The study tested 29 restaurants and 10 frozen food products, and found that frozen dinners have an average of eight percent more calories than indicated on the labels. Restaurant meals average 18 percent more calories than are listed on menus. However, some individual restaurant items had up to 200 percent more calories than their stated caloric values. Some free side dishes added an additional 245 percent more energy over the caloric value of the entrees. Those side dishes were reportedly offered with the entrees but did not have a calorie count included with the entrée's calorie information.
The researchers said they chose foods that dieters were more likely to choose. The healthiest foods on restaurant menus were typically listed as containing 500 or fewer calories. An average of 40 additional calories per meal may not seem all that important, but the extra calories can add up, making it that much more difficult for a dieter to lose weight.
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Furthermore, the Chicago Tribune notes that the FDA is actually tougher on food companies whose stated calorie count is higher than the actual caloric content. A company can theoretically get in more trouble for advertising 100 calories in a 90-calorie meal than for advertising 100 calories in a 200-calorie meal. As a result, companies find it profitable for a number of reasons to label their foods with reduced numbers of calories.
Researchers acknowledged that their relatively small sample size indicates the necessity of further research to determine how widespread the problem is.