Are You Underestimating Calories?
As you know, one of my favorite mantras is “Unwise, Better, Best.” And while I think under most circumstances it can help, sometimes the best choice may not be that good. For example, the Ruby Tuesday’s Avocado Turkey Burger sounds pretty healthy, and might in fact be better than most of their other burgers, but at 1130 calories there are probably many other items on the menu that would be better choices.
The fact is that we tend to significantly under estimate the calories in food, especially if we think it is a healthy choice. Brian Wansink, who you may recognize as the author of one of my favorite books, Mindless Eating, said, “when people are eating in a restaurant that they think is healthy, they grossly underestimate how much they ate by about 50%.”
Even dieticians do a lousy job of estimating calories in the food served in restaurants. Over 200 trained dieticians were asked to estimate the calories and grams of fat in five typical restaurant meals. They significantly under estimated the calorie and fat content. For example, they on average estimated the calories in a burger and onion rings meal to be 863 calories when in fact it was 1550 calories; they estimated a tuna salad sandwich to be 374 calories when in it was almost double that at 720. If even well trained nutrition professional have a difficult time estimating calories in restaurant meals, imagine how bad the rest of us do.
Fortunately, more restaurants, especially chain restaurants, are posting their nutrition information online. In fact, the FDA will soon require all restaurant chains with more than 20 restaurants to make that information available to their customers. So the next time you go out, take a few minutes to see if the restaurant you are going to has posted their nutrition information online. If so, you will be in position to make a more informed choice. In addition to checking the specific restaurants’ websites, websites like Livestrong.com, myfitnesspal.com, sparkpeople.com and calorieking.com provide the nutrition information for dozens of restaurants in one convenient place.