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Calorie counts frequently inaccurate on food labeling

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: calories, food labels, health news

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(NaturalNews) Inaccurate calorie labeling is widespread among both packaged and restaurant meals, suggests a study conducted by researchers from Tufts University and published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Lead researcher Susan B. Roberts had originally intended to test out the benefits of two different diets she had designed, one that depended on home-cooked food and the other allowing pre-made meals. Although the calorie counts of the diets were identical and she lost weight following the home-cooked diet, she did not find the same effect with the second diet.

"I came into the lab one day and thought, something's not adding up," Roberts said. "I think there's more calories in these foods than there should be."

Roberts and colleagues tested 10 frozen supermarket meals and found that their actual calorie content was, on average, 8 percent higher than advertised. Twenty-nine different restaurant meals delivered an average of 18 percent more calories than advertised.

The amount is not insignificant: Just 5 percent more calories per day on top of a 2,000-calorie diet would cause someone to gain 10 pounds in a year.

"These findings suggest that stated energy contents of reduced energy meals obtained from restaurants and supermarkets are not consistently accurate and, in this study, average more than measured values," Roberts said, "especially when free side dishes were taken into account."

Five of the restaurants included a free side dish with the purchase of a meal. On average, these dishes contained more calories than the main course.

Although some foods actually contained fewer calories than advertised, overall producers appeared to be erring on the low end.

"The FDA regulations are much more punitive, much more stringent on underproviding than overproviding," she said. "It's an old-style mentality: 'People need to be given what they pay for.'"

Roberts advised consumers to be more conscious of their food choices.

"If you want to lose 10 pounds, you can do it with food," she said. "Food is the best way. But by eating at home, you'll have a much easier time."

Sources for this story include: www.businessweek.com; articles.latimes.com.

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