Last updated on April 11th, 2017
Half of Americans eat out three or more meals a week, and 12% eat out more than seven meals a week. These statistics are cited by the authors of a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) to establish the importance knowing how many calories we’re getting in all of those restaurant meals.
It turns out we’re often getting a significantly different number of calories than we think we’re getting, at least where individual menu items are concerned. Interestingly, in the sit-down restaurants examined, the lower-calorie items tended to have more calories than claimed, and the higher-calories tended to have fewer.
So, on average, the calorie counts were accurate. That would hardly comfort a dieter who ordered a side dish that contained three times the calories stated.
Admittedly, the researchers found only one such extreme error. However, 19% of the food items tested were found to contain at least 100 calories per portion more than stated. The researchers note that consuming that many extra calories every day for a year could result in tens of pounds of weight gain.
What to do?
Personally (as I wrote about before), I’m eating out less often. Before going low-carb, I’m sure I did eat out for at least three meals a week. Now, my average is under one meal out a week. Even if I do get a dish with an unstated extra 100 or so calories in it, I won’t be getting it frequently enough to do me harm.
Eating out less often wasn’t anything I planned, and it is something that my lifestyle permits. People who travel a lot for their jobs will have a harder time avoiding restaurants. Others may feel that regular restaurant dining is too important a part of life to give up.
If you do eat out a lot, eat as simply as possible. Order items with few ingredients. When following a low-carb plan, that is generally the rule, anyway. Dining out, I want a steak, a fish fillet, or a chicken breast, and I want a vegetable and a salad. Or I want a chef salad with the dressing on the side. For breakfast, I want scrambled eggs and bacon or ham.
Of course, what I’m trying to avoid with such foods isn’t calories, but carbohydrates.
It’s hard to sneak extra carbs — or calories — into plain foods like that. Admittedly, a restaurant should be able to tell you the ingredients used to make any menu item. If it can’t, or won’t, then you should be eating elsewhere.
But mistakes are made (as this study shows).
It’s best if you can see for yourself what it is you are eating.
Urban and others. “Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Restaurant Meals” (abstract), JAMA, July 20, 2011.