foods seriously underestimate calorie counts.  Scary, I know!

What is a calorie?  A calorie is a way to measure energy. It’s a unit of measurement, just like a centimetre is a unit of measurement.  A food calorie (technically, a kilocalorie, or kcal) is simply how much energy you need to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram (about 1 L*) of water by 1˚C.

Experts, over the years, have said that a calorie is a calorie and as long as you eat fewer calories than you expend, then you will lose weight. So, if this is true why are people continuing to gain weight?  That is because there is no consideration for the quality of calories. It is much different to have broccoli versus a candy bar.  When people are calorie counting they tend to reach for things like low cal cookies, diet soda, etc.  Even if there was a deficit in calories, the quality of what they were eating is pretty bad.

In the study, researchers took samples from restaurants and frozen foods.

Frozen foods were from:

Lean Cuisine

Weight Watchers

Healthy Choice

South Beach Living

Bell & Evans

Restaurants surveyed were:

Denny’s

Ruby Tuesday

Taco Bell

PF Chang

The Olive Garden

McDonald’s

Applebee’s

Domino’s

Dunkin Donuts

Wendy’s

There were 39 meals in total, all with nutritional information available (either on the package or on the web) and labelled as low calorie (<500 kcal).

The researchers picked the lowest calorie meals on the menu at the restaurants and matched those meals when picking the frozen dinners at the grocery store.

The researchers deliberately set out to find the low-calorie options. They didn’t look for obvious offenders, such as the Domino’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese Breadbowl or the Ruby Tuesday Double Chocolate Cake. They purposely sought foods that calorie-conscious eaters might select.

Here is what they found:

  • On average the 10 frozen meals had 8% more calories than the amount given on the labels. This doesn’t seem too bad, unless you eat these meals regularly.
  • In this study restaurants underestimated the calories of their meals by an average of 18%!
    • The worst estimates were from Denny’s for their toast and grits. Dry white toast was 283 calories per slice instead of the 97 calories listed. Grits served with butter were also much higher in calories than reported by Denny’s (258 calories instead of the reported 86 calories).

Their conclusion:  Eat unprocessed, whole foods — for many reasons.  They are better for you in general. They have more of the good stuff (vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, etc.) and less of the bad stuff (additives, sugar, etc.). They fill you up better. They nourish you better.  And you know exactly what you’re eating.

 

Source:  Precision Nutrition

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