A recent study claims that the calorie counts which restaurants provide for their fare is “accurate overall,” although there is “substantial inaccuracy for some individual foods, with understated energy contents for those with lower energy contents.” Lorien E. Urban, et al., “Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Restaurant Foods,” Journal of the American Medical Association, July 20, 2011. Noting that restaurant foods “provide approximately 35% of the daily energy intake in US individuals,” researchers used a validated bomb calorimetry technique to test 269 food items, including 242 unique items, from 42 quick-serve and sit-down restaurants in Arkansas, Indiana and Massachusetts.  

Their findings apparently indicated that 19 percent of the 269 samples “contained measured energy contents of at least 100 kcal/portion more than the state energy contents,” an amount “that has been projected to cause 5 to 15 kg of weight gain per year if consumed daily.” The study also determined that sit-down restaurant entrees with “a lower stated energy content (i.e., the most appropriate choices for individuals trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain) systematically contained more energy than stated, whereas foods with higher stated energy contents had lower energy contents than stated.”

“The results of this study have implications for pending implementation of new legislation requiring more restaurants to document the energy content of their menu items,” concluded the study authors, who recommended greater attention to onsite portioning methods. “Posted information on energy content in restaurants may influence consumer choice toward options with lower stated energy contents. Although our study showed that stated energy contents in restaurants are relatively accurate on average, thus supporting greater availability of this information, projected benefits for preventing weight gain and facilitating weight loss are likely to be reduced if restaurant foods with lower stated energy contents provide more energy content than stated.”